Another 20 companies have joined The Climate Pledge, a public commitment to reduce carbon emissions launched by Amazon and Jeff Bezos in 2019. Including the new signatories announced on Wednesday, 53 companies in 12 countries have joined.
The best known company in the newest group is IBM. On Tuesday, it announced its agenda to achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. “Net zero” means that the greenhouse gases emitted are the same as those that are removed.
To achieve “net zero”, IBM will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2025 compared to 2010 emissions, use 75% renewable electricity by 2025, and 90% renewable electricity by 2030, and carbon capture use or other technologies to remove greenhouse gases that correspond to the “residual emissions”, says the computer giant.
IBM has reported its carbon emissions since 1995 and in 2019 became a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council, an international political institute advocating a plan to collect a fee for carbon emissions and return the proceeds to citizens in cash.
Joining The Climate Pledge will not detract from IBM’s bottom line – “Not at all,” said Wayne S. Balta, IBM’s chief sustainability officer.
“Overall, innovations to combat climate change and other aspects of environmental sustainability represent a business opportunity that also helps the planet. Good for the economy, good for the environment. That’s the essence of sustainability,” he says.
“We can use data and [artificial intelligence] and computers to help fight climate change. For example, the IBM Research Division is using these technologies to accelerate the discovery of materials that could help remove carbon from the atmosphere, “says Balta.
The other companies that The Climate Pledge announced on Wednesday cover all industries and include logistics company Vanderlande; UPM, a forest industry company that offers renewable and recyclable alternatives to fossil-based materials and products; Reusable Drinkware Company MiiR; Johnson Controls, which sells equipment and software for regulating the internal environment of buildings; Iceland Foods, a retailer focused on disposable plastic disposal; and Daabon, which produces and processes organic plants.
Companies that are already committed to the pledge include Microsoft, Unilever, JetBlue Airways, Uber, Rivian, Best Buy, Mercedes-Benz, and Verizon.
Bezos and Amazon launched The Climate Pledge in September 2019 to encourage companies to publicly commit to complying with the Paris Climate Agreement in 2040, ten years ahead of the agreement’s official 2050 target. (Bezos is currently the CEO from Amazon, but announced in early February that he would move to executive chairman of the board later that year.)
“We are done being in the middle of the herd on this issue. We decided to use our size and scale to make a difference,” Bezos said in a statement posted on The Climate Pledge’s website. “If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon, which ships more than 10 billion items a year, can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years earlier, any company can.”
Bezos revealed The Climate Pledge in the face of public criticism from employees calling for Amazon to reduce its carbon footprint (and the day before some employees planned to get out as part of the global climate strike).
For a company, signing The Climate Pledge means agreeing three things:
- Measure greenhouse gas emissions and report them “regularly”.
- “Decarbonising” operations through a combination of “efficiency improvements, renewable energies, material reductions and other strategies to eliminate carbon emissions”.
- Acquire “additional, quantifiable, real, permanent and socially beneficial compensation payments” for all CO2 emissions that a company cannot eliminate operationally by 2040.
“Achieving these goals can only be achieved in cooperation with other large companies, as we are all part of each other’s supply chains,” says Bezos. “So we have to work together and we want to use our scale and our leeway to show the way. We know it will be a challenge. But we know that we can do it – and that we have to.”
The Climate Pledge was co-founded by Amazon and Global Optimism, a political and strategic advisory organization aiming to catalyze measures to reduce global carbon emissions. Global Optimism was co-founded by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and former chief strategist for the Paris Agreement, Tom Rivett-Carnac.
By and large, public letters of intent are helpful. “These voluntary pledges help move businesses in the right direction,” Michael Gerrard, environmental attorney and professor at Columbia Law School, told CNBC Make It.
“Yes, corporate promises with specific actions and reports to hold them accountable for are useful in making real change,” said Tensie Whelan. CNBC Make It, professor at NYU Stern School of Business and director of NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business. “The elements of that pledge, such as broad net zero goal by 2040, reporting, carbon elimination and carbon offsetting, are critical to the transformation we need.”
A company that signs a promise like Amazon’s is scrutinizing it.
“A mere promise does not guarantee that you are doing everything right from an environmental point of view, but it does mean that you have invited to the exam and are therefore much more likely to work to lead society into a low-carbon future,” said Dan Esty, professor of environmental law and environmental policy at Yale University, says CNBC Make It.
However, the climate protection promise is not a panacea either, says Whelan. “This promise is not tied to any science-based goals associated with sub-2-degree warming and does not define how companies should set their goals, which can result in poor goal setting,” Whelan told CNBC Make It could choose to focus most of their efforts on carbon offsetting rather than reducing their emissions. ” (Noteworthy: “Amazon itself is committed to science-based goals,” says Whelan.)
According to Amazon, carbon offsets are only one component of the promise. “Offsets or nature-based solutions play a necessary, complementary and decisive role alongside the decarbonization of business operations,” says the company. And while “setting a science-based target is not a prerequisite for joining,” the Climate Change Pledge urges signatories to: “We believe setting a science-based target is a best practice.”
Uniformity would also make the promise more meaningful. “They would have an even greater impact if they applied consistent measurement and reporting methods so that we know that we are comparing apples to apples to look at the results of different companies,” says Gerrard.
Indeed, The Climate Pledge leaves the reporting format to the discretion of the signatory. “Signatories should report publicly at a rate they set and follow best reporting practices in order to be accountable to their stakeholders,” The Climate Pledge says. Additionally, the Pledge has partnered with CDP, a nonprofit that operates the global disclosure system for investors, businesses, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impact, and helps signatories connect with CDP.
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