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Business and Climate Action: The Times They Are A-Changin'

I started working in the corporate sustainability field almost a decade ago. Back then in the United States, I was frequently the only corporate representative who would say the words “climate change.” On one occasion, another conference panelist asked me privately to stop using the term.

Oh how times have changed:

  • On October 19, 81 companies signed the American Business Act on Climate pledge, demonstrating their commitment to climate action and support for a strong international agreement in Paris this month. I had the honor of meeting Vice President Biden at the event for a photo op and sharing a few words about the role companies are playing in addressing climate change. Earlier this week, another 73 companies signed onto the pledge.
  • On November 23, 78 CEOs convened globally by the World Economic Forum signed an open letter calling on governments to take bold actions at COP 21 in Paris.
  • And next week, dozens of business leaders and investors will gather for the Caring for Climate Business Forum at COP 21, where they’ll engage with representatives from government, civil society and the UN.

Neither business, government nor civil society is alone responsible for climate change, and none of these groups can prevail against climate change alone. Unsustainable climate outcomes are the result of a systemic problem. We will all be impacted by its potentially disastrous effects, and we will only succeed in combatting it by all three acting in concert.

The private sector has stated its desire for a strong and ambitious agreement in Paris and is there in force to represent the strength of commitment to that outcome. We now need governments to take the next step and deliver that agreement. A strong agreement will give the private sector, and investors in the private sector, the predictability and level playing field needed to innovate and thrive in a carbon-constrained world.

Meanwhile, though, companies need to put commitments and actions behind their words. At WRI, we focus on four key ways companies across all sectors can do this:

  • Set ambitious targets: Join the many dozens of companies committing to setting science-based targets for carbon reduction. This means setting an emissions-reduction target in line with what the science says is necessary to limit warming to below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

  • Embed mechanisms for change: Set an internal price for carbon to spur innovation, drive efficiency and prepare your company to be competitive in a carbon-constrained world.

  • Speak with a consistent voice: Commit to a responsible approach to policy engagement so your actions and words—as well as those of the trade organizations that represent you—are complementary.

  • Create demand: As a user of energy, create the demand for renewables that will further accelerate the market for this critical resource.

In this recent report from WBCSD, businesses articulate the roadmap to get us two-thirds of the way to a 2 degree trajectory, together with the policy needed from government to get us there. We are in this together—government, business and civil society. We need to articulate what we need from each other and then each lead the way by example and action.

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