After rejoining the Paris agreement, the U.S. now has to set new goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and Biden will announce the details of the commitment within days, before an Earth Day summit. Scientists are pushing for the goal of reducing emissions by 50% by the end of the decade to be on track for net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. That means sweeping changes, but experts say it’s feasible—and now hundreds of American companies are advocating for the same thing.
“We are in a climate emergency, and the world needs bold action today,” says Patrick Flynn, vice president of sustainability at Salesforce, one of more than 300 businesses that signed an open letter to Biden today calling for the “ambitious and attainable target” of cutting emissions in half by 2030. “Biden has called it the number one issue facing humanity, and I agree. We know that this is a unique opportunity to build back better—achieving equality, job creation, building a sustainable economy, all in one,” the letter states. By one estimate, the work to reduce emissions this decade could create more than 3 million jobs and increase economic output in the U.S. by nearly $500 billion a year by 2030, and $1 trillion by 2050.
The list of businesses that signed the letter includes tech companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, food manufacturers like Coca-Cola, Mars, Danone, and Nestlé, retailers like Walmart, Target, and Ikea, and dozens of others, from Nike and Levi Strauss to Mastercard and Verizon.
Many are already sustainability leaders, with their own goals to quickly reduce emissions. “These companies have set record numbers of science-based targets, they’ve purchased record amounts of renewable energy, they’ve set aggressive goals with aggressive timetables, but they’re aware that without having the necessary policies in place, it’s going to be very difficult to meet those goals,” says Anne Kelly, the vice president of government relations at the nonprofit Ceres, which organized the letter along with the nonprofit We Mean Business.
While its not always common for businesses to ask the government to set more stringent targets, the letter signers recognize that they face multiple risks if the world doesn’t aggressively tackle climate change. “Our future as a leading apparel company really depends on our ability to take a long-term view, and to address the important issues that will inevitably impact our business in the long run,” says Jeffrey Hogue, chief sustainability officer at Levi Strauss. Climate change could impact the cotton supply chain, just as droughts and floods could disrupt other agricultural inputs for food companies or other industries. (As part of its response to this challenge, Levi Strauss is moving to a more circular model that involves making denim from recycled jeans instead of new cotton.) Conversely, if governments move quickly to implement new climate policy, it can lead to new innovation, and the overall benefits to the economy can help businesses grow.
The target to cut emissions roughly in half by 2030 is outlined in a major 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that looked at what was necessary to keep global warming from passing a threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius and triggering the worst climate impacts. “The report made it clear that not only do we have to get to net-zero emissions by midcentury globally, but we have to hit some key waypoints along the way,” says Rachel Cleetus, the policy director from the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, which recently published another letter signed by more than 1,000 scientists urging the 2030 goal. “Otherwise, cumulatively, the emissions budget can be blown,” she says. The whole world needs to make the shift to a zero-carbon economy, but because the U.S. is responsible for the largest amount of cumulative emissions so far, it bears the responsibility to do more now, she adds.
Multiple reports show that it’s feasible to cut emissions in half by 2030. “The solutions on the technology side show that it’s possible,” Cleetus says. “And so there’s really no reason not to go for it. Because if we don’t, the risk is that collectively as a global community will fall short of our climate goals. And that’s very expensive. We’re already seeing that in terms of these climate-related disasters; the U.S. is very vulnerable to them.”