Royal Dutch Shell, Adidas, Unilever, and some 70 other companies released a communiqué urging world governments to keep carbon emissions since the industrial revolution to a cumulative of 1 trillion metric tons. This is the emissions cap needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which for the first time calls for a trillion ton cap. We have already surpassed the halfway mark and are somewhere around 578,935,750,000 tonnes of carbon at the moment. If the current rate of emissions keeps up, the limit will be passed within three decades.
The statement was released by the Prince Charles’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, a group of companies brought together by the heir to the British throne and managed by the University of Cambridge. The statement is asking for a timeline to reduce emissions to net zero by 2100. It also states that “we will have to reformulate our relationship with energy and completely transform our energy system, including energy used in transport and heavy industrial processes.”
They cite President Obama’s call to end U.S. public financing for new coal-fired power plants overseas and the World Bank and the European Investment Bank similar announcements as evidence of a growing international effort to limit emissions.
This recent communiqué is the seventh from the group, with the first coming at the U.N. climate negotiations in Bali in 2007. In 2012, they called for a clear, global carbon price. Over 1,000 companies from more than 60 countries have signed up to at least one of the communiqués, with 2014 seeing the launch of the Trillion Tonne Communiqué.
Coalitions such as this one or the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) represent powerful voices from influential emitters, but their ability to enact actual change comes far less from words and more from actions. Shell is also a member of the USCAP, which calls for emission reduction targets for total U.S. emissions of 80 percent — 86 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. According to Shell’s website, they reduced direct GHG emissions from facilities they operate by just under three percent from 2011 to 2012, to 72 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent — which is approximately the total carbon emissions of Chile in 2010.
A study last year found that just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution. These companies, which include Shell, Chevron, Exxon, and other oil and gas companies have the power to do more than endorse government action, but in many cases they fail to do so — continuing to pursue the most profitable path forward. Last week Exxon became the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. In the report the company acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses, but determined that it was unlikely that governments would adopt low-carbon rules and regulations that would impact their bottom line in the coming decades.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and influential climate activist, saw this as a dare for government action, writing an op-ed in the Guardian accusing Exxon of saying “We plan on overheating the planet, we think we have the political muscle to keep doing it, and we dare you to stop it.”