As the Tide of Corporate Climate Action Shifts, Three Ways to Enhance Business Leadership

October 28, 2016
  • Emilie Prattico

    Former Manager, BSR

Business support for and commitment to climate action in the lead up to and beyond COP21 was unprecedented in its scope and scale. Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, companies have continued to shape the post-Paris world by focusing on implementing measures that are aligned with the global goal of “well below 2˚C.”

The We Mean Business coalition, of which BSR is a founding member, has helped build momentum on corporate climate action by offering companies the opportunity to be recognized for their leadership, while supporting them in implementing measures to ensure that they meet their climate commitments. Through the coalition, 460 businesses and 180 investors have made more than 1,000 commitments, charting the path for ambitious structural changes in the way companies integrate climate action.

Developments such as the wave of corporate commitments through We Mean Business and the strong business voice around COP21 demonstrate that the tide has turned. Discussions at two recent BSR co-hosted events confirm this sea change: A wide array of companies from different sectors and regions, and with different track records on climate leadership, were all keen to shape a new “business as usual”—one where climate action and the future of their business are two sides of the same coin.

BSR co-hosted the first event with CDP in London on October 4 and the second with the Climate Leadership Council in Helsinki on October 25. Both focused on specific types of commitments that companies can take through We Mean Business. These include: adopting a science-based emissions-reduction target, committing to 100-percent renewable power, putting a price on carbon, and removing commodity-driven deforestation from all supply chains by 2020.

Discussions with participating companies and other partners at the events raised three common themes:

  1. Setting science-based targets is the new gold standard for corporate climate action. This robust approach aligns corporate ambition with global climate goals and pragmatic measures, and it allows concerted action to reduce emissions across sectors, geographies, and value chains. Including Scope 3, or value chain, emissions in the targets is a step forward compared to previous standards on emissions, deeply transforming the way that companies now set targets.
  2. As the private sector shapes the new post-Paris world, collaboration will accelerate progress on climate. Ambitious climate leadership requires radically new practices and technologies, but these can be difficult to implement alone—corporate dialogue and collaboration ensure faster results. For instance, companies seeking to procure 100-percent renewable energy must find solutions that work for multiple providers in diverse geographies, such as bundling their demand with other businesses to increase buyer power. And eliminating deforestation in global supply chains requires the challenging task of convincing and training smallholders to change their farming practices, which also requires deep collaboration among large purchasers.
  3. Policy landscapes must evolve to meet the ambition of the private sector. A clear area of consensus—for all sectors, geographies, or types of climate action—is that without supporting policy environments, companies’ ambition to curb emissions and adapt to climate change will be stifled. For instance, while onsite production of renewables can be a cost-effective and pragmatic solution to reach RE100 targets, without adequate contracting laws and zoning permits, many companies cannot use this opportunity. And given that each country has different circumstances—think of peak hours of demand during Finnish winters—the enabling policies needed to grow a low-carbon energy mix will vary. Companies also called for clear policies and stable, forward-looking regulation on carbon pricing, which will ensure rapid decarbonization and re-investment that supports the shift to a low-emissions economy.

The rich exchanges between peers and experts at these two events left no doubt that the new “business-as-usual” includes high levels of climate ambition and robust climate action. As we enter COP22 in Marrakech in a few weeks, we can be confident that the private sector has honored commitments made last year on the road to Paris, and that by adapting to the new gold standard in climate action, building cross-sector collaboration, and advocating for an enabling policy environment, companies will be a key actor in keeping us on the “well below 2˚C” pathway. 

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