When the Trump administration announced its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement last year, few were surprised. The real surprise came in the days and weeks that followed, as prominent leaders in America’s businesses, state capitols, city halls and universities came together to declare that the U.S. is "still in" the Paris Agreement and vowed to help deliver on our climate targets.
Many pundits and prognosticators viewed this groundswell of support for climate action as largely a political rebuke of the administration. But America’s new generation of climate leaders — whose combined GDP would make them the third largest nation in the world — see the urgent need to address climate change through a different lens.
For them, it’s not about politics; it’s about dollars and cents, and resilience in the face of a changing climate. By investing in renewable energy, companies have locked in cheaper energy prices, reduced their risk to energy price volatility and saved money in the process. Nearly half of America’s largest companies already have set at least one climate and energy target, collectively saving nearly $3.7 billion every year and protecting their supply chains from disruption.
Now, more than 1,800 American companies, from Fortune 100 companies to small family-owned businesses, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of governors, mayors, university presidents and faith leaders — bound by their shared commitment to help the U.S. meet its emissions reduction goals under the Paris Agreement
The first success of this diverse showcase of American leadership was on display at the international climate negotiations last fall where these leaders quickly and definitively halted any prospect that the U.S. threat of withdrawal might unravel the Paris accord.
But now comes a greater test for the Paris accord: Will countries ramp up their commitments to action by 2020 (the first opportunity to revise climate targets under the Paris Agreement)? According to many experts, 2020 is the world’s deadline for putting greenhouse gas emissions on a downward path if we’re to have any chance of keeping climate change in check.
It always was well known that the initial pledges submitted by governments under the Paris Agreement weren’t enough to meet the agreement’s target of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. (The 2 degrees Celsius threshold marks the point where scientists expect the catastrophic effects of climate change to kick in, so steering well clear of that level is critical.) Thankfully, the Paris Agreement created a process for revisiting country targets every five years, encouraging nations to ramp up ambition over time.
One key ingredient for convincing governments to up their game by 2020 will be a strong signal by sub-national leaders in businesses, cities, states and universities. Their actions will demonstrate real progress (particularly in the U.S.), while showing governments that central economic players have their backs. If 2017 was the year that sub-national leaders stood together to say "we are still in"; 2018 is the year we must act together to move faster, reach higher and go further.
This new wave of climate leadership will be on display at one of the biggest events on the 2018 sustainability calendar. In September, the Global Climate Action Summit, hosted by the state of California, will be the first time a global climate summit strictly focuses on the role of business leaders, state and local elected officials and other leaders in the real economy. And it is the moment to signal to world governments that they need to go further too.
With all eyes turning to the California summit, it’s time for all of America’s businesses, tribal leaders, university presidents and heads of state and local governments to think about what else they can contribute this year.
For those that have yet to adopt a climate target, now is the time. And for those who already have a commitment on the table, now is the time to make it more ambitious by aligning it with the best available science. Businesses, cities and towns should consider electrifying their fleet of vehicles and doubling their energy efficiency. Companies should consider committing to powering their operations with 100 percent renewable energy and harnessing their collective purchasing power to hasten the adoption of renewable energy across the U.S.
We Are Still In isn’t just another slogan or statement: It’s about commitment and action and it is rooted in one of America’s fundamental values — we are stronger standing together than standing alone.
Are you in?
Marty Spitzer- Senior Director, Climate and Renewable Energy, World Wildlife Fund
Anne Kelly- Senior Director, Policy and BICEP Program, Ceres
This article was originally published by GreenBiz on February 8, 2018