Answering the Call for Business Leadership on Climate Policy

October 15, 2019
  • Eric Olson

    Former Senior Vice President, BSR

Our recently released letter calling for business action on climate policy—which we were delighted to publish in partnership with 10 other leading environmental and sustainability organizations—is a sign of the times.

The creation of the letter was driven by a few fundamental things, some good and some bad: First, the bad. My colleagues Aron Cramer and David Wei recently summarized the current situation and outcomes from the recent UN General Assembly and Climate Week in NYC. The bottom line? Despite mounting scientific evidence for urgent action, a growing list of leadership initiatives by companies and other “non-state actors” (cities, states, regions), and increasingly urgent demands for action by investors, employees, students, etc., national governments have demonstrated that they cannot and/or will not deliver without a significant push from key constituents.

Now the good news: That’s us and we can do this.

Working with our friends and partners in the We Mean Business coalition and the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, we have seen steadily increasing engagement from more and more diverse companies in climate advocacy. On an international level, business engagement has grown dramatically over the past several years and arguably played a key role in achieving the Paris Agreement. More recently, here in the US, we have seen the emergence of business stepping up to fill a leadership vacuum left by our national political leadership. Earlier this year, for example, we supported a lobby day in Washington DC, that saw more than 75 companies talk to Senate and House members on both sides of the aisle about the need for a price on carbon to underpin our efforts to build a prosperous, low-carbon economy.

What Comes Next for Business’ Climate Action

At a high level, the solution is clear and reflected in the three pillars of our call to CEOs of corporate America to adopt a science-based climate policy agenda:

  1. Advocate for policies at the national, subnational, and/or sectoral level that are consistent with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050;
  2. Align their trade associations’ climate policy advocacy to be consistent with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050; and
  3. Allocate advocacy spending to advance climate policies, not obstruct them.

We understand that clear is not the same thing as easy. Putting these principles into action will require that business—in partnership with like-minded players in civil society and the public sector—play an active role in addressing a number of obstacles facing each of them. Specifically:

Business must define their advocate priorities. We can and must create a coherent policy action agenda that clarifies key ‘must-haves’ vs. ‘nice-to-haves’ or specific sectoral interest that we can refer to as a guide through the rough and tumble of electoral politics. What are must-haves that will set overall direction and who will join us?    

Business must assess whether trade associations’ priorities align with their values. How can we navigate opportunities to influence the bodies that represent us and when are we better served to pull out?

Business must review how they allocate advocacy spending, again to ensure alignment with values. How can we develop a more comprehensive understanding of overall net benefit and interest in the midst of a daunting set of apparently conflicting priorities? Is it really true that we need to restrict our advocacy to the near-term and urgent (taxes, trade, etc.) at the expense of longer-term self-interest?

In order to put these principles to work, we know that we must also enable the right kind of transparency in our collective efforts. We furthermore need to this without creating new, additional platforms for disclosure and reporting at a time when there is a need to reduce duplication and fragmentation in reporting and disclosure. How and where can we best enhance the platforms we already have to provide more transparency on corporate climate lobbying?

Climate action by corporate leaders is important, and it continues to gain momentum. Soon there will be more than 700 large corporates with formal, public, science-based climate targets, including net-zero emissions by no later than 2050 and significant milestones along the way. We need effective advocacy to match that ambition, doing all we can to ensure that those 700 can actually achieve these targets and that many thousands more can join them.

We look forward to working with our members and partners to make it so.

Our shared future depends on it.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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