The Global Imperative of the 'Clean Trillion'

Climate change is the most significant threat to sustainable development. Left unchecked, it threatens to undermine progress on nearly all of the other Sustainable Development Goals -- from ending poverty and hunger to ensuring access to clean water and decent work.

Efforts to lift Bengali farmers living on less than $2 a day out of poverty could be fruitless, for example, if the farmers' livelihoods are lost to rising seas.

And though the world's poorest citizens are indeed the most vulnerable, no one is immune to the effects of climate change. The potential disruption to civil society and the global economy that could ensue if the natural world that sustains us all breaks down will impact everyone.

Fortunately, the solutions to climate change offer an opportunity to achieve many of the other development goals because they align directly with them -- from providing affordable clean energy, to developing sustainable cities, to ensuring decent work and economic growth.

So how do we achieve the 80 percent-cut in carbon emissions by mid-century that scientists say is essential to prevent catastrophic and irreversible climate change -- even as global emissions continue to rise?

Map of U.S. companies adopting renewable-energy projects.

Private-Sector Leadership

Private-sector leadership is a key linchpin, both for innovating the clean-energy solutions we so desperately need -- energy-efficiency technologies, solar cells and solar stoves, battery storage, electric vehicles, and so on -- and for catalyzing the massive levels of capital that are required to transform our global-energy systems.

Already, the private sector is embracing the clean-energy transition. A 2014 study found that 60 percent of Fortune 100 companies have set their own clean-energy targets for reducing their carbon footprints and boosting renewable-energy sourcing. In doing so, they are saving more than $1 billion a year in energy costs.

Earlier this summer, 13 U.S. companies pledged about $140 billion in clean energy and energy-efficiency investments to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. From Apple to Microsoft to General Mills -- every month, headlines boast new corporate commitments to renewable energy and other carbon-cutting measures.

Many of the companies that Ceres works with are developing large-scale renewable energy projects at their headquarters and other facilities across the country.

Banking institutions are also stepping forward to boost investments in Green Bonds and other vehicles. Among the most noteworthy examples was Citi's recent $100 billion financing commitment to reduce the impacts of climate change -- an initiative that Ceres helped shape.

Exciting progress, to be sure, but it's still not enough with scientists warning that we are on a path to a 5-degree rise in global temperatures with potentially calamitous consequences for humanity. The International Energy Agency (IEA) in fact estimates that at least an additional trillion dollars in new clean-energy investments is needed annually over the next 35 years to keep atmospheric warming below the 2°C threshold.

At Ceres, we call this global imperative the Clean Trillion.

Current clean-energy-investment levels are about $300 billion a year. To more than triple that amount, we need the right policies in place to incentivize further investment -- policies like the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which will reduce carbon pollution from existing U.S. power plants. It also means renewable-portfolio standards, low-carbon fuel standards, and ultimately a revenue-neutral carbon tax that does not disproportionately impact the poor.

Many of the companies and investors that Ceres works with are stepping into the policy arena to support such policies. Just last month, Ceres helped organize dozens of California companies to support state legislation that will boost statewide renewable-energy use to 50 percent and double energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030. The law was approved last week. Their messages about the economic opportunities inherent in tackling climate change offer critical counterbalance to those who claim that acting on climate change will harm the economy.

The Road Through Paris

Companies and investors are also lining up to support critical international-climate negotiations this December, when governments of more than 190 nations will meet in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change aimed at keeping global warming below the 2°C threshold.

All countries must submit their own carbon-cutting contributions as part of the international process, and most of the world's largest emitters, including the United States, Brazil and China, have done so.

The EPA's Clean Power Plan is a cornerstone of our contribution to the international process, and as the word's largest historical emitter, its success is critical to our ability to lead other nations to step up. That's why last month 365 companies and investors wrote their governors urging timely implementation of the Clean Power Plan.

A second key discussion item for Paris is the Green Climate Fund to help poorer countries invest in clean technology and adapt to climate change. The Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change is working with national governments to help raise the $100 billion in publicly-funded annual commitments.

The private sector is poised to help governments meet the climate challenge, but governments everywhere must do their part.

We are at a crossroads in history: with untold human suffering on one side, and the promise for a just and sustainable world on the other. We must act decisively and with speed to choose the right side.

Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a nonprofit organization mobilizing business and investor leadership on climate change and other global-sustainability challenges. For details, visit or follow on Twitter @CeresNews

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 13.

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