Davos - Donald Trump has often ridiculed global warming and promised to withdraw the US from the global accord signed in Paris in 2015.
Yet despite the change of political weather in Washington, the captains of business and finance gathered in Davos this week will spend a lot of time talking about climate change - and how to make money from it.
The World Economic Forum is devoting 15 sessions of its 2017 annual meeting to climate change, and nine more to clean energy - the most ever on the issues. It reflects how much is at stake. For global business leaders, it is not just a question of burnishing their green credentials, but about billions of dollars - maybe even trillions - in potential profits and losses. Insurers are starting to price-in more frequent flooding and droughts; energy giants are shaping their business for a world that’s moving away from oil and coal; car makers are putting real money into electric vehicles; banks want to lend money for renewable electricity projects.
“The good thing is that the Paris agreement raised the bar for everyone,” said Ben van Beurden, the head of Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil group. “Everybody feels the obligation to act.” Achieving the ambitions set out in Paris may require $13.5trillion (R182trln) of spending through to 2030, according to International Energy Agency data that shows the scale of the opportunity for business. Only last year, clean energy investment stood at $287.5 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicate.
“The scale and scope of the investment flows on renewables shows it’s mainstream,” said David Turk, head of climate change at the IEA in Paris and a former senior US climate diplomat.
With money-making opportunities rising, traditional climate change advocates - Al Gore and Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan - will mingle in panel discussions with executives such as HSBC Holdings chairman Stuart Gulliver and Patrick Yu, president of Cofco Corporation, the largest food company in China.
They will discuss the nexus between the fight against global warming and business - how to stop climate change and how to profit from it.
“Climate change is material and central for many companies and their boards,” said Dominic Waughray, head of public-private partnership at the World Economic Forum. “Climate change is a core part of the growth agenda.”
Beyond the official programme, a record 60 chief executives are expected to gather in a closed-door session to discuss the challenges of climate change, according to a person familiar with the event, who asked not to be named. In the Alpine resort’s congress centre, the World Economic Forum has built an exhibition highlighting climate change, “from rampant emissions to rising sea levels.”
Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University who will help to explain the exhibit, said despite the arrival of Trump, the fight against global warming will continue. “No matter what the US president says, the progress on climate change can have many routes,” he said. “The US can harm progress, but will not stop progress.”
In November’s follow-up meeting to Paris, nearly 200 nations, including China and Saudi Arabia, vowed to step up their efforts to fight global warming, facing down concerns the new Trump administration will seek to derail policies aimed at curbing pollution.
“Leadership on climate change is proving to be remarkably resilient,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s former top climate change diplomat.