Just a few short weeks ago, as we landed on the tarmac in Bonn, Germany, preparing for CDP’s annual participation in the United Nations climate talks (COP23) in November, no one knew what to expect from this year’s proceedings.
The year leading up to COP23 had been nothing short of tumultuous, especially here in the United States.
In the past year, we have seen every corner of our country battered by record-setting extreme weather events and a terrible loss of life in a devastating and costly series of hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires, representing a dangerous new norm for Americans.
Despite the very real climate change impacts on our nation, the Federal Government announced its intent to withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, which up to that time only Syria and Nicaragua had abstained from signing. Now even those countries have signed on, leaving the US as the sole country in the world abstaining from the historic climate accord forged at COP21 in 2015 in which nearly 200 countries joined.
But, as our latest North America report shows, while the US Government steps back from global leadership on this critical issue, the US business sector and grassroots step up.
American businesses leaders have a message to send the international community, “We Are Still In”, when it comes to the Paris Climate Agreement. Immediately following the Administration’s pulling out of the Agreement earlier this year, the “We Are Still In” coalition came together literally over a single weekend with a pledge to fight climate change and to meet the US’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Agreement. The act of hundreds of institutions, organizations, and sub national governments — cities, states, companies and universities — coming together to publicly rebuke a policy decision by a sitting President in a matter of days has never before happened in American political history. This was also the big American success story at COP23 in Bonn.
“We Are Still In,” and its companion effort to measure progress against the goals of Paris, “America’s Pledge,” were out in full force at COP23. The group is non-partisan, with visible participation from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and features more than 2,600 US CEOs, mayors, governors, university presidents, and executive leaders from both red and blue states, representing some 130 million Americans and half of the US economy. The group presented a united front to fill the void left by the retreating US negotiators with a pro-business, pro-climate action American agenda and voice projected to the world.
At COP23, America’s true and committed climate leaders sent an unwavering signal that businesses and the American people are fighting for a secure, prosperous world free from the worst impacts of a changing climate.In absence of the official United States delegation pavilion this year, the group created their own US Climate Action Center, featuring events, speakers and corporations from around the country. The US Climate Action Center hosted the single largest side event ever held at COP, including an 800-person standing room only rally in support of “non-state actors,” in UN parlance, working toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement with or without the politicians.
So, while policymakers dally, businesses, investors and cities are getting to work. From the backrooms at climate negotiations, to the boardrooms of America’s companies, the US is keeping climate action at the top of the agenda. Despite a year of public opposition that surely tested the commitment of US companies to sustainability, CDP found that American disclosure numbers have increased across the board, and 70 percent of the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) remains committed to disclosure via CDP’s climate change questionnaire. In addition, US companies are outperforming their global peers on a number of indicators when it comes to climate action. There are more US companies on CDP’s A List and more companies increasing their internal pricing of carbon than in any other region. Climate change, water and deforestation risks are increasingly recognized as material, and their management critical to the overall performance of the business.
Climate change poses risks, yes, but it also can present opportunities. According to State Street Global Advisors — a CDP signatory requesting increased corporate disclosure on climate risk and one of the world’s largest asset managers — a majority of asset owners say that the request for and integration of environmental, social and corporate governance have significantly improved businesses' bottom lines. Perhaps it is no surprise then to learn that CDP’s analysis also reveals a clear trend in US companies prioritizing climate change at the highest levels of their organizations. In 2017, 71% of responding companies in the S&P 500 reported board level oversight of climate change issues, up from just under half of companies in 2011. This direction in governance is another signal that the trends supporting the transition to a sustainable economy are continuing to accelerate in corporate America.
The stakes have never been higher regarding our future and urgent action is needed. US companies are increasingly focusing on critical environmental risk and natural capital issues like climate change, water and deforestation, as well as on better governance to manage for and capitalize on the opportunities at hand. For those of us at CDP North America, this means actively facilitating corporate environmental disclosure to provide the entire world with the data and insights it needs to make progress and be “still in” the climate fight.