Earlier this month, over 190 countries came together in a groundbreaking agreement to limit harmful climate change. While the most publicized success of the COP21 agreement centered on the cooperation of global governments, the conference was also significant for global business.
Over 5,000 companies from around the world, making up approximately half of the global GDP, made climate pledges. While public sector cooperation is legally and symbolically important, this corporate engagement is also crucial to progress against climate change. The private sector is capable of adapting much faster than government and is key to the technological improvements needed to shift away from a Carbon-based economy.
There is strong evidence that companies will translate these pledges into action. For example, during the COP21 talks, a coalition of businesses announced plans to restore forest cover to 1990 levels by 2050. In another example, Unilever and Marks & Spencer’s revealed their strategy to prioritize the sourcing of sustainable palm oil, beef, paper and other commodities. The level of specificity in these goals demonstrates the seriousness of the businesses involved.
The private sector’s deep engagement with the COP21 process has tied global business to the success and collaborative spirit of the landmark agreement in Paris. Companies that remain inactive now risk being viewed as outsiders, part of a dissenting minority acting against positive global action. In this sense, COP21 marks a new level of public relations risk for companies that fail to act. More than ever, climate action engagement is a necessity in the modern private sector.