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Insights 5 Apr 2011

#FortuneGreen and The Future of Climate Policy

By Mark Lee

I flew from the Bay Area to Southern California today to join the 2011 version of Fortune Brainstorm Green (#FortuneGreen if you are following on Twitter). If you picture something more intimate, with more senior attendees (in part because of the smaller size), and with somewhat less room for civil society and public sector viewpoints than the BSR annual conference, but less purely business, investment, and especially eco-efficiency focused than the Wall Street Journal’s yearly ECO:nomics shindig in Santa Barbara, you’ve about got the picture. And any way you look at it, it’s now one of the major stops on the annual corporate sustainability conference tour, well executed overall – plus you have to salute any event that presents Sir Richard Branson as the key attraction on day one, then offers surfer Laird Hamilton as the closing keynote on day three. Even if for some reason it doesn’t work – and I bet it will – there’s a rock star quality, and it’s fun, no?!

Your Eyes and Ears on the Ground

I am tweeting from the conference – you can follow my 140 character views on events via the twittersphere – but here I want to comment on the views expressed in an opening day session entitled The Future of Climate Policy. This panel, energetically moderated by Marc Gunther, was populated by: Connie Hedegaard from the European Commission, Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund, James Rogers of Duke Energy and Michael Schellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute. (Or, viewed through a different lens, you might say the moderator was a crunchy but private sector acceptable business writer, who facilitated a group featuring a progressive European politico, a challenging but recognizable US NGO leader, a coal industry CEO with reasonable climate bona fides, and an iconoclastic civil society voice capable of giving mainstream environmentalists heartburn.)

The Panelists’ Viewpoints

My descriptive digression aside, what did the panel purport the future of climate policy to be? Debate started slowly, with a lot of talk about patience, the need for climate advocates to be less elitist in their approaches, and whether renaming cap and trade might make the concept more palatable, but seemed to shift when Hedegaard asked the rhetorical question, “Is cap and trade complicated?” and then answered, “Only for Americans!”

Hedegaard moved from garnering laughter to scoring points by pointing out the enormous growth in the number of nations which have set and are moving on GHG reduction targets since COP 15 in Copenhagen – her point being that, even if climate policy is stalled in the US, the rest of the world is moving to address the challenge. Schellenberger countered with the view that it was during the year between COP 15 and COP 16 that climate policy ‘came down to earth’ – for the better, in his view, in that this empowers a move from pie in the sky discussion on too expensive renewables to more palatable (especially in the US) focus on technological innovation and energy security. Rogers, running a portfolio at Duke Energy than includes both coal and nuclear, got most passionate when Gunther posed a question re the future of nuclear. His emphatic assertion than nuclear is far safer than coal was backed enthusiastically by Schellenberger, who cited a ream of safety statistics from both industries overwhelmingly in favor of the more radioactive option (at least over a timeline calculated in decades, which is all the data we have available, and may miss some key issues associated with disposal of nuclear waste).

So the Future of Climate Policy Is…?

…Well, everything. After enduring Schellenberger’s ‘It’s all been done wrong so far’ barrage, Hedegaard and Krupp united to conclude that the climate challenge is just so great that we need to throw absolutely everything at it that we have available – technological innovation, regulation, nuclear (this more uncomfortable for Krupp) and, yes, even that old already-pronounced-dead-in-the-US saw, cap and trade.

My view? Amen to the comprehensive view, and goodnight from Dana Point – the real OC?!

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