An open letter on COP23 from Walmart and WWF

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We need to pick up the pace. That is the imperative on everyone’s mind as representatives arrive in Bonn, Germany for the COP23 climate negotiations.

At COP23, governments are convening to discuss next steps for implementation of the Paris Agreement, which aims to achieve net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. To accomplish that, world leaders must establish more aggressive emissions reduction targets — now.

But governments cannot do it alone. The private sector also has a crucial role to play, particularly now in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

In the months leading up to the withdrawal from the climate accord, Walmart signed an open letter encouraging continued participation in the Paris Agreement. The reason is simple: like many business leaders, Walmart understands that embracing renewable energy and other climate solutions can foster growth and cut costs at the same time.

It’s already happening. America’s fledgling renewable energy economy employs 3.3 million people — more than the entire U.S. fossil fuel industry. The growth of the solar and wind industries is particularly impressive; the two industries are churning out new jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the U.S. economy overall.

Early adopters are also seeing significant savings. Last year, companies that set climate targets collectively saved $3.7 billion (PDF). That’s just scratching the surface: According to a joint study by WWF and the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), businesses that begin cutting emissions now, and average 3 percent reductions a year, could save a staggering $780 billion over the next decade.

Walmart already has saved $1 billion from doubling the efficiency of its fleet from 2005 to 2015. It’s part of a broader effort to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its facilities and supply chain.

That is why the world’s largest retailer has launched an ambitious new initiative, Project Gigaton, designed to encourage suppliers to reduce emissions by 1 gigaton (1 billion tons) by 2030. For context, that’s equivalent to taking more than 211 million passenger vehicles off U.S. roads for a year.

WWF advised Walmart on Project Gigaton’s design and has joined with the Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Conservational International and other groups to encourage suppliers to join in the effort.

Project Gigaton encourages suppliers to pursue a suite of strategies that range from pursuing new renewable energy sources to avoiding deforestation to reducing food waste. Unilever, for example, has committed to planting 15 million acres of cover crops — climate-smart crops that help manage soil erosion, soil fertility and water drainage — a bold step that aims to cut 10 million tons of U.S. emissions by 2030.

For many major companies, supply chains often produce at least four times more emissions than their direct operations. If many more companies follow in Walmart’s footsteps, together we may be able to spark transformative change.

This is no pie-in-the-sky aspiration. Business leaders are hungry for climate solutions.

More than a third of Fortune 500 companies already have set clean-energy goals. Many of these companies have set science-based GHG reduction targets. And within days of the United States’ decision to leave the Paris Agreement, hundreds of mayors, governors, university presidents and CEOs declared to the world, "We are still in."

The We Are Still In network since has expanded to more than 2,500 subnational actors, including more than 1,700 U.S. businesses and investors, representing more than 127 million Americans and a combined GDP of $6.2 trillion — one of the broadest cross-sections of the U.S. economy assembled in pursuit of climate action. These signatories have pledged to help the U.S. meet its commitments under the Paris agreement, regardless of the shifting policies in Washington.

The COP23 climate negotiations are an opportunity to spark bigger, bolder commitments from governments and businesses over the coming months and years. Momentum is on our side, but business leaders still can do more to lead the charge. Innovation and problem-solving are part of their DNA.

By tapping into the ingenuity and fierce can-do mentality of their employees, we believe that they, and we, can build a resilient future in which the environment, communities and business can all flourish.

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