Opinion: Who did not see the memo?

Some investors are not sold on clean energy and sustainability. Photo credit: Florian Richter – via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

Over the course of the last six months, I have attended three large financial conferences, all held by some of the largest financial media organisations. All three had the aim of debating the transition to a sustainable economy, considering the impacts of climate change and the increased investor confidence in clean energy.

But at all of these three summits, there seems to have been a serious failure to understand what the debates were to focus around. So one must ask the question – ` Did someone forget to send them the memo? `

The worst occasion occurred October last year when UK Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom attended a clean energy summit held by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). She obviously did not realise that she was addressing businesses and investors in clean energy and technology , as she talked about extracting more fossil fuels and providing more funding for nuclear development. There was not a word about solar, not a word about wind – the two renewable technologies the UK minister prior to the summit had drastically reduced subsidies for .

It was almost as bad at the Economist Sustainability Summit in March this year. Here a representative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation talked about how serious they are about tackling climate change, and how much money they’re investing in renewables. What was most striking was not the spin, you would expect that, but the fact that the audience accepted the spin. And, even though several members of the press were present, nobody challenged him on those claims. I then decided to challenge him on Bill Gates` remarks that he believes we need coal to alleviate poverty in the developing world. When I did so, he, of course, tried to spin that and said that Bill Gates had not exactly said that. This is even though the remarks are present in a blog post on his website, Gates Notes.

And there was similar confusion this month at the Financial Times Energy Transform Strategies Summit. As I reported, the opening panel of the discussion largely came out in favour of fossil fuels, while discrediting renewables. There is no doubt in my mind that the fossil fuel industry is now for the first time running scared of the clean energy industry, as the latter goes from strength to strength. They are so scared that they’re using sustainability and clean energy summits to promote yesterday’s economy. While I’m not normally one for quotes, this Gandhi quote really is fitting: “First, they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

It prompts this really pertinent question: if you don’t want to be part of the clean energy transition and if you’re not really that worried about climate change, why would your business actively take part in and sponsor events intended to discuss just that? The only answer I can come up with is an intention to disrupt and delay the transition. However, many financial analysts are pointing to the fact that the clean energy transition is unstoppable. So either you join the party or you miss out on all the fun and excitement.

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