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Climate Action 2016 Summit: What Role Will Business Play?

wind turbineIn terms of reaching a global climate deal, COP21 was a success. More than 175 countries have since signed the Paris agreement, and hundreds of business have committed to purchasing renewable energy and reducing their carbon emissions.

Now what?

Beginning May 5, more than 700 corporate executives, government officials, academics and philanthropists will converge on Washington, DC, for the two-day Climate Action 2016 Summit, which organizers describe as “the most significant gathering of sub-national and non-governmental leaders on global climate action this year.”

Like COP21 in Paris last December, the Climate Action Summit brings together policy makers and private companies, which will be directly affected by climate policies in the transition to a low-carbon economy. In other words, it’s a good idea for executives to get involved at the summit, or at least pay close attention from the sidelines.

In the lead-up to the Climate Action Summit, today the Science Based Targets initiative announced that 155 companies have committed to set emissions reduction targets in-line with the global effort to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius. Forty-one new companies have joined the initiative since COP21, including Ben & Jerry’s, SunPower Corporation, Owens Corning, Toyota and large European retailer Metro AG

The Science Based Targets initiative is a joint effort of CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project), World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund and UN Global Compact that works with companies to set science-based emissions targets and only approves corporate targets that meet its strict criteria.

Of the 154 companies signed on to the initiative, 13 have had their emissions reductions targets reviewed and approved. Combined, these 13 companies will reduce their emissions from operations by 874 million metric tons of CO2 over the lifetime of the targets. Forty-five companies have targets currently under review, and the remaining companies are in the process of developing targets.

“We are seeing that business and government have mutually reinforcing positions on climate change,” Kevin Moss, global director of the business center at World Resources Institute told Environmental Leader. “Governments are using policy to control emissions within national borders, while businesses are delivering low-carbon solutions throughout global value chains. This harmony makes low-carbon business development attractive to any forward-looking business leader. This is why we’re seeing more and more major companies publicly commit to science-based emissions targets, carbon pricing and renewable energy — climate science is influencing global markets.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicks off the Climate Action Summit on Thursday morning. Other highlights include a Q&A session with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy on whether the US can deliver on its climate commitments, a climate discussion with Al Gore and a talk on post-Paris progress and potential by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. Unilever CEO Paul Polman and Kellogg chief sustainability officer Diane Holdorf are among the executives who will be speaking at various panel discussions on Thursday and Friday.

Expect the business sector to play a leading role in the summit, says Business for Social Responsibility managing director Edward Cameron, who leads BSR’s climate practice.

“The private sector was fundamental in securing the Paris agreement by advocating for strong government action and will be visible in Washington this week to ensure that the process of translating the agreement into action begins in earnest,” Cameron told Environmental Leader. “At the event, leaders from business-facing organizations and companies will provide a private-sector perspective, showcase their climate action in side-events, demonstrate their commitment to greater ambition, and advocate for policies to drive innovation and investment consistent with 2 degrees Celsius or less.”

The regulatory environment for companies is changing as a result of the Paris agreement, Carmeron says. This will affect businesses and their supply chains all over the world. “Close to 190 countries have developed national climate plans that redefine the operating environment for businesses, their supply chains, and the choices of their consumers. For example, these plans are already driving substantial new markets, with an anticipated $13.5 trillion to be invested in renewable energy and in energy-efficient transport, buildings, and industrial production through 2030.”

Anne L. Kelly, who directs Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) program, which advocates for climate and energy policy at the federal level, will be attending the Climate Action Summit. She told Environmental Leader that companies should be involved in the summit because they need to understand what the implementation of the Paris agreement will mean for them.

“They need to know how they can contribute and to appreciate what is at stake in each of the six core areas of concentration — transport, energy adaptation, resilience, etc.,” Kelly said. “They also need to hear from leading peers like CEO Paul Polman about to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy. Last but certainly not least, they need to understand how to be advocates for effective climate and energy policy.”

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