On Monday, September 22, I took part in the Climate Group’s annual kick-off of “Climate Week NYC.” We heard from political leaders like Secretary of State John Kerry, Executive Secretary of the UNFCC Christiana Figueres, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and Ban Ki-moon the Secretary General of the UN. ASP helped arrange Secretary Kerry’s climate speech, which is worth reading in its entirety.
As someone working on climate policy in Washington, I’ve heard from these speakers on these issues before. Their leadership is important; we cannot effectively address climate change without political action – but it is not novel.
Likewise, when the UN climate summit meets at UN headquarters on Tuesday, September 23, the over 120 heads of state will prove significant in providing the national leadership that will set standards and provide direction for how to address climate change in both UN negotiations and at their national level.
On Sunday, we heard from a march of 300,000 people through the streets of Manhattan that they viewed climate change as a threat, deserving of concerted action by world leaders. So – politicians and the people are calling for action on climate change – that is important.
Business Leaders Taking Action on Climate Now
However, that is only part of the story. What was most critical for me was to see Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, on stage professing the need for businesses to move towards a low-carbon economy. Cook said: “we must not accept that there is a trade off between the economy and the environment…What we’ve found is that if you innovate and set the bar high, you can do both, and you must do both.”
Apple’s leadership on this is impressive, but it is by no means unique. Other businesses are active leaders in addressing climate change, and are making their voices heard during climate week. Philip Ryan, Chairman of Swiss Re Americas announced a new push to get multinational corporations to switch to renewable power, saying: “The transition to a low carbon economy will not be successful without a paradigm shift in the way we power our planet.” HP announced that it has set a new goal to reduce the emissions intensity of its product portfolio by 40% by 2020 (compared to 2010). Richard Branson, CEO and Founder of Virgin said: “It makes better business sense than ever to ensure we end the destruction of our natural resources and reduce our carbon output.” Branson further echoed other speakers throughout the day, saying that addressing climate change is “the biggest challenge and opportunity of our lifetimes.”
These statements about how business is working to meet the challenge of climate change marked the Climate Group’s launch of a new “We Mean Business” coalition along with a report “The Climate has Changed” that shows how businesses around the world are profiting by investing in low-carbon growth. As the Climate Group explains:
We Mean Business is a powerful coalition of world-leading business and climate organizations, which have joined forces – for the first time – to create a unified business voice in support of decisive action to tackle climate change and transition to a low carbon future.
Founding partners are BSR, the B Team, CDP, Ceres, The Climate Group, the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) and WBCSD: the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which together represent thousands of top companies and investors.
The coalition calls on other businesses to follow their lead on cutting emissions through measures such as increased renewable energy, big improvements in energy efficiency and adopting a carbon price, in order to build a vibrant low carbon economy and avoid runaway climate change, which the involved companies agree is a massive threat to businesses and the economy.
Too often in Washington we hear from the few loud voices saying that any action on climate change will necessarily cost jobs and destroy the economy. It is refreshing and important to hear from corporate leaders who are speaking to a receptive audience. They need to bring their message to Washington, and actively advocate for their position. Until the business voices in favor of clear action on climate change make their voices heard before policymakers – and base their endorsements and political donations around those voices – we will be stuck with a broken dialogue. On the other hand, this could signal a real turning point for climate action.