Reflecting on Climate Week NYC: Corporations Leading the Way

Yesterday marked the end of the seventh Climate Week NYC. The annual event brings together influential global figures—and new voices—from the worlds of business, government, and society who are leading the low-carbon transition. We live in an exciting time, when more companies and investors are committed to bold climate leadership than at any other time in history. RMI/CWR is proud to be part of Climate Week. We know that the transition to a low-carbon economy is essential, and is the only pathway to long-term sustainable economic growth. Bold climate action is not a burden, but a historic opportunity!

From an exhilarating Climate Week in New York, I marvel at the momentum of the transition to the low-carbon economy. More companies and investors are now committed to bold climate leadership than ever before and many announced powerful—and profitable—initiatives during the last days in New York City. We have seen that many of the world’s largest corporations are waking up to the tremendous economic opportunity the energy revolution represents.

Climate Week NYC is an initiative of the We Mean Business Coalition, a network of organizations—including RMI and CWR—representing the voice of of businesses and investors around the world on climate change. RMI is working with a broad spectrum of companies to create a clean, prosperous, and secure future, a group that continues to grow. In fact, we announced some exciting new partnerships in the past week.

Working Together and Going Further

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced Rocky Mountain Institute as an affiliate member of the Circular Economy 100, a global platform bringing together leading companies, innovators, and regions to accelerate the transition to an economy that seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social, or natural. We are excited to join this business-centric effort to build a cleaner and more-prosperous world.

There was a flood of major corporations shifting to low-carbon energy, which is so encouraging—it was just a trickle a few years ago. During Climate Week, nine companies added their names as corporate signatories to the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, a covenant for procuring renewable energy at large scale. They began in July 2014 with just 12 companies representing 8.4 million MWh of demand. The nine new signatories announced this week, which include Amazon, Microsoft, and DuPont, bring the total to 43 signatories with demand for more than 30 million MWh of renewable energy between them.

The Buyers’ Principles, championed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Resources Institute (WRI), are one arm of the Corporate Renewables Partnership of four NGOs: WWF and WRI, plus BSR (through its Future of Internet Power initiative), and RMI, through the Business Renewables Center (BRC). The BRC is a collaborative platform aimed at accelerating corporate renewable energy procurement. Its members include many of the signatories of the Buyers’ Principles together with the leading firms buyers must transact with to procure renewable energy at scale, including project developers and facilitators.

A Trickle Becomes a Flood

The exciting developments in solar photovoltaics, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles and their underlying energy-storage technology are together shaping a new energy economy that is truly displacing the old, carbon-intensive ways. And it’s not just industry that recognizes the need for this transition and the economic opportunity it represents. The world of finance is moving as well.

Last September, firms and individuals managing $50 billion in assets came out and pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies. This week it was announced that firms and individuals representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies, a 5,200-percent increase in one year. That kind of explosive growth is truly what a revolution looks like.

A Business-Led Transformation

What makes me optimistic is that an increasing number of corporations are coming on board, procuring renewable energy, committing to energy-efficient buildings and operations, decarbonizing their supply chains, and setting ambitious targets for yet more. They are working to effect the kind of global energy transformation that is needed not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a great new frontier of business solutions and opportunities, and it helps strengthen their competitiveness.

But while the growing commitment of business leaders to the energy transition is important and encouraging, on its own it is not enough. Governments have to play their role as well. Just this past week, the UN adopted 17 new sustainable development goals, including goals relating to energy access and climate change. These goals are important, but action is even more so. President Xi and President Obama announced very tangible policy steps that will move their countries forward towards low-carbon energy systems.  On the road to COP 21 in Paris at the end of this year, this has been an encouraging week in New York. Let us use that momentum in the weeks and months ahead to see a global deal on climate change come together at the end of the year.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.