GE CEO Challenges Trump on Climate Change

GE CEO Jeff Immelt at a speaking engagement

GE CEO Jeff Immelt has become the first leader of a major company to directly criticize Donald Trump’s policy moves on climate change, while calling on corporate America to fill any gaps left by the administration to address the issue.

The business community remains divided on climate change, with some CEOs calling for emissions reductions and those at the other end of the spectrum questioning its very existence. According to a survey of 1,379 CEOs released in January by PwC, climate change was still cited as a problem of moderate importance, with 35% saying there were “somewhat concerned” about the issue and 15% “extremely concerned”.

Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to undo Obama administration rules designed to reduce carbon emissions, including restrictions discouraging the construction of new coal-fired power plants. The president, who has called climate change a hoax, has not yet stated whether America will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

“No matter how it unfolds, it doesn’t change what GE believes,” Immelt wrote in an internal blog post to the company’s more than 300,000 employees. “We believe climate change is real and the science is well accepted. Our customers, partners and countries are demanding technology that generates power while reducing emissions, improving energy efficiency and reducing cost.”

“I BELIEVE, AND MY COMPANY BELIEVES, THAT CLIMATE RISKS WARRANT ACTION AND IT’S GOING TO TAKE ALL OF US—BUSINESS, GOVERNMENTS AND CONSUMERS—TO MAKE MEANINGFUL PROGRESS.”

 

Trump made reviving America’s coal sector a key part of his election strategy, though even some of his closest allies from the fossil fuel industry have asked him to tread carefully. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon CEO, told his confirmation hearing that America should remain part of the 2015 Paris agreement. The oil giant’s current CEO, Darren Woods, agreed.

“I believe, and my company believes, that climate risks warrant action and it’s going to take all of us—business, governments and consumers—to make meaningful progress,” Woods wrote in a February blog post. “At ExxonMobil, we’re encouraged that the pledges made at last year’s Paris Accord create an effective framework for all countries to address rising emissions; in fact, our company forecasts carbon reductions consistent with the results of the Paris accord commitments.”

GE, too, makes money from fossil fuels. Its purchase last year of Alstom’s power business bolstered its coal-fired power interests. GE is also a major global supplier of wind turbines and power stations fueled by cleaner-burning natural gas.

“Companies must be resilient and learn to adjust to political volatility all over the world,” Immelt wrote. “Companies must have their own ‘foreign policy’ and create technology and solutions that address local needs for our customers and society.”

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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