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What is the Role of the Private Sector on Addressing Climate Change?

October 02, 2017
The private sector has a huge role in addressing climate change and other environmental issues. This was on full display during and after President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. Silicon Valley’s Elon Musk gathered huge criticism for his advisory role to the President, but, in a belief that he could do more good from the inside, he pushed for the Trump administration to stay committed to the Paris framework. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook also spoke with the President to persuade him to stay, however, the President chose to follow through with his campaign promises.

By Rachel Huang

With the current Paris framework, nations establish targets for reducing their carbon emissions but are not legally bound to hitting them. These commitments are voluntary in good faith, and symbolic at most for the U.S., since the U.S. Senate never confirmed a 2/3’s vote on the Paris Climate Agreement as a treaty recognized by the Constitution. [1] Therefore, some could say that the withdrawal isn’t as severe because there are no legal consequences. However, all but Nicaragua and Syria, a total of 195 nations, signed the agreement, and will continue to uphold their commitments without U.S. leadership. What U.S. withdrawal means to the international community, time will tell, as some countries will champion the cause and others will potentially slack, seeing as the U.S. has stepped back as well.

Most were hopeful that the light shed on climate issues and the Paris Agreement will now provoke local communities and the private sector to take more charge. With a lack of leadership from Washington, the public looked to cities, states, and businesses. Just as well, a coalition called “We Are Still In” was formed as a response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal. Their webpage featured an “open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement from U.S. state, local, and business leaders.” [2] The list, spanning across diverse facets of the American economy, includes higher educational institutions, eBay, Airbnb, Lyft, Microsoft, Facebook, Target, Tiffany & Co. and many other fortune 500 and local businesses. [3]

Whether it speaks to their bottom line or their values as a company, many in the private sector are on the climate issue. Dubbed as a ‘direct threat to national security’ by a GOP-led defense bill, the private sector, too, sees the potential risk of global warming to their assets, investments, and customers. [4] Large companies say that they’re a prominent force in addressing and implementing climate issues and solutions through financial assistance and investments, technological advancements, and partnerships. Tech companies and their executives realize the ominous situation of climate change, like Bill Gates of Microsoft who said, “We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas – even ones that might sound a little crazy – if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of the century.” [5] He has since launched the Breakthrough Coalition with 27 of the world’s richest to invest billions of dollars into researching new energy technology. [6]  These billionaires, including CEOs from Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook, and Hewlett Packard, all believe that their investments into several different areas, transportation, agriculture, electricity generation, will find a key to reaching zero emissions. Likewise, companies like Apple have transitioned 93% of its facilities to renewable energy and have its sight set on 100% renewable energy. [7] Apple invested $850 million into a solar energy farm to power their California stores, offices, HQ, and data center. Google has also set goals to buy enough clean energy to meet “its global needs this year.” [8] Investments like these not only cut down on fossil fuels and avoid impacting the environment, they also save these large companies money. In 2016, the 190 companies that reported on their targets saved $3.7 billion in that year alone. Other companies, such as Musk’s Telsa Motors, build innovation and sustainability into their brand through products like batteries and electric vehicles. Most top companies see sustainability and climate issues as a key driver of innovation.

Image: Greenhouse gas emissions (positive) and sinks (negative), by source, in the United States from 1990 to 2014.  Source: Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2016

Image: Greenhouse gas emissions (positive) and sinks (negative), by source, in the United States from 1990 to 2014.

Source: Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2016

Consumers expect that companies’ actions and their products are morally and ethically right for the environment and human health, or that the government will hold these companies accountable when something goes wrong. Despite public assumption, a company’s bottom line still matters and Volkswagen’s ‘diesel dupe’ was a prime example of how companies can play into ‘greenwashing’ and environmentally-friendly identities but not actually accomplish it. Dating back to 2015, the EPA found that VW’s diesel cars had a “defeat” software that knew when it was being tested and changed its performance to meet emission standards. [9] The diesel cars were heavily marketed as low emissions to consumers and led them to believe that this was an eco-friendlier diesel car. With the “defeat device,” VW could cheat and improve the results of test. As a result, when actually driven on the road and out of test mode, the engines emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times over U.S. regulations. [10] As of January 2017, VW agreed to pay $2.8 billion in criminal penalties and $1.5 billion to cover EPA’s claim for civil penalties. [11] In overall history, ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron have also been big emitters of pollution. [12] And likewise, though those CEOs have been pushing for a more environmentally-friendly image, there are still lobbyists for the oil and gas industry pushing their agenda in Washington.    

While some large companies make strides to provide innovative solutions to the world’s problems and make climate issues a current issue, others finagle their way around it and ‘greenwash’ their image to gather public acceptance and follow trends. This is where government comes in and regulates industries and actions of companies. And despite the turmoil in D.C., states and cities have more governance over U.S. energy policy and have committed to staying on track with the Paris framework. The best way to prosper with these climate issues is if the private sector shapes their actions towards a better future and policymakers, to the best of their extent, create opportunities that allow these companies to do the right thing.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

References

  [1] Fein, B. (2017, June 05). Paris Climate Accord was no treaty. Retrieved August, from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jun/5/paris-climate-accord-was-no-treaty/

  [2]   [3] We Are Still In. (n.d.). Retrieved August, from http://wearestillin.com/

  [4] Price, Greg. “GOP-Led House Passed a Bill That Calls Climate Change a ‘National Security Threat.’” Newsweek, 14 July 2017, www.newsweek.com/climate-change-national-security-republicans-637174.

  [5]   [6]   [7] “What Five Tech Companies Are Doing About Climate Change.” State of the Planet What Five Tech Companies Are Doing About Climate Change Comments, blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2016/03/04/what-five-tech-companies-are-doing-about-climate-change/

  [8] Toor, Amar. “Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Will Continue to Fight Climate Change despite Trump’s Order.” The Verge, The Verge, 31 Mar. 2017, www.theverge.com/2017/3/31/15135066/apple-google-microsoft-amazon-climate-change-trump-obama.

  [9]   [10] Hotten, Russell. “Volkswagen: The Scandal Explained.” BBC News, BBC, 10 Dec. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/business-34324772.

  [11] “Learn About Volkswagen Violations.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 11 Aug. 2017, www.epa.gov/vw/learn-about-volkswagen-violations.

  [12] Starr, Douglas, et al. “Just 90 Companies Are to Blame for Most Climate Change, This ‘Carbon Accountant’ Says.” Science | AAAS, 26 July 2017, www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/just-90-companies-are-blame-most-climate-change-carbon-accountant-says.

  • Promise Zones October 31
    Community success is predicated on the support of education, housing, health, and safety. In other words, to make a community successful, one must look for solutions and programs that create cooperation across a variety of stakeholders. Complex problems originating from multiple sectors can most effectively be solved by using cross-sector collaborations.[1] Ultimately, these cross-sector collaborations and collective impact initiatives can yield better results than isolated impact approaches. The term “Collective Impact” was first coined by John Kania and Mark Kramer in an article published in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Collective impact is defined as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.”[2] The five conditions for successful collective impact initiatives are: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.
  • Image: Highway Flooding, Source: Flickr October 30
    Scientists and researchers agree: ocean levels are rising as ice from the polar caps melts. Rising sea levels will affect major cities within the United States in the next half-century, many of which are already struggling with infrastructure problems. Rising tides are expected to put parts of South Florida, New Orleans, and many other metropolitan areas underwater, especially San Francisco. As tides already brush up against roads and freeways in the region, Bay Area infrastructure is prone to flooding, with two major arteries experiencing seasonal flooding: California State Route 37 (SR 37) in the North Bay between Vallejo and Sonoma County, and Interstate 80 in the East Bay north of Berkeley. Furthermore, San Francisco International Airport, surrounding areas in San Mateo County and Treasure Island are at risk.
  • Image: Factory workers assembling forklifts, Source: Flickr October 29
    The United States is on the cusp of a technological revolution. Innovation within our borders is accelerating at a break-neck pace, and companies are about to roll out a myriad of new tech over the next decade.[1] Research and development in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, drones, and fully-automated assembly lines have the potential to boost the productivity of the United States, improve the quality of living for countless Americans, and fundamentally change the way the global economy functions. However, this economic change will also fundamentally restructure our labor markets.
  • Photo source: http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/10/04/americans-attitudes-toward-a-future-in-which-robots-and-computers-can-... October 28
    Accreditation provides a vital role in allocating federal student aid to postsecondary institutions of higher education (IHEs). As gatekeepers of the Higher Education Act’s (HEA) Title IV funds, accrediting agencies are expected to be “reliable authorities on the quality of education being offered.”[1] For this reason, the United States Department of Education’s (ED) use of accreditation facilitates its decision-making on which IHEs receive funds. However, with more than $14 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt, the accreditation process has come under scrutiny.[2]
  • electric power plant October 28
    Resilience. It’s the new buzzword going around the U.S. electricity sector, and it’s defined by an electrical grid’s ability to recover from major disturbances (read: cyberattacks and natural disasters). President Trump and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have accordingly introduced plans to support struggling coal and nuclear plants because of their ability to store backup fuel on-site.
  • Image: A Broadcom Chip from an Apple Device Source: Wikimedia Commons October 26
    In what was supposed to be one of the largest acquisitions of all time, Broadcom tried to purchase rival tech company, Qualcomm in a $117 billion transaction. The deal would have consolidated the already-small chip making industry and helped Singapore-based Broadcom to challenge Intel more easily. However, this merger fell through when the Trump administration stepped in and blocked the deal. Interestingly, instead of stopping the transaction under the auspices of anti-trust issues, the White House claimed that it posed a grave danger to “national security.” [1] [2]
  • Black and white photo of stock market graphs October 25
    In the wake of the financial crisis, G20 Leaders gathered in Pittsburgh in 2009 with two chief goals: stabilize the global economy and begin the work of preventing future crises.[1] Because attendees knew that improving derivatives regulation was essential to accomplishing those goals, they provided a blueprint for reform at the summit’s close focused on four key aspects of derivatives markets: trading, clearing, reporting, and capital requirements.[2] That blueprint influenced a range of post-crisis laws that made global markets more stable and transparent. But there is still work to do. Regulators now must focus on fine-tuning reforms, particularly by (i) remaining watchful for new, emerging risks, and (ii) preserving systems of cooperation and recognition so that global regulators can work together to safeguard interconnected financial markets.
  • Image: Elderly woman receiving a meal, Source: Flickr October 23
    Through 5,000 community based organizations, the Meals on Wheels America program delivers over 1 million meals every day, reaching over 2 million individuals each year.[1] Through the work of 2 million staff members and volunteers, seniors who are homebound are able to receive meals they may not have had access to previously. While donations are accepted, Meals on Wheels does not require its recipients to pay for meals and therefore requires funding to maintain its services.[2] In addition to meals, staff and volunteers help provide social interaction, conduct safety checks, and “keep(ing) Seniors home, where they want to be.”[3]
  • Image: Dhaka Savar Building Collapse, Source: Wikimedia October 22
    The collapse of Rana Plaza, killing more than 1,100 garment workers in Dakha, Bangladesh in April 2013, brought attention to the dire working conditions of the Bangladeshi people. Bangladesh’s textile industry is the 2nd largest in the world, with annual export earnings upwards of $28 billion in 2016 yet in contrast, the workers have the lowest wages of the garment manufacturing countries. An estimated 31% of its population lives below the national poverty line, which is defined as $2 per day. A report by Oxfam showed that “a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.”[1] Ultimately, the fashion industry relies on cheap labor, quick turnaround time, and export oriented industrialization and those brands which exploit the working conditions for these reasons in Bangladesh include, but are not limited to: Hugo Boss, GAP, Zara, and H&M.[2] This article will demonstrate how the responsibility to ensure improved working conditions in countries such as Bangladesh is at the intersection between private, public, and consumer based initiatives.
  • Image: College graduates seeking employment, Source: The Black Sheep Online October 18
    Reading the temperature on a mercury thermometer. Understanding product reviews. Navigating online job search sites. These all seem simple enough, but many U.S. adults struggle to complete daily tasks such as these. Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a multi-country survey of adults conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), showed that large shares of the U.S. population lacked proficiency in a range of core competencies including literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving.[1]

PENN WHARTON PPI
RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT:

  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>