Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2023
For the past few weeks, world leaders have been discussing climate action and how to tackle the growing problem at COP26. They recently reached an agreement that pushes countries to strengthen climate targets that can be achieved in the near future and limit fossil fuel use, but they are still facing criticism from scientists who say it is not enough. While they did come up with language urging countries to move away from fossil fuels, there are few concrete goals written leaving it largely up to the countries themselves to decide how to meet those goals.
The EPA’s analysis of the largest sources of emissions in the US shows that transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gases at twenty-nine percent followed closely by electricity production at twenty-five percent. This means that these two sectors will likely bear most of the burden of reducing emissions to comply with new standards. The emissions from the electricity production sector includes electricity produced from burning fossil fuels, which will have an impact on large companies burning massive amounts of fossil fuel daily. Although the details about how to limit climate change are difficult to agree on, others may be able to learn from what US companies are already doing.
The details of COP26
In a last minute change to the agreement at COP26, the language surrounding fossil fuel use was changed from “phase out” to “phase down” leaving many world leaders disappointed in yet another year of what they see as a lack of accountability. One clear goal set by the agreement is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but many say that this will be difficult if not impossible to achieve without the phase out of fossil fuels. India and China are the countries responsible for this last-minute language change and were met with backlash from representatives of many other countries at COP26.
Overall, the feelings about the agreement proposed at COP26 are not very positive. Countries on all ends of the spectrum are disappointed with the conclusion reached but still say they will accept it for the greater good. Despite this, the US has been stressing the positives of the negotiations, specifically highlighting that they have come up with a powerful statement and this is the first-time fossil fuels have been called out in a transnational climate agreement. They stated that every effort will be made to achieve these goals, so the question is what that means for people in the US.
What does this mean for US companies?
The lack of specific ways to reduce emissions in the COP26 agreement means that the US must decide whether or not to take matters into their own hands and impose environmental regulations on companies. Without action from the US government to reduce our environmental footprint, there is no great incentive for companies to go green on their own. Many companies have already taken actions to reduce their emissions to better appeal to the public because it is more important to consumers than ever before. Ford Motor Company, for example, has taken many steps to reduce their emissions by focusing on fuel efficiency in its vehicles and recycling its fumes to reuse as fuel. Their actions are especially important because transportation is the leading sector in producing emissions in the US. If regulations are imposed in the near future, it will likely be targeted at, among others, the automotive industry. Many other companies in the transportation sector are beginning to focus on climate action and make changes within their companies, and for those who haven’t, Ford is a great example of how to take action.
In the electricity sector, some companies, like Google, are working to improve their environmental sustainability by powering their facilities with renewable energy sources. Intel, Walmart and Apple are also powering their facilities with renewable energy to reduce their emissions. Since electricity production is the second highest emitting sector, these are great actions that companies can take to reduce their emissions and tackle climate change. However, companies shouldn’t be left to their own devices to decide how to reduce their emissions. Regulation or legislation requiring companies to report and track emissions, make that data public, and provide incentives for companies that reduce their emissions would almost certainly do more than most private corporations will on their own. Of course, this won’t mean much if other countries don’t take the agreement seriously and set up their own emission reduction standards, but in the mean time we can set the example and focus on what we can control here at home.