Can Corporations Turn the Climate Tide?

June 4, 2018

New York Times:

When President Trump announced on June 1 last year that the United States would exit the Paris climate deal, many of America’s largest corporations said they would honor the agreement anyway, vowing to pursue cleaner energy and cut emissions on their own.

A year later, there’s one area where that pledge is highly visible: renewable energy. Dozens of Fortune 500 companies, from tech giants like Apple and Google to Walmart and General Motors, are voluntarily investing billions of dollars in new wind and solar projects to power their operations or offset their conventional energy use, becoming a major driver of renewable electricity growth in the United States.

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“You’re definitely not seeing corporations slow down their appetite for renewables under Trump — if anything, demand continues to grow,” said Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president for policy at Advanced Energy Economy, a clean energy business group. “And it means that many utilities increasingly have to evolve to satisfy this demand.”

One big question, however, is whether these corporate renewable deals will remain a relatively niche market, adding some wind and solar at the margins but not really making a sizable dent in overall emissions, or whether these companies can use their clout to transform America’s grid and help usher in a new era of low-carbon power.

Last year in the United States, 19 large corporations announced deals with energy providers to build 2.78 gigawatts worth of wind and solar generating capacity, equal to one-sixth of all of the renewable capacity added nationwide in 2017, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewable Center. (Power companies themselves added much of the rest, often in response to state mandates.)

That trend appears to be accelerating. Corporations have already announced deals for another 2.48 gigawatts of wind and solar in the first half of 2018, as companies like AT&T and Nestlé join the search for cleaner power to fulfill their sustainability goals and take advantage of the rapidly declining cost of renewables.

“We didn’t intend to do this as a statement about Paris, though it has become a statement that we’re definitely still in,” said Brian Janous, general manager of energy at Microsoft, which has so far bought enough wind and solar power to match 50 percent of the demand from its global data centers.

“But with how fast wind and solar prices have fallen, we see this as something that makes financial sense,” he said.

LATimes:

His promised coal renaissance sputtered. Rollbacks of environmental protections are tangled in court. Even automakers aren’t on board for his push toward heavier-polluting cars.

 

And though many in the climate movement hope progress toward cutting emissions can continue despite Trump’s retreat, there are growing doubts about reaching the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, if Washington does not re-engage soon.

In an interview, Gov. Jerry Brown acknowledged the hope felt by many climate activists because of efforts from states like his and by private companies. But he also said the world is only just beginning to feel the environmental harm inflicted by the Trump administration.

“He has set in motion initiatives that will cause damage,” Brown said, comparing the planet under Trump’s climate policies to a person who has just fallen from the top of the Empire State Building. “You are falling down four stories, but have 80 to go,” he said. “Maybe you are not damaged yet, but it is certain you will die.”

The governor said his overriding concern is that global progress has stalled. “This is real,” Brown said. “It is far more serious than anybody is saying.”

Meanwhile, Trump administration moves to prop up failing fossil fuels.

New York Times:

President Trump is increasingly intervening in the economy, making decisions about corporate winners and losers in ways that Republicans for decades have insisted should be left to free markets — not the government.

The shift amounts to a major change in the GOP’s approach to the management of the economy, and it promises to shape the success of everything from American agriculture and manufacturing to the companies that produce the nation’s electricity.

On Friday, citing national security, Trump ordered the Energy Department to compel power-grid operators to buy from ailing coal and nuclear plants that otherwise would be forced to shut down because of competition from cheaper sources.

The order came one day after the president imposed historic metals tariffs on some of the country’s strongest allies and trading partners. Now the Commerce Department is further picking winners and losers as it weighs thousands of requests from companies for waivers from the import taxes.

“It replaces the invisible hand with the government hand,” said Mary Lovely, a Syracuse University economist. “You’re replacing the market with government fiat.”

 

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4 Responses to “Can Corporations Turn the Climate Tide?”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    We cannot wait for the good will of some corporations. Decent legislation is needed ASAP.

  2. John Kane Says:

    @ Sir Charles,

    I’ll take what we can get. If major US companies are doing this and the Trump regime is actively hostile, what does that do to corporate donations to Republican candidates?


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