Biz groups differ on best approach to climate change

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been among the most vocal opponents of the Obama administration's climate change policy and plans to raise its objections through a "reality check" at the Untied Nations COP21 meeting in Paris. But another major business group, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), sees a different reality and wants a more active role for the private sector to help nations address the challenges that climate change poses for the global economy.

The U.S. chamber, considered the world's largest business organization, is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's Clean Climate Plan and has opposed the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules to tax carbon, which the chamber argues would raise electricity prices and cost jobs. It also is against efforts to regulate greenhouse gases through existing environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

"We wouldn't mind seeing a decent agreement coming out of Paris but I don't think that is what we are going to see," Steve Eule, who will head the business group's delegation to Paris, told CBS MoneyWatch. "There are a whole host of issues in the United States that I don't think people are aware of over there."

The ICC, which is based in Paris and counts the U.S. Chamber as a member, is seeking what it calls an "ambitious agreement" with a "significant emphasis on the role of the private sector in delivering a brighter, safer and more prosperous future for all," according to its website. The ICC advocates carbon taxes as one of many policies that could be used to address climate change, although the organization understands carbon taxes might not be appropriate everywhere, according to ICC spokesman Andrew Wilson. Both organizations argued that differences among them regarding climate change are to be expected.

Under the Obama administration's plan, carbon emissions levels would be 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2o2o. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday in France, the President called climate change an "economic and security imperative that we must tackle now" despite the recent terrorist attacks in Europe. He added that he had "high hopes" that the 195 countries meeting in France would be able to reach an agreement during the two-week-long gathering.

The U.S. Chamber and other critics argue the White House's policy would saddle U.S. companies with billions in additional costs while letting developing countries increase their pollution levels. Opponents also oppose the administration's plans to enact the climate agreement without going through the U.S. Senate, where it likely wouldn't pass. Earlier this month, the Senate voted to scrap an EPA rule that would significantly cut emissions from coal-fired power plants that are linked to global warming.

Climate change has become a focal point for President Obama's second term. According to Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations, no other polluter has promised pollution cuts as steep as the U.S. has, which is among the reasons why the stakes in the Paris talks are high.

"If the public views Paris as a success, that will make climate action more politically palatable, since policymakers and business people who want to cut emissions will be able to point to the Paris outcome as evidence that low-carbon development is the way of the future," Levi wrote in a blog post. "Conversely, if Paris is seen as a failure, those opposed to steering in a low-carbon direction will wield it as evidence that they're simply avoiding an unwise and unpopular path. "

Environmentalists have attacked the U.S. Chamber's views on climate change for years. Yet some Fortune 500 companies have publicly opposed the trade group's position as well. Apple (APPL) quit the chamber in 2009 over the issue, while Nike (NKE) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) have said they disagree with the organization on climate change but remain members.

"One of the big questions for us is who does the chamber even represent on this issue," Dave Anderson, a coordinator with the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, adding that his organization considers the U.S. Chamber to be a "pretty bad actor" on the issue.

Though environmentalists and other critics have accused the chamber of trying to cast doubts on the scientific evidence of climate change when none exists, Eule calls that argument a "red herring."

"The issue has always been do we have a handle on what the dangers might be and if so what do we do about it," Eule said.

  • Jonathan Berr On Twitter»

    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.