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Corporations join in White House warming push ahead of Paris

Monday, July 27, 2015, E&E News
By: Jean Chemnick and Lisa Friedman

Companies as diverse as Coca-Cola and Bank of America will visit the White House today to announce voluntary emissions-reduction pledges to support President Obama's quest for a global agreement on climate change at the end of this year.

The White House announcement will involve more than a dozen companies from a variety of sectors, including many that have previously taken steps to reduce their impact on warming either on their own or as part of other collaborations with the Obama administration.

Secretary of State John Kerry will give remarks at the White House roundtable event in the absence of President Obama, who is traveling in Kenya. White House climate adviser Brian Deese and Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern also will attend.

The 13 participating companies will pledge to spend a collective $140 billion to combat warming and will endorse "a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations," according to the White House.

The other participants in the American Businesses Act on Climate Pledge are Alcoa Inc., Apple Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill Inc., General Motors Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., PepsiCo Inc., United Parcel Service Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Many of the same companies have been involved in the numerous previous announcements the White House has rolled out over the last few years on climate change adaptation or mitigation. Coca-Cola and UPS already belong to a public-private initiative called the National Clean Fleets Partnership, for example, which seeks to improve the fuel efficiency of companies that operate large vehicle fleets. Google provided cloud storage space to house data for the administration's Climate Data Initiative, which was launched last year to help the public and local governments gain access to federally collected information about the effects of warming. The company played a similar role in last month's Climate Services for Resilient Development partnership, which aims to help local communities adapt.

In a statement this morning, the White House said the pledges show the private sector "is committed to stepping up and doing its part" to combat warming.

"While the United States is leading on the international stage and the federal government is doing its part to combat climate change, hundreds of private companies, local governments, and foundations have stepped up to increase energy efficiency, boost low-carbon investing, and make solar energy more accessible to low-income Americans," the statement said.

Climate advocates said that today's effort has been several months in the making and is part of a global climate change agreement in which cities, states, businesses and others are being mobilized to announce emissions cuts as well as national governments.

"Combating climate change cannot be tackled by governments alone," said Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. She praised the White House's effort to bring in businesses, arguing that private industry is where investment and innovation starts.

Meanwhile, she said, businesses need to challenge the notion that only a handful of them are reducing their carbon footprint or building sustainability into their supply chains.
"I think people think it's just a small group of companies that have a green outlook. That is not the case," Jacobson said. "This is a mainstream corporate activity."

The announcement comes a week before U.S. EPA is widely expected to release its final Clean Power Plan together with rules for new and modified power plant carbon dioxide. Former EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, who is now president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said in a statement that the pledges are an affirmative step toward an agreement in Paris.

"And the business community will be essential to mobilizing the technology, investment and innovation needed to transition to a low-carbon economy," Perciasepe said. While governments in the developed and developing world have made strides recently toward a meaningful agreement, "the strong support of business leaders for climate action, like that exhibited today, can only help to strengthen that will," he said.

Commitments vary by company. Alcoa, for example, has already pledged to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of its operations by 30 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. It adds a promise to cut absolute greenhouse gas output by half in 2025.
Bank of America has previously pledged $50 billion for low-carbon financing and will now increase that to $125 billion by 2025 through lending, investing, capital raising and other services. GM committed to reduce carbon intensity from facilities 20 percent by 2020 over a 2010 baseline and promote renewable energy use and reduce waste.

The White House plans to play host to a second set of climate commitments this fall, and Kerry, who has made combating warming a priority of his State Department tenure, will convene a forum on climate finance ahead of the Paris negotiations.

The accord, expected to be signed in Paris in December, will include a component for local governments and the private sector, dubbed "non-state actors." That work is critical, activists said, because the emissions cuts that countries alone have pledged for Paris are so far not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change.