Businesses see risk, opportunity in climate change

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 17, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Some prominent businesses expect that climate change will bring opportunities for growth, but also risks, including problems in raw material supplies of even such American basics as coffee and jeans.

Levi Strauss & Co., for example, makes jeans in 45 countries, and most of them are feeling the impacts of climate change from flooding or droughts, said Amy Leonard, a senior vice president. Levi Strauss and other businesses have a long-term interest in making sure that their supplies of raw materials won't be damaged by climate change, she said.

Starbucks Coffee Co. has been using renewable energy and conserving power in its stores for many years, but only in the last couple has the company started to look at how climate change might affect its supply chain, said Ben Packard, the company's vice president of global responsibility. Small coffee farmers already are talking about climate impacts, he said.

"We absolutely view this as a critical risk of our business," Packard said.

Leonard, Packard and other business officials participated in a discussion Wednesday in the underground Capitol Visitors Center about the business case for action to reduce climate risks. The meeting came as climate action advocates in Congress plot their next steps and top environment officials from around the world head to Cancun, Mexico, later this month for climate negotiations.

While some of the business people talked about risks to their supply chains and customers, others described business opportunities.

Taylor Davis, the senior counsel for John Deere Worldwide, said his company expects to sell agricultural equipment that would help farmers produce more food using less land and water, and adapt to climate changes.

Mitch Andrus, vice president of Royal Engineers and Consultants of Lafayette, La., said his small company had a contract to make the Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, more energy efficient.

The relief and development group Oxfam America estimated in a report Wednesday that businesses that help people cope with climate change employ about 2 million Americans, and that there was large potential for growth.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., said business has an important role to play in the national debate over climate policy.

"With Congress more divided, business can identify common ground — common sense areas — where we can move forward," he said. "This is good policy and I think the bottom line is, it's good business."

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said 12 senators held a meeting on climate change Tuesday. "I can assure you we will not give up," he told the business group, adding: "We desperately need you out there explaining the economics of what's going on."

A broad bill putting mandatory limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases from fossil fuels and encouraging renewable energy doesn't have enough support to go forward in Congress. Without a U.S. plan to reduce emissions, a binding international agreement also is blocked.

Oxfam American vice president Paul O'Brien said that there could be progress in Cancun on a global climate fund to help the world's poorest countries adapt.

A group of 259 international investors issued a statement this week calling on the U.S. and other developed countries to make good on a promise of $30 billion for the fund from 2010 to 2012 at the Cancun talks.

The investors also said that current global investments in low-carbon technologies fell far short of what's estimated will be needed to keep temperatures from rising too much. Investments and job creation have been larger in countries with strong government policies to encourage clean technologies and discourage polluting ones.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program said that North America spent $20.7 billion on renewable energy in 2009, while Europe spent $43.7 billion and Asia spent $40.8 billion.

ON THE WEB:

A guide for all ages by U.S. scientists: "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science"

National Research Council (science adviser to the government since 1916) report on the science of climate change

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