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Fortune 500s Hit the Hill on Earth Day to Urge Congress to Take Action on Climate Change

Climate

For many companies, Earth Day is a time for releasing corporate sustainability reports, unveiling new environmental initiatives or sponsoring community festivals honoring the day.

All laudable initiatives, but with the clock ticking on our ability to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophic climate change, companies need to up their game.

Many are.

Ceres staff and representatives of Fortune 500 companies who signed on to the Climate Declaration in front of the Capitol Building. Photo credit: Ceres

Today, more than a dozen iconic companies, many of them Fortune 500 firms, are hitting Capitol Hill to deliver a singular focused message to Congress: act now on climate change. Many are also backing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing global warming pollution from U.S. power plants—the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions—by 30 percent.

The group organized by my nonprofit group Ceres represents a powerful cross-section of our economy, including food, consumer and manufacturing giants such as Kellogg Co., Unilever, PepsiCo, Starbucks, Nestle, Mars and Owens Corning.

Joining them are familiar and not-so-familiar businesses such as Eileen Fisher, Gap Inc., JLL, L’Oreal, Seventh Generation, Vulcan, Aspen Skiing Company, Ben & Jerry’s, Burton Snowboards and Dignity Health.

The companies have traveled to Washington because they believe that reaching a strong global deal on climate change in Paris this December is critical for the long-term stability of their businesses and the overall economy. They also recognize the imperative of U.S. leadership on climate change, which is why most of them signed a letter—along with more than 200 other companies—supporting EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a cornerstone of U.S. efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Many are already experiencing climate change impacts in their direct operations and supply chains—the devastating drought in the nation’s food hub, California, being just one example.

They’re also "walking the talk" on climate change by sourcing more renewable energy for their operations and creating innovative new services and products that reduce carbon pollution. But they can only go so far without strong policies.

Here’s what a few of them had to say on the topic at a recent press conference (listen here to the recording)

“Nestle’s is directly impacted by the effects of climate change. Of particular concern are changes to weather patterns, water availability and agricultural productivity that will affect our global supply chain . We support the EPA Clean Power Plan because it provides a stable policy framework that creates a level playing field and provides incentives to guide behavior to tackle climate change.” Tim Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer, Nestlé Waters North America

“Producing innovative technologies in advanced low carbon aluminum products … is a key source of competitive advantage for our company and our customers. We strongly support the principles behind the carbon standard for existing power plants. Unless and until we commit to a low carbon future, the U.S. is not going to see the reductions we need to maintain healthy and sustainable economic growth.“ John Gardner, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Novelis, a global manufacturer of rolled aluminum, with manufacturing plants in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.

“As a nation we must take action to reduce carbon and mitigate the increase in temperature that carbon causes, and the EPA plan has our support. Like many companies, we are following the lead of our consumers [who are] demanding transparency and environmental responsibility from the brands they purchase. There is very strong support within our community for the EPA Clean Power Plan.” Donna Carpenter, President and Founder of Burton Snowboards in Vermont, who calls the winter sports industry “the canary in the coal mine of climate change.”

“Buildings are responsible for up to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s why JLL supports EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which includes energy efficiency as one of the key ways power providers can reduce their carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest and most readily available energy resource to help states cut their carbon emissions.” Dan Probst, Chairman of Energy and Sustainability at JLL, a global commercial real estate company, which has helped its clients cut their carbon emissions by 12 million metric tons, saving $2.5 billion in energy costs over the past seven years.”

These Clean Power Plan supporters don’t buy opponents’ ‘sky is falling’ claims that the reliability of our electric power system is at risk. Studies by the Analysis Group have repeatedly shown that electric power providers are capable of meeting the EPA requirements while keeping our lights on—just as they have met every other Clean Air Act requirement over the past 25 years.

Indeed, many of the nation’s largest power companies have indicated in comments to the EPA that the rule is achievable with some modifications. Listen, for example, to Tom King, former president of National Grid:

As the Analysis Group concludes,“In the end, because there are such fundamental shifts already underway in the electric industry, inaction is the real threat to good reliability planning.” In states like Hawaii, for example, the local utility’s failure to adapt to the rapid spread of rooftop solar is creating electric system problems.

More than ever, it’s clear that businesses and investors have accepted the science of climate change and want government leadership to deal with it. Among the signs of this growing support:

  • Forty-three CEOs of global companies published an open letter last week urging governments to reach an international climate agreement that holds temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Leaders of the B Team have called for net zero emissions by 2050
  • More than 1,350 companies have signed Ceres’ Climate Declaration.
  • Last fall, nearly 350 investors managing $24 trillion in assets called on government leaders to adopt meaningful carbon pricing, an ambitious climate accord and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

It’s time for our elected officials to follow their cue and recognize the urgency and economic imperative of tackling climate change.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.