By Rebecca Henderson
The Paris climate agreement – under which governments from around the world agreed to keep the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — came into force last week, and this week delegates from almost 200 countries are meeting in Marrakech to consider the progress that has been made since the agreement was signed and the best ways to move forward.
But President-elect Trump is on record as asserting that climate change is a hoax and that if elected he would take the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. At this stage he could also attempt to roll back the EPA clean power plan and the other regulatory initiatives that the Obama administration has put into place over the last eight years. It is very possible that global cooperation to fight climate change will collapse as a result of the Trump presidency.
And yet by my rough estimate nearly every firm in the Fortune 500 has acknowledged the reality of climate change, as have thousands of other companies. Many have developed programs designed to address it, while simultaneously generating significant returns for shareholders. Most of the business world recognizes the tremendous threat that climate change represents – over the course of the Trump presidency they need to make that perspective heard.
There are at least three things that business can do.
The first is to continue to insist that climate change is real, and a real threat to our economic system. Business is one of the most trusted of our institutions – a majority of people trust business more than government – and business has a particularly important role to play in reaching people who might not otherwise be exposed to the science. The more business can stand up for credible scientific and economic analysis on this subject, the better the public debate on this issue will be.
The second is to continue demonstrating that the case for reducing energy use is often very strong – that the rates of return for building green buildings, retrofitting buildings, and recommissioning HVAC systems is often in the double digits. Walmart, for example, currently gets 25% of its power from renewable sources, and claims to be saving $1 billion a year as a result of having rethought their logistics with an eye to fuel reduction. Hundreds of firms are seeing similar savings. These efforts are more important than ever, since there’s nothing quite so convincing as a competitor making money when it comes to persuading other firms to change.
Last but not least, firms need to say publicly that well designed regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not only in the interests of our children and our children’s children, but in our own economic interest, right now. Reducing the risk of catastrophic climate change reduces the risk of major supply disruptions, of sea level rise, and of the floods and droughts that drive crop failures and in turn the civil wars that are destabilizing the world. Moreover, recent research shows conclusively that the health costs of air pollution caused by continuing to burn fossil fuels are at least as great as the costs of the climate change they induce. Getting greenhouse gases out of our fuel system could save thousands of lives within the next few years.
Business seeking to take these steps don’t have to do so alone. They can join one of the groups that are springing up to unite the private sector in pushing for sensible regulation. RE100, for example, counts amongst its members not just Apple, Facebook and Google but also Swiss Re, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Coca Cola, and General Motors. It’s the right thing to do for your business – and for the future of the planet. And perhaps it will even help the incoming president to change his mind.