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Cities and businesses could fill some of climate policy vacuum created by the Trump administration with local regulation and voluntary efforts if the White House follows through on its pledges to undo the Obama administration’s efforts.
Companies see economic cases for taking action on climate change as they face increased scrutiny from shareholders while states and cities developed their own expertise, participants said during the March 1-2 Climate Leadership Conference in Chicago. Cities such as Chicago have adopted their own climate plans, while companies such as Tetra Pak International SA, HP Enterprise and Kellogg Co. have voluntarily adopted ambitious science-based environmental targets.
Those efforts will continue even if the Trump administration makes good on plans to undo Environmental Protection Agency regulations and possibly even pull the U.S. from the international climate change agreement reached in Paris in late 2015. The intersection of work the being done by local governments and voluntary efforts by businesses could prove crucial to combating climate change in the absence of federal leadership.
Collaboration between cities, states and businesses will become all the more crucial if the federal government moves forward with plans to slash environmental programs, said Kimberly Hill Knott, project director at the non-profit Detroit Climate Action Collaborative.
“Our communities may not have the EPA anymore,’’ Knott said. “That’s not an organization that we can now rely on to provide protection. So we have to play this game in a different way.”
Shareholders and customers are already driving businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve sustainability throughout their supply chains, companies said.
“We’re starting to get questions from our consumers” about where Kellogg Co. food products originate, who is growing it and what the company is doing to ensure suppliers are acting in an environmentally responsible way, Erin Augustine, the company’s sustainability manager, said.
“There is commercial peer pressure, and I’m happy for that because it helps us do the work we know is the right thing to do,” she said.
Kellogg announced in 2015 a voluntary plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its own operations by 65 percent and work with its suppliers to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2050. The company hasn’t mapped out how it will reach its long-term goals but the company’s senior management is committed to achieving them, Augustine said.
Shareholders could even force companies to disclose additional environmental risks and impacts despite a Trump administration that is expected to go easier on businesses, Richard Saines, head of the North America climate change and environmental markets practice at Baker McKenzie LLP in Chicago, said at the conference.
“In the next several years, it’s unlikely the federal government is going to bring those [disclosure cases]. It’s more likely you’ll have shareholders who will be arguing that,” he said.
Even with businesses and local governments stepping, federal policy will still be essential climate change advocates said.
“We should continue to ask from our government policies that support not only our economic growth but environmental quality” Paula Gant, former Department of Energy principal deputy assistant secretary, told reporters at a March 2 environmental conference in Chicago.“However, we shouldn’t just depend on policy and we should pay attention to private action.”
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