Climate Crisis

Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal is bad for US business. Here's why.

A woman takes a selfie during a sunny and hot day at the Trocadero fountain in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The Paris Agreement commits countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Image: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Jennifer Austin
Founding Partner, CEO, We Mean Business
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Climate Crisis

Earlier this month, the Trump administration decided to once again ignore increasingly urgent calls from businesses and investors to act on climate change, and instead initiated the formal process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Hundreds of major US businesses loudly objected when Trump first announced his plan to pull out of the agreement two years ago, and since then the economic case for climate action has only become even more clear.

In response to the growing urgency of the science and the growing costs of climate impacts, more and more US companies are taking action to reduce emissions in their own operations and supply chains. They are also calling for ambitious policies and bold targets to help drive innovation and investment in zero-carbon products, services and business models at scale. The transition to a zero-carbon economy has begun in every market and every sector in the world. The only question is how fast the transition will proceed, and which businesses and economies will lead the way.

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The decision to leave the Paris Agreement is a threat to American economic competitiveness and a disservice to American businesses. It creates regulatory uncertainty and fragmentation while other countries race ahead with investment and innovation.

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At the same time, leading businesses see that climate change is a core strategic concern for them and are forging ahead anyway, continuing to set and pursue ambitious climate goals to strengthen their own risk management, and increase competitiveness and growth as they look to the future.

To date, more than 130 US companies have set, or have committed to setting, science-based emission reduction targets aligned with the Paris Agreement. Among this group are many of America’s biggest brands and employers, such as AT&T, Best Buy, Dell, Kellogg, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Mars, Nike and Walmart.

A growing number of these companies, including Guess?, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Levi Strauss & Co and Salesforce, have gone even further, by committing to cutting their emissions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. These companies are part of a rapidly growing global movement of over 1,000 businesses that have commited to bold climate action through We Mean Business coalition partner initiatives.

When Trump first announced his decision to withdraw in 2017, the We Are Still In declaration was formed to send a clear message of support for the Paris Agreement from across the US. Since then the number of signatories has surged to more than 3,800 leaders from the private sector, US local, tribal and state governments and other organizations including universities and faith groups, collectively representing more than half of all Americans and $9 trillion of the US economy.

Notably these companies are aligned with the significant bipartisan majorities of US voters who support US participation in the Paris Agreement and a wide variety of policies promoting renewable energy and emissions reductions.

The We Are Still In signatories are united in the knowledge that accelerating the transition to the zero-carbon economy will help deliver growth and innovation. A report from the New Climate Economy shows that shifting to a low-carbon economy could create a $26 trillion growth opportunity and 65 million new jobs by 2030. On the other hand, the US government’s own National Climate Assessment released last year found that unchecked climate change could cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the end of the century.

With the stakes this high, many companies are becoming increasingly vocal - not just about their backing of the Paris Agreement, but specifically which climate policies would be most useful domestically to drive progress. Earlier this year, over 75 US businesses met with a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers to call on Congress to pass meaningful climate legislation, including a price on carbon. These companies want to see the government implement clear and consistent policies that focus on accelerating the transition to a full decarbonization of the economy by 2050. This will enable leading companies to go further and faster with their climate action and will spur the entire market, ensuring a level playing field, and that no one gets left behind.

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Time to double down

The already huge support for the Paris Agreement from US businesses, organizations and institutions, coupled with the growth opportunities of rapid decarbonization, are leading to progress in the real economy across key sectors including power, transport, agriculture and industry.

But it’s not happening fast enough. Now is the time for all US companies, states, cities and organizations to double down and commit to the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement.

For those that have already committed, now is the time to ratchet up that commitment by pledging to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and cutting emissions in line with what science says is required to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Even as President Trump continues to ignore the growing climate crisis, businesses are acting, and they are increasingly raising their voices in support of ambitious policy. While it has once again been made clear that they will not see that policy ambition at the federal level this year, it is equally clear that we must act now to have any chance of keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, as the IPCC’s special report shows. Businesses stand ready to work with government leaders across the US and around the world to accelerate ambition and action on climate and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, for the good of their businesses and of the global economy.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Climate CrisisGlobal Governance
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