Obama's pitch to CEOs: Invest in clean energy

MANILA, Philippines – US President Barack Obama told Asia's top CEOs to invest in clean energy, saying an upcoming climate deal in Paris will create sustainable business opportunities. 

Obama put climate change front and center of his speech in Manila at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit, the region's premier business forum. 

The US president urged both government and business leaders to ensure a successful agreement in the Paris talks in December. He said the deal should not just fight climate change but also usher in clean growth for the global economy. 

“I'm optimistic we can get an outcome we're all proud of. We understand what's at stake. An ambitious agreement in Paris will prompt investors to invest in clean energy technologies because they'll understand the world is committed to a low-carbon future. That's a signal to the private sector to go all in on renewable energy technologies,” Obama said on Wednesday, October 18. 

Obama's speech came just two weeks before the United Nations climate change conference (COP21), where countries will try to finalize an agreement that will limit global warming, and prevent the worst effects of climate change.

The US leader stressed that fighting climate change “makes good business sense,” debunking the traditional belief that clean energy will hamper economic growth. 

“If we can get an agreement done, it could drive new jobs and opportunities, an investment in a global economy that frankly needs a boost. If we send a signal that this is something every nation around the world is serious about, it can be an enormous generator of opportunity,” he added. 

Obama's emphasis on climate change in APEC shows how seriously he regards the issue, and its impact on the global economy. 

After his speech, the US president hosted a panel with Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Filipina entrepreneur Aisa Mijeno to further stress the link between environmental protection, and business opportunities. (READ: A first: Obama is APEC's funny moderator-in-chief)

Obama is in the Philippines to attend APEC, after joining the G20 summit in Turkey, and before flying to Malaysia for the East Asia Summit. 

'Asia-Pacific, PH have greater stake' 

Obama said that government and business leaders in the Asia-Pacific have a greater stake in battling climate change. 

“Last year, the island nation of Kiribati purchased a plot of land in case its people, future climate change refugees, need to seek safety from the rising sea. In the Philippines  you're barely removed by 2 years from Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), a storm that claimed thousands of lives, and caused billions of dollars in damage.” 

Obama said that businesses will suffer if the world fails to prevent extreme weather events, rising temperatures and sea levels, melting ice caps, and worsening storms. 

“The time to act is now and it is going to affect people's bottomlines. Agriculture production will be impacted if we do not get on top of this. Economic disruption, we will be able to price the cost. In serious ways, insurance companies are factoring this in their determinations.” 

Still, Obama cited the efforts of Asian nations to shift to clean energy. 

“Last year, renewable energy accounted for more than half of all new power plants built around the world. For the first time, China pledged to peak and reduce its carbon emissions.”

He added: “The private sector is getting involved in renewable energy in Vietnam. In the Philippines, we see major investments in massive wind, solar projects.

Obama said that APEC is also working to reduce energy intensity by 45% over the next two decades. 

Apple, Google already leading  

The United States, the world's top polluter, is already taking measures to make its growth more sustainable, Obama said. 

Despite obstacles from a Republican-dominated Congress, Obama touted the efforts of his administration to fight climate change.  

“The US is leading on this issue. Since I took office, we doubled the distance new cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025. We're producing 3 times as much wind power as we were when I came into office, and we are producing about 20 times as much solar power as when I came into office,” he said. 

He said there are now parts of the US where clean power from wind and solar energy is cheaper than oil and gas. 

Obama said top US firms are already part of the initiative. 

“The good news is that more and more companies realize that climate change presents a huge business opportunity. We see this in America. Google, Apple, Costco are among the world's largest corporate buyers of renewable energy. Walmart has installed more solar capacity that any business in America.” 

The president acknowledged that there are still countries and companies that do not see the business prospects of clean energy but said that change was “inexorable, inevitable.”  

“My message to you is your businesses can do right by your bottom lines and by our planet, future generations. The old rules that said we couldn't grow our economies and protect our environments at the same time – those are outdated. I hope companies represented here see this as an opportunity.” – Rappler.com