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The top headlines from Climate Week 2017

If you can't keep track of all the climate-hip corporate news from New York City, start here.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since Tuesday with additional news.

Business leaders, government officials and members of civil society are gathering once again in New York City for Climate Week NYC. The event convenes amid confusion about whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which it ratified a year ago. Against this backdrop, participants at Climate Week are focusing on the ever-increasing role that businesses and state and local governments play in tackling the challenges of a changing climate.

Here’s a look at the biggest news releases.

Slashing food waste

Food loss and waste contributes to climate change in a big way, costing the global economy an estimated $940 billion each year, according to the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. A global initiative committing major international food producers to tough new targets on food waste emerged on Wednesday.

Consumers around the world navigate confusing date labels on food products, which costs U.S. families up to $29 billion annually. The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) —a network of 400 of the biggest consumer goods companies across 70 countries — along with Champions 12.3 has approved a Call to Action to standardize food date labels worldwide by 2020. Participating companies include Tesco, Kellogg, Wal-mart, Nestlé and Unilever. 

Champions 12.3 also launched “SDG Target 12.3 on Food Loss and Waste: 2017 Progress Report,” which takes stock of global progress toward halving food waste and reducing food loss by 2030. The report says countries and companies are setting food waste reduction targets in line with the U.N.;s Sustainable Development Goals. Today, 28 percent of the world’s population lives in a country or region with a target to reduce food loss and waste, and nearly 60 percent of the world’s 50 largest food companies have set reduction targets.

A growing number of the 50 largest food companies now have active food loss and waste reduction programs. However, the report notes that an insufficient number of governments and companies are measuring and reporting food loss and waste, a key step to identifying hotspots and knowing whether strategies are having impact.

Vehicle electrification revs up

The Climate Group launched a new business campaign designed to fast-track the uptake of electric vehicles (EV) and infrastructure Tuesday. Baidu, HP, IKEA Group, PG&E, Unilever and Vattenfall are among the 10 first members of EV100, the first initiative of its kind to encourage global business commitments on electric transport, with members swapping their large diesel or gas-powered vehicle fleets to electric vehicle fleets and/or installing electric battery charging infrastructure by 2030. This develop could contribute to a significant disruption already under way in the oil and gas industry.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), transportation accounts (PDF) for more than one-fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions, and that percentage is likely to rise, requiring rapid adoption of new technologies to keep temperatures within the 2-degree Celsius limit set by the Paris Agreement. The IEA and the International Council on Clean Transportation forecast (PDF) that transport electrification will play a critical role in achieving required greenhouse gas reductions by 2050.

Opt-in page for the Climate Optimism campaign

EV sales are already on the rise: in 2016, they rose by 37 percent in the United States and 41 percent globally. Statoil’s CEO recently predicted that oil demand would peak in 2020 with "a shrinking oil industry" as vehicles are electrified. A recent report (PDF) from Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Institute called "business as usual" predictions of slow growth in the market for EVs a "high risk strategy," and urged the use of a range of scenarios to evaluate future demand.

An October 2016 Fitch Ratings report warned that oil companies faced a "resoundingly negative" threat from the recent and growing proliferation of electric cars. "Widespread adoption of battery-powered vehicles is a serious threat to the oil industry," said the report, which urged energy companies to plan for "radical change" spurred by new technologies that could arrive more quickly than expected. The new EV100 campaign is likely to accelerate these trends.

More companies commit to renewables

RE100, the world’s leading 100 percent renewable energy target campaign, announced the commitment of more companies to sourcing 100 percent renewable energy, including Citi and JPMorgan Chase.“Every time a bank makes a 100 percent renewable energy commitment, it validates the economics to the broader market,” said Gary Levitan, JPMorgan Chase’s vice president of global sourcing sustainability and energy.

“Every time a bank makes a 100 percent renewable energy commitment, it validates the economics to the broader market,” said Gary Levitan, JPMorgan Chase’s vice president of global sourcing sustainability and energy.

In the days leading up to Climate Week, Estée Lauder, Kellogg and several other companies announced they were joining the campaign.

This follows a surge in corporate purchases and commitments to clean energy last year. Wal-Mart Stores set a 50 percent renewable target for 2025. Microsoft and Avery Dennison announced big purchases of clean power, and General Motors and Alphabet (Google's parent) said they would target 100 percent renewable energy within a year. In Nevada, both MGM and Caesars filed papers to stop purchasing power from their utility, NV Energy, because it did not support renewables.

#ClimateOptimism kicks off

On Monday, Futerra and the Climate Group launched Climate Optimism, a new public campaign to focus on the positive, optimistic aspects of climate change and our ability to address it, thereby re-engaging those driven into apathy by their anxiety. The campaign’s manifesto states, "We must, we can and we will solve climate change."

The organizers note that fatalism can be tempting, especially as we are bombarded by news about the scale of the climate change threat, but that it is ultimately counterproductive. They ask people to "opt in to climate optimism," and to take a pledge to that effect on the Climate Optimist website. Then, "take climate action in your own life, by doing things that will make you healthier and happier," and "shine a light on solutions" by sharing successes and ideas with others.

Futerra and the Climate Group also released the results of a global survey of climate optimism, which found that two-thirds of people around the world agree that we can solve climate change, but only if we act now. It found that people in emerging economies were more likely to feel positive about solving climate change, and that only 4 percent of people believe that the earth’s climate is not changing. These results suggest that there are plenty of climate optimists to enlist around the world.

Science-based climate targets expand recruits

On Tuesday, the World Resources Institute announced that more than 300 global companies had committed to set emissions reduction targets through the Science Based Targets initiative. Companies’ greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets are considered to be science-based if they are in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

Impact of recorded and quantified individual sub-national and non-state commitments on GHG emissions of the US (all GHGs excluding land-use, land-use change and forestry).

Ahead of Climate Week, a surge of top apparel companies announced their commitment to set science-based targets, including Gap, Nike, Levi Strauss, Guess, Eileen Fisher and VF Corporation. More than 90 percent of apparel brands’ emissions come from the value chain. Because apparel companies share many of the same suppliers, taking steps to reduce supply chain emissions can improve collaboration and create efficiencies across the industry.

Expanding climate risk disclosure

Ten companies across seven sectors became the first to commit to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) within three years. They will disclose information about the financial implications of climate-related risks and opportunities to understand how their business can adapt to a changing climate and exploit the opportunities that the low-carbon economy is already creating.

The first signatories — Aviva, Royal DSM, Enagás, Ferrovial, Iberdrola, Marks & Spencer, Philips Lighting, Sopra Steria Group, Wipro and WPP — were announced at two Climate Week sessions that highlighted the urgency of scaling up high-quality disclosure of climate-related information, to allow companies and investors to make better decisions about their capital allocation risks.

The TCFD, set up by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney in his role as head of the G20’s Financial Stability Board, recommends that all companies “describe the potential impact of different scenarios, including a 2-degrees Celsius scenario, on the organization’s businesses, strategy, and financial planning,” and provides more specific guidance for companies in the oil and gas, coal and electric utilities sectors due to the unique vulnerabilities of these industries.

The TCFD offers 11 specific recommendations for all industries, divided into four topics: governance, strategy, risk management and metrics and targets. They include:

  • All companies should benchmark strategic and financial planning using a 2-degrees Celsius economic scenario as their baseline for analyzing climate risks and opportunities.
  • All companies should disclose information related to water, energy usage and efficiency, land use and revenues from products and services designed for a low carbon economy.

Extra-federal climate action flexes muscle

A new report shows that federal inaction on climate change could be significantly mitigated by growing efforts on the part of U.S. states, cities and businesses. The report, written by New Climate Institute and the Climate Group and powered by CDP data, shows that the United States already can meet half of its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement by 2025, if the 342 commitments included in the analysis are implemented.

"States, cities and businesses leading the way" provides the first steps in helping to quantify the contribution of states, cities and business to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Its findings are in keeping with a February report from ratings agency Moody’s that asserted future shifts in U.S. climate policy — such as those taking place under the Trump administration — would not stall global emissions reduction efforts. Moody’s had previously announced (PDF) in June 2016 that it would begin analyzing carbon-transition risk based on the Paris Agreement’s 2-degree Celsius scenario.

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