Monday, January 7, 2019

Business Will Lead Climate Action in 2019

Corporate support for climate action can counter the Trump administration and help to make 2019 a turning point for climate action.  In 2018 we witnessed the awakening of corporate America as a growing number of companies came to the realization that standing up to this president is synonymous with protecting their brands. As 2018 came to a close it became clear that corporate activism is now a force to be reckoned with. Each year a growing number of companies are adopting science based environmental governance strategies. "Business is pretty much the most powerful force on the planet. If you really harness it, what change could we create as a result?," B Lab UK's Kate Sandle said.


Corporate action is all the more important in light of the failure of governments to meet their emissions reduction targets. The importance of leadership from the business community was emphasized in the UN emissions gap report which revealed that national governments are not meeting their emissions reduction commitments let alone ratcheting up ambitions. The report noted that the private sector is already making significant investments in clean energy and other technologies.

The report's authors explained how "non-state actors" including the world's half a million publicly traded companies can help to offset the gap between where we are in emissions reduction and where we need to be.

There was an absence of strong national leadership at the recent COP24 meeting in Poland. However, if the business community and subnational governments made a consorted effort it could represent a viable pathways to meet the objectives laid out in the Paris Agreement.

The Trump administration publicly distanced itself from their own government's climate report inaccurately stating that it was not fact based. Donald Trump infamously said that he does not believe it, making it clear that this administration will not be swayed by facts.

There is much that can be done as Americans work towards more responsible national leadership.  "Even if President Trump refuses to act on climate," the NRDC said, "citizens, state and local lawmakers, and businesses must all continue to band together to save the planet."

The US government report compiled by 13 US agencies suggests that the business community is capable of cutting carbon emissions by 19 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030. That would enable the world to stay within the upper threshold temperature limit of 2 degrees Celsius laid out in the Paris Climate agreement.

There are many reasons why companies are engaging in sustainability and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  There is a strong business case for reducing costs through energy efficiency and we are seeing innovative re-imagining of sustainability as part of corporate trends that are changing the way business is done.

Standing up to Trump is no longer a choice for corporate America. What started as a trickle has become a flood. In 2017 a handful of CEOs publicly reacted to his Charlottesville remarks. In 2018 dozens of companies joined the resistance. Late last year 56 companies signed a letter that condemned Trump's policies and advocated for transgender equality.

The marine industry, soybean farmers and iconic American motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson are among those that are speaking out against the president's trade wars. More than 60 industry groups representing hundreds of companies are formally resisting Trump's tariffs. What makes this truly remarkable is that the coalition includes the American Petroleum Institute. This is an organization that speaks for Trump's corporate base, companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

Companies are concerned about Trump's capacity to interfere with trade. They also know that Trump's failure to accept the veracity of climate change will cost them. The absence of a climate policy mean there is no adaptation effort and no investment in climate resistant infrastructure. This poses a very real risk to companies that operate in the US. 

In the absence of an adequate response from national governments the UN is working directly with companies and their supply chains to develop industry-specific charters to fight climate change.  At COP24 the actions of fashion brands were showcased. The signatories of a new UN climate change pledge include H&M, Zara, Levi’s, and Gap. The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, lays out concrete goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2015. The ultimate goal is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

As reported by Vice, the importance of this shift in UN strategy was highlighted by Nate Aden, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, an environmental research nonprofit.

"Generally, the UN focuses on working with countries and all the negotiations are with governments. But there’s clearly a need to work directly with companies, stakeholders, and emissions producers, too, so this is a really good development," Aden said.  "It's much more effective than waiting on policymakers to do the right thing because obviously that’s not going to happen any time soon."

Although there is no formal enforcement mechanism, there is pressure from financial institutions and consumers to meet these targets. "It’s demonstrating that companies can not only survive economically, but survive economically by doing the right thing," Aden said. "This presents [an] example for other sectors that this kind of sector-wide approach can be effective."

There is also reason to believe that corporate America will work with Democrats who now control the House of representatives. Democrats are already forming committees to craft legislation that will combat climate change without overburdening industry.  One of the approaches being considered involves carbon pricing.

Brands cannot afford to ignore the costs of climate change nor can they eschew the benefits of climate action.  Many realize that Trump's climate denial is not the only way that this administration demonstrates its irresponsibility. 

Trump's reckless style of governance contributes to stock market volatility and hastens a looming recession. Shutting down government over an unnecessary wall with Mexico illustrates the point that this president is not working in the national interest.

These are risks that companies cannot ignore as the nation moves towards a constitutional crisis. Companies, especially public facing brands, cannot afford to be seen as being supportive of the corruption that infests this presidency, nor can they afford to be associated with the high crimes and misdemeanors that are expected to be revealed by the Mueller investigation.  Once Mueller releases his report Trump's disapproval rating, which is currently at 60 percent, will get much worse. The math speaks for itself. 

The US is in crisis and there is every reason to believe that corporate America will lead by standing with the people in defense of the Republic. 

Related
Sustainability Leaders Spartacus Moment
Which Side is Your Business On?
Why Corporate Leaders Must Resist Trump
Sustainability Benefits the Bottom Line
Thanksgiving Under Trump and the Awakening of Corporate America
Standing Up to Trump is Synonymous with Protecting Your Brand
The Wave of Corporate Goodness
US Corporate Climate Efforts in 2017 Offer Hope for 2018
Business Action on Climate Change
Business Benefits from Science-Based Climate Action
Sustainability is an Economic Boon not a Liability

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