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A who's who among the COP21 commitments

Is this the world's last chance to save the planet? More businesses are onboard than ever. Here's a guide to the names behind the names.

So, you support a strong global agreement at the U.N. Conference of the Parties? You want business, NGOs, policymakers and every stakeholder you forgot to mention to unite for once and for all to save the world. Of course you do. Put your name in lights in the City of Lights for what some see as an ultimate peace conference.

Such multilateral, international, never-before-scale-level of U.N. events hold so much promise. This is no Kyoto. This time will be different. We can only hope so. New private-sector alliances are formed — the names, the number of names and their pledges grand enough for you to bet on a low-carbon future.

Yet just as you may need a Ph.D in the subject to understand an IPCC climate report, you need some policy (or better, PR) chops to read between the lines. Behind the talk of "strong" and "binding" "science-based" commitments is a serious lack of teeth for business. Nevertheless, many corporations are stepping in where nations may fail, maybe wielding the might of nations themselves.

Among hundreds of corporations backing COP21 climate actions, few are trekking to Paris, instead backing blockbuster commitments or coalitions to represent them. Here are some of the bulkiest groups, in random order.

Science Based Targets initiative

As of Tuesday 114 companies are on board with this effort led by CDP, the World Resources Institute,World Wildlife Fund and the U.N. Global Compact. The aim is to work with business to set "strict" science-based emissions targets.  Coca-Cola, Dell, General Mills, Kellogg, P&G, Sony and four others have already had their targets approved. Many of these same 114 businesses have also signed up with other pledges via We Mean Business (see below).

Green Freight Action Plan

This project from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition counts Deutsche Post, HP, Ikea and Volvo as members as well as 24 nation-states from Bangladesh to Vietnam. They aim to enhance and expand green freight options while reducing emissions of diesel and other "black carbon."

2020 Health Care Climate Challenge

Doctors and others representing "over 8,200 hospitals and health centers in 16 countries from every continent" prescribed this climate action plan over the weekend. It's led by nonprofit Health Care Without Harm, which is asking for the sector in the United States to halve its CO2 emissionsby by 2025. In Sweden, several health care companies are going fossil-fuel free.

Sustainable Coffee Challenge

Starbucks and Keurig Green Mountain have joined with groups like Ceres, SustainAbility and Fairtrade America on this Conservation International-backed effort, launched last week. It's "a call to action to make coffee the first sustainable agricultural product in the world." How do they define that ? It starts with growing a plan over the next 100 days.

Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition

Scores and scores of companies are already pushing a price on carbon at COP. This group plans to go further, by building the "evidence base" for the best carbon pricing systems already in place. Here are 71 businesses including Abengoa, Ernst & Young, Statoil, Natura, Philips and Zenith Bank — alongside a mix of governments, such as the states of Albert and California and the nations of Belgium and Kazakhstan.

Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction

Sixty groups and 16 countries launched this alliance last week. It aims to shrink the footprint of the built environment, estimated to make up 30 percent of the world's global warming emissions and rising along with urban populations. Heavy hitters here include the International Union of Architects, World Resources Institute, WBCSD, ICLEI and the World Green Building Council. Meanwhile, 25 regional building councils belonging to the WGBC promised to register, renovate or certify more than 4 billion square feet by 2020.

Divest for Paris

As of early December, 500 institutions are moving away from investing in fossil fuels, up from 181 by September 2014. The parties involved represent $3.4 trillion in assets, including 19 French cities and beasts as varied as Georgetown University; the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Europe's largest insurance firm, Allianz; various Evangelical Lutheran churches and the London School of Economics. This effort is backed by Bill McKibben's and Divest-Invest.

International Chamber of Shipping

This fleet of shipping hulks includes names such as Abu Dhabi National Tanker Company, Interferry  and the Chamber of Shipping of America. It just promised to back a strong climate pact and to reduce emissions in line with the International Maritime Organization's goals. This is a matter of some controversy, with critics charging the ICS with lagging on progress. But the ICS says that while shipping globally adds up to 2.2 percent of Co2 emissions, that has dropped by .6 percent since 2007. Next steps include collecting emissions data, ship by ship.

Low Carbon USA

Last week this new corporate posse took out an ad in the Wall Street Journal to support a "strong and fair global climate deal." It's not real specific beyond pledging to reduce emissions at least at the level of national commitment, and to invest in a "low-carbon economy."

The 100 businesses are an otherwise motley crew that counts Gap, Hilton, Symantec, JLL, HP Enterprise, L'Oreal, NRG, Nestle, Timberland, PG&E, Schneider Electric, among others. You'll note names like Autodesk, IKEA, Mars and more and repeating throughout other commitments in this story. This group is the work of multiple other groups: Business Council for Sustainable EnergyCDPCeresC2ESEnvironmental Defense FundEnvironmental EntrepreneursThe Climate GroupWe Mean Business, and World Wildlife Fund.

Breakthrough Energy Coalition and Mission Innovation

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is teaming up with more than 20 other billionaires — including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Jack Ma of Alibaba and Richard Branson of the Virgin Group — to support clean energy efforts in both industrialized and developing nations. Gates pointed out in a paper that for R&D, U.S. industries in 2010 invested .23 percent of revenue on energy, a speck against 15 percent spent on IT. 

News of the alliance, kicked off at COP21's launch, broke the previous weekend on GreenWire. The group pledged to invest "early, broadly, boldly, wisely and together" on energy generation, storage and efficiency; transportation;"industrial use" and agriculture. 

Meanwhile, a pack of 20 countries from Australia to the United States (and even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) vowed as Mission Innovation to "reinvigorate and accelerate" innovation, doubling their investments in clean energy R&D.

A pie chart shows what types of organizations are divesting from fossil fuels.

World Economic Forum CEOs letter

Last week 78 CEOs stepped forward to encourage a strong COP deal and a price on carbon. With names including ABB, Dow Chemical, Microsoft, Suez and Wipro Limited, they total more than $2.1 trillion in 2014 revenue. They volunteered to reduce their footprints,  "act as ambassadors for climate action" and incorporate climate risks into decisions. You'll recognize some of the names, including IKEA and Unilever, among other commitments below. Indeed, some are already members of the WBCSD and Prince of Wales' Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.

American Business Act on Climate Pledge

With the addition of 73 names the first week of COP, 154 corporations are onboard with the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, up from the original 13 that signed on in July at the White House. They have the same goal you've heard early and often: Support a pact "toward a low-carbon, sustainable future." From Abengoa Bioenergy to Xerox, they vow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 30 percent over the next decade. The aims vary from one business to the next, with some, such as AT&T and Monsanto, making new steps. The newest companies include Airbnb, LinkedIn and VF Corp.

Other brands you may see more frequently on GreenBiz, such as Autodesk and McDonald's, are broadening their efforts or shooting specific bullet points. Levi Strauss, for one, aims by 2020 to drop greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent at all locations, and to phase out any materials from old-growth forests from its supply chain.

This bunch stands out for its "all-American" icons such as Apple, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Google, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Starbucks and UPS. The list goes on, but conspicuously absent are oil and gas brands (see OGCI below for non-U.S. names in that sector).

We Mean Business

This coalition trumpeted the support of 6 million companies in September. To narrow this down a bit, 412 companies and investors have committed to specific climate action ahead of COP. The list runs from 505-JUNK to Zenith Bank, with everything from Honda to Salesforce in between.

They must commit to one of seven big pledges: Science-based emissions goals; a price on carbon; 100-percent renewable energy; "responsible corporate engagement in climate policy"; reporting climate change details "in mainstream reports as part of fiduciary duty"; removing deforestation from supply chains by 2020; and reducing "short-lived climate pollution emissions."

We Mean Business recently lobbied COP negotiators with eight demands for a climate compact. These include an international framework for carbon pricing, a requirement for nations to ratchet up commitments every five years and a net-zero emissions goal.


What do we want? Renewable energy, 100 percent! When do we want it? By 2020! This goal to get 100 businesses onboard is led by the Climate Group and CDP. Le voilà, a firm goal and deadline!

A dozen companies initially joined this pledge during Climate Week in September, sparked by IKEA and Swiss Re: BT; Commerzbank; FIA Formula E; H&M; KPN; Mars; Nestle; Philips; Reed Elsevier; and J. Safra Sarasin. The count is up to 53 as of Monday, with Coca-Cola Enterprises, BMW Group and others jumping in. (Notable exceptions are Apple and Google, which started down their own 100-percent renewables paths long ago.)

Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles

Within this partnership backed by the World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund, 43 companies ranging alphabetically from Amazon to Etsy to Volvo have joined since July 2014. Those signing the Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles invite utilities to help them achieve "30 million MWh of renewable energy demand" by 2020.


In September these two groups inked an MOU to advance a strong COP21 deal and "build momentum for the transition to a low-carbon economy." GeSI stands for Global e-Sustainability Initiative and represents 30 information technology companies from Amdocs to ZTE. The World Business Council on Sustainable Development, formed around the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, is a CEO-led membership group of 200 companies, from 3M to Yokohama, and a heavyweight at COP21.


Nonprofit Ceres is flexing some of the more muscular pre-COP21 announcements. It directs Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) and  the Investor Network on Climate Risk. In May, with other groups, it released the Investor Platform for Climate Actions, which tracks progress by institutional investors (400+ so far, managing $25 trillion).

Ceres just backed a letter from apparel companies — Adidas Group, VF Corporation, Burton Snowboards, Eileen Fisher, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap and H&M. The names are bold but their intent is less concrete than other pledges. They call for a strong COP21 pact and pledge to reduce their emissions and ramp up renewables; advocate for climate policy; and discuss the above among their trade groups.

In October Ceres released a letter from 10 major food and beverage leaders, "pledging to accelerate business action on climate change and urging governments to do the same by forging a robust international agreement." They are Mars Inc., Unilever, Ben & Jerry's, General Mills, Dannon, Kellogg, Clif Bar, Nestle, Stonyfield Farms and New Belgium Brewing. Coca-Cola, The Hain Celestial Group, Hershey’s and PepsiCo piled on in November.

In September Ceres got the biggest U.S. banks — Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo — to demand a strong COP21 deal and a price on carbon. 

American Sustainable Business Council

This group speaking for 200,000 U.S. businesses says it fears that Congress will interfere when 192 countries meet in Paris. "Those in Congress who now oppose a binding agreement in Paris, might temper their position if a business-friendly scheme was on the table," the ASBC recently stated. It is sending Congress this letter to advocate binding emissions reductions goals with carbon pricing, as well as support for the American Clean Power Plan.

The Climate Group — Compact of States and Regions

This map of the Compact of States and Regions shows 20 governments promising to reduce enough carbon emissions by 2030 to excel the 2012 output of the United States. The effort was assembled by the nonprofit Climate Group, which states, "It is exactly these 'non-state actors'— businesses, states and regions — that have a crucial role at COP21." The compact includes states from California to Catalonia, and various regions, with a population of 220 million around the world.


Translate C2ES as the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions to find 14 big businesses calling for a climate pact that at minimum includes "all of the world’s major economies": Alcoa; Alstom; BHP Billiton; BP; Calpine; HP; Intel; Lafarge Holcim; National Grid; PG&E; Rio Tinto; Schneider Electric; Shell; and Siemens. 

C2ES called earlier in the fall for companies and countries to work together toward decarbonizing the world's economy and establishing a price on carbon. It also outlines these "essentials" to a climate agreement (PDF) that include "binding" international law.

CEOs of OGCI at their Oct. 16 announcement

Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

It's OGCI for short, and its 10 fossil fuel titans in October said they back an "effective" U.N. climate accord. It consists of BG Group, BP, Eni, PEMEX, Reliance Industries, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil and TOTAL. Who's missing? U.S. oil and gas companies. Does it matter? OGCI — which says it represents almost one-fifth of the world's oil and gas production and produces 10 percent of the world's energy — apparently thinks not. 

Additional goals: "Strengthen actions and investments" toward low-emissions energy and aid "clear stable policy frameworks" toward 2-degrees Celsius. The CEO-led group aims to collaborate on R&D, efficiency and natural gas, as well as carbon capture and storage. There's no specific time frame, other than to "report regularly and consistently."

International Council on Mining and Metals

This London-based group of 23 mining CEOs issued a statement that they too, support a strong COP21 agreement and carbon pricing  — as well as ramping up the use of renewables in operations, helping "our host communities" adapt to climate change, and integrating climate risks into planning.

This seems to be uprooting the status quo, since it comes from the likes of Anglo-American, BHP Billiton, Glencore and Rio Tinto. Of course, they're not letting go of coal just yet, stating that the transition toward low-emissions coal technologies amid a low-carbon "energy mix...should recognise the importance of coal in the global economy, and particularly in the developing world."

American Campus Act on Climate Pledge

Colleges and universities can be mighty operations with supply-chains, facilities and other sprawling sustainability concerns that parallel those of corporations and cities. In mid-November, 218 campuses across 40 states committed to encourage a strong COP21 climate deal, with more than half vowing to become carbon neutral. They run the gamut from Agnes Scott College to Yale University and total 3.3 million students.

Want deeper details? Open this policy brief, "Climate Action outside the UNFCC" (PDF). Feel free to email me about this story at

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