As citizens around the world march for a strong climate deal in Paris, they won't just be keeping an eye on countries' climate commitments. In the same way that many cities are pledging deeper, faster cuts than their national governments, corporations have the potential to up our climate ambitions too.
Take Unilever, for instance, which has just pledged to achieve 100% renewable energy (not just electricity!) across all its operations by 2030 and become "carbon positive" by the same date—meaning the company is responsible for more emissions cuts/sequestration than it is emissions. Significantly, that pledge also includes nearer term goals like phasing out coal and buying all grid-sourced electricity from 100% renewable sources by 2020.
This level of commitment is significant on several levels. Firstly, Unilever is leveraging its own emissions cuts to demand more ambitious political action too. And rightly or wrongly, when corporations talk, governments tend to listen. (Unilever is by no means the only corporate giants demanding a strong Paris deal.) Secondly, the sheer size of Unilever (2013 revenue was €49.797 billion) means that any commitment to phase out coal and buy only renewable energy will send an important signal to utilities, to financial markets, and to regional governments too. If you want to do business with Unilever, you'd better be planning on creating a clean energy future. Lastly, Unilever is couching its efforts in terms of immediate and medium-term change—not some far off goal that can be easily discounted once the current crop of executives retire.
In other news, Dutch law makers just approved a measure that would phase out all coal plants in the country. No word on a timeframe for that yet though, and the plan has to go to the Dutch cabinet for discussion. Word is that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is not a fan.
We may have to look elsewhere for leadership.