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Posted at 5:02 PM ET, 01/31/2010

Optimism on climate change in Davos

By Ruth Marcus

On the subject of climate change, one of the striking developments of the last few years has been a growing recognition of the problem among key business leaders -- including some in industries responsible for a large share of emissions -- and a willingness to accept responsibility for cutting back on carbon. This is not sheer corporate altruism; business craves certainty. The unstable regulatory environment, in the United States and globally, is anything but.

A new survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers of almost 700 companies in 15 countries underscores that willingness of business leaders to accept significant new regulation of carbon emissions. (Davos being a place where random conversations lead you in interesting directions, I got an advance from PWC's Mark Schofield after meeting him on the shuttle van from our hotel to the meeting site.)

The survey showed business braced to change their operations as a consequence of global warming; only 15 percent worldwide and 11 percent in the United States said they did not expect to make any changes. Not surprisingly, the government intervention that the corporate executives said they most preferred was government funding of environmental research and investments; 92 percent wanted to see such funding. More interesting, 64 percent said they were fairly or very supportive of a tax on carbon -- the smartest approach -- and 68 percent said they felt the same about an emissions trading scheme. The U.S. respondents weren't quite as eager. More (50 percent) said they opposed a carbon tax than supported it (42 percent). But they were more approving of a cap-and-trade system (53 percent for, 41 against), which is the approach of the bill that passed the House last year.

Maybe it was the altitude, but there was more optimism at Davos about the prospects for climate change legislation than I've been hearing back home. Maybe the PWC findings -- change is coming so we might as well adjust -- offer some basis for that optimism.

By Ruth Marcus  | January 31, 2010; 5:02 PM ET
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