The time is now to prove they can go beyond just bland emissions reduction pledges.
Two years ago Mark Carney, then-head of the central bank of England called into question the very existence of corporations that don’t adhere to the steep emissions reductions required to limit warming to 1.5C: “Those that fail to adapt will cease to exist.” Since then, the continuing rise of emissions has led to mounting pressure on companies—from employees, regulatory bodies and activist investors like the recent success of investor activism at ExxonMobil. Carney’s prophecy may soon be coming to pass. Is it possible for corporations to be part of the transformational change required, or will they remain complicit in the status quo?
But our atmosphere hasn’t seen returns on these promises: of the one-fifth of the world’s largest companies that have set a net zero target, the vast majority are nowhere near actually meeting them and very few have set interim targets to keep them honest. And while these lofty proclamations are being made— to great fanfare at international climate conferences—these same corporations are delaying and opposing climate action through side doors. Companies are pursuing emissions reductions in their sustainability teams, but their investments, lobbying activities, governance practices, trade associations, financed emissions, products and relentless focus on growth completely eclipse any incremental reduction in emissions.
Corporate emissions reductions pledges—however ambitious they may be for a particular company—completely miss the deeper issues that the climate crisis demands we grapple with, and only play at the edges of the revolutionary change we need. When the authors of the IPCC Report on 1.5C of Global Warming called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes,” this ambiguous “doing less bad” approach cannot be what they had in mind.