Thousands of environmental activists and business leaders are gathering in New York for Climate Week, coinciding with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly and just ahead of an address to Congress by Pope Francis, who is expected to reiterate his strong stand on the issue.
— UNEP North America (@UNEPRONA) September 23, 2015
The head of the Roman Catholic Church called for more action on climate change in a speech today at the White House, where he said that “Climate is a problem that can no longer be left to future generations. It is a critical moment in history. We still have the time, for we know that things can change.”
Companies are using their clout to increase pressure on governments to step up on climate change while addressing their own efforts on renewable energy. As noted by the New York Times, nine Fortune 500-listed U.S. companies have joined the RE100 global coalition (a partnership of Climate Week organizer The Climate Group and CDP) of leading businesses pledging to switch to renewable power.
That means two-thirds of Fortune 100 companies are now committed to adopting 100% renewable energy sources by a set date, as Goldman Sachs and other new signatories announced today.
— Goldman Sachs (@GoldmanSachs) September 23, 2015
Other new members include Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks and Walmart, all “pledging to source 100% of their electricity from renewable energy to reduce CO2 emissions and seize the business benefits” by a fixed date, as stated in a press release today.
“With December’s COP21 UN climate talks fast approaching, this key milestone event sends a timely reminder to negotiators that leading businesses want strong climate action from governments, while increasing demand for renewables themselves,” The Climate Group added.
“It’s something that every business should be thinking about,” RE100 campaign director Emily Farnworth notes in a video about the campaign, below.
Ahead of Climate Week, P&G last week pledged reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its facilities by 30 percent, up from its current 7 percent goal. “We’ve been very clear that we think climate change is something that’s real and needs to be addressed,” Len Sauers, the company’s VP of global sustainability, commented to the New York Times of the update to its it 2020 environmental goals. “People that use our products expect a company like P&G to be responsible.”
— P&G (@ProcterGamble) September 23, 2015
“Our mission is to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives. We understand the intrinsic link between a healthy environment and human health,” commented Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, whose company aims to go 100% renewable by 2050.
M&S and Unilever’s sustainability heads are discussing their respective companies goals to use 100% renewable energy in a live Twitter chat today.
— The Climate Group (@ClimateGroup) September 23, 2015
— Thomas Lingard (@thomaslingard) September 23, 2015
Adding to the momentum, the campaign to divest from fossil fuels has welcomed investment managers controlling assets of $2.6 trillion to the coalition, focusing on less use of energy and water, more recycling and more use of renewable energy.
When RE100 launched one year ago at Climate Week NYC 2014, there were 13 original corporate partners – IKEA Group, Swiss Re, BT Group, Formula E, H&M, KPN, Nestlé, Philips, RELX Group, J. Safra Sarasin, Unilever and YOOX Group – as well as Mars, Inc., the first US business that signed the pledge. The Climate Group now counts 36 major corporate signatories, including Indian software company Infosys.
Critics from the American Petroleum Institute criticized the divestment campaign as unrealistic. “There are those who would advocate for no fossil fuels at all, which is frankly irresponsible, since the United States depends on fossil fuels to meet 80 percent of its energy needs,” stated API president Jack N. Gerard to the New York Times.
The United Nations also launched its own initiative today to get companies and others to become “climate-neutral.” The Climate Neutral Now platform is targeted business, consumers and governments to voluntarily measure their climate footprint, reduce emissions where possible, and offset the remainder through a UN-certified website.
Companies on-board include Microsoft, Sony, adidas and Marks & Spencer, showing that businesses can and should sign up for the RE100, the UN’s campaign and any other pledge that meets their own strict criteria. With Volkswagen learning the hard way that accountability counts when it comes to sustainability pledges, the more public-facing accountability the better.
“Microsoft believes that companies—and particularly information technology companies—have an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions,” stated chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard about the company’s Climate Neutral Now commitment.
“In 2012, this belief led our company to set an ambitious goal to be 100 percent carbon neutral. We have accomplished this by boosting efficiencies, investing in renewable energy and funding a carbon offset program,” he added. “We are supporting Climate Neutral Now because we believe in the power of accountability and have witnessed the transformative nature of carbon offset projects and sustainable community development, particularly in emerging nations.”
The UN’s goal, in addition to encouraging more companies to step up on climate action, mandates that all of the projects contribute to sustainable development in the developing world in addition to reducing global emissions.
These business-backed efforts are setting the stage for the COP21 year-end conference in Paris to draft a new global climate agreement to limit temperature rises to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels worldwide. (The Climate Group also released an update on how companies are progressing on sustainable supply chains with a new report on sustainable forestry actions and commitments.)
With support from more companies each day, and with governments and religious leaders such as Pope Francis helping spread the gospel, the shared global responsibility to tackle climate change is clearly gaining momentum ahead of COP21.