Business takes on growing role in global climate talks
By Chris Cermak Dec 1, 2010, 13:28 GMT
Cancun, Mexico - Aimee Christensen expected to have a pretty easy job persuading lawmakers in the United States to prioritize clean energy, when she led some 100 chief executives into the halls of Congress for a chat.
Christensen remembered being told by US senators that the October meeting with CEOs had 'reset the debate' on a long-stalled effort to pass legislation to overhaul the country's climate and energy policy.
Yet days after the meeting, lawmakers seemed to backtrack in the face of an onslaught of lobbying by industry groups who were hostile to climate legislation and spent more than 500 million dollars in the run-up to the US congressional elections in November.
'It is really impossible for these newer, smaller companies to keep up with that barrage,' said Christensen, a former official with the Energy Department who now leads her own consulting company, in an interview with the German Press Agency dpa. 'It's a matter of playing catch-up to an industry that has known how to play this game.'
Christensen's struggle reflects an ongoing divide among businesses over the benefits of the 'green revolution.'
Many see tremendous opportunity: Ethical Markets, a US firm, estimates more than 1.6 trillion dollars have been invested since 2007 in companies considered part of the green economy. Other firms, especially fossil-fuel producers, face a transition that could raise costs and even drive them out of business.
Yet, there is a growing acceptance that government will play a role in prodding the private sector toward cleaner energy sources, including by putting a price on the industrial carbon emissions that are blamed for warming the Earth's atmosphere.
That sense of inevitability means businesses are increasingly lobbying for a role in the global climate change talks running this week in Mexico. They are pushing for a treaty that will give the private sector some certainty about future global-warming regulation.
This weekend, at the half-way point of the two-week UN summit in Mexico's Cancun, business leaders will hold a separate summit to drive home their call for a long-term solution to climate change .
'When I build a power plant, I build it for 50 years,' Jim Rogers of US producer Duke Energy said Monday at a business conference. 'To make that kind of long-term decision, certainly I want clarity.'
That also goes for capping industrial emissions. Rogers said he believed it was 'inevitable' that more and more governments will begin pricing carbon emissions, along the lines of the European Union's emissions trading scheme launched in 2005.
While putting a price on carbon has been stalled in the United States, developing countries including China and India are considering moving forward with an emissions trading scheme of their own. Those movements have in turn pushed the shift among businesses.
'The consensus has actually moved to ... more support for market mechanisms than there had been five years ago,' Nick Campbell, who heads the climate team of the International Chamber of Commerce, told dpa.
Governments in turn are promising to bring the private sector more into the political process. Christina Figueres, the UN's climate chief, said the private sector could move the talks forward by 'pushing governments to make the tough decisions that they must make.'
Figueres said the business community was needed to help account for the level of pollution in industry, invest in cleaner alternatives, research clean technologies and market the benefits of clean energy.
World governments will be increasingly relying on business to bankroll their efforts to tackle climate change in the coming decade. When world leaders pledged last year to mobilize 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to help developing countries fight climate change, more than half was expected to come from the private sector.
The relationship remains uneasy.
'Although they may not agree on every aspect,' said Christensen, '(businesses) definitely want to be part of that conversation.'