Copenhagen's Business (As Usual) Day

James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, gave the report-out. Among the CEOs' conclusions: "Business needs to have one voice calling for a government framework and having it in place now, because we need predictability long-term — one voice, government framework now."

It's hard to see how such a unified voice will emerge. The conversation taking place among this high-powered group of global CEOs wasn't that different from that taking place at a lot of the conferences I attend -- a hodgepodge of well-formed opinions about what needs to be done, with little consensus on who, actually, will do it: companies, consumers, government, investors, NGOs, and all the rest. Of course, it's everyone's responsibility, which is one of the limits of a business-only conclave: It fails to bring to the table all of the parties needed to solve the problem.

That wasn't the only limitation. I couldn't help but notice the make-up of the room: primarily white male, mostly European and North American. There were a smattering of Asians and Indians in the room, but no Chinese, South American, Indian, or African CEOs, business leaders of countries that comprise the bulk of the world's population -- and the lion's share of greenhouse gas emissions.

There was no shortage of earnestness among those present. These are truly committed executives from proactive, if not progressive, companies that seem to understand the climate challenge and the opportunity, and who are hungering for a price on carbon they can use to make predictable business decisions for the foreseeable future.

("A price on carbon," by the way, is a mantra-like phrase that every speaker seems to utter, despite the fact that there is no clear consensus in the room about what that price should be or how it would be implemented -- carbon tax, cap-and-trade, etc. Nonetheless, those four words are received by knowing nods from the audience with each utterance.)

In the end, de Boer pretty much had it right: Most of these good people are talking primarily to themselves. The people who really need to be in the room are conspicuous by their absence.

It was sobering. If this group of fairly homogeneous executives can barely agree upon the nature of the problems and the most effective solutions, how can the bigger, much more diverse and unruly group of country representatives meeting at the Bella Center possibly do so?

 

Joel Makower is executive editor of GreenBiz.com.

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