A Call for Action

by Richard T. Stuebi

A Call for Action: that’s the title of the introductory report by the newly formed United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP).

The USCAP is a group of organizations who have come together to press the U.S. Federal government to stop arguing and start taking real action to address climate change. And, from what I read in the report, it’s very encouraging, not just “green-wash”.

USCAP states that “we know enough to act on climate change”, and recommends “national legislation in the United States to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions over the shortest period of time reasonably achieveable.” USCAP “pledge[s] to work with the President, the Congress, and all other stakeholders to enact an environmentally effective, economically sustainable, and fair climate change program consistent with our principles at the earliest practicable date” .

USCAP strongly argues for “mandatory approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the major emitting sectors”. And, the targets they propose are not toothless: current levels within 5 years of enactment, 90-100% of current levels within 10 years of enactment, 70-90% of current levels within 15 years of enactment, and — most importantly — 20-40% of current levels by 2050.

These are not the positions of parties that merely want to appear concerned about the environment. These statements are very consistent with those of leading environmental organizations — which shouldn’t be that surprising, given that several USCAP members are in fact leading activists on the climate change issue: Environmental Defense, NRDC, Pew Center on Global Climate Change and World Resources Institute.

Let’s give due credit to the corporate members of USCAP, who are making it increasingly acceptable for the private sector to get on board the bandwagon for promoting action to combat climate change:

Alcoa (NYSE: AA)
BP (NYSE: BP)
Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT)
Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK)
DuPont (NYSE: DD)
FPL Group (NYSE: FPL)
PG&E Corporation (NYSE: PCG)
PNM Resources (NYSE: PNM)

Unfortunately, these companies are far ahead of many others who should also be, but aren’t, on this list advocating for climate change action.

Hopefully, with ongoing pressure from the public, politicians, peers and investors, the list of USCAP members will grow to include all the major players in the energy and financial worlds. Maybe then we’ll finally see the stalemate in DC on climate change start to break. Until then, the companies on the roster of shame remains way too long for me to list here.

If you own shares in energy companies that aren’t on this list, you might write to urge management to get aboard the USCAP movement, and to reposition the company accordingly. Or, you might want to think about dumping the stock, as it might not fare well in a carbon-constrained future, given the company’s apparent preference for clinging to the past in a defensive posture rather than seeking to seize the future.

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy.

2 replies
  1. Dan
    Dan says:

    Hi Richard. I read in the UK press that these companies are pressing for federal legislation because they are finding it difficult to deal with the range of different policy responses at state level, rather than because they are concerned about the environment. Do you think this is fair?

  2. Richard T. Stuebi
    Richard T. Stuebi says:

    Dan, there is no question that the companies in USCAP are more motivated by regulatory/legal simplicity than concern for the environment. In general, relative to their European counterparts, management teams of most U.S. corporations don't care particularly highly about the environment as a separate concern, except as it affects how customers and investors view them and the corresponding impact on financials and share price. Far and away the most important concern of U.S. corporate managers is increasing shareholder value, followed by serving customers' needs, followed by attraction/retention of talented/committed employees, followed by being good corporate citizens, of which a subset is caring for the environment.So, one could say that these companies are not actually leaders in environmental stewardship but rather are pragmatists. But, a lot of progress in life occurs when others do the right thing for the wrong reason, and I think this might be one of those cases. At least these companies recognize that U.S. Federal climate change legislation is coming — acknowledging that climate change is truly happening and that it's legitimate for the government to act on climate change to protect the needs of current and future citizens — and would rather get the legislation passed sooner than later so as to better enable long-term planning. That early legislation is also better for the environment is a nice side-benefit that we can all take advantage of.All told, rather than being chagrined that these companies aren't as sincerely worried about climate change for the impact on the planet as they are worried about the impact on their numbers, I'd rather focus on getting other U.S. companies to be thinking in a similar manner. At the least, the position of the USCAP members beats the stance that unconcerned corporates take in trying to stymie progress on climate change, buying delay time with their oppositional actions.

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