COP 23 caps off a milestone year of corporate climate leadership

Photo credit: Rhys Gerholdt (WRI)

After the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21) in 2015, where the historic climate accord was established, it was near impossible to imagine a future COP where the US federal government wouldn’t play a central role. Yet now, at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, the US government doesn’t have an official presence at the event – for the first time ever.

To fill the void of federal policy action, companies and organizations from across the US are voicing their support for the Paris agreement at the U.S. Climate Action Center, a pavilion sponsored exclusively by non-federal US stakeholders.

The Climate Action Center is an initiative of the We Are Still In coalition of cities, states, tribes, universities, and businesses that are committed to the Paris Agreement. Thus far over 1,700 businesses including Apple, Amazon, Campbell Soup, Nike, NRG Energy and Target have signed the We Are Still In declaration – evidence that public climate commitments are quickly becoming the norm.

Businesses at the heart of climate action in Bonn

We Are Still In signatories – especially major US businesses that have a vast global presence – know the value of keeping an open dialogue with the rest of the world. These companies also know that clean energy innovation, investment and job creation is a game plan for success in the 21st century.

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Jeff Moe from Ingersoll Rand, a Fortune 500 industrial manufacturing company that has pledged to reduce the carbon footprint of their products 50 percent by 2020, noted at the opening of the Climate Action Center, “We’re not changing our strategy because there’s a different administration. It’s the right thing to do as a business.”

Sustainability leaders from Citi, Johnson Controls, PG&E Corporation, Coca-Cola and others are also publicly sharing insights on innovation, investment and action geared toward transitioning to a cleaner future.

To me, this is what corporate climate leadership is all about: setting public goals, collaborating for greater impact, and supporting smart climate and energy policy.

Tom Murray, VP EDF+Business

COP 23 sparks new commitments

On the first day of the climate summit, HSBC pledged to provide $100 billion in sustainable financing and investment by 2025, and to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 – all part of HSBC’s broader goal to support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Earlier this week, Microsoft pledged to reduce their operational carbon emissions 75 percent by 2030. In 2012, Microsoft became one of the first companies to institute an internal price on carbon, which enabled them to “operate 100 percent carbon neutral.”

America’s Pledge co-chairs Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown released a new report, “America’s Pledge Phase 1: States, Cities, and Businesses in the United States Are Stepping Up on Climate Action,” which highlights the scope and scale of non-federal climate action across the U.S.

Lastly, the US Business Showcase event in Bonn represents the first major international gathering of American business climate leaders since the federal government’s announcement in June to withdraw from the Paris Accord. Hosted by World Wildlife Fund – US and Ceres, the event brings together a diverse array of companies to share how they’re increasing resiliency and setting emissions-reduction targets.

A year of climate action in review

Other We Are Still In businesses made headlines throughout 2017 for setting ambitious climate goals and making clean energy investments despite the lack of federal action on climate change:

  • Mars Inc. pledged to invest $1 billion towards its Sustainable in a Generation Plan. This includes a goal to slash GHG emissions by 67 percent across its value chain by 2050.
  • Walmart set a new goal to reduce emissions in their supply chain by 1 gigaton (1 billion metric tons) by 2030.
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise launched the first-ever supply chain program based on climate science, requiring 80 percent of manufacturing suppliers to set “science-based emissions reduction targets in their operations by 2025, seeking to avoid 100 million tons of emissions.”
  • Amazon announced their biggest wind farm yet. The company now has 18 wind and solar projects across the US, with plans to build 35 more – this is part of Amazon’s goal to use 100% renewable energy.

There are many more companies I can add to the list. Business made progress on climate action in 2017, but more needs to be done to keep us on track towards a low carbon future.

For example, preliminary findings from Bloomberg’s annual Climatescope report show that clean energy investments in emerging markets are falling, despite the Paris Agreement commitment for wealthier nations to provide $100 billion annually through 2020 to emerging nations to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Sustainability leadership in 2018

Register for EDF and Ceres’ upcoming webinar on November 28th:The Business Case for Climate Leadership and the Clean Power Plan: Why Company Voices Matter Now.

I’m hopeful that we will see more companies thinking globally, and setting long-term climate commitments, but we need to keep the momentum going.

There are countless opportunities for businesses to weigh in on smart climate policy, for example by supporting the Clean Power Plan here at home.

If you’re not taking a long-term, systematic approach to building a healthy business for a healthy environment, EDF’s three-part framework to sustainability leadership can empower and equip your company to meet the challenges ahead.  With a leadership vacuum in Washington, DC, now’s the time for business to continue to lead on climate.

Follow Tom on Twitter, @tpmurray

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