Obama Talks Climate Change With Alibaba’s Jack Ma

Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma today told U.S. President Barack Obama that governments around the world can help combat climate change by eliminating business taxes on innovative companies developing clean energy technologies.

During a Q&A session on climate change with Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Manila, Ma, co-founder of one of the world’s largest technology and e-commerce companies, said the private sector, philanthropists, scientists and government must all cooperate to address the problem of global warming.

“It’s too late to complain who’s (at) fault,” Ma said. “whether it’s your fault or my fault, let’s work together.”

Asked by POTUS how government and big companies could encourage investment in environmentally friendly technologies, Ma said “government is simple–just reduce the tax or no tax” on clean-energy start-ups, a remark that drew spirited applause from the APEC audience of business executives.

“You got a lot of cheers from your fellow CEOs,” Obama joked. But he later agreed, saying “there’s a role to play for government in providing tax incentives for the production of clean energy” and in providing funding for basic research and development.

Ma appeared with Aisa Mijeno, a Philippine engineer and start-up founder who developed a lamp fueled by salt water. Ma told Obama that it’s often difficult for big companies to innovate, which is one of the reasons why Alibaba backs small, cutting-edge companies like Mijeno’s. “When we see companies like that, we are excited, we put the money inside, we use technology, and we also promote them on our platform if they are environmentally friendly.”

Alibaba does not sell merchandise, Ma noted. Instead the company’s e-commerce marketplaces empower millions of smaller companies by providing an online venue, Internet technology and infrastructure to do business. Ma cited as an example an Alibaba logistics app that helps delivery companies keep their trucks filled with freight when returning to base instead of returning empty, an efficiency measure that produced $1.5 billion in fuel savings last year.

Obama said Mijeno’s company, which is developing sustainable technology that will allow poor people to live better lives without connecting to the electrical grid, is “a perfect example of young entrepreneurs coming up with leapfrog technology.”

“In the same way, in large portions of Asia, and Africa the old landline phones never got set up,” Obama said. “People just went straight to mobile, and obviously they’re buying stuff through Alibaba from there all the time.”

Prior to the Q&A with Obama, Ma in a speech at the APEC summit called for “a third world war” against poverty, climate change and disease, and for greater assistance to poorer nations and small businesses through global trade.

“Trade is a freedom, trade is a human right” that should not be used as a weapon against other economies, Ma said. He urged the creation of a new international trade body he calls the “e-WTO” or “WTO 2.0” that would be apolitical and dedicated to helping small businesses. For starters he suggested the worldwide elimination of import duties on goods sold by companies with less than 1 million euros ($1.06 million) of annual revenue.

Ma, an active campaigner for clean-environment initiatives, is China chairman of The Nature Conservancy’s global board of directors. Alibaba Group every year earmarks 0.3% of the company’s annual revenues ($12.3 billion in fiscal 2015) to the Alibaba Foundation, which since 2011 has donated RMB 410 million to environment protection and disaster relief. The foundation recently funded 15 innovative environmental protection projects in China.

China’s second-richest man, Ma said Bill Gates had called him two weeks ago to join forces to invest in clean energy technology, which is something he plans to do.