Environmental groups take aim at US corporates

Eleven of the world’s leading environmental groups have written an impassioned open letter imploring America’s big corporates to step up their climate change efforts.

The letter, published in the New York Times, urged CEOs of US corporations to adopt science-based climate policies to help achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Signatories include some of the world’s most respected names in environmental conservation including The Climate Group, World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defence Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, BSR, and Conservation International.

Rather than addressing particular corporations, the letter pleads with all relevant businesses to properly tackle the problem of climate change.

“The climate crisis is escalating before our eyes, causing unprecedented damage and threatening our children’s future,” it states.

“The costs of unabated climate change — already in the hundreds of billions of dollars — will grow to trillions, destabilising the global economy and hurting nearly every business and family.”

The letter asked that leaders of major corporations “engage with businesses” on environmental issues, calling on companies to embrace and execute a science-based climate policy agenda.

“Now is the time to create a future that will protect our air, water and land, preserve ecosystems, improve children’s health and create millions of jobs in a strong and resilient economy,” it concluded.

Policy alignment

The letter makes it clear that these policies should align with the recommendations of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Established in 1988, the IPCC provides governments with scientific information to develop climate policies, while its renowned reports, based on thousands of scientific papers published each year, are a key input into international climate change negotiations. 

The letter also warns businesses to take a number of immediate steps to secure a more sustainable future. These include allocating spending to advance climate policies, rather than obstructing them, and to support policies that are consistent with getting to net-zero emissions by 2050.

In addition, the environmental groups want to see “robust disclosure” of the actions from firms to ensure transparency. The letter is the latest in a line of similar open letters sent to big businesses.

Last month, 200 of the world’s largest investors wrote to major US corporations urging them to align their climate lobbying with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The joint letter sent on behalf of the Investor Expectations on Corporate Climate Lobbying group – which includes BNP Paribas Asset Management, Boston Trust Walden Company, and the New York State Common Retirement Fund – was sent to 47 of the largest US publicly traded corporations.

The companies, which were identified as some of the largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters, included American Airlines, American Electric Power Company, Chevron Corporation, Exxon Mobil, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart Stores, and Ford Motor Company.

The investors have given the companies a deadline of 8 November 2019 to make public the steps taken to align with these expectations.

Mirrored approach

European investors presented a similar letter to a large group of European companies last year. As a result, a dozen companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Unilever and Equinor, have committed to making changes to their corporate lobbying.

Commenting on this week’s open letter, Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defence Fund, said supportive statements are no longer enough and firms need to now do everything in their power to create real change.

“The situation really is that urgent,” he said. “The best science from the IPPC says the world must produce no more climate pollution than we can remove, reaching what we call a 100% clean economy, soon after mid-century.

“We cannot address the global challenge of climate change without leadership from the United States. We are the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter, and other nations follow our example.”

Sanjayan Muttulingam, chief executive officer of Conservation International, said its own peer-reviewed research found the world’s largest companies are collectively underestimating and underreporting the financial implications of climate risks to their investors – sometimes by more than 100 times.

“Businesses must take bold steps to ensure that their actions and influence address this new reality of our planet,” he said.

“It’s time to seize the opportunity to shape public policy that drives us to a net-zero carbon future as soon as possible for the sake of our economy and humanity.”

Last Updated: 18 October 2019
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