Leadership
Over 40 CEOs Urge World Leaders to Take Concrete Climate Action, Just as G7 Ministers Pledge to Do Just That

On Friday, 43 CEOs from some of the world’s largest corporations signed an open letter urging attendants of the upcoming Paris Climate Summit (November 30th-December 11th) to deliver an ambitious climate change agreement, while pledging to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. Released almost simultaneously, a report commissioned by the G7 Foreign Ministers also recommended concrete actions that foreign ministers can take to increase the climate-resilience of weak states.

The signatories include big hitters such as IKEA, Accenture, AkzoNobel, Dow Chemical, Marks & Spencer, Royal Philips, Toshiba, Unilever, Wilmar, BT, DSM and many more whose combined earnings in 2014 topped $1.2 trillion. They argue that the private sector has “a responsibility to actively engage in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and to help lead the global transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.” The letter was orchestrated during the World Economic Forum this January.

The letter calls on world leaders to reach a climate deal at COP21, aligned with the UN Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They specifically ask for leaders to set an explicit price on carbon, concrete emission-reduction targets from each country, more investments in renewable energy research, and an end to deforestation.

At the same time, the letter commits corporate signatories to reducing their environmental and carbon footprints through setting targets to cut emissions, acting as climate change ambassadors to increase public awareness around the issue, and actively managing climate risks, incorporating them in decision making, while taking advantage of growth opportunities.

“This initiative being launched today is a significant commitment in efforts to combat climate change,” said Ignacio Galán, chairman of Iberdrola and one of the signatories to the letter, in a statement. “As businesses, we have the obligation to contribute to sustainable development by fully integrating the environmental dimension in our strategy and management.”

However, their optimism may be premature as a vast majority of governments missed an informal March 31 deadline to submit climate pledges ahead of the UN talks in Paris, with only Switzerland, Norway, Mexico, Russia, Gabon and the EU so far registering their commitments on the UN submission site under the so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) system.

A similar, business-led call-to-action occurred this February when a group of well-known CEOs and policymakers including Virgin, Unilever and Tata International, calling themselves the B Team, asked world leaders to agree to bring the balance of greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 in a global climate change deal after the COP20 Lima climate summit.

The letter came the same week as a report released by the G7 Foreign Ministers saying that climate change is one of the biggest global security threats of the 21st century, and world leaders should put it at the forefront of foreign policy.

The report, titled A new climate of peace: Taking action on climate and fragility risks, was co-authored by peacebuilding charity International Alert as part of an international consortium with adelphi (a Berlin-based think tank), the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), and the Wilson Center in Washington DC.

In their communique, the G7 foreign ministers welcomed the report and pledged a stronger joint commitment to addressing the climate risks faced by fragile states. They agreed there is a need to better integrate climate-fragility considerations in foreign policy, and decided to set up a working group to evaluate the study’s recommendations.

The authors of the report said that achieving an agreement for major reductions in carbon emissions at the Paris climate summit in December is crucial but not enough. It will slow climate change down but changes in the climate system are already under way. The study focuses on the need for G7 governments to help build resilience to the impact of climate change in poor and conflict-affected countries and communities.

“Climate change is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’: it will aggravate fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict,” said Dan Smith, Secretary General of International Alert and one of the lead authors of the report. “Climate impacts also know no bounds. They cross all boundaries, whether of nation, sector, or agency. Responding to the global strategic threat posed by climate change is too great a task for any single government and requires collaboration."

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