Is this déjà vu? “Getting it done” was the tagline for Climate Week 2022, just like last year. That’s appropriate — although I’d prefer “Getting real.” The systemic challenges of the “decisive decade,” to cut global emissions in half by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement, are so enormous that they can only be tackled poco a poco. There are only 88 months left.
The Climate Week organizer, The Climate Group, brought together more than 1,000 speakers from around the world in more than 500 events across 10 topics: buildings; energy; environmental justice; transportation; finance; “sustainable living”; nature; policy; industry; and food. The global nonprofit’s ambitious programs, involving hundreds of multinationals, include RE100 to advance renewables, EV100 to further electric transportation and Steel Zero. Its New York City Climate Week has swelled since its debut in 2009, yet the solutions it explores have not accelerated exponentially enough. Instead, GHG emissions are soaring. One-third of Pakistan is flooding, droughts are parching rivers on multiple continents and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has reached a new high.
If Climate Week 2021 saw an unprecedented number of net-zero and other corporate commitments, then this one a year later seems more about how to make good on those words. With that in mind, here’s a select list of news about the moves, tools and blueprints to advance the work of sustainability.
Time for a climate strategy?
Problem: It’s not easy for companies to support an effective, trusted set of decarbonization strategies.
Solution: Time, the 99-year-old news magazine, announced the CO2.com website as a tool to help businesses better understand their options for decarbonization and to move beyond offsets. Time itself is using the site to plan actions to support its goal of becoming net zero by 2026. The site is third-party-verified and science-based, suggesting projects that remove, reduce or sink carbon, as well as ways to protect nature and people. Its Planet Portfolio, for example, is built to be a “one-stop shop” through which you can fund various projects for carbon reduction or removal, as well as innovative solutions, such as developing a tree nursery employing people on Tribal lands. A scorecard estimates the CO2 impact of each option.
A snapshot representing Time’s new CO2.com site.
“We believe that most businesses want to move beyond weak climate claims and deliver real impact, yet struggle with the complexity,” said Simon Mulcahy, CEO of CO2.com and Time’s sustainability president, in a press release. “Big enterprises deploy large teams on this, but many companies don’t have the bandwidth and expertise to filter out the low-quality, low-impact offsets that shape today’s carbon markets. Every company needs real climate impact credentials, not greenwashing.”
It’s not the only effort with a hint of Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce who is also the Time and CO2.com co-chair. Salesforce plans to launch a carbon marketplace to help companies shop for carbon credits, as GreenBiz Senior Editor Jesse Klein reported. Its Net Zero Marketplace is slated to debut in October at GreenBiz’s VERGE 22 event.
Problem: What’s your company’s plastic footprint? How much pollution is it responsible for? The tools and partnerships to address those questions haven’t been easy to find.
Solutions: If your job includes reporting to the CDP each year, expect to see new plastics-related items on its questionnaire beginning in 2023. The body formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project is embracing plastics accounting. This is a big deal; 13,000 companies participated in CDP disclosures in 2021, and 680 financial institutions requested those disclosures of companies this year.
“Not only will this drive corporate action to reduce plastic pollution, but it will also be critical in boosting transparency and accountability, redirecting capital towards sustainable activities and supporting governments to develop robust and ambitious policies,” said CDP Chief Impact Officer Nicolette Bartlett, in a statement.
The CDP found recently that although 88 percent of companies called plastic pollution a relevant issue, one-third lacked related targets. This CDP effort is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Australia-based charitable Minderoo Foundation and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). The step advances CDP’s strategy for 2025 to fold in data on planetary boundaries including waste and natural resources along with other data it collects.
EMF was also busy, with WWF, sharing word of 83 groups aligning in a shared vision on a Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution. The Business Coalition for a Plastics Treaty includes at least 15 plastic producers and “converters” (Amcor, Aptar, TerraCycle); 24 brand owners and retailers (Aldi, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Walmart); 21 financial institutions (BNP Paribas, Fidelity International, Robeco, Rockefeller Asset Management); waste management companies (Tomra of Norway, Green Worms of India) and nonprofits.
Together they back a U.N. Environment Assembly resolution, introduced in March and backed by 175 countries in May, to “End Plastic Pollution” and create “an international legally binding instrument.” The WWF-EMF coalition calls for worldwide outcomes to reduce plastic production through a circular economy approach; circulating plastics at their highest and best use if alternatives aren’t feasible; and preventing and remediating legacy and contemporary plastic pollution.
Greenpeace quickly followed with a “that’s not enough,” insisting that plastic production must be limited and stopped immediately.
Tools against fossil fuels
Problem: The Paris Agreement didn’t call out fossil fuels by name, although they cause three-quarters of the world’s planet-warming emissions. Yet, if the world used up all oil and gas reserves, that “would yield over 3.5 trillion tons of GHG emissions, over seven times the remaining carbon budget for 1.5 (degrees Celsius) and more than all emissions produced since the industrial revolution,” according to Carbon Tracker.
Solutions: The financial think tank concluded such from research it conducted in creating the new Global Registry of Fossil Fuels. The registry, the first tool of its kind, includes data from most of the industry’s fields across 89 countries. As the world weans off of its reliance on oil and gas, the registry will expand to include more data for decision-makers, including about taxes and royalties related to fossil fuels.
A petrochemical plant visible from a cemetery in Taft, Louisiana. (Credit: TLF Images/Shutterstock)
People against petroleum
Problem: There are manifold reasons (cough, cough) why oil fields and plastic plants aren’t built in the backyards of the rich, powerful and famous.
Solutions: Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who serves as the U.N Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions and has backed the Beyond Coal and Beyond Carbon campaigns, launched an $85 million campaign against oil industry pollution. “Beyond Petrochemicals: People Over Pollution“ is intended to center frontline communities. Its fourfold purpose: to follow grassroots leadership in Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley; to fund research for decision makers; to legislate and litigate; and to engage with companies and the public to beef up regulations and dampen demand for fossil-fuel based products, including plastics.
Partners in the effort led by Bloomberg, the former New York City major, include Earthjustice, and environmental equity pioneers the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Bullard Center at Texas Southern University.
Tailwinds against the petrochemical industry include a Baton Rouge judge’s September rejection of air permits for the planned $9.4 billion Formosa Plastic plant bound for “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana. How bad are the emissions of the petro-plastics industry for you? The industry hides data under claims of keeping trade secrets, among other shady tricks and regulatory gaps, according to the nonprofit Planet Tracker’s Toxic Fog report, which calls “for financial institutions to demand transparency on toxic emissions so they can conduct a thorough risk assessment of their investments.”
The Scope 3 of the problem
Problem: Supply chain pollution accounts for 77 percent of emissions from the $4.6 trillion chemicals industry, according to the Together for Sustainability (TfS) collaboration of chemicals companies.
Solution: BASF, Bayer, Dow, Merck and others agreed for the first time on guidelines to understand Scope 3 emissions within their industry. TfS explained that its new PCF (product carbon footprint) Guideline will help chemicals companies accurately track the carbon footprint of numerous ingredients. The open source, “drop-in” guideline is also intended to help companies beyond the chemicals industry. That could ultimately lead to consumers better understanding what went into the production of chlorine, citric acid and countless other chemicals in household goods.
Accounting for emissions
Problem: Major gaps must be filled before carbon accounting can be reliable, sharable and interoperable, according to the Carbon Call initiative, which enlists scores of companies and industry groups including Deloitte, Engie, GSK, KPMG, Microsoft and Steelcase in a drive to streamline GHG emissions reporting. It operates out of the ClimateWorks Foundation.
Solution: Eighteen more organizations have joined its effort to improve GHG emissions accounting, bringing the total to 60. New members include BSR, Steelcase and The Climate Registry.
High tech, low carbon
Problem: Internet-connected gadgets consume nearly as much electricity as France, according to an announcement by the Carbon Trust consultancy, launching an effort to address the problem.
Solution: The Carbon Trust, Amazon, Meta, Samsung Electronics and Sky are joining a new effort toward decarbonizing consumer tech by reducing that 500 terawatts of annual consumption, one device at a time, and ultimately boosting renewable energy on the back end to match those devices’ energy demands. The tech companies intend to make use of data they can easily collect about how much electricity people use while tapping on smartphones, typing on laptops and using other smart devices. From this, they also intend to optimize the machines on the front end to make them more efficient for consumers.
Meanwhile, Google unveiled AI for the Global Goals, providing $25 million to support nonprofits and other organizations using artificial intelligence to advance the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. It’s an offshoot of the company’s AI for Social Good effort.
Small business, big ambition
Problem: Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) make up a huge portion of the economy but have been comparatively slow to take action on climate.
Solution: The SME Climate Hub, new to the United States, has engaged 3,000 U.K. companies so far in committing to slash emissions in half by 2030, report annually and reach net zero by 2050. They’re as varied as venture capital firms, farms and micromobility startups.
The hub’s tools include climate education, an emissions calculator and reporting tools. The media announcement dangles this carrot for the 30 million small U.S. companies: Climate action can cut costs and boost profits, and those who sign on to the decarbonization hub may enjoy tax credits via the new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
The SME Climate Hub is engaging big corporations — including Walmart, Siemens, JLL, HSBC and 1.5 Degrees C Supply Chain Leaders — to promote its potential for better financing and other incentives to small businesses within their supply chains. The We Mean Business Coalition created the hub along with the Exponential Roadmap Initiative and the United Nations Race to Zero campaign, in partnership with America Is All In.
High finance, low carbon
Problem: Only 30 percent of companies reporting to the CDP have climate transition plans, according to the CDP.
Solution: The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) issued “The Expectations for Real-economy Transition Plans” report to provide some of that support. “Ensuring companies know what financial institutions deem credible underpins the essential work driving emissions reductions,” said GFANZ Vice Chair Mary Schapiro in a statement. “GFANZ is providing the blueprint for the real economy to transform net-zero commitments into a business-aligned decarbonization strategy.”
Chart from BCF’s 2022 report, “The Carbon Impact of US Company-Sponsored 401(k) Plans”
Problem: Corporate decarbonization plans rarely touch on the carbon intensity of their 401(k)s, a missed opportunity to advance solutions and reduce damage to frontline communities, according to the Business for Climate Finance (BCF) Initiative, which strives to create systemic change by supporting non-financial companies to focus on the role employee retirement funds can play toward reducing their carbon footprints.
Solution: BCF, in partnership with the nonprofit CFA Institute, offers details for business in its analysis, “The Carbon Impact of US Company-Sponsored 401(k) Plans.”
“There is a powerful opportunity here to unlock trillions of dollars that may be invested in a more socially responsible way, whilst not missing out on financial returns,” said Jenna Nicholas, CEO of Impact Experience, a climate equity-focused firm that is behind BCF. “We hope the findings of this report will enable us to engage around collective action to accelerate the shift to alignment of retirement accounts with climate priorities.”
BCF seeks within three years to take stock of the climate impacts of corporate bank accounts and retirement funds, and it’s focusing first on leading U.S. corporations toward decarbonizing big-business cash accounts and employee retirement plans.
The hardest to abate sectors, according to the Mission Possible Partnership.
Problem: The materials that pack the most carbon intensity are widespread and tricky to clean up or replace. Thirty percent of GHG emissions emanate from seven sectors, including concrete, steel, aluminum and chemicals, according to the Mission Possible Partnership alliance of climate leaders, whose core partners are the Energy Transitions Commission, RMI, the We Mean Business Coalition and the World Economic Forum.
Solution: Industrialists shared progress on and suggestions for “supercharging industrial decarbonization,” including for aluminum, ammonia and steel. For example, recommendations for aluminum, blamed for 2 percent of the world’s GHG emissions, include switching smelters to low-carbon energy by 2035 and boosting recycling to more than 50 percent from 2050 from the 33 percent level of 2020. Web tools enable users to build custom scenarios to net zero aluminum, ammonia and steel. The partnership counts more than 200 signatories including ArcelorMittal, Rio Tinto, thyssenkrupp, Vale and Ørsted.
On a related note, the Science-Based Targets initiative debuted its framework for cement companies to set targets aligned with the Paris Agreement. The advisory group for the guidance includes Cemex, the Global Cement and Concrete Association and Holcim. The cement industry accounts for 7 percent of global warming emissions.
Thought for food
Problem: By 2030, risks to nature and climate caused by deforestation could reduce one-quarter of the value of the world’s $2 trillion food and agriculture businesses, according to a new report by the U.N.-backed Race to Zero campaign, a mega-gathering of net zero coalitions involving more than 5,200 businesses and thousands of finance and public sector leaders across 120 countries that it estimated are responsible for one-quarter of global CO2 emissions.
Solution: UN High-Level Climate Champions Nigel Topping and Mahmoud Mohieldin, who lead Race to Zero, encouraged businesses and financial institutions to step up to help eliminate deforestation and nature loss caused by producing commodities, such as palm oil and soy. “By COP27 in November, we need investors and businesses to help accelerate the shift to a more resilient economy by investing in high-integrity carbon credits supporting nature-based solutions which put smallholders, indigenous peoples and local communities at the center,” Mohieldin said in a statement. Businesses must embrace land use transition toward net zero and enjoy a share of a $4.5 trillion opportunity, they urged. The report called for financial institutions to wipe out deforestation from their portfolios, up their investments in nature-based solutions and report on progress by 2025.
Rule of law
Problem: Lawyers can take some blame for the Paris Agreement potentially being breached, according to Lawyers for 1.5 degrees Celsius: “Lawyers who support transactions inconsistent with the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit expose themselves and their clients to substantial legal risk, as well as the real-world risk of catastrophe.”
Solution: The group of 170 high-profile lawyers, with the UK legal activist nonprofits Good Law Project and Plan B Earth behind them, urged the legal profession to quickly adapt and transform to avert further catastrophic climate impacts. Their open, public letter insisted that all lawyers understand the risks and urgent actions of not meeting the 2030 Paris Agreement goals, so they can properly advise clients.
In the meantime in the US, Law Students for Climate Accountability, which seeks for the industry to stop representing fossil fuel interests, issued a climate scorecard of 100 law firms, grading only two of them an “A.”
Image from the Race to Zero Pivot Point report
Make a pivot?
Problem: Net zero goals have been made by companies making up 90 percent of the economy, but only a third include science-based targets, according to research by the University of Oxford.
Solution: Consistent net zero standards need to be adopted internationally, according to the Pivot Point report, whose 38 pages support “building the groundswell of voluntary climate action into ground rules for the economy.” Led by the UN High Level Climate Champions, it is positioned as a “radical collaboration” of non-state actors. Where are we now, where are we going and what are the levers and drivers of change? These and other questions urge large companies and financial institutions to join the Race to Zero campaign and work harder to engage with related policies.
The list could continue for hundreds of pages, but you’d better get to work. For more news from Climate Week, check its official news pages. GreenBiz Co-founder Joel Makower singles out one worthy report. GreenBiz Energy VP Sarah Golden offers this energy dispatch, and Canary Media has a good roundup of energy-related news. Catch GreenBiz Editorial Director Heather Clancy’s reflections with Climate Group CEO Helen Clarkson, on the GreenBiz 350 podcast.