Business leaders from Apple to Lockheed Martin threw down the gauntlet on climate change yesterday, declaring that the private sector must start taking green growth seriously.
Speaking on the eve of a climate change mega-summit hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, industry officials representing hundreds of businesses embraced a price on carbon, boosting renewable energy, eliminating deforestation in supply chains and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"I see this as a very key topic and a time of very great consequence. From our point of view, the time for inaction has passed," said Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Cook said the maker of the iPhone 6 may be secretive about new products but wants other companies to learn from one another on greening their supply chains. Apple facilities are sourced 94 percent from renewable energy, he said, adding that "we're chipping away to get the last 6 percent."
Today, all eyes will be on the more than 120 heads of state descending upon the United Nations to tell the world their plans for cutting emissions and forging a new global treaty. Business leaders -- some of whom have long been outspoken about global warming and others of whom are just starting to emerge on the topic -- said yesterday that they see their job as helping to pave the way for an ambitious agreement in 2015.
"We need bold commitments," said IKEA CEO Peter Agnefjäll. "On the one hand, we need clear signals of where we are headed in 2020, 2025, 2030. But if we could have an agreement that publicly indicates where we are going in the long run, that would be helpful for investments."
A pledge with few specifics
In the day's biggest announcement, more than 1,000 companies and 73 countries -- including China and Russia, but not the United States -- joined with the World Bank to embrace a price on carbon. Some of the companies on the list include British Airways, the clothing chain H&M, China Steel Corp., PepsiCo, pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
"To have half the global population and 1,000 of the leading companies come together and say 'We want this to happen' makes it more real for me than it ever has been in history," said World Bank President Jim Kim.
The announcements at the opening day of New York's Climate Week came against the backdrop of a sweeping new report from the We Mean Business coalition, "The Climate Has Changed," making the business case for net-zero emissions by midcentury and an aggressive turn now toward clean energy to ensure the transition. It calls for the private sector to embrace the science showing that man-made greenhouse gas emissions have already driven global temperatures to a mean rise of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century; to set ambitious targets across their supply chains; and to advocate for local and international action.
"Climate change is the big daddy of risk. For too long, it's been 'Whose responsibility is this, anyway? Is it ours? Is it theirs?'" said Paul Simpson, CEO of the Carbon Disclosure Project. As governments hammer out a new global agreement, he said, businesses have to chart the right course.
Yet even as they championed "action," CEOs offered few specifics or details -- nor did they say how they plan to achieve their pledges. The anti-poverty nonprofit group Oxfam lauded the private-sector announcements as a "vital counter-weight to the influence of fossil fuel industry over governments." But, the group cautioned, "the true test of whether these companies really do 'mean it' is if they follow through in practice."
Figueres critiques 'other' private sector
Other business groups, meanwhile, lambasted the U.N. climate efforts and said moves like the Obama administration's proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants are job-killers.
"By going all-in on unnecessary and overzealous regulations that will hamstring our nation's economy, the president and his administration are putting pressing issues like jobs, the economy and our national security on the backburner," Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a statement.
Noting that the leaders of China, India and Australia are all snubbing the summit, she said, "Their absence at the UN talks speaks volumes to the president's misprioritized agenda and his complete disregard for the challenges of America's working families and still-struggling economy."
It's a division that U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres obliquely referred to as the "other" private sector, "coordinated and well-funded" against cutting carbon. She said businesses that are advocating climate action need to show an equal level of coordination.
"This is not about slicing up the pie of burden. This is about the most extraordinary opportunity we've ever had to grow the opportunity," Figueres said. "We are writing a business plan for the world."
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to the climate-friendly crowd, said the solutions to climate change are "staring us in the face."
"What is so disturbing about it is, the worst impacts can be prevented if we make the right set of choices. It's within our reach," Kerry said. "You don't have to take my word for it. You don't have to take [former Vice President] Al Gore's word for it. You can just wake up pretty much every day and listen to Mother Nature, who is screaming about it."
But, he said, "There's also a huge amount of good news staring us in the face. That's what also makes this so extraordinarily frustrating, to be honest with you. Common sense is not particularly common right now. We have this opportunity to be able to make a certain set of choices."