June 2, 2017

U.S. Business Leaders Want to Stay in the Paris Climate Accord

(2 days ago I wrote the below for HBR about Trump's impending decision to exit the global climate accord. The whole point is that he would be ignoring business leaders if he did so. Well, he did. The news is moving fast these days. The response from business and other leaders was swift and strong. I'll post a 2nd article summarizing that in a bit.)

According to reports, President Trump is expected to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. This is a horrible decision for business, the United States, and humanity.

In this moment, running through the details of the agreement itself, which commits nearly every country in the world to significant energy and carbon reductions, is not vital. Nor is what we could analyze — from what will actually change in how the U.S. uses energy or emits carbon if the agreement is abandoned (it’s not a straightforward discussion by any means) to what states, cities, and citizens can do as a result.

But the key point I want to make here is that the business community does not want to leave the Paris climate agreement. Let me repeat: Even though Trump and his team keep telling everyone that climate action is somehow bad for the economy, most companies don’t agree with that assessment.

On May 10, in an attempt to influence the president’s thinking, 30 CEOs wrote an open letter to Trump, taking out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. The opening reads, “We are writing to express our strong support for the U.S. remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement.” I won’t reprint the whole letter here, but please read it.

It is, however, worth taking a moment to look at the companies whose CEOs made their views known:

3M Company
Allianz SE
Bank of America Corp.
BROAD Group
Campbell Soup Company
Cargill Inc.
Citigroup Inc.
The Coca-Cola Company
Corning Incorporated
Cummins Inc.
Dana Incorporated
The Dow Chemical Company
E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company
General Electric
The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
Harris Corporation
Johnson & Johnson
JP Morgan Chase
Kering
Morgan Stanley
Newell Brands Inc.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Procter & Gamble Company
Royal DSM
Salesforce
Solvay
Tesla Inc.
Unilever
Virgin Group
The Walt Disney Company

This is not a tree-hugger group. And it’s not a list of usual suspects from consumer-facing brands that may want to impress consumers or seem like they don’t have a huge carbon footprint. Nor is it a list that makes you think the money men want out of Paris. Heavy industrials are here. The biggest banks are here, and in other communications, too — see the letter to G7 leaders from hundreds of institutional investors, representing $17 trillion in assets.

Finally, I can say confidently, the list does not even remotely cover all the companies that feel this way. The CEO of Dow corralled fellow CEOs over just a couple of days to get these signatories. Many more agree but couldn’t move that fast on the letter, and many other executives have made their feelings known through back channels to Trump and his team. Public statements of support for the Paris agreement have even come in from the CEO of Exxon. Yes, Exxon. And just look at the hundreds of companies that have already committed to science-based carbon reduction goals and 100% renewable energy.

And yet the president seems to be ignoring this clear message coming from our titans of industry. He has claimed for a long time that he wants to put America first. But by withdrawing we would join a short list of UN member states that have not signed the agreement: Nicaragua and Syria. That’s it.

The U.S. cannot lead the world in any dimension if it abdicates responsibility and leadership for the greatest challenge facing humanity.

(This post first appeared at Harvard Business Review online.)

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