What will Copenhagen mean for business?

All eyes are focused on world leaders as a last minute negotiating frenzy builds in snowy Copenhagen. But what of the people who are seeking to make money from combating climate change? A partial, malformed deal at Copenhagen is likely to create significant uncertainty in markets which could have undesirable consequences.

Back in May, things were warmer, the Bella Centre was less chaotic and at the World Business Summit on Climate Change the message was coherent and clear. Rooms full of executives repeatedly told us that business wants a price on carbon and business wants certainty about what happens next. Of course there is no single business interest when it comes to climate change, nor can there ever be real certainty about the future, but a modicum of stability and a global deal looked to be achievable back then.

The mood in Copenhagen in December is very different. I’ve spoken to investors in emissions trading; companies that specialise in bring avoided deforestation projects online and energy interests. Though no-one is quite sure what Copenhagen will mean for them, none are happy about the prospect of an incomplete outcome and many are facing significant short-term losses. Very few people seem interested in global emissions trading – regional or national schemes are the order of the day.

On the very first day of the conference I stood in line behind a group of traders, all of whom formerly worked for a well-known carbon-trading company. The company had laid off approximately half its staff in the past year. The former colleagues laughed about the good times and compared tales of their new lives with the likes of JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

Many in civil society would celebrate a crash in what they see as fraudulent markets in indulgencies. But hard questions need to be asked: what will happen to investment in clean technologies in the aftermath of this conference? Will Copenhagen be strong enough to base investment decisions on, or does the uncertainty create too much risk? Are we now in danger of becoming too reliant on already scarce government aid budgets? One thing is for sure, nobody is certain about anything.