With Congress gearing up for another trillion-dollar round of economic relief that will set the strategic direction of the U.S. economy for years to come, it’s time for corporate America to stand up and be clear about the economy it wants and needs to prosper.
That means getting serious about advocating for a recovery plan that helps us build back better from the current pandemic, while tackling another global systemic threat: climate change.
The climate crisis is worsening, and it is playing out in real time as we grapple with COVID-19. Despite the temporary decline in greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit an all-time high in May. Triple-digit temperatures in June in the Arctic Circle led to another warmest month on record, tying with June 2019. The dry spring and hot summer has unleashed more raging fires in California this month, while residents across the American West are bracing for the worst megadrought in 1,200 years.
Climate change is a systemic risk, and its impacts are felt across corporate America. In a survey last year, 215 of the world’s largest publicly listed companies reported nearly $1 trillion at risk from climate impacts — most of it in the next five years. The severity of these intensifying risks requires a response of proportional ambition.
You may have heard of science-based targets. Today, we are calling for science-based climate advocacy. This moment calls for bold leadership. Companies must take action and ensure that all of their actions, especially their direct and indirect advocacy, are in lockstep with the latest climate science.
So what does science-based climate advocacy mean?
Companies must take action and ensure that all of their actions, especially their direct and indirect advocacy, are in lockstep with the latest climate science.
A new blueprint from Ceres, the Blueprint for Responsible Policy Engagement on Climate Change, lays out a science-based action agenda for companies in the U.S. that comes down to two basic steps.
First, advocate for science-based climate policy. Business voices are influential in policy debates, and companies must use their voices to advocate for targets and policies that will limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and ensure we reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
Right now is a prime opportunity. We can build back better. Other countries are already opting for climate-smart recoveries, seeing their pandemic aid as a chance to gain competitive advantage and economic stability. Through our actions to tackle one crisis, we can avert another. We can invest in a resilient and inclusive economy that builds jobs, infrastructure, growth and stability for the long term.
More companies are speaking up. In May, executives from 330 companies, including Microsoft, Mars Inc. and Nike, descended virtually on Capitol Hill, dialing into video calls with congressional leaders to ask for climate-smart policies as a part of the economic recovery. Globally, more than 1,200 companies have called on governments to ensure recovery efforts address COVID-19 and climate together.
Second, ensure that indirect advocacy and influence is also aligned with science. This includes ensuring trade associations a company may belong to are not promoting policies that are not based on science. While large trade associations represent companies on a number of issues, many have had a poor record in advocating for science-based climate policy.
Companies must keep in mind the risk they face from a fractured policy environment that exacerbates risk. They should ask themselves: "Is my association engaging in my best interest?" Often, the answer is "no."
Mars, Nestle and Unilever helped put a stake in the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the food industry’s largest lobbying group, after they left over differences on climate change to form the new Sustainable Food Policy Alliance. Meanwhile, UPS disclosed that it doesn’t support the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and joined one of the Chamber’s committees to assert its position on climate.
Turning taxpayer dollars into stranded fossil fuel assets is no way to fuel a real economic recovery.
Why do more companies need to step up on science-based climate advocacy?
New research shows that the oil and gas sector’s lobbying has dominated climate-related policy battles during the pandemic, notching twice as many wins as climate advocates.
Even if many fossil fuel companies struggled financially for years before the pandemic, they are getting billions in federal aid. Supported by strong lobbying, oil companies reaped a stealth bailout of more than $1.9 billion inserted into the CARES Act. Turning taxpayer dollars into stranded fossil fuel assets is no way to fuel a real economic recovery. Taxpayer money should be invested in the future economy, one that is powered by renewable energy — one that creates more jobs, one that makes our economies more resilient.
Companies are recognizing the strategic imperative to take action on the climate crisis. In the face of COVID-19, corporations’ commitment to climate action has not waivered — it has increased. Their actions are reducing emissions, reducing costs and driving job creation, innovation and competitiveness.
However, to enable change at the pace and scale required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the whole economy must shift, and the economic stimulus, which represents some of the largest government spending in a generation, must support that shift. If it doesn’t, we risk further damaging the economy and public health rather than improving them — and making the climate crisis even worse.
It’s time for the rest of corporate America to be bold about its ambitions and demonstrate the science-based climate leadership that this time demands.