All eyes fell on global leaders to bring forward new plans of action to avert catastrophic climate change during the most recent United Nations Climate Summit. The future of our changing climate cannot be mitigated by the public sector alone; however, it depends on the cooperation of the private sector to adapt sustainable operations. Thankfully, some major corporations have stepped forward in a moment while influential governments of major greenhouse gas emitting countries have remained quiet. Leading up to the Climate Action Summit, large companies have stepped up to the plate and have released impressive new climate policies and plans for renewable energy procurement.
The United Nations Climate Action Summit in September 2019, at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, attracted global attention to the current climate crisis. The purpose of the U.N. Climate Action Summit was to initiate or advance action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid a global mean temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the U.N. press release following the summit, the world needs to increase its efforts by three- to five-fold in order to remain under the 1.5 degree C warming level. This standard has been dictated by climate science as the limit of average temperature rise required to avoid escalating irreversible climate damage which has already begun to take place worldwide.
The summit is marked as a milestone in U.N. history as it emphasizes action for climate rather than just negotiation, which has been the main element in most of the previous climate meetings and conventions. Many people focused their attention on this summit, as it convened at a time of unprecedented urgency for action, following weeks of popular youth climate strikes, including a strike just days before with an estimated attendance of upwards of four million people.
The greenhouse gas emissions and economic powerhouses of India, China and the United States failed to bring any new plans to the climate action summit. The lack of action by these nations creates grave concern as the issue grows more urgent. The World Bank emphasizes how the response to the climate crisis has not been adequate: “The climate crisis is here, now: massive wildfires ravage fragile habitats, city taps run dry, droughts scorch the land and massive floods destroy people’s homes and livelihoods. So far the response has been gravely insufficient.”
On September 23rd, world leaders failed to deliver what was necessary: action to avert extreme climate change. Where politicians have fallen short, the private sector has started to commit to making necessary changes. During the week leading up to the summit, both Google and AT&T made the largest renewable procurement deals in history. In addition, Honda, Microsoft, and Ikea also significantly expanded their renewable energy portfolios.
Google announced it would purchase a 1.6 gigawatt package of renewable agreements which will include 18 new solar and wind deals across the globe. Google’s procurement will increase their total renewable acquisition by 40%, providing enough electricity to power entire countries such as Uruguay or Lithuania, according to one of their blog posts. AT&T will purchase a 960 megawatt package, which will support wind and solar projects. For scale, the amount of energy this will provide is equivalent to powering New York City for one month.
Amazon’s Seattle headquarters held their first strike on Friday, September 21, when over 1,000 Amazon employees walked out for the Global Climate Strike. On Thursday, one day before the strike, CEO Jeff Bezos announced a sweeping plan to tackle climate change. He committed the company to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate 10 years ahead of schedule. The 2015 agreement intends to limit global warming to under 2 degrees C and reduce human-made emissions by 2050. Bezos’ “Climate Pledge” promises to regularly report on emissions and to implement decarbonization strategies. The goal is for 80% of energy use to come from renewable sources by 2024 and to reach zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Amazon will also donate $100 million to The Nature Conservancy to develop the Right Now Climate Fund to restore and protect forests, wetlands, and peatlands around the world. Later this year, Amazon will release its company-wide carbon footprint for the first time. This immersive plan calls on other companies, including those in its supply chain, to join Amazon to pledge net zero carbon emissions by 2040.
Ingka, the holding company for IKEA, revealed that by the end of this year, it will generate more renewable energy than the energy its stores use. Over the past decade, Ingka has invested $2.8 billion in solar and wind energy, with plans for future investing. Their goal is to be climate-positive (reduce more emissions than they put out) by 2030.
Target Corporation, Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s largest telecommunications operator, and Takashimaya, a Japanese department store chain, have committed to source 100% renewable electricity as part of the RE100 initiative from The Climate Group. RE100 is a corporate leadership initiative joining powerful business to commit to renewable electricity with an ultimate goal of accelerating the globe towards zero carbon emissions.
The Climate Group has calculated a general statistic that 300 multinational businesses, with a combined revenue of $5.5 trillion, are now driving climate action. Yet, a vast increase is still needed in order to get ready for a “Climate Decade” and to deliver on the Paris Agreement. Recent evidence shows how the private sector has committed to action at a much faster pace than national governments. The pressure has increased as the next U.N. climate conference approaches in December 2019, where leaders will have another chance to either lead or let down.
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Carrington, D. (2019, September 10). World ‘gravely’ unprepared for effects of climate crisis – report. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/10/climate-crisis-world-readiness-effects-gravely-insufficient-report.
Golden, S. (2019, September 27). Climate Week: Big companies, big commitments. Retrieved from https://www.greenbiz.com/article/climate-week-big-companies-big-commitments.
Pichai, S. (2019, September 19). Our biggest renewable energy purchase ever. Retrieved from https://www.blog.google/outreach-initiatives/sustainability/our-biggest-renewable-energy-purchase-ever/.
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