The vanguard of corporate climate action has arrived — and the Trump administration can’t stop it

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After a decade-long dry spell, Corporate America’s call for climate action is back.

Despite the Trump Administration’s continued denial, leading companies are finally giving climate change the attention it deserves and urging Congress to do the same.

Years from now, we’ll look back at May 2019 as a breakthrough moment, when business engagement in climate policy gathered strength and became an unstoppable movement.  This month alone, companies across sectors including oil and gas, electric power, consumer goods and food have joined the CEO Climate Dialogue, invested in the Americans for Carbon Dividends initiative, and advocated on the Hill to put a price on carbon

As Axios’ Amy Harder notes, “Several years-long trends are driving corporations to ask for government policy — but it’s not really about saving the planet. It’s about investor and legal pressure, falling prices for renewable energy, new bounties of cleaner-burning natural gas and growing public concern about a warming planet’s impacts.”

Whatever the reasons companies are stepping up to the plate on climate policy advocacy, pressure from investors is one trend that is here to stay.

Shareholder proposals on climate

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that in the 2019 annual meeting season, companies are expected to vote on 75 or more climate-related shareholder proposals. That’s a record, and up from just 17 proposals in 2013.   

This week, 99 percent of BP’s investors voted in favor of the company reporting in detail about how its investments line up with the goals of the Paris climate accord. Yes, 99 percent. That’s unheard of.

Yesterday, Amazon voted on a proposal filed by employee shareholders earlier this year that would require the company to report publicly on how it will deal with disruptions caused by climate change and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. While the resolution didn’t pass – not uncommon for the first try – this won’t be the last time such proposals are introduced at Amazon and elsewhere.

Shareholder pressures converging

Alongside pressure to disclose climate risk is increasing investor pressure to disclose political spending. Last fall, Nike shareholders introduced a resolution calling for greater transparency on political spending and proposing regular reporting on political contributions. In February, Hilton agreed to disclose its political spending.

It’s only a matter of time before these two trends converge, and investors, employees and other stakeholders start asking companies to disclose their advocacy on climate policy. What climate policies are they advocating for? How are they ensuring that their trade associations are rowing in the same direction? And how does their political spending advance their climate policy goals?

Given the threat that climate change poses to the economy, what matters is not only what companies are doing to reduce their own emissions and risks, but also how they are helping to solve the underlying problem – through policies that drive down emissions at the pace and scale that climate science demands. That’s why policy advocacy is an essential element of corporate sustainability leadership.

The power of corporate climate advocacy

The companies that stepped up this month are at the vanguard of a growing movement of businesses calling for climate action in Washington, DC and around the country. They recognize that the most powerful tool they have to fight climate change is their political influence, and they’re not afraid to use it – whatever the current occupant of the White House may think.

That’s the kind of leadership that will get us where we need to go: to a bipartisan climate policy solution that boosts the economy, builds resilience, and protects public health – and that businesses, lawmakers, and communities can all get behind.