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.

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Superstorms: America’s new normal?

This year, the Atlantic basin had eight consecutive storms develop—the first time in 124 years. The storms—and by storms I mean big storms—have had catastrophic effects on families, communities and the economy at large. Millions of people were left powerless, access to clean drinking water was compromised and homes were destroyed. It will take decades for the country to recover from this devastation, and hurricane season is only halfway over.

And as the intensity of these storms increases, so do their price tags. Together, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hit the U.S. earlier this fall, are estimated to cost $150-$200 billion in combined destruction. This is an enormous blow to the economy and to tax payers’ wallets.

To those of us on the east coast, this sounds awfully similar to destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York City and New Jersey hard this time five years ago. That’s why it’s important to ask: could the devastation have been avoided, or at least reduced?

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Scope 3… the serious path towards sustainability

More and more companies are making public commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions outside of their own operations. Why? Because compared to scope 1 and 2 emissions (from direct activities), avoiding scope 3 emissions can have the greatest impact on a corporate footprint.

The numbers are clear: the majority of GHG emissions come from indirect activities, both upstream and downstream, in the supply chain. In fact, for most of consumer goods products manufacturing, scope 3 emissions account for over 70% of overall GHG emissions. Included is everything from purchasing raw materials to end of life treatment.

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Wholesale renewable energy procurement: what you need to know.

Clean energy is on the rise in America, and there’s no denying it. Each year, investments in renewable sources of power continue to increase, bringing with it economic and job growth. In fact, it’s on track to deliver an increasing share of total energy supply, putting traditional energy sources to the side. That’s why organizations across the country are turning to renewable energy as a way to meet their sustainability goals and cut energy costs.

We’re at a time when corporate America is stepping up to the plate on climate leadership. Bigger, more ambitious commitments are being set and bolder targets announced. And renewable energy can be the tool to meet them. But it means the scale and sophistication of clean energy projects must grow. Small-scale, on-site solar installations are not always large enough to generate the quantity of power necessary. So businesses are turning to another route: wholesale renewable energy procurement.

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Making large-scale energy efficiency easier (and more affordable)

Energy efficiency is a simple, quick and cost-effective method to reduce both costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That’s why companies are scaling up their energy efficiency projects in an effort to achieve greater results. And it’s important that they do. Buildings play a considerable role in GHG emissions: Commercial buildings in particular make up roughly 20% of total U.S. energy. So it’s no surprise that optimizing building systems is on the rise.

Between 2006 and 2014, investments in commercial building energy efficiency more than doubled from seven billion to 16 billion, with projects ranging from heating and cooling, to refrigeration, energy management and more.

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Big brands drive change in China’s manufacturing hub

In just a few days I, along with EDF+Business’ Xixi Chen, will be traveling across China to talk with companies and students about corporate energy management. The trip comes one week after China’s “Golden Week”—the country’s eight-day-long national celebration. Each year, the holiday marks the largest week for tourism, bringing in over 700 million tourists at home and abroad to the nation’s streets and roughly $87 billion in revenue.

But while the streets are bustling, China’s industrial and manufacturing powerhouse comes to a standstill. This is a mandatory national holiday for all citizens, which means, for the entire week, almost everyone is off of work, businesses and factories are shut down, shipping lines are put on pause, and companies with suppliers in China are busy preparing for a week of silence.

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NYC paves the path for a better future, encouraging other cities to follow

Earlier this week, New York City became the first city to devise a plan for meeting the goals outlined in the Paris Accord —the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement from which President Trump pledged to pull the U.S. from. The 1.5°C Paris Agreement-compliant climate action plan comes in response to Executive Order 26 (EO26), signed by Mayor de Blasio that reaffirms the city’s commitment to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The plan identifies specific strategies for reducing GHG emissions necessary to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set forth in the Paris Agreement. Leading the charge is the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS), which has been moving the city’s decarbonization efforts forward by accelerating the implementation of existing projects launched under the 80 X 50 initiative—a goal of reducing GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050.

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China: the new leading voice on climate change?

This is the first of a three-part blog series covering corporate sustainability in China. Experts from EDF Climate Corps examine how businesses are shifting the ways they approach energy management in response to increasing climate commitments.

This past June, 197 countries reaffirmed their commitments to reduce GHG emissions in an effort to curb global climate change. The U.S. was not one of them. This decision, a major backpedal for America, made room for a new frontrunner to take the reins on global climate leadership. And that’s exactly what has happened.

After President Trump backed away, China, the largest GHG emitter and coal consumer, recommitted to forge ahead with the Paris agreement. The nation recognizes climate change as a major challenge faced by all mankind and a threat to national security, which is why Beijing has deemed the Paris agreement its “highest political commitment”. China’s participation in any international agreement on climate is not only critical, it’s an opportunity to dominate the clean energy sector and inspire others to take action.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

Here are three ways China is positioning itself to meet its targets (America, take note):

1. Enforce goals at every policy level.

China has set aggressive targets aimed at reducing the nation’s greenhouse gases that are supported and enforced by climate policies at the international, national and local level. This alignment allows for greater consistency and cooperation between the private and public sectors, enabling greater efficiency in working towards these common goals.

At the international level, China reaffirmed its promise to meet the commitments (working closely alongside the EU) outlined in the Paris agreement, including peaking CO2 emissions by 2030. Domestically, China has both short-and long-term plans to help ensure their energy goals are met. The Strategic National Energy Plan was completed this past April and China is on track to achieve its energy goals outlined in the 13th Five-year plan.

At the local level, cities have their own carbon-cutting plans. Shenzhen, one of China’s manufacturing hubs, aims to peak the city’s carbon emissions by 2022—eight years ahead of the national target. Companies, too, are ramping up their efforts.  For the past two years, EDF Climate Corps has placed four fellows in IKEA’s Shenzhen offices to help meet these targets by focusing on increasing the sustainability of the company’s supply chain (Stay tuned for more on this kind of corporate engagement in the next post of this series).

2. Invest in clean energy.

China continues to expand its dominance in renewable energy. Recently, they committed to investing $360 billion in clean energy development. According to China’s National Energy Administration, renewable energy already employs 3.5 million people in China (compared with less than a million in the US) and this new investment is expected to create 13 million more jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2020. That’s enormous growth.  

The private sector is tapping into this market as well. Chinese companies already dominate among the most profitable clean energy companies in the world with 35% of the top 200 publicly traded corporations earning significant revenue from renewable energy being Chinese. Simply put, in China, clean energy is viewed as smart business and smart economics.

3. Use a multi-faceted approach:

Manager, EDF+Business

China is coming at climate change from all angles. In addition to the policy mechanisms and promotion of clean energy mentioned above, China is securing long-term investment and sustained financing to encourage innovation and the adoption of new technologies. For example, this year China launched five pilot zones to promote “Green Finance”, a vehicle aimed at raising funds for pollution clean-up.

Also this year, President Xi Jinping pledged to launch the world’s largest national carbon market; a decision EDF played an important role in by providing the Chinese government with critical technical support and consultation. The market will hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy and send a message to the world that China is serious about finding solutions. Additionally, this presents an enormous opportunity for the private sector to curb emissions. Companies are incentivized to innovate and reduce their emissions, selling excess allowances and opening up new revenue streams.

The road forward for China

The momentum we’re seeing in China is in sharp contrast to Trump’s America. It’s this strong leadership and creativity that is needed to address GHG emissions within China. And it sets an example for others to follow. Delivering on its many commitments and aspirations won’t be easy, but for China to declare them as necessary is a big step in the right direction–one that has the potential to create massive positive change.

In our next blog post, we’ll take a closer look into how companies are already making and delivering on plans to do their part in helping China achieve its climate commitments.


Follow Scott and Xixi on Twitter, @scottwood_, @Talk2Xixi


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Related Posts

From energy efficiency to clean energy: 10 years of EDF Climate Corps EDF 

Four ways businesses and cities will get us to a low-carbon future

As Trump signals a rollback on environmental regulations, a new jobs report indicates that may not be such a good idea

 

Four ways businesses and cities will get us to a low-carbon future

A little over a week ago, 20 of the world’s power houses came together for the Group of 20 summit. It was disappointing to see Trump hold firm to his decision to exit the Paris Agreement while 19 world leaders publicly reaffirmed their commitment. But something good has come out of Trump’s climate defiance, and I bet it’s not the reaction he was looking for: climate action.

The inability for the federal government to agree on climate doesn’t stop momentum– it fuels it. An enormous swell of energy and activism has swept across America. Businesses, states, cities and citizens are stepping up, creating plans to pursue lower emissions on their own.

There are now over 1,400 cities, states and businesses that have vowed to meet Paris commitments, sending a message that “we’re still in” and making enormous strides on devising climate solutions that keep the agenda alive. EDF Climate Corps' ten years of experience gives us an inside look into how companies, cities and non-profits are taking action.

Here are four ways that the private and public sector are preparing for a low-carbon future:

1. Scale energy efficiency. The low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency has for the most part been picked. It’s time to take things to the next level by focusing on larger-scale, portfolio-level energy efficiency projects. Last year, Shuvya Arakali worked with American Eagle Outfitters to recommend HVAC retrofits, and other energy efficiency measures that could be deployed across the store portfolio and save thousands of metric tons of CO2e each year.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

2. Invest in clean, renewable energy. Evaluate opportunities for both onsite and offsite renewable energy projects, like PPAs and VPPAs. Other procurement options includes mechanisms like green tariffs. The City of Fresno enlisted EDF Climate Corps fellow Katie Altobello-Czescik to help promote clean, smart energy initiatives including renewable generation, battery storage and demand response. Together, they worked on advancing a community-scale energy project aimed at helping local businesses and creating a net zero neighborhood.

3. Make a commitment—then execute. Be willing to set big goals and develop ambitious GHG-reduction targets that are founded upon science. Once they are set, create strategies to meet them. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio set a goal to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The New York City's Mayor's Office of Sustainability has deployed multiple EDF Climate Corps fellows to help develop and advance strategies to meet these ambitious goals.

4. Go beyond your own company. Tackling climate change requires looking at the big picture, more than what’s happening within internal operations. Consider your supply chains by engaging suppliers and together identifying ways to reduce scope 3—both upstream and downstream—GHG emissions. This past spring, Walmart set a goal to remove 1 gigaton (1 billion tons) of GHG emissions from its supply chain by 2030. Companies throughout Walmart’s supply chain now have the directive to go beyond “business as usual” to focus on emissions reductions in their operations.

It’s difficult not to feel discouraged when our national climate policy is moving backwards instead of forwards. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the country is. United States’ leadership will continue, albeit in this new form, and businesses and cities will keep continue to advance climate solutions through smart policy, forward-thinking business and cutting-edge innovation.


Follow Ellen on Twitter, @ellenshenette


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Six months into the presidency, where are all the jobs?

We’re halfway through “Energy Week” at the White House–a series of events promoting President Trump’s energy policies. These are policies the administration claims will boost the economy and grow America’s energy dominance (note the change from “energy interdependence” to “energy dominance”), while creating jobs by reviving America’s declining coal industry.

It’s the same plan we’ve heard since Trump’s first day as President. So let’s ask ourselves, is it working?

Slashing climate policies

In March, Trump signed an executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, and on June 1st, he followed through on his promise to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. These reckless decisions were a major setback to both our nation’s economy and our job market.

The decision to withdraw from Paris was justified by the “economic unfairness” that it would bring upon the country, citing negative effects on jobs. The administration claimed they would continue to be the “cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth”, but not at the expense of our businesses and jobs. After business and world leaders criticized his actions, Trump defended his decision by stating he was simply fulfilling a campaign promise.

This was a campaign promise to bring back [coal] jobs. It’s time we check whether Trump has delivered.

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

America’s job board: where does coal fall on the list?

In addition to his actions on the Clean Power Plan and the Paris agreement, Trump has focused on weakening health protections that reduce the impacts associated with the production of fossil fuels, like coal. Since then, the coal mining industry has added a mere 1,000 jobs, bringing us to a total of just 51,000 coal mining jobs nationwide—keep in mind that’s roughly only .03 percent of the more than 150,000,000 jobs in the U.S—as of May 2017. And of those industry workers, only roughly one-fifth actually mine the coal. These numbers fall far behind the 50,000 coal jobs that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed have been created in just the time since Trump became president.

It’s time we look at the long-term picture. The economic realities of the past few decades haven’t favored coal power and this isn’t going to change. The decline of coal-related jobs is partly due to the rise in cheap natural gas, combined with increased continuous automation, and the industry is forecasted to see an additional 51% reduction in generation by 2040. We’re heading in a new direction. The U.S. power sector—as states and power companies reaffirm their commitments to de-carbonization—is well-positioned to continue to reduce carbon pollution.

Meanwhile, despite Trump’s best efforts to dismantle their progress, renewables are on track to see a 169 percent increase in generation by 2040, bringing with them clean, local and well-paying jobs. There are an estimated 4-4.5 million clean and sustainability jobs in the U.S. today according to this Now Hiring report. Solar and wind alone account for close to half a million jobs, and energy efficiency makes up another 2.2 million more jobs. The rest are in fields such as natural resources conservation, corporate sustainability and environmental education.

The future of clean jobs only looks more promising. Wind turbine technicians are the fastest-growing occupations in America, adding jobs over nine times faster than the overall economy, just behind solar jobs, which are growing at a rate 17 times faster than the rest of the economy. And, investing in renewables or energy efficiency results in about 5 more jobs than the same investment in fossil fuels. That’s an opportunity we can’t afford to turn our backs on.

Moving the needle in the right direction

If Trump wants to fulfill his campaign promises of creating jobs, then he should redirect his attention from the dying coal industry to the booming clean energy sector. Why? Because it makes economic sense. That’s why business leaders, investors and politicians are demanding that the Trump administration deliver a plan to address climate change with smart policies.

There’s a way for Trump to make good on his campaign promises to bring back America's jobs and lead us closer to becoming energy “dominant”. The answer is to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency jobs.


Follow Liz on Twitter, @lizdelaneylobo


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