Big business joins US fight against climate change

Boost for Obama's efforts as 13 US corporate giants pledge $192b to cut carbon emissions

Children play on the exposed sandy bottom of Mirror Lake that is normally underwater and used by visitors to photograph reflections of the Half Dome rock monolith at Yosemite National Park in California on June 4, 2015.
Children play on the exposed sandy bottom of Mirror Lake that is normally underwater and used by visitors to photograph reflections of the Half Dome rock monolith at Yosemite National Park in California on June 4, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Some of the largest companies in the United States, including Apple and Google, yesterday announced investments worth at least US$140 billion (S$192 billion) to cut carbon pollution, bolstering US President Barack Obama's bid to fight climate change.

President Obama has made tackling global warming a defining issue of his administration and has rallied support ahead of a major climate meeting at the end of the year in Paris. Part of his plan is enlisting the support of big business, whose efforts will be crucial to curbing the rate the planet heats up.

A total of 13 top US firms yesterday signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, formally launched at the White House. The companies are Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS and Walmart.

The White House said in a statement yesterday that it expects to announce a second round of similar pledges later this year from more companies. "No corner of the planet and no sector of the global economy will remain unaffected by climate change in the years ahead," the White House said.

"Nineteen of the 20 hottest years on record occurred in the past two decades," it added.

The White House said US leadership at all levels would be essential in Paris while the companies said a strong global deal to fight climate change at the talks in the French capital was crucial.

More than 190 nations are attending the United Nations-led talks.


"I'm just a grandmother with two eyes and a brain, and I know we're facing a huge problem."

MRS HILLARY CLINTON, Democratic presidential candidate, calling for a shift towards renewable sources of energy

The meeting is important because a successful outcome will set the world on a path to progressively reducing greenhouse gas pollution, which is blamed for heating up the planet and triggering extreme heatwaves, droughts and storms.

A deal in Paris will mean all nations signing up to cuts to emissions or choosing other measures, such as more investment in green energy or replanting forests, depending on their means.

But ultimately, for the deal to work, emissions must fall globally and businesses will play a crucial role because they are major energy consumers and greenhouse gas producers. That means progressively reducing planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, such as coal, which are the top sources of carbon dioxide.

Poorer nations say a successful Paris deal should also spell out how wealthy states will fund cleaner energy investments and projects to help them adapt to the impact of climate change.


  • Some of the climate commitments from 13 top US firms announced yesterday.


    • Reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent in the US (vs 2005 baseline) by 2025.


    • Bring an estimated 280MW of clean power generation online by the end of 2016 through investments in the US and China.


    • Increase environmental business initiative from US$50 billion (S$68 billion) to US$125 billion by 2025 via lending, investment and other means.


    • Invest additional US$15 billion in renewable energy generation.

    • Construct additional 552MW of new wind generation in Iowa.

    • Retire more than 75 per cent of coal-fuelled generating capacity in Nevada by 2019.


    • Increase renewable energy to 18 per cent of total energy use by 2020, up from 14 per cent in 2015.


    • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by 2020.


    • Reduce energy intensity 20 per cent by 2020 over a 2010 baseline.

    • Promote use of 125MW of renewable energy by 2020 over 2010.

    • Reduce total waste 40 per cent by 2020.


    • To meet ahead of time 2022 goal to finance and invest US$40 billion in clean energy globally. Will set more ambitious 2025 goal.


    • To triple purchases of renewable energy by 2025.


    • Buy 100 per cent renewable energy for data centres, offices, labs and manufacturing plants.

    • Offset 100 per cent of emissions from business air travel through carbon offset projects.


    • Expand use of sustainable farming practices to 200,000ha of farmland used by North American suppliers in its corn, oats, potato and citrus supply chains by end- 2016.


    • Double goal to 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, from 2007 baseline.

    • To achieve by 2017 a cumulative billion miles of package or freight movement in its alternative fuel/technology truck fleet.


    • Increase production or procurement of renewable energy globally by end-2020 by more than 600 per cent versus 2010 baseline.

    • Double number of on-site solar energy projects at US stores, Sam's Clubs and distribution centres by 2020, compared with 2013 baseline.

In the White House statement, the 13 US firms laid out their commitment to the effort, which ranges from cutting carbon emissions across their businesses to investing in renewable energy sources to power their operations.

In total, the investments would add more than 1,600MW of new green energy, enough for more than one million homes.

Among the pledges, aluminium manufacturer Alcoa agreed to reduce emissions by 50 per cent from its 2005 levels, while agricultural giant Cargill said 18 per cent of its total energy use would come from renewable sources.

Coca-Cola said it would drive down the carbon footprint of its beverage production by 25 per cent over the next five years, while Google said it plans to triple its purchases of renewable energy over the next decade.

The corporate commitments will not be the administration's only major climate announcement in the next few weeks. The US Environmental Protection Agency is set to present, later this week, final regulations that aim to reduce by 2030 carbon emissions from power plants by 30 per cent from 2005 levels, Bloomberg reported.

Adding to the growing US momentum to fight climate change, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called at the weekend for a national shift to energy sources such as solar and wind, with a goal of generating enough clean renewable energy to power every US home within a decade after she takes office, Reuters reported.

Mrs Clinton also pledged to have more than half a billion solar panels installed nationwide within four years of taking office.

She criticised Republicans who are reluctant to say climate change is a man-made phenomenon. "I'm just a grandmother with two eyes and a brain, and I know we're facing a huge problem," Mrs Clinton said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Big business joins US fight against climate change'. Print Edition | Subscribe