Getting to a Price on Carbon: Collaboration, Action, and Leadership

iStockphoto / Yevhen Harkusha

March 28, 2019
  • Eric Olson

    Former Senior Vice President, BSR

At GreenBiz 19 in February, BSR and Ceres convened business and civil society leaders to explore new collaborations in pursuit of public policy to support climate ambition in the U.S. The meeting was a prime example of the work of BSR’s CoLab, an incubator and accelerator of private-sector collaboration that mobilizes the collective power of business to solve the world’s biggest sustainability challenges. The conversation was framed around one big question: “How can businesses work together to support meaningful public policy to address the climate crisis?”

Our session at GreenBiz 19 left us more convinced than ever that the time is right for action guided by a thoughtful and inclusive long-term strategy and action plan—and we are committed to working with our many partners in the field to make it happen.

We had a rich discussion of the many barriers we will need to overcome—both within companies and across the broader political landscape. But for every barrier identified, we surfaced several great ideas for how to address it. Some of the key “design criteria” we took away from the meeting include the following: 

  • Move from an ad hoc to a strategic approach. We need to create a framework and priorities for policy advocacy that enable companies to advocate with confidence. What do we want for the future, and what policies are necessary to get there?
  • Organize around principles before policy details. Rather than overcommitting to a specific policy proposal, we need a set of “principles” to identify specific policies for which to advocate and to serve as the focal point around which to mobilize a broad and diverse coalition. Carbon pricing is important but not a silver bullet, and it will need to be accompanied by many other policies and practices—from new actuarial standards to building codes.
  • Connect climate action to existing priorities. We can create a better foundation for consistent policy advocacy by linking climate change to issues that already obviously matter within our organizations (rather than trying to “add climate to the list”). Most companies have stated “values” or priority areas that drive programs and choices—and many of those elements link to aspects of the climate crisis. For example, building resilience may be a key piece in supporting local community development.
  • Build a more powerful narrative. At the same time, we should balance the language of “business case” with the language of society and morality. It is always strategic to put the issues in terms and metrics people understand, to meet your audience where they are, and to encourage stakeholders to consider going further.
  • Acknowledge and address the diverse needs and impacts of different sectors. Some industries will fare better than others in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, and we need to have a plan for addressing all of them.
  • But above all, get started! Even as we work to build out a longer-term strategic approach to climate policy advocacy, we need to show up and engage with lawmakers, both on a local and national scale, to send a clear signal as well as to test and refine our approaches.

We see an opportunity for companies to highlight the need for a strong and meaningful price on carbon as part of the overall response to climate change.

What Comes Next?

On that last point, we are delighted to partner with more than 15 highly respected organizations to field a Lawmaker Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD) in Washington, D.C. on May 21-22, bringing together companies large and small from all over the country to drive forward three key messages:

  1. Climate change is an urgent threat to the American economy.
  2. Businesses are taking action to reduce emissions, but they cannot tackle the problem without strong leadership from Congress.
  3. Congress must put forward a policy response equal to the severity of the challenge—and that should include a price on carbon.

Led by a core group of CEOs and organized by an unprecedented collaboration of NGOs, think tanks, trade associations, and other groups, this event will help to elevate and emphasize the private sector’s vision for lasting, predictable, and effective climate solutions. In particular, we see an opportunity for companies to highlight the need for a strong and meaningful price on carbon as part of the overall response to climate change.

If you would like to learn more, BSR and Ceres are hosting a webinar on April 3 at 2 p.m. EDT to provide more details on the LEAD event and the state of play of climate policy in Washington, D.C. and share our vision for how this event contributes to overall efforts to move climate policy forward at a national level. In addition to speakers from BSR and Ceres, the webinar will feature Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center.

We will also use our time together in Washington to advance the conversation on a broader and longer-term strategic approach to public policy advocacy. Please join us and don’t hesitate to contact either BSR or Ceres with your thoughts and ideas in the meantime. For more information about the LEAD event, please reference this resource or connect with us via email.

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

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