China and the U.S. Could Fix Climate -- If Leaders Let Them: Duke Energy CEO at Climate Week NY°C

Chinese and American companies are eager to find ways to cooperate and work with each others' country, provided their governments support them, Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, said at a Climate Week NY°C panel discussion on China-US energy issues today. He was sitting next to Sen. John Kerry, who is leading the push in the Senate to pass climate legislation.

It will someday be "hard to tell if these companies are Chinese or American," Rogers said, referring to two China-based, US-linked renewable energy companies represented at the event, solar giant Suntech and Broad, which makes non-electric air conditioners. Issuing his firm support of a US climate bill for its power to finance clean energy, Tracy R. Wolstencroft. Managing Director, Goldman Sachs, said that a climate solution will depend upon a "three-legged stool" of policy, technology and capital. "All of those will need to move at the same speeds."Speaking to an audience largely of investors at the offices of Bloomberg, Kerry sought to establish his understanding of the business potential of climate change action. He knew something about the bottom line, he said, and "this is the best bottom line opportunity for our country and the world. The question is at what pace will it happen, and who's going to own, discover and design the energy and fuels of the future."

He predicted that in 15 years, there would be "4 or 5 or 15 Google equivalents" in the energy technology business.

He also lamented the failures of American policy makers in the 1980s to seize upon the U.S.'s alternative energy advantage that had begun to be established in the 70s. "We lost our lead to Japan and Germany."

Now, he said, Germany has more workers on alternative fuels than in the automotive sector. He added: "Of the 30 top companies [in alternative energy], only five are in the U.S."

Clean Tech Market "Fantastic"
Calling the market for environmental finance "fantastic" and possibly "the largest emerging market," Wolstencroft of Goldman Sachs said that Chinese companies had raised 5 billion in capital in the U.S. over the past five years, in an arrangement possibly beneficial to both countries. "They develop solar panels that are then sold here at a low price, which stimulates the interest of [our] consumers."

He said a cap and trade system -- and the carbon market and offset mechanism that would follow -- would help to better distribute capital to alternative energy development and contain costs for companies as they adjust to a less carbon-intense future.

Kerry said he had his own term for controversial "cap-and-trade." "I'd like to call it pollution reduction and investment in the future," he said.

Where Coal Fits In (All Over the Place)
When asked about his company's -- and China's -- commitment to coal and carbon sequestration, Rogers defended fossil fuels as "the resource we have."

Rogers said that legally coal use in the U.S. is "clean." "But it needs to be cleaner."

"Even if we shut down all our coal plants in this country it would make no difference unless we come up with a solution that the Chinese can use also."

Technology advances would be an important legacy of Copenhagen, said Rogers, as he underscored the need to move past more "emotional issues," like carbon tarriffs, coal and nuclear. "The emphasis should not be on things that are putative but that allow us to move forward."

"Perfect is the enemy of good" as the U.S. and China seek progress on climate cooperation, especially from the perspective of the private sector. It would be important in the next months to build better cooperation and capital flows between China and the U.S., "providing investment opportunities for Chinese companies as well as investment in China."

The example set by recent American tarrifs on Chinese-made tires was not positive, said Rogers.

He said that the idea of a carbon tariff on a country like China -- an idea floated by Kerry -- has "a chilling effect and reduces the probability we could get a solution for the entire world."

On the topic of tariffs, Kerry added, "I don't think that's going to be extend further"

Tags: China | Copenhagen

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