Bringing Business and Government to the Table?

In another effort to jump-start investments in clean technologies and save the world, representatives from business, government and academia came together in Brussels on 29 April for a "CleanTech" forum.

These "corporate executives responsible for sustainability initiatives, entrepreneurs, early stage and established cleantech companies, utility and industry executives involved with emerging technology ventures and strategic alliances, professional service providers focused in the areas of legal, financial accounting and management, and governments/economic development councils, policy makers, scientists and researchers," says the CleanTech website, aimed to exchange information about cleantech business and investment opportunities.

WBCSD President Bjorn Stigson addressed the Forum, looking ahead to 2050 and global changes for a low-carbon economy. His comments reflected the reality of today's business world: the increasingly resource- and carbon-constrained arena in which companies are operating."Increasing prices for fuel, minerals and food are reflecting a world with growing consumption due to higher living standards and more people. At the same time, growing energy use is causing carbon emissions that threaten our climate and water supplies," he said.

Keeping carbon emissions this low will have significant impacts on infrastructure, transportation, lifestyles and consumption patterns. "This cannot be achieved by pushing energy and resource efficiency based on the present technologies. We will need massive innovations if we are to achieve an environmentally friendly society. And not just in technology, which is what most people associate with innovation, but in a number of other areas," he said.

Innovation is needed in seven areas:
1. Technology
2. Public policies and regulations
3. Public-private partnerships
4. Physical infrastructure
5. Mindsets
6. Global equity and responsibilities
7. Financing

Business is making investment decisions that will impact the climate issue for over the long term. Business therefore needs clarity on the policy framework within which it does business.

However, at the Forum the only policy-maker on the panel was Piotr Tulej, the Head of the Energy and Environment unit in the Directorate-General Environment of the European Commission.

How does this bode for your average global company who is willing to make the investments, but apparently isn't getting the government's attention? Perhaps this is just a fluke, and the lack of government participation in this specific event doesn't reflect reality. 2006 conferences by the same organization have a few more government reps listed, but they are still limited.

"The magnitude of change required demands participation by all parts of society—from government to business to civil society," Stigson insists. "The next few years are critical for establishing policies to deal with energy security, competitiveness, mitigation and adaptation to climate impacts, and they will determine our energy infrastructure and emissions patterns for many decades."

Stigson reminded the audience that "Developing country governments have argued that they will not 'give up growth for green'". He suggested that we need a shared understanding that growth will depend on functioning societies. "Business cannot succeed in societies that fail and we have a strong interest in helping build thriving societies which are good places for doing business."

This is a fantastic opportunity for business to address a big and complex challenge. And a great chance for governments to join in and make it work.