Fourteen high-profile business leaders and CEOs are calling on international leaders to agree to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2050, arguing the ambitious goal would lead to “new jobs, cleaner air, better health, lower poverty and greater energy security.”
Led by high-profile billionaire and Virgin founder Richard Branson, the B Team — which includes Huffington Post Media Group President Arianna Huffington, U.N. Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin, and Unilever CEO Paul Polman — directed their message at the 196 nations that are expected to meet at the Paris climate talks at the end of the year. The meeting is widely considered the last chance for a global agreement that could feasibly keep the rise in global average temperatures under 2°C.
The group also urged business leaders to commit to emitting the equivalent of no carbon emissions in their long-term plans. A net-zero goal would mean dramatically reducing emissions while offsetting any remaining emissions with actions that reduce or absorb greenhouse gas pollution, like planting trees, using technologies that capture carbon, or funding clean energy ventures.
They acknowledged that the goal would be difficult to meet, but said reducing carbon emissions drastically would be key to unleashing innovation, driving investment in clean energy, and creating jobs. Not to mention, they added, the benefits of avoiding the potentially disastrous side effects of unmitigated climate change.
“A target of net-zero emissions by 2050 is not only desirable but necessary,” Polman said in an accompanying statement. “This is not going to be easy, but the earlier we act, the greater the economic opportunities will be.”
Beyond the general risk of more frequent weather extremes, climate change presents a unique challenge to businesses. Right now, companies factor a large number of risks into their business plans, and good businesses set aside capital to be able to operate if those risks materialize.
As Jeff Spross has noted before for ClimateProgress, America’s current economy is built upon assumptions of a certain range of “normal” weather outcomes. But those assumptions will change with unmitigated global warming, which is expected to bring what we currently view as “extreme” weather closer to normal. That means more monetary risks for businesses, not just in terms of weather disasters, but in increased extreme heat cutting down on outdoor work; more demand on the electrical grid to keep buildings cool; lost agriculture; higher mortality; more crime.
The choice for businesses, then, is either to prepare financially for those risks or to change the outcome. Even beyond the specific goal of zero net carbon emissions, the B Team is calling on international leaders and businesses to do the latter, arguing that there is more opportunity for economic growth in climate mitigation than there is in adaptation (if adaptation is possible).
“Setting a net-zero GHG emissions target by 2050 will drive innovation, grow jobs, build prosperity and secure a better world for what will soon be 9 billion people,” Branson said. “Why would we wait any longer to do that?”