This month, the Chinese city of Dalian played host to the World Economic Forum's first Annual Meeting of The New Champions, also known as Summer Davos. Liberal party industry critic Scott Brison was among 2,000 chief executives, economists and politicians at the event. On his return to Canada, Mr. Brison talked to the Financial Post's Duncan Mavin about Dalian, China and the hottest topic at Summer Davos, corporate sustainability and the environment.
Q I was in Dalian earlier this summer and found it to be a prosperous city with much less smog than other Chinese cities. What was your own view?
A It's true Dalian went through a fairly rigorous cleanup before the WEF session. But it's also a very impressive emerging city. It was helpful for Western business and thought leaders to see it first-hand. It's hard to understand the scale of the opportunities unless you go to China.
Q What message do you think the WEF is putting out by holding this event, aimed at promoting up-and-coming global businesses, in Dalian?
A The fact they are in a Chinese city for the first time in 36 years and they are going back next year to Tianjin is a big vote of confidence in the Chinese economy. The CEOs are motivated by the fear of lost opportunity.
Q There were a lot of presentations at the event. Any hot tickets?
A Yes. The titans of industry were clamouring over themselves like huskies to red meat to learn more about how to green their businesses. Sessions on urban planning, energy efficiency, technology to enable environmentally sustainable economic growth in a carbonconstrained world, and the future of clean energy were among those that garnered the most attention. Whether or not you believe in the science of climate change or support Kyoto, the consensus was there's going to be a price put on carbon and you have a responsibilty to your shareholders to be ready.
Q With all the stories about product recalls and pollution coming out of China, doesn't it seem counterintuitive to link China with the environmental cause?
A China is currently working with British and American architects to design new state-of-the-art cities for 400 million Chinese that are sustainable in everything from waste-water treatment to energy-efficiency. In the same way, China went from a decrepit telco infrastructure and leapfrogged to cellular telcos, they are going to leapfrog from cities that are backward from an environmental perspective to hyper-sustainable cities. I think the same will be done on clean energy, too.
Q So where does Canada fit in to this?
A Helping China and other emerging nations get the energy they need in a carbon constrained environment is going to require technology. I believe this is going to create a greater level of economic activity than the Internet revolution. The challenge we have as a county is that we are a major fossil fuel energy provider in a carbonconstrained world but it's also an opportunity if we can position ourselves as the best place in the world to research and develop clean-energy solutions. If I was back in business I would be focusing on clean energy. I see no other area that offers this opportunity to Canada.