It’s true, we just ended the warmest decade on record.8https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/2020-was-one-of-three-warmest-years-record And, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we must continue to acknowledge that the future of our earth remains uncertain. Fortunately, we know a transition is underway to address global temperature rise and the resultant climate crisis. We know public and private sector actions taken today, and over the next ten years, will be critical to mitigating economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to slowing self-reinforcing “feedback loops” already known to be occurring in our ecological systems.
Just days into the new United States presidential administration, we have witnessed the issuance of more executive orders and policy priorities than can be mentally registered. Abating the public health and economic issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the racial inequalities that have been exacerbated by it, are clearly top priority. But remarkably, the Biden-Harris administration has taken an integrative, hit-the-ground-running approach to initiating climate policies that are also urgently needed.
Knowing what I know, reading guidance issued by climate scientists and other experts and concurrently analyzing the spectrum of climate-related actions being taken by companies, I can say these initial, integrated administrative actions are promising – and they’re helping me maintain my hope for the future.
The enormity of the US’ role in addressing the climate crisis cannot be overstated. Here are some of the key climate-related actions taken recently:
- The US recommitted to the Paris Agreement. By doing so, our country starts the process of developing its “nationally determined contribution” and will leverage its global leadership to accelerate climate action by other countries.9https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/27/fact-sheet-president-biden-takes-executive-actions-to-tackle-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad-create-jobs-and-restore-scientific-integrity-across-federal-government/
- The US committed to achieve a “carbon pollution free” electric sector by 2035, which will help set the pathway for the US to reach net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
- Multiple councils and working groups are being established to coordinate and oversee government-wide policy development, including the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, a National Climate Task Force, the Environmental Justice Interagency, and the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, among others.
- The President called for a major review of environmental regulatory rollbacks issued by the previous administration – which totaled nearly 200.10https://www.law.berkeley.edu/research/clee/reversing-environmental-rollbacks/11https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks-list.html
- An interagency working group focused on analyzing the “social cost” of GHG emissions has been reinstated and an interim directive is expected to be issued so agencies “account for the full costs of GHG emissions, including climate risk, environmental justice and intergenerational equity” in planning.
- …and more.
It’s especially encouraging that even in these early days, senior US officials have repeatedly signaled that rejoining the Paris Agreement is crucial, but much more must be done.12https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-21/u-s-climate-envoy-kerry-warns-glasgow-is-last-chance-for-action?sref=HzN8FWHr With over 1,100 global companies committing to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 205013https://sciencebasedtargets.org/, and a leading set already announcing aims to achieve net zero goals by 204014https://www.theclimatepledge.com/Signatories.html, US government policies that rise to these levels and accelerate solutions must also be developed. Current climate science reality demands certainty that public and private sector commitments will continue to converge and increase in ambition.
Confronting the climate crisis requires more from all of us. Collaborative problem solving within and across sectors takes time, and no doubt many more “tough love” conversations will need to be had. But we have a common mission – and doesn’t it suddenly feel like we have a stronger tailwind at our backs?
Over the coming months, on behalf of clients, Boston Trust Walden will expand its climate-related engagements. We expect more companies to make net zero commitments; enhance transparency around climate risk management via guidance issued by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), CDP, and other groups; and, quite importantly, step up and demonstrate how they are wielding their lobbying influence to promote climate policies still so urgently needed on federal and state levels.
Now, it’s time to get back to work.