The Hot Zone

Good for Business

Posted by Alison Hawkes on February 18, 2010
Category : The Politics of Climate Change

By Alison Hawkes

The U.N. climate change head Yvo de Boer quit his post today, seemingly stung by the abysmal political outcome of the Copenhagen conference in December. He’s now going to work for a business consulting firm, where he says he has a chance to make happen “new partnerships with the business sector.”

The switch from high profile political negotiator to back room business consultant will be quite a change for de Boer, but seems to mirror a trend in the climate change arena towards quieter and smaller venues. The next meeting spot for climate talks is Mexico this November, where de Boer recommended that countries work in small groups to pave the way for a global agreement. The approach, though less accountable to the public, kind of makes sense. As open debate has become paralyzing and as skeptics have become nastier and more personal in their efforts to undermine the science, who wouldn’t want to discuss these things behind closed doors?

Even more telling is that de Boer decided to toss out the political approach to work for business, presumably where things really do get done. Not sure what the incentive is for businesses to act on climate change without a regulatory framework or pressure. But clearly businesses want some predictability, at minimum on how to prepare for climate change.

That urge, it seems, was the driving force behind an announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week that it would create a new Climate Service that combines climate-related operations from the National Weather Service and the National Ocean Service, pending congressional approval. Businesses apparently have been clamoring for more information about how to prepare for the worst. It’s no surprise that NOAA is taking the lead. It collects a lot of data and its jurisdiction falls under the Department of Commerce, which no doubt hears a lot from businesses.

Apparently, it’s not just eco-businesses like solar and wind power companies that want to know as much as possible about projected regional conditions under climate change, but traditional energy industries as well, NOAA staff said. There are potentially others. Ski resorts probably want to know how much snow to expect in the years to come and developers probably want to know where the shoreline is going to end up.

“More and more people are asking for more and more information about climate change and how it’s going to affect them,” NOAA head Jane Lubchenco, told reporters.

A new climate portal on the Internet will centralize data in one, easily accessible place as a kind of “one-stop shopping in the world of climate information,” Lubchenco added. Information will include projections of sea level rises, maps of the nation’s best sites for wind and solar power, and more.

A global political deal or no, business will find a way to act on climate change, especially if it means improving their bottom line.

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