One Giant Step Forward

 “A target of net-zero emissions by 2050 is not only desirable but necessary. This is the time to redouble our efforts and further accelerate progress to decarbonize our economy. This is not going to be easy, but the earlier we act, the greater the economic opportunities will be.”

This statement was not uttered by Gustav Fridolin, Spokesperson for the Swedish Green Party or by James Harmon, Chairman of the Board for the World Resources Institute. It is in fact a quote from Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever – a global corporation of over 400 brands including Vaseline, Lipton and Sunlight.

On Feb 5th 2015 he, along with other members of The B Team, called on world leaders to commit to a net-zero emissions target by 2050. The appeal comes in advance of COP21 in Paris this December and is grounded in the latest science on the probability of society avoiding a two degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures and the disastrous consequences if we fail. In their public statement this group of corporate leaders argue “by committing to net-zero greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, governments will demonstrate they are unequivocally setting the world on a clear, low-carbon trajectory. Businesses will respond by embedding bold climate action into their strategies – unleashing innovation, driving investment in clean energy, scaling-up low carbons solutions, creating jobs and supporting economic growth.” The B Team group of corporate leaders sees economic opportunity in ambitious climate policy and they are calling on governments around the world to make a bold commitment.

In an article published in the Guardian, Polman elaborates on his position. He contends that economic growth can and must be decoupled from carbon emissions. His advocacy for climate neutral economic development is grounded in both the costs of failing to address the climate crisis and the opportunity for economic growth in areas such as alternative energies and green infrastructure. He notes that the global economy has already seen economic losses of US$2.5 trillion since 2000 resulting from extreme weather (phenomena that are on the rise) and that there are trillions of dollars of potential economic development in green business. Polman highlights the growing community of progressive corporations that are making climate commitments and he calls on governments to show leadership too. He writes “action from individual global businesses and countries alone, however powerful they may be, will not avert climate change. International collective action is needed instead.”