New report suggests corporate climate change pledges aren’t that valuable

Many S&P 100 companies that claim to care about climate change are either ignoring or derailing policies that could provide solutions to the crisis, a new report finds. A whopping 92 percent of companies on the S&P 100 index in 2019 have pledged to cut down their own planet-heating emissions, but just 40 percent are actually pushing lawmakers to address the climate crisis, and 21 percent have advocated against science-based climate policy over the past five years.

So while companies might sell themselves to consumers as planet-friendly, they’re not necessarily having the same conversations with decision-makers who are most responsible for tackling the crisis. Netflix, for example, plans to slash its greenhouse gases dramatically by the end of next year, but the streaming giant has yet to publicly advocate for any specific science-based climate policies, according to Ceres.

Corporations and lawmakers alike will need to do much more to meet the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. Scientists have found that global greenhouse gas emissions need to drop to essentially zero within a few decades to avoid a future on Earth to which life will struggle to adapt. But proposals by the Biden administration to overhaul US infrastructure and make the economy cleaner and greener are stalling in Congress.

It could also be bad for business for companies fail to live up to their climate pledges, says the nonprofit group Ceres that published the report. “Those companies that are not actively lobbying for science-based climate policies are effectively working against themselves, making it extremely challenging for them to achieve the bold targets they have set to clean up their own business operations, risking both their reputations and their financial performance,” Steven Rothstein, Ceres managing director of the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets, said in a statement. After all, companies are facing mounting financial risks from climate catastrophe. Oatly, while not an S&P 100 company, recently disclosed that its oats are vulnerable to climate-induced disasters.

Some companies have flip-flopped on climate change over the past several years, especially as political winds changed. Twelve of the companies Ceres assessed have both lobbied for and against policies aimed at stopping climate change. Take Ford: it previously supported Trump’s efforts to weaken fuel efficiency standards. But it switched sides to back California’s stricter standards in 2019 and then announced plans to reach carbon neutrality — cutting down and offsetting all of its emissions — by 2050.

Other companies are guilty of climate inaction by association, according to the report. About three-quarters of S&P 100 companies are members of the US Chamber of Commerce, which Ceres says “has long resisted the policies the nation needs to make its economy more sustainable.” Apple is the only company Ceres assessed that abandoned the chamber over its position on climate change.

Protesting inaction might be just what the US Chamber of Commerce and companies need to make changes. It’s not just Apple. Companies are facing more pressure from employees, consumers, and activist shareholders who are concerned about the environment. Shareholders have even recently pushed fossil fuel companies like Chevron and Exxon to hasten efforts to work more sustainably. There are plenty of ways to push for change, and every strategy will likely have to play a role in saving the planet.

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