Seven ways businesses can accelerate climate progress in the US

Mark Tercek, The Nature Conservancy

November’s historic US-China climate agreement sends an important signal of momentum and progress. It serves as an indication by two of the most important players in the climate challenge that we are starting down the path to a low carbon economy.

Now is the time for the private sector to step up and do more to accelerate progress toward a low-carbon, prosperous future.

Many companies recognise the reality of human-caused climate change and the need for a price on carbon. Likewise, many have significantly reduced their own emissions to achieve both better financial results and to contribute to environmental progress. These are positive steps that have been helping to build overall momentum, and the drumbeat of action is growing.

Yet there is an opportunity for much broader and more visible business leadership.

1. Share your successes

Last year, the White House recognised over 120 companies that saved $1 billion, and reduced CO2 emissions by 11 million tons through energy efficiency. To companies like these: please speak up. Be more vocal about how you are making your business more resilient and your bottom line more robust.

2. Champion internal carbon pricing

Over 150 major companies now use an internal price on carbon to guide their decisions. To these companies, again I say: speak up. Your example can influence other businesses. To other companies, I say: imitate. Pricing your own carbon can result in more efficient business operations and economic savings, as well as reduced emissions.

3. Influence your business associations

Business should be on the side of climate action for its own good.

Which is why it is even more troubling when business-friendly groups, such as Chambers of Commerce, release statements opposing action on climate change.

Members of these organisations should speak up when they, in fact, disagree with such positions. Clear messages from corporate leaders that climate action is good for business will help to reframe the policy debate.

4. Invest in carbon capture and storage

The arguments against Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) are familiar: it's too expensive and the technology is too far off.

Yet remember, in 1970, the auto industry railed against the US Clean Air Act. It would destroy millions of jobs, they said, and would cost consumers billions of dollars. The US Congress enacted the bill anyway. Today, cars are 99.5 per cent cleaner than they were in 1970 at a cost of only about $1,500 per car.

CCS is the newest round of pollution control that we need — it is an imperative. We need to make every investment necessary to bring it along, and businesses can lead the way.

5. Invest in biosequestration — natural carbon storage

Opportunities for carbon sequestration go well beyond forests. Experiments are under way to use cow manure for energy, to use biotechnology to produce algae as biofuels, to implement farming practices that put more carbon into soils and reduce nitrogen pollution. These are business opportunities that could help us save the planet — we need more forward-looking investment in this research.

6. Invest in renewables

Two-thirds of US states have adopted policies mandating renewable electricity generation. This has stimulated investment in new technologies, created jobs and made wind and solar power cost-competitive. With China’s pledge to achieve 20 per cent renewable power by 2030, it's time for the US Congress to enact a comparable national clean energy goal.

7. Partner with environmental NGOs — and push them to do more

Just as I challenge companies to step up their leadership on climate, I encourage them to challenge Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) right back.

At The Nature Conservancy (TNC), we are a leader in reducing global deforestation and in demonstrating that investments in natural infrastructure are cost-effective ways to reduce climate-related risks such as coastal storms, flooding and sea level rise.

However, we can't stop there — and we can't do it alone. We will rely on forward-thinking business leaders to work together with organisations like TNC to mobilise new constituencies in support of clean energy and climate policies.

Tackling climate change will require strong action from governments, as well as NGOs, engaged citizens and local communities. But companies can be important allies in building the low-carbon future that will benefit our businesses, economies and health and safety around the world.