More than 100 companies, including some of the world's largest manufacturers and retailers, pledged Tuesday to reduce their CO2 emissions down to a level that scientists say is necessary to support the global movement to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius—the threshold after which climate impacts are expected to be calamitous.
The announcement came as 195 countries are striving for a climate deal in the final week of United Nations talks in Paris.
Participants in the new initiative include business giants such as Wal-Mart, IKEA, Honda, Unilever and Xerox. Together, the 114 companies emit 476 million tons of CO2 every year, equal to the annual emissions of South Africa.
"A significant portion of global emissions comes from businesses and the industrial sector," said Cynthia Cummis, an expert on greenhouse gas accounting at the World Resources Institute. "Forty percent of emissions come from power generation alone. Clearly, this community has a role to play in any targets to meet a 2-degree future."
The project is being organized by the Science Based Targets initiative, a joint effort by the World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Carbon Disclosure Project and the UN Global Compact. Organizers have already approved the CO2 reduction strategies of 10 corporations, including Coca-Cola, Dell, Kellogg, General Mills and Sony, which will cut emissions equivalent to 1.86 billion barrels of oil not burned.
The initiative is the latest effort in the business community to take a more active role in global climate action. In July, 365 companies and investors sent letters of support for President Obama's Clean Power Plan to cut CO2 emissions from power plants to more than two dozen governors. When Obama ordered federal agencies in March to cut their greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2025, major suppliers to the government from the technology, security, health and consulting industries agreed to cut their own emissions in solidarity.
These efforts have ramped up in recent weeks to coincide with international negotiations. Last week, chief executives from Gap, Levi Strauss, H&M, VF Corp and three other global apparel companies issued a statement calling for countries to reach a strong climate change agreement by December 11, the last day of the Paris talks. Hundreds of companies have set up booths in the exhibit halls at the United Nations negotiations. Dozens of top business leaders, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer are also in Paris meeting with delegates and hosting events urging strong emissions reduction targets. Two business groups—the American Sustainable Business Council and Environmental Entrepreneurs—sent letters to Congress last week with thousands of signatures asking politicians not to interfere with international negotiations and to support U.S. climate action.
"As a global food company, we recognize the significant impacts climate change can have on our business if left unaddressed," Ken Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills, said in a statement. "However, we understand that no one company, industry or government will mitigate climate change. It is an urgent and shared global challenge."