What Corporate Leaders Are Saying About That Dire Climate Change Report

October 16, 2018, 3:48 PM UTC

How worried are corporate leaders about last week’s dire climate change report?

“There’s a great sense of urgency to move,” said Lynn Good, Chairman and CEO of Duke Energy, speaking at Fortune Global Forum in Toronto, Canada on Tuesday morning. Her firm, a utility that operates in 20 states, has an energy mix that involves 5% renewable energy, largely wind in the Midwest and solar in the Southeast. (Renewables account for 17% of the energy mix in the US.) Duke has reduced its emissions by more than 30% since 2005.

She noted that one of her biggest challenges in accelerating this progress is logistical: siting and permitting of infrastructure projects. The process isn’t the sole responsibility of a single agency in the U.S., but involves multiple levels of government and often long and delayed. She says it can double or triple the time of projects. “You have to be able to build infrastructure,” to make transformative change she said.

Despite the dramatic report, Good said she thinks America’s de-carbonization story is actually a “good one.” While noting that federal policy is important in response to a question about President Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, she remarked that at the state level in the U.S., officials are enthusiastic and actively making policy for a lower-carbon future. She added that “customers and corporations have a very large voice,” and that voice is behind cleaner energy. The favorable economics, such as the declining cost of renewable energy, add to that momentum, she said.

Fellow panelist Felix Zhang, co-founder and group executive director of Envision Energy, a leading Shanghai-based renewables firm, noted China’s commitment and supporting role in the shift to cleaner energy use. His firm works globally and he urged governments and policymakers to get out of the way: “The technology and innovation is in place. Let the market play its role.”

Doug Suttles, president and CEO of Encana, the Canadian oil and gas firm meanwhile argued that while climate change is an important issue, so are the 3 billion people around the world who live in energy poverty. He sees oil and gas, which is currently 85% of the world’s energy mix, as critical to providing electricity to those people. He argued their needs cannot be overlooked, and that climate change objectives must be balanced with those to end poverty.