Warren Buffett is Doubling His Investments in Clean Energy

Shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy represents a multi-trillion dollar investment opportunity while limiting the risks of climate change.
Jun 30, 2014 10:00 AM ET

Clean Trillion: Closing the Clean Energy Investment Gap

The Clean Trillion campaign to scale up investment in clean energy picked up fresh momentum this month when Warren Buffett announced on June 9th that he is doubling his company’s investments in renewable energy. But Buffett is not alone: a growing number of investors, businesses, and governments stepped up their commitment to clean energy this month.

Why? Because shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy represents a multi-trillion dollar investment opportunity. It is also the right thing to do to limit the risks of climate change.

Clean energy is increasingly “business as usual” for America’s largest companies. In fact, 43 percent of the Fortune 500 have set targets in at least one of these three clean energy categories: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency, or procuring more renewable energy, according to a new report released on June 19th. In doing so, these companies have collectively saved more than $1 billion and have reduced carbon emissions equivalent to shutting down 15 coal-fired power plants.

Investor and business leadership on clean energy is essential, but it is insufficient.  In order to achieve the Clean Trillion campaign goal, we need governments to step up their leadership. This month, the U.S. took a big step forward when the Obama Administration proposed the first-ever rules limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants. Because individual states can meet the new EPA standards by implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy measures, EPA’s new carbon rule will accelerate and expand US investment in clean energy.

Over 170 businesses and investors, managing $800 billion in assets, recognized the importance of U.S. climate policy action and sent letters this month supporting the new EPA carbon rule.  In a recent speech, President Obama highlighted the need for business leadership on climate policy by quoting Ceres’ Climate Declaration:

There’s a reason that more than 700 businesses like Apple and Microsoft, and GM and Nike, Intel, Starbucks have declared that “tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities in the 21st century.” The country that seizes this opportunity first will lead the way. A low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine for growth and jobs for decades to come, and I want America to build that engine. Because if we do, others will follow.

Clean energy has bipartisan support too, as demonstrated by former Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, in a June 22nd op-ed, in which he called for a “transition to an economy powered by clean energy.” Paulson made the case for a carbon tax in order to “unleash a wave of innovation to develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs as we and other nations develop new energy products and infrastructure.”

Paulson’s proposal for a carbon tax, and the Risky Business report that Paulson helped release on June 24th, show there’s more investor and business support than ever before for climate and clean energy policy action. As Ceres President Mindy Lubber points out in herForbes blog about the Risky Business report, on climate change the cost of inaction “far outweighs any short-term investment” needed to fight it.

Given the opposition to climate change policy within the current U.S. Congress, however, Paulson’s carbon tax proposal has slim chances.  EPA’s new carbon rule represents the best near-term opportunity to limit the risks of climate change and increase investment in clean energy.  That’s why businesses and investors in the Ceres network are actively supporting it.