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Businesses adapting to climate change

Sam Eaton Jun 25, 2009

Businesses adapting to climate change

Sam Eaton Jun 25, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: The world’s 17 largest economies have been meeting outside Mexico City this week to talk climate change. They’re trying to lay the groundwork for a much bigger conference to be held later this year in Denmark. These meetings involve a lot of the standard talk of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by some date in the medium-term future.

But scientists are warning that even the most ambitious cuts aren’t going to be enough to stop the effects of global warming. So attention’s shifting to figuring out how to adapt to it instead. For a growing number of businesses and investors that spells opportunity, as Sam Eaton reports now from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.

SAM EATON: Most talk about adapting to a warmer world usually involves protecting coastal areas from rising seas. But it also means ensuring access to some of the most basic elements of human survival. Starting with fresh water.

That was the topic on everyone’s mind at a recent trade show in San Diego.

PAUL SCHULER: We see climate change as a water problem.

Paul Schuler is with General Electric’s Water Technologies unit. He’s manning a booth showcasing the company’s water-saving applications.

SCHULER: Whether it’s Australia now with the drought. Even Georgia has a drought. West Coast. Water scarcity and water location is the problem here in the future.

And Schuler says GE wants to ensure that its products, everything from systems that recycle wastewater to high-tech purifiers, are the go to technologies for drought-prone regions.

SCHULER: In all honesty it’s a money-making strategy, but you can do the right thing and make money. They’re not mutually exclusive.

And with talk of establishing an international adaptation fund as part of the next U.N. climate treaty, GE’s money-making strategy could pay off. The U.N. fund would ensure billions of dollars in financing for water, agriculture and infrastructure projects in poor nations. And if businesses with the technical know how are already lining up, institutional investors are close behind.

MATT MOSCARDI: People who are investing in adaptation now see an opportunity where there wasn’t one before.

Matt Moscardi is with the green investment coalition CERES.

MOSCARDI: You’re dealing with loss of land because of potential floods. You’re dealing with drought and possible famine. You’re dealing with infectious diseases on the rise.

And with each of these consequences comes the potential for vast new markets.

Mark Fulton is Deutsche Bank’s chief climate-change strategist. He says the bank’s $4 billion climate fund mostly invests in renewables and energy efficiency — technologies aimed at curbing global warming. But as greenhouse-gas emissions continue unabated, Deutsche Bank is shifting more of those funds into adaptation technologies.

MARK FULTON: Irrigation, fertilizers, mechanization in food. In water you’ve got desalination, you’ve got filtration, reverse osmosis.

Global banking giant HSBC also invests in adaptation. And South Korean firm Daishin plans to launch a climate-commodities fund later this year. Its profits derived from bets against future food shortages and diminishing natural resources.

Matt Moscardi with CERES says these investments may signal a new trend. But they’re far from the norm.

MOSCARDI: Investors are just now realizing that there’s investment opportunity in renewable energies and climate mitigation. And adaptation lags even further behind that.

Just look at Deutsche Bank.

Mark Fulton says climate investments there, both for mitigation and adaptation, account for less than 1 percent of Deutsche Bank’s $600 billion portfolio. And that’s at a bank with one of the most aggressive climate-change policies in the world.

Fulton says it’s a worrying sign.

FULTON: Because if the scientists are anywhere near right then if we don’t get to scale, and that requires hundreds of billions of dollars a year to be spent on these sectors really. Then if they’re right we’ve got some big problems coming.

Problems in need of big solutions. Not to mention a little foresight. Something Randy Shurson knows firsthand. He’s passing out fliers for his engineering company at the San Diego trade show. But back in 2005 he was a relief worker in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And he saw what it means to be unprepared.

RANDY SHURSON: Unfortunately the way the situation usually happens is we wait until the disaster’s already taken place and then there’s a big mad rush to buy and purchase emergency equipment.

Shurson’s company, Goodman Ball, has one solution. It makes a portable water purifier that fits on the back of a pickup truck. It’s designed to provide clean drinking water during natural disasters. And Shurson says orders have been on the rise.

In San Diego, I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

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