By Khyati Rathore March 1, 2021

How we can push our elected and business leaders to support the climate fight.

Our elected and business leaders are two crucial actors in addressing the climate crisis. Governments can make and set rules, incentivize action and penalize inaction. Businesses are responsible for their products, have ultimate control over their own levels of climate pollution, and are accountable to the government and their customers – YOU!

Being at the driver’s seat of our economy, these two groups have the capacity and the responsibility to lead the nation to a 100% clean economy by 2050 – which scientists say is the only way we can avoid the worst-case scenarios of the climate crisis.

Window of opportunity

The pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have been a burden on all of us, and particularly for frontline communities. Solving this crisis, however, has also provided us with a generational opportunity to reimagine our economy and our society. With a president who campaigned on taking action, a new Congress that is more supportive of change, and a mobilized generation of young people demanding it, now is the time for our leaders to find the courage to address the looming climate crisis as we find ways to recover from the pandemic.

In all of this, the business community can be instrumental in accelerating this transition through their leadership in innovation, swift implementation of climate solutions and their political influence for advancing climate policies.

An accountability matrix for your leaders

Science tells us that we need to take bold steps in the next 9 years and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic results. This requires governmental policy shifts and business leadership to go hand-in-hand. Below are the ways in which our leaders must support the climate fight — our Climate Accountability Matrix. And, it is our duty to hold our leaders accountable to this matrix.

Elected Leaders and Lawmakers must be SEEN for who they are:

Scientific: Our lawmakers should enact science-based climate policies that meet the scale of the crisis, and work to create a roadmap that sets our economy on a path to achieve the targets in alignment with the Paris climate agreement.

Economy-wide: Government can enable the transition to a carbon neutral economy at scale through creating a system-wide implementation framework. It can drive a speedy implementation of climate policies across sectors through regulatory requirements and incentives.

Equitable: In doing so, we need to address the intersecting equity and justice issues. As we move forward towards a new future, our elected leaders should ensure a just transition by prioritizing meeting the needs of those most impacted by the new policies or who have borne a disproportionate share of the costs of pollution historically.

Now: This crisis is unfolding before our eyes, and we need our leaders to prioritize solutions, like yesterday. The urgent work of solving this crisis cannot wait another year or another month, leaders must step up with action immediately to be considered part of the solution.

Business Leaders should CARE about your climate values:

Commit: Businesses should commit to a net-zero emissions target, and implement plans to achieve that goal by 2050.

Advocate: Business leaders should advocate for climate policies and use their political influence for climate progress. Additionally, they should ensure that the advocacy priorities of their trade associations align with their own net-zero emissions target.

Resource: Companies should allocate resources in line with above commitments, through their philanthropic work, their political donations and advocacy, and through their investment in research and innovation for climate solutions and advancing their plans for climate action.

Empower: Businesses should support employees’ efforts to drive climate and sustainability solutions within the company and with external partners, especially if they want to attract and retain younger workers who are more concerned about ensuring their own personal values align with those of their employer.

While ambitious, these aren’t just guidelines to be adopted in the future. Here is an example of the change happening now!

The transportation sector, which is responsible for the majority of our climate pollution, is evolving under the leadership of companies like Ford, Lyft and others. With the commitment to move towards carbon neutrality, they are transforming the auto industry and modern transportation. At the same time, demand is increasing from major fleet owners, with PepsiCo, DHL, Amazon, Walmart and other major brands moving to adopt zero emissions vehicles.

A great addition to the list of companies stepping up is General Motors, which recently committed to being carbon neutral by 2040. Until recently, GM (along with Toyota and Fiat-Chrysler) was impeding climate progress by supporting the attacks by the Trump administration on strong vehicle greenhouse gas standards. However, the shift in GM’s position to move towards clean cars reminds us that companies must respond to public demand.

As businesses are moving towards adopting zero emission vehicles, the government must help accelerate this transformation by ensuring we have clean public transportation, supporting the development and construction of the infrastructure for clean fuels and working to decarbonize the energy grid to achieve a fully net zero transportation system. Stringent regulations and financial incentives can further accelerate the production and uptake of zero emission vehicles.

Furthermore, this transformation of the transportation and power sector would benefit the health and wellbeing of the communities of color, who have long been disproportionately impacted by the higher levels of harmful air pollution in large part because of their proximity to key transportation and logistics hubs, a result of historic discrimination in housing and other areas.

While some companies are stepping up, it is not yet enough to achieve the target of a 100% clean economy. It is imperative that all companies get on board and the government provides supporting policies and infrastructure for a system-wide transformation.

And, we must continue to use our voice, votes and pocketbooks to hold our elected lawmakers and business leaders accountable for their role in solving the climate crisis.