We now can say we were alive when the world took the most significant steps ever to combat climate change.
And here’s something that may seem surprising to some: Business and industry supported each and every step along the way.
The weekend brought the latest move to curb greenhouse gases and global warming. In Rwanda, more than 170 countries agreed to cut deployment of one of the worst global warming chemicals around: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in air conditioners. As the New York Times pointed out, companies like air conditioning giant Honeywell and chemical maker DuPont were among the most active backers of the accord. See here for a list of major air conditioning-related companies that supported the Rwanda plan.
The Rwanda deal came about a week after the ratification of what President Obama called “the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.” The Paris Agreement on climate change was reached last December after unprecedented business support, including a demand for action by hundreds of businesses; pledges of big investments in clean energy technology by Bill Gates and other billionaires and action by business groups like E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) to hammer home the economic benefits of smart environmental policies.
In between Rwanda and the Paris ratification was the Oct. 6 United Nations agreement to cut climate change emissions from aircraft. Remarkably, the agreement has the backing of the airline industry even though it could cost airlines an estimated $5.3 billion to $23.9 billion a year, as US News & World Report noted.
Domestically, California in August revived and then approved an extension of its landmark Global Warming Solutions Act after businesspeople showed lawmakers the clear economic benefits of California’s climate policies and demanded action from Sacramento. New York, meanwhile, approved a sweeping Clean Energy Standard, including a provision for the state to get 50 percent of its energy from renewables – again with the backing of businesses big and small.
It wasn’t long ago that businesses were considered the bogeyman when it came to climate change.
At past international climate summits – Rio, Copenhagen, Kyoto – businesses were ignored, even shunned. Domestically, U.S companies used to unquestionably read and repeat the bunk from groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and oil and gas conglomerates that doing something about climate change would somehow ruin or economy.
Businesses were seen as the problem, not part of the solution.
So what’s different today? Businesses, investors and policymakers alike are now realizing the economic benefits of clean energy and action on climate change, along with the societal benefits.
Investments in wind and solar, meanwhile, are producing strong returns for investors, leading to investments that now are far outstripping dirty fossil fuels and other dirty energy investments.
At the same time, companies are realizing that making their operations more efficient – from buildings to transportation to supply chains – means saving money. Between 2015 and 2018, for instance, LEED-certified buildings in the United States will produce an estimated $1.2 billion in energy savings, and reduce building maintenance costs by 20 percent or more.
And then there are the jobs.
Today, more than 2.5 million Americans work in clean energy, installing solar panels and maintaining wind turbines; improving efficiency and saving money at our schools, offices and homes; building next-generation electric vehicles and other automobiles. More people now work in clean energy than in sectors like real estate and agriculture. Many, many more work in clean energy than in dirty energy industries like oil, gas and coal extraction. More people now work in clean energy than live in states such as New Mexico, West Virginia or New Hampshire.
What’s different today is that it no longer possible for politicians, for policymakers, for CEOs to truthfully deny the economic benefits of smart environmental policies.
What’s different is that we now realize combatting something as big as climate change requires action by everyone, from individuals to governments to businesses.
What’s different is that the world is finally recognizing that we don’t have to choose a good economy or a good environment anymore, and that, in fact, one depends on another.