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More corporations announce climate change goals, but are they moving fast enough?

August 16, 2021, 6:29 PM UTC

Earnings season has a lot of companies calling attention to one particular date: 2050.

That year has become a rallying cry across the world as hundreds of cities and thousands of businesses have committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by then under the Race to Zero campaign, which was launched in 2020 and has since received commitments from groups responsible for some 25% of the world’s carbon emissions. By the end of March, more than 20% of the world’s companies had set target dates to drop their carbon emissions to zero, according to a report by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit and Oxford Net Zero. 

U.S. companies from Wells Fargo to Delta Air Lines are under increasing pressure from investors to address climate change, and they have been making the environment (or ESG) a focal point of earnings calls this quarter. A Goldman Sachs analysis pointed to more than 30 companies that noted how they are addressing environmental changes on their earnings calls over the past quarter. Many earnings calls “zeroed in on the pressing issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” noted the Goldman Sachs report. In an effort to address climate change, companies are explicitly outlining plans to reduce, and eventually eliminate, their own carbon emissions—revealing initiatives including new partnerships and green bond issuance

Delta and American Airlines are investing in sustainable aviation fuel, and United Airlines says its electric airplane may be ready to fly before the end of the decade. Qualcomm is purchasing 100% renewable solar energy for its San Diego headquarters; Norfolk Southern and Wells Fargo issued green bonds, just to name a few.

Some of this momentum to address global warming stems from investor pressure. Some 69% of institutional investors say that ESG has become a greater priority over the past 12 months, and nearly a quarter say it’s a “critical factor” in all their investments, according to research from Corbin Advisors, which conducts institutional investor sentiment research. Meeting these investor demands has been an “increasingly formidable task” for companies, according to the Goldman report, as it requires new disclosures such as sustainability reports.

The lingering question: Is corporate America acting fast enough? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report painted a grim picture of what the Earth is up against—and how humanity is to blame. In the next 20 years, global temperatures will rise by at least 1.5°C. More and more businesses have their eyes on 2050. Meanwhile, the Earth keeps getting warmer. 

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