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Business Zeroes In On Carbon

Monday, 30 Nov 2009 | 8:11 AM ET

As government officials, industry leaders and green advocates gear up for the United Nation's climate change conference in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18, CNBC will be breaking down what a reduction in carbon emissions means for business and investors.

At this point, there's little chance a legally binding deal will be signed in Copenhagen, but there is still hope that global leaders can iron out some important parameters and shape the debate.

“Even if we may not hammer out the last dots of a legally binding instrument, I do believe a political binding agreement with specific commitment to mitigation and finance provides a strong basis for immediate action in the years to come," says Danish prime Minister, Lars Rasmussen, who will host the conference

Carbon Emission
Carbon Emission

The problem for business is that shared intentions and goals, while useful, won't create the kind of regulatory certainty that is needed to encourage investment and development.

The CNBC Carbon Council

Nine chief executives and chairmen from around the world have signed up for an exclusive CNBC initiative aimed at identifying opportunities in clean technology and the larger business of sustainability.

  • Mike Splinter, CEO—Applied Materials (US)
  • Hans Wijers—CEO of Akzo Nobel (Netherlands)
  • William McCracken—Chairman, CA (US)
  • John Rowe—CEO, Exelon (US)
  • Chad Holliday—Chairman, DuPont (US)
  • Léo Apotheker—CEO, SAP (Germany) (see interview)
  • Dr Zhengrong Shi—CEO,SunTech Power (China)
  • Mike Mack—CEO, Syngenta (Switzerland)
  • Lars G. Josefsson—CEO, Vattenfall (Sweden)

All nine of these industry leaders see a huge opportunity to transform their businesses through climate change. Not all of them are viewed favorably by those lobbying for a greener world. Exelon and Vattenfall, for example, are two of the world’s biggest electricity providers, while Akzo Nobel is a carbon-intensive chemicals company

The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage
The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage

Among other things, the CNBC Carbon Council will debate how you actually cut emissions and profit from that. One thing is clear though, all the council members want their government’s to act and to act soon.

DuPont's Chad Holliday, who has advised the US government on climate change, says the U.S. is in race with other countries over green jobs.

"If we move fast, we can get at least our share," says Holliday. "If we sit back and allow other countries to build that infrastructure we're going to lose out."

In a keynote speech on Capitol Hill in October, Exelon's Rowe told lawmakers that “without prompt action, our industry will be caught in a carbon purgatory: we will lack the certainty we need to make large scale investments that are necessary to keep both the lights on and meet the challenges of climate change.”

Mike Mack of Syngenta, a leader in genetically-modified foods, is more concerned with feeding a global population that is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. To do so will require a lot more food and unless “best management practices were widely adopted, such as stopping the land conversion of new habitats into agricultural land and improving agricultural practices to store carbon in the soil, the emissions can be halved.”

SAP's Apotheker says, "if a deal does not happen, then Copenhagen must be used as the starting point for further discussion in 2010. What we must avoid, at all cost, is that the discussion about aggressive, global regulation comes to an end and we continue with business as usual." (Full interview)

Applied Materials' Mike Splinter says, "if we can't reach an agreement, we need a framework to reach an agreement…Unless there's really global consensus on how we're going to go forward, governments are not going to individually move to really take specific action in their countries. That's why Copenhagen has been so important from the beginning." (Full interview)

CA Chairman William McCracken says, "clearly from our perspective, software and technology is going to lead the change here. To know what to do, to be able to measure what you do, to understand what contributes to your carbon footprint is a necessary part of it." (Full interview)

AkzoNobel's Hans Wijers says, "I think it is one of the key opportunities to get a new surge of growth in the world if we do the right kind of investments. And we see it as a fantastic opportunity for our company to develop new products for our customers and redesign our processes. There're a lot of opportunities there." (Full interview)

Vattenfall CEO Lars G. Josefsson said, "Vattenfall is committed to making electricity clean. This means that we will consistently invest in low-emitting solutions, and we will put clean electricity to use in new ways that help reduce emissions. We have decided to be climate neutral by 2050 at the latest, and this sets the framework for our business strategy: No decision or investment shall put our ambition at risk."

"Steering the economy in a new direction requires exerting influence on these investments, by building confidence in a common commitment to a low-carbon future. Without global collaboration and a common goal, our efforts will be slower, costlier, and less effective. We have to seal the deal in Copenhagen," Josefsson added. (Full interview).

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