In the days after President Donald Trump’s Executive Order reversing U.S. leadership on climate action, some of the world’s biggest U.S.-based corporations were among the loudest voices of dissent.
What a change from when I entered the sustainability field 10 years ago, working then for a British company. When speaking at conferences in the United States, I was sometimes asked by counterparts from U.S. companies to eliminate references to climate change from my presentations (I didn’t).
But in 2017, these companies and in some cases their CEOs said the March 28 order was bad for business, bad for the economy and bad for U.S. competitiveness. They said the administration’s skepticism about the reality of climate change and the essential nature of the Paris Agreement threatens U.S. standing worldwide.
Yesterday a group of major multinational companies – including BP, National Grid, PG&E, Shell and Walmart – sent a letter to the White House urging the president to keep the United States in the Paris Agreement. These businesses maintain the agreement strengthens competitiveness, supports sound investment, creates jobs and markets, minimizes costs and reduces business risks.
Many companies with U.S. operations have said they will stay on the corporate clean energy pathway they have already begun. As Mark Buckley, vice president of environmental affairs for the office supply giant Staples, told the Guardian, this is simply smart business.
“We will continue to support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the reduction of carbon emissions associated with electrical power generation,” Buckley said.
He’s hardly alone.
Clean Power Momentum
Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, noted that a White House order can’t stop the forward momentum of the shift to clean power. As Bloomberg wrote with Sierra Club’s Carl Pope in The New York Times: “Those who believe that the Trump administration will end American leadership on climate change are making the same mistake as those who believe that it will put coal miners back to work: overestimating Washington’s ability to influence energy markets, and underestimating the role that cities, states, businesses and consumers are playing in driving down emissions on their own.”
Indeed, just eliminating the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s emissions-cutting centerpiece, could cost the United States $600 billion and cause 120,000 premature deaths by 2050, according to a study by Energy Innovation.
Conversely, a December 2016 report by the Risky Business Project, led by U.S. CEOs and former municipal and federal leaders, shows that savings in fuel costs from an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century could exceed the required capital investment by $150 billion.
Speaking globally, the Business & Sustainable Development Commission reported that companies could unlock $12 trillion in worldwide revenue and savings by pursuing sustainable business models, with the potential to create up to 380 million jobs by 2030.
At the 2015 climate conference that forged the Paris Agreement, I saw firsthand the key role multinational companies played. Why did they do this? They did it because they saw the business risk of climate change and the opportunities of addressing it. And in order to address it in the most effective way possible for their businesses, they want predictability, consistency and an even playing field globally and nationally. So they have a big stake in making sure the agreement stays in place.
American businesses have an interest in seeing the United States lead that global movement, for two reasons: first, because lack of leadership will compromise the effectiveness of the battle against climate change, and second, because if the U.S. government drops into the background – or worse, leaves the agreement – and another country steps into that power vacuum, U.S. businesses are sure to be disadvantaged.
Until very recently, U.S. companies competed in global markets with a burnished reputation on environment. U.S. climate leadership is an asset in global competitive markets, where American companies are competing for business from governments and companies that take climate seriously and make climate action a requirement for suppliers.
I hope the U.S. government listens to the voice of business. I hope businesses continue to speak out positively for action on the public stage, through the powerful voices of their trade associations and behind closed doors in venues such as the new administration’s business and manufacturing councils.