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Biz looks for signals from Copenhagen

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Kai Ryssdal: Now that the real chief executives are arriving in Copenhagen — that is, presidents and prime ministers — some of the corporate executives who’ve been there all along can only sit and wait along with the rest of us, even though they have many billions of dollars on the line. Among them is Laurent Corbier. He chairs the environment and energy committee of the International Chamber of Commerce. He’s also in charge of sustainable development at the French energy firm Areva. And we have gotten him on the line to talk about investment and climate change policy. Mr. Corbier, good to have you with us.

LAURENT CORBIER: It’s a pleasure. I’m glad to be here as well.

Ryssdal: What did you think was going to happen at the end of two weeks in Copenhagen? Were you expecting a definite agreement and some guidance for business investment to come out of there?

CORBIER: Our expectation has never been that everything would be settled and finalized in Copenhagen. So we still have a long road between now and tomorrow night to see this agreement, but we would hope that it would allow us to have more detailed discussions and involvement in 2010.

Ryssdal: Sounds a little bit like deliberate vagueness. That it’s OK to leave some things unsettled.

CORBIER: Well, I think business likes to work on signals, and we need signals to press ahead, to accelerate or intensify our actions. And I think that an agreement in Copenhagen needs to send some strong signals to, well, to the overall world and to society in general but to business in particular. Signals that would mean that we can continue our investment, that we can expect more clarity and predictability from the decisions, which will be fine-tuned in 2010.

Ryssdal: Just to be clear here, when you say signals, what you really mean is things that will eventually turn into regulations. That businesses can look to and say, yes my investment here is safe and sound.

CORBIER: Absolutely. We need to learn more about the future rules of the game, and we need to be comfortable with the fact that we’ll be able to invest and continue our actions in a predictable framework.

Ryssdal: Why is a global agreement so important? Why can’t you just say, well, the Germans have good regulations we’ll invest there, the Chinese not so much, we won’t invest there, the Americans, eh, you know, maybe.

CORBIER: We believe ourselves in open markets where there are fair rules of competition. There’s the need for a level playing field, and I think that the more fragmentation you have, the bigger the risk of having specific rules that really complexify the situation, rather than simplify it. So I guess that we have a very strong appeal to have rules of the game so that all the efforts that companies are doing in regions and in countries can be comparable rather than constantly different.

Ryssdal: What happens Mr. Corbier if the final communique tomorrow is, as we talked earlier, vague. And you don’t have the signals you want. What happens then?

CORBIER: First of all, I don’t think that if there is communique that is not a success, so to speak, then it will not stop the business from doing what we do already. We’re doing a lot as individual businesses to improve our energy efficiency, to bring our emissions down, all of this will continue. The only thing that will be missing is this accelerator and this accelerating movement and intensification movement will be slower than expected. So once again, we are not going to change our course of action, but at the same time, it will not be as intensified and enhanced as it would have been possible with an agreement.

Ryssdal: Laurent Corbier from the International Chamber of Commerce, also the French energy group Areva. Mr. Corbier, thank you so much for your time.

CORBIER: Thank you very much.

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