Saturday, 23 February 2008

European Business Summit – Agreement about the need for a revolution, but little action

Participating in the European Business Summit (EBS)over two days is an interesting experience, part inspiring visions, part sad PR attempts and part opportunities for very frank one-to-one conversations with interesting people.

The reason for my participation was a panel with the theme “ICT: solution for a low carbon economy?”. It was a good panel with the following participants:

Moderator: Martin Porter, Managing Director, The Centre
Viviane Reding
, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, European Commission
Tim Cowen
, Commercial Director and Legal Counsel, BT Global Services
Francesco Serafini
, Senior Vice President, Managing Director, HP EMEA
Dr. Craig Barrett
, Chairman of the Board, Intel
Håkan Eriksson
, Senior Vice President, CTO, Ericsson
Dennis Pamlin
, Global Policy Adviser, WWF

It was encouraging to hear Viviane Reding talk about the role of ICT at the panel and the day after Euroactive wrote:
“To tackle the problem, the commissioner announced a range of actions for ‘the coming months’. The EU executive will start with a document suggesting the way forward. Then there will be a stakeholders' forum, followed by a final recommendation by the European Commission. ’Everything [will be] in 2008,- pointed out Reding.”

I look forward to follow this process. It sounds very much like the WWF-ETNO roadmap from 2005. But if we could get started now we have only lost two years.

The others on the panel where strong supporters, Craig Bannet was the only one who did not seem to be 100% on the solution side, but instead slipped back into the energy use of the IT-equipment all the time (maybe he did not hear that the rest of the panel left that discussion behind)

Looking at the rest of the event it is interesting to observe that the first panel included, but was not dominated by, Björn Lomborg. It was almost symbolic that he was part of the introduction as his role these days seem to be reduced to a clown/joker that is invited to be a voice for a world we have left behind.

His statements where either obvious things that no one disagree with (that we need to think carefully about the long term consequences of our actions, and that research is important, that we cannot solve the climate challenge by asking individuals to act as structural changes are needed, that other important challenges exist, etc) or just plain wrong (that it will be extremely expensive to save the climate, or that early action is unimportant). While he earlier discussed important issues like the risk of overestimating the risk of climate change (and other environmental threats) he seem to have nothing to say these days beside that we should not act, but instead focus on research (that it is not a matter of either or seem to more than he can grasp).

The final panel was dominated by Jeremy Rifkin, who talked about the need for a revolution, to make society smart, to move beyond incremental improvements, the need to focus on the three big areas of climate (Buildings, meat and transport). Jeremy have said these things for years, so the surprise is not that he says this, but that he is allowed to end the European Business Summit, and even more surprising the strong support he got from other in the panel. I hope they all read our material from Davos that is exactly about this (5 meg and in a difficult format to read as it is from A4 to A2)...

The biggest surprise for me was probably Gunter Verheugen, hardly known for his leadership in sustainability. He was talking about the need for market regulation in order to ensure that new technologies can enter into the market. The feed-in tariffs that gave birth of the Wind industry in Germany was all of a sudden almost his personal invention. Others on the panel where equally radical. Mark Spelman, Global Head of Strategy, Accenture, talked about the need to get sustainability and climate in as performance management targets on board levels in companies, that innovation must be supported and venture capital increased. Bernard Wientjes, from Belgium was probably one of the more conservative on the panel but was still presenting ideas about green houses that are net producers of electricity.

I should also mention Jean-Philippe from Microsoft who was on the same panel as Lomborg and probably the one on that panel with the most coherent message. From innovations to smart homes, he included much of what Jeremy talked about in the final panel. But there was one big thing missing (not only from him but everyone, including Jeremy): NUMBERS. There were very few concrete numbers about the CO2 reductions that different options will result in and very few, if any, concrete numbers regarding …

So in short the conference started with the historic way of looking at climate change as a problem, and ended with the perspective that it is a driver that can deliver a positive revolution.

I would not mind if the theme next year could be action, where the conference start with the most innovative solutions today and end with the most promising for 2010… Less talk and more action…