Every day, we see another article about forests disappearing in the Amazon. This coverage shines light on a significant global problem that is only intensifying. With all the bad news, I was especially energized to attend the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) Annual Meeting last week, where around 200 passionate people gathered to promote a forest positive future.
Our businessman president just flunked one of the most important tests of his presidency: failing to listen to business leaders on the Paris climate agreement.
Despite the hundreds of companies and corporate CEOs calling for continued U.S. leadership on climate – in full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, on the Low Carbon USA website, and in direct outreach to the administration – Trump chose to side with the laggards. This is deeply disappointing and will harm American workers and business by undermining our competitiveness in the global clean energy economy.
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, however, will not stem the tide of American businesses taking action to stabilize the climate and safeguard our planet. Private sector leaders, unlike our president, have moved beyond the false choice of a healthy economy or a healthy environment; we need both. Which is why leading companies and investors are poised to deliver clean air, clean water and clean energy in ways that increase jobs, incomes and competitiveness.
While the Trump administration has ceded global leadership on climate, corporate America is moving ahead with plans to invest in clean energy and cut emissions. Long-term, global competitiveness demands it.
Leadership on climate and energy is driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics.
American business won’t back down from this latest challenge. In fact, it seems the business community is more motivated on climate than ever before. Cargill CEO David MacLennan summed it up best: “Cargill has no intention of backing away from our efforts to address climate change in our supply chains around the world and in fact this would inspire us to work even harder.”
Companies need to forge ahead by pursing aggressive science-based, emissions reduction targets and expanding their efforts to slash emissions throughout their operations and supply chains. Take PepsiCo, which recently announced that its climate goal to reduce absolute GHG emissions across its value chain by at least 20% by 2030 has been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.
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Business leaders can use Hewlett Packard Enterprises as a model. The information technology company created the world’s first comprehensive supply chain management program based on climate science and requires 80% of manufacturing suppliers to set science-based emissions reduction targets by 2025.
And just last week – despite the unsettled future of U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement – Tyson Foods announced it will develop science-based greenhouse gas and outcome-based water conservation targets for their entire supply chain.
These high-impact corporate initiatives need to be applauded, and the tools and resources used to achieve these goals should be replicated across industries.
Business will not allow positive climate momentum to come to a halt
The clean energy momentum generated by business over the last decade will not come to an abrupt halt. Companies like Apple, AB InBev and Walmart will not turn their back on the clean energy commitments they’ve made to customers, employees and the planet. Investors, like we saw with ExxonMobil, will keep pressure on companies to clearly report how climate change is affecting business. And CEOs like General Electric’s Jeffrey Immelt or Tesla’s Elon Musk, who have been outspoken about remaining in the Paris agreement, will not back away from their company’s climate efforts because they understand how leaving Paris will make it harder to do business around the world. These voices need to keep encouraging others in the business community to join their efforts.
What is the plan? Inaction is unacceptable.
In this new post-Paris world, companies must now demand that the Trump administration and Congress deliver a plan to address climate change. Leading cities, states and companies will continue to move forward, but won’t be enough to deliver the reductions required from the world’s second largest emitter. Smart climate and energy policy is required to provide the deep emission reductions the world needs and the certainty that business needs for planning, investment decisions, and job growth.
Unfortunately, the president failed to listen to the business community he was once a proud part of for so many years. With the President lagging behind, real business leaders will continue to step up lead the way to a thriving clean energy economy; EDF will have their back. We will continue to engage with business in this time of uncertainty to help shape a future where both business and nature prosper.
If the president won’t listen to business leaders in the future on climate, I hope he will follow the words of one of his favorite presidents, Abraham Lincoln, who said, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”
Follow Tom on Twitter, @tpmurray
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With U.S. policy engagement on climate action in limbo, the rest of the world is marching forward. As major CEOs and political leaders gathered at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, clear support was shown for creative investment in clean energy, sustainable development and other climate change mitigation practices.
While many ideas were discussed, however, one topic emerged as both a driver of climate impact and an opportunity area for huge climate benefits: deforestation.
Two major initiatives around deforestation were launched at the WEF:
— A fund to catalyze private investment in deforestation-free agriculture was announced by the Norwegian government, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), UN Environment, the Global Environmental Facility, and many other supporters. Their goal? To help fund sustainable intensification of agriculture in jurisdictions which are effectively working toward reducing deforestation. The fund will be operational by middle of 2017 and aims to protect over 5 million hectares of forest and peatlands through its projects by 2020.
Norway pledged up to $100 million, with a capitalization goal of $400 million from other donors and private sector partners. The model aims to engage even more private sector financing, for a total investment of $1.6 billion by 2020. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and major food giants like Carrefour, Marks & Spencer, Mars, Nestle and others are expressing support. Unilever is the first corporate leader to commit funding, with a pledge of $25 million over the next 5 years.
— A plan to use big data to monitor and trace the raw materials in major corporations’ supply chains. Led by the World Resources Institute, the initiative has major support from food companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Walmart, and others, with a total combined value of $2.9 trillion.
The goal is to build a decision-support system to help companies track progress and real-time challenges associated with their deforestation commitments. The tool will enable corporations to make real-time decisions about geographies to prioritize in their deforestation reduction work, and get alerts when illegal activities are happening in those regions. While the tool is still in very early stages, the future could be bright.
Deforestation-free sourcing? There’s an app for that!
Two initiatives… powerful trends
So: what do these two initiatives—one helping to ensure that farming already-cleared land becomes more productive, and one helping companies shed light on the complex, murky labyrinth of their global supply chains—tell us about emerging trends in global climate leadership?
- Forests matter: Stakeholders understand the importance of forests for climate and supply chain stability. The impressive list of participants and lofty goals show that forests have become part of the main stage for how to address climate change globally. Tropical forest loss contributes about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but can also be a major carbon sink if managed appropriately. Corporations understand that forests are vital for reducing reputational risk in product lines, ensuring stable weather patterns that can produce viable crops into the future, and increasing the resiliency of major geographic regions against drought and flooding. These new commitments indicate that action on forests as part of the climate dialogue are here to stay.
- Collective action is the right tool: Companies see the value in working collectively on effective solutions for deforestation reduction. Corporations know that there is significant risk in not engaging effectively on forests, both for the climate and for their supply chains. But the more challenging question to date has been: how? Over 350 companies have made public commitments to reduce deforestation related to major agricultural commodities in their supply chains. However, only one-third of these companies report on how they will reach these goals. These two new initiatives show the value of collective action between companies, non-profits,
and governments to engage effectively in the multi-faceted challenge of deforestation-free sourcing. The days of working in silos, simply along supply chain boundaries, are no longer the most effective strategies. Working together provides new, creative solutions that can have an impact across entire regions rather than solely withinthe boundaries of sourcing relationships.
- There is still much to be done. While these initiatives are important signals of major trends within the deforestation space, they are still only in their infancy. Time will tell if the stakeholders engaged will be able to actualize the ambitious goals and creative thinking embedded in these ideas.
But, I’m optimistic. What emerged out of Davos tells me that the collective work of these major corporations can get us to where we need to go: productive, economically viable agricultural supply chains without destroying critical forest habitat upon which we all rely.
Will the U.S. join this trend toward collective action? The jury is still out on that one.