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Climate, Energy & Transport

Can creating business value and promoting sustainable development go hand in hand? We think so, and so do many leading companies. That’s why we’re excited to present a panel at the Rio+20 conference featuring speakers from Siemens, PepsiCo, and Mars. On June 17, 2012, these companies will reveal successful strategies that benefit the environment, their customers, and their bottom line.

Companies that Combine Profit and Planet

Each company has a compelling story to tell about how environmental initiatives can spur business opportunities and growth:

  • Siemens: Almost half (41 percent) of the company’s 2011 revenue came from products in its environmental portfolio, such as solar technologies and building automation systems.

  • PepsiCo: The company partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank to create a market for sunflower oil in Mexico, supporting its transition away from palm oil, which threatens forests, while providing healthy foods and beverages. The initiative will provide a stable income source for roughly 850 farmers and their families. This fits with the company’s “Performance with Purpose” approach which seeks to tie superior financial performance with its commitment to human and environmental sustainability, while “fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.”

Despite 1992 Rio Earth Summit being the birthplace of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, climate change doesn’t have a major place on this year’s official Rio+20 agenda. But we shouldn’t assume that it’s a forgotten issue. In fact, climate change cuts across nearly all of the other sustainable development topics.

However, news on the climate front is not good. Global emissions levels have reached record highs, according to the latest data from the International Energy Agency. We continue to see unusally warm temperatures, like the extraordinarily hot spring we just experienced in the United States. Extreme weather events, such as heat waves and droughts, continue to wreak havoc around the globe, reminding us of what the world will look like if emissions continue to rise.

This post was originally published in Portuguese on EMBARQBrasil.org.

As world leaders gather to address global sustainability at Rio+20, the summit’s host city, Rio de Janeiro, just undertook its own green initiative—it launched its first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor.

The lives of millions of cariocas, Rio de Janeiro residents, have already started to change with the opening of the Transoeste, the city’s first BRT corridor. The public transit system, developed with assistance from EMBARQ – WRI’s Center for Sustainable Transportation, expects to help hundreds of thousands of Rio residents, providing them with safer transport, shorter commutes, and less pollution.

Companies around the world are increasingly measuring and managing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in response to drivers like consumer preference, purchaser demands, and sustainability goals. As a growing number of Asian companies look to manage their emissions, they’ll require training and resources available in their own languages and cultural contexts. To that end, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol recently held a week-long training session in Delhi, India to further build Asian companies’ capacities to measure and curb emissions.

Training participants included government representatives, business and industry council leaders, and NGOs from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The workshop focused on providing those in the region with tools to teach companies how to develop GHG inventories based on the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard and establish programs to measure and report their emissions. The Program Design Course provided a forum for participants to share experiences and future plans, and identified the steps involved in designing a blueprint to establish their own programs. The course drew on case studies from existing corporate GHG reporting programs like the Brazil GHG Protocol Program, the Mexico Greenhouse Gas Program, the Israel Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Registry, and the former U.S. EPA Climate Leaders Program, all of which are based on the GHG Protocol.

What is the best way to protect vulnerable rural communities from the damaging impacts of climate change? Insurance could be an answer, but it raises a number of difficult questions.

To illustrate, the New York Times recently ran a story, “Report Says a Crop Subsidy Cap Could Save Millions.” The piece discusses a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that investigated the costs and distributive effects of the federal insurance program that protects farmers against crop failure and low market prices. This is a costly program for the federal government – farmers pay only 38 percent of the premiums, and the rest is covered by federal subsidies. Payouts are skewed toward the largest farms, which may receive very large payments because there is no subsidy cap. The cost to U.S. taxpayers in 2011 was $7.3 billion.

Last week we passed an unfortunate marker when it comes to climate change: concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have hit 400 parts per million (ppm) near the Arctic.

What Does it Mean and Why Should We Care?

This level was discovered by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who have long measured CO2 concentrations at stations around the world through two ways: (1) volunteers collect air samples and send them to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado for analysis; and (2) half a dozen baseline observatories continuously monitor CO2 levels. One of these observatories is located in Barrow, Alaska. The observatory in Barrow, as well as air samples from several other northern locations including Canada, Finland, and Norway, show that 400 ppm was surpassed sometime this spring.

I recently presented at the 7th Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) World Forum Summit, a gathering of experts brought together by Berlin-based think tank Thema1 “to foster and facilitate international discussion on how to assess, reduce, and communicate the impact of goods and services on the climate.” This group historically has focused on the life cycle of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and product-level emission inventories. But this year’s theme included an additional focus: whether and how renewable energy purchases should be reflected in corporate GHG emissions calculations.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have no GHG emissions associated with generation and thus play a vital role in reducing overall emissions from electricity use. Many companies seek to purchase this energy and use the zero-emissions rate in calculating their indirect emissions from electricity consumption (also known as scope 2 emissions). However, several uncertainties surround how this practice should be used in GHG accounting—or whether it should be permitted at all.

Two weeks ago, my girlfriend and I left Washington for two very different dates with international climate action. She headed to Indonesia to work with women farmers who are reintroducing native, drought-tolerant crops in order to build resilience to climate change. I, on the other hand, went to Bonn, Germany for the most recent round of UNFCCC climate change negotiations. The contrast could not have been starker. I spent 10 days watching with astonishment as countries bickered over committee chairs, agendas, and footnotes. There were highs in Bonn, too, as I outline below, but overall the atmosphere at this session was one of mistrust and reluctance.

In early May, we invited participants to vote for their favorite video method for communicating recent climate science findings. The survey is now complete. More than 1,500 votes were cast, and we are in the midst of analyzing the results.

We are grateful for the time so many of you took to help – it really shows the high degree of interest there is in communicating climate science. We want to thank Google.org, which provided financial support for the project, and to the many groups that helped raise awareness, including Real Climate and Climate-L.

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