Climate Week 2016: Businesses Lead Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy
Climate Week 2016 kicks off today in New York City, with international business and government leaders meeting to discuss the transition to a low-carbon economy — what is means for countries and corporations, and how to achieve zero-emission value chains and communities.
From Sept. 19-25 corporate executives and government officials will attend dozens of workshops and other events. We can also expect to hear major announcements from both sectors about their progress toward meeting the goals of the Paris climate deal. Additionally, at least 20 more nations are expected join the Paris climate agreement this week, adding to the 27 that have already done so.
In addition to covering key climate change themes, however, this year’s Climate Week events send a strong message to businesses: climate change presents real risk — and opportunities — across industries and value chains. Failing to incorporate these risks and opportunities into long-term business planning can be a fatal mistake.
“Climate change is a material risk to business,” said BSR policy director Edward Cameron in an interview. “All of the associated various impacts — changing water distribution patterns, extreme weather events, droughts, storm surges — pose an important material risk inside individual companies, across their supply chains and across the marginalized communities where they operate and rely on for their workforce.
Climate change also puts natural resources that companies use to produce good and services at risk, as well as human resources. “And not just because you might lose workers due to climate events, but because increasingly talent recruitment and retention is dependent on your response to climate change.
“There’s also increasing demand for business action coming from shareholders and customers, meaning you need to be cognoscente of climate change and also aware of the various incentives to mitigate its effects.”
This, Cameron says, is why businesses should attend, or at least pay attention to, this week’s events.
It is also significant given the US political climate with two presidential candidates on opposite sides of the issue. Donald Trump has vowed to ditch the Clean Power Plan as well as the Paris climate agreement. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton would uphold both.
“This year’s edition of Climate Week NYC takes place at a critical moment,” said Amy Davidsen, US executive director of The Climate Group, which convenes the annual weeklong event. “The historic Paris Agreement is on the cusp of ratification, and with the US election following in only eight weeks, it is essential that the momentum for climate action continues and accelerates.”
One of the week’s events geared toward business leaders is the Translating the Paris Agreement to Business Strategy session on Sept. 21, hosted by CDP, BSR, We Mean Business and the Science Based Targets Initiative. It will include an update on We Mean Business plans, a discussion with Kellogg CSO Diane Holdorf and roundtables on how businesses can set and achieve science based targets.
The Science Based Targets initiative, a joint effort of CDP, the UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund, works with companies to set emissions targets and only approves those that meet its strict criteria. At last count 176 companies have committed to setting science based targets. Of these, 20 companies including Kellogg have targets in place that have been certified by the initiative’s experts.
“Climate change can impact both food security and our business by posing risks to the long-term health and viability of the ingredients we use in our foods,” Holdorf said in an earlier interview with Environmental Leader.
Climate Week 2016 is taking place alongside the first meeting of the UN General Assembly since the adoption of the Paris agreement in December. In addition to focusing on what the Paris climate deal means for business, some events will focus on the role of the private sector in attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
These 17 goals, adopted by more than 190 countries last September, aim to tackle climate change, provide clean water and end poverty, among other ambitious targets, by 2030. And like the Paris climate deal, they depend on corporate involvement alongside policy change.
Scott Tew, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand, told Environmental Leader that companies should tie the SDGs into their business plans and climate targets.
Ingersoll Rand, for example, has set a goal to achieve a 50 percent reduction in direct greenhouse gas potential of its products by 2020, compared to 2013 levels, and a 35 percent reduction in greenhouse gas footprint of its own operations by 2020, using the same baseline year. It has also pledged to incorporate alternatives with lower global warming potential across the company’s product portfolio by 2030 and invest $500 million in product-related research and development over the next five years to fund the long-term reduction of GHG emissions.
“We have our 2020 targets, and they add value to us as a business and our customers,” Tew said. “We’ve looked at our goals and targets in place and asked: which of the SDGs can we map through our existing goals so there is a direct link?”
For an industrial manufacturing company like Ingersoll Rand, SDG no. 9, which focuses on building sustainable infrastructure and industry, and no. 11, which targets sustainable cities and communities are good fits.
“Ingersoll Rand is very focused on making existing buildings more efficient because they are, by and large, very inefficient,” Tew said. “The SDGs around sustainable cities are directly related to that. Typically commercial HVAC systems consume about 40 percent of the energy footprint of a building. We’re designing systems that are highly efficient and reduce the energy load for an entire city. We’re also designing next-generation coolants as alternatives to traditional refrigerants with tremendous climate impacts.”
These and other efforts help the company achieve its internal climate goals as well as contributing to the larger global SDGs. It also presents an economic opportunity for Ingersoll Rand, for example, by selling these low global warming potential refrigerants to its customers, which, in turn lower their carbon footprint by using these products.
“Climate Week is a week that shows transformation is happening,” Tew said. “The SDGs help us focus our efforts on collaborating together. The opportunities we are seeing is market transformation.”
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