Over the past year or so, corporate climate leaders have begun to take responsibility when international agreements can only provide useful answers, not actions. We saw this demonstrated visibly last September when many Fortune 500 CEOs joined presidents, prime ministers, and ordinary people in New York to discuss climate at UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s request. Among them were top executives from Unilever (Dove soap, Lipton tea), Ikea, McDonalds, and Nestlé.
Earlier this month, a group called the B Team publicly called for a global goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The small but high-profile group of corporate execs, including Virgin founder Richard Branson, Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, and Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington, said that the goal would spark corporations to incorporate new investments and clean energy research in their business strategies.
The group pointed out that the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, completed last year, concluded that achieving net zero emissions by 2071 would provide only a 66% chance of limiting global warming to 2°C, which is commonly recognized as a threshold that humanity must not cross if we wish to avoid catastrophic climate change. The corporate climate leaders do not feel two out of three odds are good enough; thus the switch to 2050, which is 21 years earlier. The B Team sees this change resulting in an internal rate of return of 27%.
The B Team belongs to a larger group called We Mean Business, a coalition of organizations that represents many of the world’s most influential businesses, investors, and corporate climate leaders from a common platform to amplify the business voice, catalyze bold climate action by all, and promote smart policy frameworks. “The transition to a low-carbon economy is the only way to secure sustainable economic growth and prosperity for all,” the umbrella coalition says.
Most of the world’s high-polluting nations—China, the US, the European Union, and India—have corporate and institutional memberships in We Mean Business. Some of the corporate climate leaders may surprise you: in the US, Walmart, Mars, and Proctor & Gamble for starters, and Lloyds Banking Group, Philips, and Shell International overseas. Global investment in clean technologies has now reached $300 billion per year, with the low-carbon world economy worth $4 trillion and growing at 4% a year.
Ceres, the 25-year-old Boston-based organization that partners to produce the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings standards with the Tellus Institute, said that almost half (43%) of Fortune 500 companies have now specified clean energy goals and that the number of institutional investors committed to mitigating and adapting to climate change has grown by a factor of 10 over just one decade. They now represent $13 trillion in assets.
Branson elaborated online:
“We have the enormous opportunity in our hands to make a positive difference for business, people, and the planet. Taking bold climate action now has the potential to unleash the full power of business and at the same time lift millions of people out of poverty . We’re the first generation to recognize this and the last generation that will have this opportunity.”
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