Politics of Poverty

American businesses dive into the climate fight, but are they doing enough?

Posted by
Wind, sun, and biomass are three renewable energy sources. Photo: Wikipedia http://bit.ly/R1iVtp

The magnitude of the climate crisis is so enormous, that the bar for corporate climate action needs to be much higher

This blog was co-authored by Jon Jacoby, Policy Manager for the Private Sector Department at Oxfam America, and Aditi Sen, Policy Advisor on Climate Change for Oxfam America.

As the global climate negotiations that will take place in Paris draw closer, the pace of support for international climate action is definitely picking up. Yesterday, the launch of The American Business Act on Climate Pledge saw more than a dozen major companies not just join the White House’s push for a strong global climate change agreement in Paris but commit to reducing their own emissions and taking other climate actions to build more sustainable businesses.

This pledge marks an important signal of American leadership on climate change by bringing business voices to the forefront to help shape climate change policy.  It’s a big achievement that the new pledge catalyzes commitments from US businesses that represent more than $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014 and a combined market capitalization of at least $2.5 trillionIn particular, companies like Cargill as well as Walmart, deserve credit for signing on as fresh business voices on climate change within the ‘food chain’.

It’s also a welcome sign that two food and beverage companies that are part of Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, have joined this pledge by making commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing zero net deforestation in their supply chains.  But are all of these companies really doing all they can to help combat climate change?

Although the pledged commitments are a step in the right direction, the magnitude of the climate crisis is so enormous, that the bar for corporate climate action needs to be much higher. The emission reduction targets set by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, as well as other major US companies in the food and beverage sector, must be informed by science and aligned with the level of reductions that  is necessary to keep global temperature increase below 2°C (3.6°F) compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

Equally important, these companies must commit to reducing their emissions not just in their own operations but across their entire supply chains, focusing especially on agricultural emissions. A big part of the carbon footprint of food and beverage companies are emissions associated with the production of raw materials. As Oxfam’s report, Standing on the Sidelines, points out the agricultural emissions associated with the world’s top 10 food and beverage companies is equivalent to the annual emissions of 40 coal plants. While it’s commendable that companies like Coca-Cola have begun to measure the cradle to grave emissions associated with their products, if major food and beverage companies are really serious about curbing greenhouse gas emissions, they must also set robust targets for reducing agricultural emissions to facilitate a genuine shift towards low emissions sustainable agricultural practices.

In order to mitigate their own carbon footprint, and more broadly, accelerate the transition to a clean future, businesses must also deepen their commitments to using renewable energy. While technology companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft have committed to using 100% renewable energy, it is disappointing to see that food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have not made a similar commitment. The development of a thriving market for renewable energy is critical to driving a transition to a low carbon economy. Business leadership is essential to making this change happen.

While focusing on mitigation to prevent the worst scenario is crucial, so is helping communities already struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change today, from formidable floods to dramatic droughts. On this front, the pledge was a missed opportunity to emphasize the importance of investments in resilience and adaptation.

Poor communities in developing countries bear the biggest brunt of these impacts, which is why it is critical to scale up investments in resilience and adaptation. Businesses, particularly ones in the food and agriculture sector like Cargill, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have an important to role in calling upon policymakers to mobilize finance for resilience as part of the international climate agreement in Paris.

Climate change threatens the world’s agricultural industry like few other sectors of business.  There is a business case for this industry to lead on adaptation by deploying new products and technologies and building resilience within their value chains. But there is also a moral case for investing in adaptation and creating momentum around the need to scale up finance for climate adaptation that supports small-scale farmers and allows vulnerable communities to become more resilient in the face of unpredictable and changing climate.

The drum beat on climate has gotten louder. We hope it will get louder and louder in the next few months, as, there is still much work to be done between now and Paris.

Oxfam.org Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+