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Companies Must Follow Climate Science Straight to Capitol Hill

Setting climate goals and claiming leadership while supporting laws that would oppose the realization of those goals is not just bad for a company’s reputation and the hiring of young talent — such misalignment also poses a systemic risk that is of increasing concern to investors.

As we head into the 2020 presidential election, the climate crisis continues to have devastating effects on communities around the US. This year, record wildfires have ripped through millions of acres of forests on the West Coast, burning homes and trees to the ground; while so many storms have pummeled the Gulf Coast that we ran through the English alphabet and have resorted to using Greek names

We are once again reminded that we need comprehensive federal climate policy now and that the business community is perfectly positioned to make it happen.  

US companies must speak up. Loudly. Clearly. Regularly. And with the full force of responsible trade associations behind them. Businesses have the power to move Capitol Hill and statehouses on inclusive, science-based climate policies. They have the influence to drive the adoption of both effective regulations and market solutions to address the climate crisis that threatens the economy and financial systems. 

For too long, the influence of fossil fuel companies has delayed action through their no-holds-barred use of lobbying for the status quo, climate disinformation, policy obstruction and support of climate-denying candidates paired with attacks on politicians who back climate science.   

It is past time for change. This summer, Ceres released the Ceres Blueprint for Responsible Policy Engagement on Climate Change — clear guidance for how companies can align their direct and indirect climate advocacy with the latest climate science. What the report calls “Paris-aligned lobbying” is a linchpin to managing climate risks — one that investors are demanding companies have in place. 

Setting climate goals and claiming leadership while supporting the opposition to the very laws that would enable the realization of those goals is not just bad for a company’s reputation and the hiring of young talent — such misalignment also poses a systemic risk that is of increasing concern to investors. This month, institutional investors issued an urgent call to 47 of the largest US-based corporate greenhouse gas emitters, reinforcing the need for companies to get their climate-lobbying practices in order. 

Investors aren’t just asking — they’re acting: In June, for the first time ever, a majority of shareholders at Chevron voted for a resolution that would push the oil firm to ensure its lobbying activities around climate issues align with the Paris Agreement

And just last month, the Business Roundtable spoke out to make clear its support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in part through carbon pricing.  

"This was super good news,” Sheldon Whitehouse, the US Senator for Rhode Island, said during a Ceres Climate Week session. “You have a group of CEOs of 200 of America’s biggest companies; and they came together in full agreement to say two things: one, climate change is deadly real and we need to take action on it, pronto; and two, the action that we seek and recommend is a proper price on carbon to make the necessary economic adjustment for fossil fuels’ massive subsidies. We are awaiting the next step — when those really important points get communicated to the lobbying and electioneering apparatus of those companies — so that we hear that in Congress." 

The Business Roundtable statement not only states unequivocal support for climate science and the Paris Agreement, it alludes to a suite of policy measures necessary to reduce carbon emissions. The Roundtable also offered key principles with which to design a carbon price, including making certain that proceeds benefit those who are most impacted by climate change.  

The tide behind advocacy is growing. During the past five months, We Are Still In — a diverse coalition co-founded by Ceres and the World Wildlife Foundation — grew to 4,000 leaders strong, increasing the pressure to keep the US in the Paris Agreement. In May, Ceres mobilized the largest business-led advocacy day for climate action — calling for a climate-smart economic recovery. And the Ceres BICEP Network has continued to advance strong climate and clean energy policies in states in light of federal inaction, welcoming 10 new members and bringing the total number of companies in the network to 68 members strong. 

A vital element of responsible corporate climate policy engagement is supporting those lawmakers who have the foresight to step up to the plate in embracing the economic opportunities of a net-zero economy. In July, more than 15 US governors pledged to work to deploy more zero-emission vehicles in their states — the largest multi-state collaboration on clean transportation in the nation. In August, Massachusetts House lawmakers passed a landmark climate bill that will help the state achieve its ambitious net-zero emissions goal. The bill would also drive the state’s economy towards 100 percent clean energy and take into account equity issues in future state planning. And in September, California Governor Gavin Newson issued an executive order to phase out gasoline-powered, light-duty vehicles by 2035 in the state, which is the world’s 5th-largest economy. The business community must continue to acknowledge and support these lawmakers for their leadership.  

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on December 12, we face a responsibility and an opportunity like never before. Partisan politics cannot get in the way of climate action this next round. Like the election itself, we have too much at stake to get it wrong and every reason to get it right.  

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