By Jeremy TORDJMAN
Washington (AFP) May 31, 2017
President Donald Trump may be dragging out his decision on whether to ditch the Paris climate agreement, but major American corporations have not waited for a government signal to start cutting their carbon emissions.
Before Trump had even raised the possibility of scrapping US involvement in the landmark 2015 treaty, Coca-Cola and the engineering giant General Electric already had pledged to reduce their carbon footprints by 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively, by 2020.
Apple meanwhile boasts of running its US operations on 100 percent renewable energy.
"We believe climate change is real and the science is well accepted," GE's CEO Jeff Immelt said last month, offering a stark contrast to an administration that features prominent climate change deniers.
Agribusiness giant Monsanto told AFP it was "committed" to helping "farmers adapt to and mitigate climate change."
Even energy-sector heavyweights -- those who seemingly have the most to lose from tougher environmental rules -- are joining the trend started by the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Oil giant Chevron "supports continuing with the Paris Agreement as it offers a first step towards a global framework," spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said.
Rival ExxonMobil recently implored the White House not to exit the climate treaty in order to respond effectively to climate "risks."
- Shifting attitudes -
Just a few years ago, the US business world was using all its weight to impede climate talks, notably leading to the collapse of a 2009 summit in Copenhagen.
But many companies now find their image at stake in the United States, where opinion polls indicate the public are concerned by global warming and want to remain in the Paris agreement.
While growing environmental awareness has played a role, corporate America's conversion is not solely the result of do-gooder impulses.
"The companies are increasing their commitments in the climate area irrespective of (Trump's) decision, because it saves them money, it reduces their risks and most importantly, it's a massive market opportunity," said Kevin Moss of the World Resources Institute.
The bottom line has indeed shifted for businesses. Major investors are exiting fossil fuels and companies are facing increasing pressure to adapt their growth models to a world without carbon.
"Our customers, partners and countries are demanding technology that generates power while reducing emissions, improving energy efficiency and reducing cost," said GE's Immelt.
Oil prices have fallen through the floor in recent years, with a barrel of benchmark crude hovering around $50, down from more than $80 a decade ago. As a result, investing in the sector is much less profitable.
As a sign of the times, Exxon shareholders on Wednesday voted to force the company to factor in tougher climate policies on emissions and disclose how they may affect company revenues.
- Structural changes -
Trump also has pledged to revive the coal industry but given the boom in natural gas, which produces 50 percent less carbon dioxide and is far cheaper than coal, most experts say that will be difficult to accomplish on a large scale.
Still, fracking, or hydraulic fracturing -- a principal means of natural gas extraction -- also faces stiff criticism for its environmental impacts.
The costs of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, also have come down sharply, thanks in part to investment and public subsidies that have made the sector more attractive.
Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for the major US generator American Electric Power, said her company had diversified into renewables and was investing "in renewable generation and other innovations that increase efficiency and reduce emissions."
Lynn Good, head of Duke Energy, told The Wall Street Journal that "because of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us."
There is still skepticism in certain quarters, particularly on the costs of climate policies.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry body representing 625 businesses, is wary of "government mandates that could increase energy costs," according to spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel.
But Moss of the World Resources Institute said withdrawal from the Paris accord will not stop the momentum, and companies will continue down their current path "even without it, because everybody else is doing it."
"The only countries we'll be in the company of if we pull out are Syria and Nicaragua," he said.
Climate: What is the Paris Agreement?
On Wednesday, US media reported that President Donald Trump was poised to announce the United States' withdrawal from the pact, which took nearly two decades of often-acrimonious bartering and much give-and-take to conclude.
The Palestinian authorities have since also signed the agreement, which has now been officially ratified by 147 parties and entered into force in record time on November 4, 2016, when it crossed the threshold of 55 ratifying parties representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Even without the US, which ratified the pact under Barack Obama in September 2016, the 55/55 threshold is met.
- The goal -
Nations agreed to hold global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and to strive for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The lower goal was a demand of poor countries and island states at high risk of climate change effects such as rising sea levels.
But experts say even the two-degree ceiling is a tall order, requiring an immediate and deep reduction in planet-warming emissions from burning fossil fuels -- an industry with major influence in Washington.
Based on voluntary emissions-cutting pledged by countries so far, the planet is on track for warming of about three degrees, many scientists say -- a recipe for possibly catastrophic floods, storms, drought and ocean-level increases.
Without the US administration on board, the goal may move even further out of reach.
- Getting there -
The signatories will aim for emissions to peak "as soon as possible", with "rapid reductions" thereafter.
By the second half of this century, according to the pact, there must be a balance between emissions from human activities such as energy production and farming, and the amount that can be absorbed by carbon-absorbing "sinks" such as forests or storage technology.
- Burden-sharing -
Developed countries, which have polluted for longer, must take the lead with absolute emissions cuts.
Developing nations, which still burn coal and oil to power growing populations and economies, are encouraged to "continue enhancing" their efforts and "move over time" towards absolute cuts.
- Tracking progress -
In 2018, and every five years thereafter, countries will take stock of the overall impact of their efforts to rein in global warming, according to the text.
It "urges" and "requests" countries to update their pledges by 2020.
Some nations, including the United States, set emissions-curbing targets for 2025, others for 2030. Both categories are meant to be updated every five years.
- Financing -
Rich countries are expected to provide funding to help developing countries make the costly shift to cleaner energy sources and to shore up defences against the impacts of climate change.
Donor nations must report every two years on their financing levels -- current and intended.
In a nonbinding "decision" that accompanies the agreement but is not included in it, the $100 billion (89 billion euros) per year that rich countries have pledged to muster by 2020 is referred to as a "floor" -- meaning it can only go up.
The amount must be updated by 2025.
According to an OECD report, pledges made in 2015 alone would boost public climate financing (excluding private money) to $67 billion in 2020.
But Trump has hinted that the United States, which had pledged $3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund, of which it delivered $1 billion under Barack Obama, will not honour its financing commitments.
- Bindingness -
The agreement makes provision for parties to withdraw, but notice can be given only three years after its entry into force in 2016. The actual withdrawal would take effect a year later -- meaning 2020 if the Trump administration uses this option.
A country can also withdraw from the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whose auspices the deal was negotiated. Withdrawal would take effect a year after notification.
Berlin (AFP) May 29, 2017
Leading economists called Monday on the international community to price carbon at up to $100 (89 euros) a tonne by 2030, saying this was "indispensable" in the fight to slash emissions. "A strong and predictable carbon-price trajectory provides a powerful signal to individuals and firms that the future is low carbon, inducing the changes needed in global investment, production and consumpti ... read more
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