The Climate Pledge began with an audacious and ambitious “What if?” As the stark realities of the climate crisis change the world immeasurably, the evidence is clear: now is our time.
When it comes to climate change, scientists talk about tipping points. Extreme temperatures are fast becoming the norm; Antarctic ice sheets are melting faster, and the ocean is warming quicker than predicted. The effects of climate change are startling and unsettling—but also highly motivating. The actions we take between 2020 and 2030 are fundamental to avoiding further tipping points. And this is the decade that will determine whether we can meet the global goal for net-zero carbon.
The landmark Paris Agreement set out a unanimous response to keep a global temperature rise below 1.5°C. To have a strong chance of staying below this target, global carbon emissions must reach net zero by 2050, and the earlier we get there, the stronger our chances become. Climate science also tells us that to meet the 2050 goal, we have to halve global emissions between 2020 and 2030.
Time to change
Could we hit the Paris Agreement target early? The answer is: we can. Ten years early, in fact.
A joint initiative between Amazon and Global Optimism, The Climate Pledge was founded on the conviction that global businesses are responsible, accountable, and able to act on the climate crisis, and that doing so would transform societies and potential for collective action.
The Climate Pledge brings together far-reaching capabilities of the most ambitious and forward-thinking actors in global enterprise with an eye to galvanize meaningful change. It’s the opportunity for companies to join a community of leading businesses committed to transformational action, thereby protecting the global economy from the disruptive risks associated with climate change.
“We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue—we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference,” says Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon—which delivers more than 10 billion items a year—can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can.”
To date, The Climate Pledge has announced 11 signatories committed to accelerating their efforts to reach net-zero carbon by 2040: Amazon, Best Buy, Infosys, McKinstry, Mercedes-Benz, Oak View Group, RB, Real Betis, Schneider Electric, Siemens, and Verizon.
The three principles
To hit net-zero carbon by 2040, signatories to The Climate Pledge must agree to three principles:
- Measure and report greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis;
- Implement decarbonization strategies in line with the Paris Agreement through real business changes and innovations, including efficiency improvements, renewable energy, materials reductions, and other carbon emission elimination strategies;
- Neutralize any remaining emissions with additional, quantifiable, real, permanent, and socially-beneficial offsets to achieve net zero annual carbon emissions by 2040.
Combined, these three principles are a transformative direction for signatories to decarbonize their businesses at the scale needed to achieve net zero carbon 10 years early.
Strength in numbers
Amazon operates of the most complex businesses on the planet, with several different private brands, businesses and services. In order to achieve the commitments set out in The Climate Pledge, the company works backwards from the goal and designs, invents and implements solutions to optimize its operations and solve for current and future challenges. In its own business, Amazon has made major investments in renewables as part of its pledge to reach 100% renewable energy by 2025. To date, Amazon has launched 91 renewable energy projects around the world, including more than 60 solar rooftops on our fulfillment centers and sort centers. And this is just the start. Its $440-million investment in Rivian, the emissions-free electric vehicle manufacturer, will see 100,000 electric delivery vehicles on the road by 2030, saving millions of metric tons of carbon per year. And in launching the Right Now Climate Fund with The Nature Conservancy, Amazon is investing $100 million in conservation, reforestation, and improved land management actions, to take nature-based solutions to scale.
While undoubtedly significant, these investments are a fraction of what’s needed to hit net-zero carbon by 2040. But they make a point that’s absolutely central to the success of The Climate Pledge: if global companies don’t join forces, this won’t work.
“Meeting these goals is really only something that can be done in collaboration with other large companies, because we’re all part of each other’s supply chains,” says Jeff Bezos. “So, we have to work together, and we want to use our scale and our scope to lead the way. We know it’s going to be challenging. But we know we can do it—and that we have to.”
The journey to net-zero carbon by 2040 may be ambitious. That’s the point – the future of the planet and businesses depend on it. The Climate Pledge brings together a community of leading businesses to take transformational action needed to avert economic and climate disaster—and to build our collective future.
We’re proud to have Amazon as a Gold Sponsor for this year's Climate Week NYC. Watch the conversation on The Climate Pledge between Christiana Figueres, Founding Partner of Global Optimism, and Jeff Wilke, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon here.
For decades, royalties and revenue sharing in licensing agreements have been used to reward holders of trademarks, patents, copyrights, and other intellectual property. But while payments from these agreements have historically focused on sales or usage of technology, products, and services that practice or use the IP, some now account for a new kind of value: current or future environmental benefits. Imagine, for example, a company that owns carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Under a traditional licensing agreement, a prospective licensee might pay for the right to use the technology based on a percentage of sales or revenue derived from the technology.
But what if another contract provision could be added—or a new agreement negotiated—that also provides for a revenue stream arising from the greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions avoided or removed from the environment by the licensed technology? What if, for example, the licensor could share in the value of a carbon credit, tax benefits or other financial rewards earned by the ultimate emitter due to the licensed technology? Or what if the agreement included a clause that provided milestone payments to the licensor if a certain percentage of the emitter’s GHG emissions were reduced over time? And finally, could those agreements be flexible enough to address increases in the price of a carbon credit and other tax benefits increases over time?
These questions are not theoretical. As counsel to some of the most innovative clean technology companies, we have been helping our clients reimagine the value of their technologies and find a new way to derive new value from them.
If these arrangements prove successful and become standard throughout the industry, they could generate billions in additional revenue for clean technology companies together with billions of tons of carbon removed. More importantly, they could create significant incentives for innovation in an area that desperately needs it.
A fractured carbon market
To be sure, there are challenges in making these agreements work. For one, there is no U.S. federal standard framework for valuing carbon, such as a national cap-and-trade program or carbon tax. How do you agree with a counterparty on the value of carbon reduction without a transparent and robust carbon market? A lack of a unified price on carbon also challenges the economic viability of many CCS-focused start-up companies.
Despite a lack of federal leadership in this area, U.S. state and regional government initiatives have established GHG compliance markets, most notable among them the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast and California’s cap-and-trade program, AB 32. Furthermore, voluntary carbon markets also exist to serve the needs of large emitters seeking to meet internally-imposed GHG reduction goals borne out of a combination of an effective public relations strategy and in anticipation of future regulation and increased carbon value. But these projects are no substitute for a national framework, and substantial federal policy uncertainty remains an obstacle to fully unlocking innovation in this market.
The U.S. federal elections in November 2020 will have enormous consequences for climate change policy. Former Vice President Joe Biden has pledged to work toward net-zero emissions no later than 2050, an ambitious goal (although it may not be enough). Paired with specific compliance policies pricing carbon, such a target could send the price of carbon credits soaring. On the flip side, if President Donald Trump wins his re-election bid, meaningful federal action on climate policy is far less likely—although there is strong support for a carbon tax from a Republican coalition, which would also have a significant impact on the price of carbon credits.
These challenges notwithstanding, current compliance and voluntary markets are creating room for creativity. Many states, for example, are establishing ambitious goals to limit their GHG emissions. At the same time, major companies are responding to the climate crisis on their own. Microsoft’s recent pledge to remove more carbon than it emits—setting Microsoft on a path to remove by 2050 all the carbon the company has emitted by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975—is bold and significant.
Licensing and other agreements that value carbon reduction are possible now. For example, parties can negotiate carbon value by using an agreed-upon metric for adjustment or agree to assess value once regulations have been implemented. Parties may allocate all carbon value benefits to one party or the other. Or they may allocate and share benefits, using revenue sharing principles, or based on contributions or commercial milestones. This can create a source of future revenue.
Until standards are developed, agreements will want to address issues related to the mechanics of measuring, tracking, reporting and trading credits and the parties’ obligations and expenses in connection with such activities. Organizations like the American Carbon Registry and Verified Carbon Standard play important roles in this area: overseeing, registering, and verifying carbon off-set projects.
It is tempting to wait until a more complete regulatory framework is in place. But companies, especially those with long-term contracts with a significant carbon component, will want to account for carbon issues or risk losing any rights they may have had to extract and maximize value from carbon.
Let’s face it: the law is often last place that most people look to for creativity. But given our vantage point at the intersection of technology and climate science, we see opportunities to capitalize on legal innovation and reward climate change innovators.
We were proud to be part of Climate Week NYC this year as a Silver Sponsor and join the discussion in The Hub Live event Chance of a lifetime? How governments and businesses are achieving a green economic recovery. Watch the event here.
As Climate Week NYC 2020 ends, we want to highlight reasons to be inspired and stay motivated to drive climate action. We’ve all experienced tumultuous months of the pandemic, and it is important to remember our reasons for continued action. We asked four climate and sustainability activists to understand what empowers people to take climate action and what visions of a just net-zero future look like.
There is no one formula for climate action. From conscious consumption and composting to starting a conversation and voting, climate action takes many different forms.
What does climate action mean to you?
(Image from Remy Morimoto Park/Veggiekin's Instagram)
Remy Morimoto Park said: "To me, it means to take intentional steps towards reducing your impact on the planet. It could be opting for meatless meals, whether once a week or completely removing meat from your diet, making conscious choices when purchasing new things, or bringing your own grocery bag/straw/reusable coffee cup where possible. Above all, I'm a firm believer that whatever action taken should be something that can easily become a long-term lifestyle change or habit - a sustainable habit, if you will!”
Remy Morimoto Park (@Veggiekins) is an NYC based recipe developer and photographer at Veggiekins Blog, and health and wellness writer. She creates vegan and gluten free recipes with a focus on whole food plant based ingredients and the healing power of plants. Her work has been featured by ABCNews, NBC News, News12, Whole Foods Market, Thoughtfully Magazine and more. Outside of the kitchen, she is a certified yoga and meditation teacher, mindfulness coach and holistic nutritionist. You can usually find her at farmer’s markets, watching sunrise or traveling.
- “Climate action is meaningful work to actively eliminate carbon emissions, reconnect with nature, and center indigenous wisdom in a just transition to 100% renewable energy. Climate action is more than just committing to an equitable future at a future date. We have run out of time to commit to a better future, because that “future” is now and the climate crisis is already here.” –Summer Dean
- “Climate action recognizes the need to act in a way through innovative approaches such as activism, education, art, and various forms of mediums. We cannot solely rely on stating intent for action without realizing that action has been present for decades through BIPOC ancestral knowledge.” –Isaias Hernandez
- “The climate crisis and everything that goes along with it is such a huge, broad topic that thinking about it often can cause feelings of anxiety, helplessness and general cynicism. We all can fall victim to those feelings. Climate action to me is taking steps every single day towards a better future and that doesn’t have to be something that’s mind blowing.” –Sabs Katz
When considering the scale of the climate crisis, it can be difficult to feel empowered and to remember that every action matters. As our friends at the Climate Museum shared, 61% of Americans are distressed but paralyzed by the climate crisis. How do you feel empowered to take climate action?
(Picture from Summer Dean/Climatediva's Instagram)
Summer Dean said: “I can’t imagine a future in which nature is obsolete or one in which the places I love have been destroyed by the climate crisis. To keep myself inspired, I often read books and spend time outside. It reminds me of how much we can learn from nature on an everyday basis. So many of the solutions to the climate crisis can be found in nature itself, and that alone empowers me to stay motivated.”
Summer Dean (@climatediva) is an environmental justice advocate and climate communicator. After doing climate justice advocacy work for four years, she created the platform Climate For All, which seeks to make climate activism and politics easy and accessible for everyone. She currently works in politics and uses her platforms to share digestible information in various media forms about climate justice, renewable energy, and intersectionality.
- “I feel empowered by spreading accessible environmental education through a variety of platforms where [people] can engage and share their thoughts.” –Isaias Hernandez
- “I feel empowered thanks to and in large part due to the incredible people I surround myself with who help me continue to feel motivated. I feel empowered when I do things within my local community that make me feel good that I know has a larger impact than I might think it would. A lot of people knock individual action and really believe that the only way change can be made is through policy. We need cohesion between policy and individual action.” –Sabs Katz
- “In all honesty, it can be really difficult to keep a positive attitude and feel empowered in the action I do take. Some days I feel like my actions as an individual will have very little total impact, but when I see good news for the Earth, or see trends towards sustainability and a greener future, it really encourages me to keep going and encourage others to take what steps they can.” –Remy Morimoto Park
As the focus shifts to how we rebuild after COVID-19, we have the opportunity to restore our world with more equitable, just and sustainable systems. What does “building a better future” mean to you?
(Image from Sabs Katz/Sustainablesabs' Instagram)
Sabs Katz said: “The systems in place that we currently have for so long have upheld oppressive ideals that favor the privileged and favor the rich instead of treating everybody equitably and equally. Talking about the climate, we have to recognize intersectional environmentalism, not only how the climate crisis affects the planet but how it affects people. We need a real breakdown and genuine change within every vertical of power. We have to keep raising our voices and raising awareness otherwise nothing is going to change.”
Sabs (@sustainablesabs) advocates for sustainable living through the low impact movement, social activism, plant-based eating, minimalism, ethical + secondhand fashion, conscious consumerism, and personal health + wellness. She is also a co-founder of Intersectional Environmentalist.
- “Building a better future means bringing justice to those who have been marginalized by the climate crisis. It means letting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) lead the way towards a carbon-free future by empowering their own ancestral wisdom and connections to the land. It also means ensuring everyone has basic human rights like a good-paying job, a home, healthcare, clean air and water, access to free public transportation and healthy food. By solving the climate crisis, we can also solve a lot of other issues that will make life more enjoyable for a lot of people. We need a just transition that makes clean energy cheap and accessible to everyone.” –Summer Dean
- “Something that has really stuck with me since my Girl Scouts camping days are the sayings ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’ and ‘leave things better than you found them’. I like to think of myself as a visitor on this lovely planet, and I think we should all adopt that mentality and tread lightly with our future generations in mind. If we don't act with the future in mind, the mess we may leave behind may become irreversible.” –Remy Morimoto Park
- “Building a regenerative future recognizes that Indigenous communities are at the forefront of these conversations, movements. The creation of a future where no one is harmed.” –Isaias Hernandez
It's important to remember the goal of your actions. Envisioning the goal can help to keep you motivated to make the daily habit adjustments. What does your vision of a just net-zero future look like?
(Image from Isaias Hernandez/Queerbrownvegan's Instagram)
Isaias Hernandez said: “Net-Zero incorporates concepts from environmental justice and energy justice, where communities can develop circular regenerative practices that create a positive environmental impact.”
Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan) is the creator of Queer Brown Vegan where he makes accessible environmental education content. As a Queer, Brown, and Vegan environmentalist, he seeks to provide a safe space for other like-minded environmentalists to engage in the discourse of the current climate crisis.
- “I'd love to see a future in which everyone is involved and actively participating in the preservation of our home. Ideally, it would be great to live in a plastic-free, plant-based world but more than anything I'd love to see everyone trying their best and doing what they can to contribute to the greater good.” –Remy Morimoto Park
- “My vision of a net-zero just future looks like one in which we not only achieve net-zero carbon emissions and transition to 100% renewables, but one in which the actual systems of oppression that caused and perpetuate the climate crisis are eradicated. A net-zero future must include energy justice, community-owned energy, programs and resources for those who currently work in the fossil fuel industry to transition to work in renewables, and more." –Summer Dean
- “I see the world running on entirely renewable energy. I see the agriculture world evolving towards permaculture and environmental stewardship, learning from and amplifying indigenous knowledge on agriculture and on the land. I see more urban green spaces and more urban farms. I would love to see more education around sustainability and health and nutrition. These definitely can be implemented, which will certainly take time, but it’s not impossible. This is something that we can definitely do.” –Sabs Katz