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10 Food Company CEOs Tell World Leaders to Act on Climate

Climate

With key international climate negotiations fast approaching in Paris, the CEOs of Mars, Incorporated, General Mills, Unilever, Kellogg Company, Nestlé USA, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farm and Dannon USA released a joint letter yesterday to U.S. and world leaders pledging to accelerate business action on climate change and urging governments to do the same by forging a robust international agreement this December.

Coordinated by the nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization Ceres, the letter was spotlighted today at a bipartisan, bicameral briefing on climate change in Washington, DC featuring a half-dozen food company executives. The briefing was sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY).

“Climate change is bad for farmers and agriculture. Drought, flooding and hotter growing conditions threaten the world’s food supply and contribute to food insecurity,” states the letter, which will appear in today’s Washington Post and Financial Times. “As world leaders convene in Paris you will have an opportunity to take action on climate change that could significantly change our world for the better.”

“It’s extraordinary to see these iconic food companies, many of which are long-standing competitors, unite at this pivotal moment to urge our political leaders to act swiftly and decisively on global warming, which poses a direct threat to global food supplies,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres.

CEO signatories pledged to boost their companies’ sustainability efforts, to advocate achievable, enforceable science-based carbon reduction targets and to share their best practices to encourage other companies to join their effort.

Mars President and CEO Grant Reid said, “As a society we face immense challenges, including climate change, water scarcity and deforestation. We cannot stand back and simply accept these things as they are. We’re calling on the business community and global leaders to work together to set a new way forward. We can and must, do more.”

“Climate change is a shared, global challenge that is best addressed at scale,” added Ken Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills. “To reduce emission levels, we must work across our collective value chains with growers, suppliers, customers, peer companies, government leaders and industry partners. Together, we will identify new solutions and promote sustainable agriculture practices that drive emission reductions.”

Companies signing the letter are members of Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition of companies working with policymakers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation. It is the first time these businesses have publicly united on the need for a strong global climate deal at the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as “COP21.” Governments of more than 190 nations will meet in Paris this December at COP21 to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change aimed at keeping global warming below the 2C threshold.

The most recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that climate change is already cutting into global food supplies and is contributing to price spikes and social unrest in various regions of the world. The rate of increase in crop yields is slowing, especially for wheat, which is sensitive to changes in heat. By 2030 negative impacts are expected across a wide spectrum of crops in both arid and non-arid regions. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns could lead to food price rises of between 3 percent and 84 percent by 2050, according to the IPCC.

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“The debate in Congress on climate change has been filled for too long with misinformation and partisan talking points,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “Today marks an important shift, as both Democrats and Republicans come together to listen to major food and beverage companies discuss how they are adapting to this global threat. I hope we will be able to build on today’s discussion and begin working toward bipartisan climate solutions in Congress.”

“Environmental stewardship through public-private cooperation is critical to the long term success of our nation as well as the stability and health of our global and regional environments,” said Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-19). “It is a privilege to join with business leaders from across the country and globe in this discussion to explore ways forward on this issue.”

Many of the companies have set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and driving sustainable sourcing in their supply chains. Mars, Unilever and Nestlé, for example, have each pledged to achieve 100 percent renewable energy across their operations, through RE100, a global initiative to engage, support and showcase influential companies committed to using 100 percent renewable power that now involves more than 30 companies globally.

Additionally:

  • Mars has set numerical, science-based goals to steer its sustainability programs, including the effort to eliminate all fossil fuel use from its operations by 2040. The company is on track to achieve a 25 percent reduction in its carbon emissions by the end of 2015, in comparison to 2007. Mars recently invested in a 211-megawatt wind power farm in Texas that completely offsets all of the electricity used by its U.S. operations.
  • Launched in 2010, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan aims to decouple the company's growth from environmental impact. Unilever has set a goal to halve the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of its products across the lifecycle by 2020. Its approach focuses on five areas: (1) acting on climate change by eliminating deforestation, (2) innovating products that use less GHG-intensive materials and that help consumers save energy in use, (3) reducing emissions in manufacturing and pursuing energy efficiency in factories and offices, (4) reducing transport emissions in distribution operations and (5) moving to renewable energy and more sustainable forms of biofuels.
  • Nestlé has set targets to reduce direct greenhouse gas emissions per ton of product by 35 percent since 2005, by 2015.
  • General Mills recently announced a commitment to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent across its full value chain—from farm to fork to landfill—over the next 10 years. The commitment was calculated using science-based methodology to achieve a level of emission reductions that science suggests is necessary to sustain the health of the planet.
  • Kellogg Company’s comprehensive 2020 Sustainability goals include expanding use of low-carbon energy in its plants by 50 percent and reducing energy and GHG emissions in our plants by an additional 15 percent (per metric tonne of food produced) from 2015 performance.

“Kellogg Company understands that in order to meet the food needs of a growing world population, we must be proactive in addressing climate change,” said John Bryant, chairman and CEO of Kellogg Company. “That starts with our farmers, extends through our entire supply chain and includes collaborative efforts with our peers, such as this critical, joint call to action.”

“Global weather patterns affect crop yields, water availability and infrastructure integrity. These changes impact the business we do every day as well as the work of farmers, suppliers and distributors across our vast network of partners," said Paul Grimwood, chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA. "Nestlé intends to flourish for at least another 150 years and we believe tackling climate change is key to a healthy planet and healthy people.”

“The cruel irony of climate change is that people in the developing world, many of whom grow the ingredients we use in our products, are the least able to adapt to climate change and will pay the steepest price for a problem they had no part in creating,” said Ben and Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim. “Today’s statement signals that our industry is committed to working towards solutions that deliver a stable climate and ensure the future success of our businesses and the communities around the world that supply them.”

“Bold action on climate change is urgently needed and simply makes good business sense,” said Paul Polman CEO of Unilever. “We are deepening our efforts to create transformational change to eliminate deforestation and working to lower our greenhouse gas impact. Businesses have a responsibility to act but we can’t do it alone. Consistent and credible government policy signals are essential, which is why we are urging political leaders to take action.”

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Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Bolsonaro ran for president promising to "integrate the Amazon into the Brazilian economy". Once elected, he slashed the Brazilian environmental protection agency budget by 95 percent and relaxed safeguards for mining projects on indigenous lands. Farmers cited their support for Bolsonaro's approach as they set fires to clear rainforest for cattle grazing.

Bolsonaro's vandalism will be most painful for the indigenous people who call the Amazon home. But destruction of the world's largest rainforest may accelerate climate change and so cause further suffering worldwide. For that reason, Brazil's former environment minister, Marina Silva, called the Amazon fires a crime against humanity.

From a legal perspective, this might be a helpful way of prosecuting environmental destruction. Crimes against humanity are international crimes, like genocide and war crimes, which are considered to harm both the immediate victims and humanity as a whole. As such, all of humankind has an interest in their punishment and deterrence.

Historical Precedent

Crimes against humanity were first classified as an international crime during the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. Two German Generals, Alfred Jodl and Lothar Rendulic, were charged with war crimes for implementing scorched earth policies in Finland and Norway. No one was charged with crimes against humanity for causing the unprecedented environmental damage that scarred the post-war landscapes though.

Our understanding of the Earth's ecology has matured since then, yet so has our capacity to pollute and destroy. It's now clear that the consequences of environmental destruction don't stop at national borders. All humanity is placed in jeopardy when burning rainforests flood the atmosphere with CO₂ and exacerbate climate change.

Holding someone like Bolsonaro to account for this by charging him with crimes against humanity would be a world first. If successful, it could set a precedent which might stimulate more aggressive legal action against environmental crimes. But do the Amazon fires fit the criteria?

Prosecuting crimes against humanity requires proof of widespread and systematic attacks against a civilian population. If a specific part of the global population is persecuted, this is an affront to the global conscience. In the same way, domestic crimes are an affront to the population of the state in which they occur.

When prosecuting prominent Nazis in Nuremberg, the US chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson, argued that crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, not abstract entities. Only by holding individuals accountable for their actions can widespread atrocities be deterred in future.

The International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has promised to apply the approach first developed in Nuremberg to prosecute individuals for international crimes that result in significant environmental damage. Her recommendations don't create new environmental crimes, such as "ecocide", which would punish severe environmental damage as a crime in itself. They do signal, however, a growing appreciation of the role that environmental damage plays in causing harm and suffering to people.

The International Criminal Court was asked in 2014 to open an investigation into allegations of land-grabbing by the Cambodian government. In Cambodia, large corporations and investment firms were being given prime agricultural land by the government, displacing up to 770,000 Cambodians from 4m hectares of land. Prosecuting these actions as crimes against humanity would be a positive first step towards holding individuals like Bolsonaro accountable.

But given the global consequences of the Amazon fires, could environmental destruction of this nature be legally considered a crime against all humanity? Defining it as such would be unprecedented. The same charge could apply to many politicians and business people. It's been argued that oil and gas executives who've funded disinformation about climate change for decades should be chief among them.

Charging individuals for environmental crimes against humanity could be an effective deterrent. But whether the law will develop in time to prosecute people like Bolsonaro is, as yet, uncertain. Until the International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity based on their environmental damage, holding individuals criminally accountable for climate change remains unlikely.

This story originally appeared in The Conversation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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