Wednesday, September 23, 2015

As national pledges (INDCs) for greenhouse gas reduction pile up at the UNFCCC office in Bonn, in preparation for the Paris conference, do you ever wonder how all these nations are going to meet those sometimes ambitious goals? I do. Of course there are some obvious answers:  President Obama tightens regulations of coal-fired plants, putting some out of business and making it unlikely that others will ever be built. Carbon exchange markets in China, subsidies for renewable installations in Europe, challenges to fossil fuel subsidies, an expanded nuclear power sector in India ... there are pretty tangible policy decisions of many sorts that will clearly take us part-way there.

But what about all the independent economic agents, the individual consumers like you and me, and--maybe less visible to the rest of us--the private corporations who drive much of the energy sector wherever they operate? An interesting light was shone on this missing piece of the puzzle in this morning's New York Times, as a group of some of the world's largest corporations joined the existing coalition of such companies taking actions to avert the unfavorable business climate which would result from climate change.  What sorts of actions? According to the article:

"The efforts include less overall use of energy and water, more recycling, more use of renewable energy, and a wave of promises to improve the supply chains for commodities like soybeans, palm oil and beef. These are often produced in the tropics, creating powerful financial incentives to chop down forests, which not only contributes to global warming but destroys some the world’s richest biological regions."

In sum, companies are interested in some substantial changes in how they produce. For example Astra Agro, one of Indonesia's largest palm oil producers and a major influence on forestry policies, could significantly alter the political equation that permits Indonesia's disastrous loss of tropical forest.

Is this international coalition of global corporations for real, or is it just another greenwashing effort? Probably some of both, though it would be hard to tell in the short term. What is surely true, though, is that in the current climate of opinion, it seems important for these powerhouse companies to burnish their credentials on climate questions. That in itself--along with the Pope's visit, some Republican defectors from denialism, and much else--suggests that we are reaching a critical mass of public support. About time.

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