Although the United Nations’ effort to extract new climate-change commitments from world leaders stalled, a substantial number of companies have stepped up with large commitments to curb global warming.
Even without new government policies to dictate action on climate change, the corporations moved ahead with vows to address climate concerns, and they used the U.N. climate summit as a venue for unveiling their targets.
More than 20 multinational corporations made new commitments to use renewable energy for 100% of their electricity, bringing to 300 the number of renewable commitments from companies with $5.5 trillion in revenue, according to the Climate Group.
The retail giant Target, Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, the Japanese department store Takashimaya, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and China’s world- leading solar panel maker JinkoSolar were among those vowing to rely solely on renewable energy to meet their electricity needs. Separately, AT&T said it would more than double its renewable energy purchases to more than 1.5 gigawatts of wind and solar.
Companies such as Genentech also said they will be electrifying their vehicle fleets. Last week, Amazon said it would buy 100,000 electric vehicles for its fleet. (Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)
Pharmaceutical maker Novo Nordisk, whose emissions from company cars and business flights exceeded total emissions from global production, said it will seek zero emissions from its operations and transportation by 2030.
Ten companies committed to accelerate energy efficiency by 3% a year, said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute.
“In many cases, the private sector and subnational actors are moving faster than national governments. For example, 87 businesses have signed on to ambitious 1.5 degree C targets across their operations and value chains,” Steer said in a statement.
Yet many companies have still not made such commitments, and those that have must be even more ambitious, climate experts say.
Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said corporate efforts “if doubled, would be closer. They are not in the range of serious.” He said a faster trajectory is needed. “Winning slowly is the same as losing,” he added, saying that the private sector needs to move “at a speed that’s similar to war footing.”
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll this summer found that 72% of respondents believe that businesses and corporations are doing too little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“You say, ‘Oh there’s enough money out there. So it’s not a problem of money,’ ” Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, said on a panel discussion Monday. “Of course it’s a matter of money. The money is over there, and we need it over here.”
He said that as a result, “the millions and trillions in the pension funds are not getting to the question of financing infrastructure, and financing infrastructure for climate change in particular.” Gurría said that “we’re basically needing a better way of channeling those resources.”
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Gurría said that while big companies fear for their reputation and worry about consumer backlash, small and medium-size companies don’t feel such pressures unless brought by big ones in their supply chains.
Yet a broad array of companies are moving forward.
Ingersoll Rand promised to save one gigaton of CO2 emissions from its customers’ footprint by 2030. The diversified manufacturing company said it will transform heating and cooling systems for buildings and for refrigerating cargo in transportation. One gigaton is the equivalent of the annual emissions of Italy, France and Britain combined.
Chocolate company Barry Callebaut said it would lift half a million West African cocoa farmers out of poverty and use new information sources to reduce deforestation, which accelerates climate change.
Away from most of the U.N. events, a group called the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative gathered in the Madison Avenue home where financier J.P. Morgan once lived. It was here that Morgan let Thomas Edison hook the house up to electricity and light 400 bulbs, ushering in a new age of energy growth.
But on Monday, the group, whose 13 members had each pitched in $100 million and endorsed the 2015 Paris climate agreement, was showing off companies it has supported in their quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One firm would change the way cement is made. One is using satellites to pinpoint methane leaks from gas pipelines. One has an idea for a more efficient internal combustion engine. Another would bury carbon dioxide underground. And still another would attach “mechanical sails” to ships in order to harness the wind and improve fuel efficiency.
Sriram Madhusoodanan, climate campaign director at Corporate Accountability, took a dim view of OGCI’s event. “The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative is yet another green-washing attempt by destructive and dangerous fossil fuel corporations that have knowingly fueled climate change,” he said.
But OGCI Chief Executive Pratima Rangarajan said that “what makes our fund so unique is that we have some of the world’s largest companies behind us who can test and scale these technologies globally.”
She said that “in the climate game, we don’t have decades, so this model is very powerful to shrink those timelines.”
Meanwhile, more than 50 financial institutions with $2.9 trillion in assets said they will measure and disclose carbon emissions of projects they lend to and invest in. And they said they will use standardized methods similar to those developed by two large Dutch banks for those measurements.
“By standardizing the way we measure emissions, it becomes possible to act to reduce it,” said Keith Mestrich, president and chief executive of Amalgamated Bank. He said financial loans are “powerful tools” that could be used.
But the banks stopped short of saying they were adopting policies to make their portfolios fossil fuel free.
Gurría said the private sector needs to move more quickly, adding that “it’s a battle against time.”