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Corporate America needs to step up its climate commitments

September 22, 2021, 10:11 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

A mere 42.8% of Russell 1000 companies have publicly committed to reducing emissions, according to an analysis by JUST Capital. Just over a tenth of companies have committed to Net Zero by 2050. What’s worse, only 6.7% of those company commitments match the scenario of global warming being limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and just 9.3% are aligned with the less-onerous 2-degree scenario outlined in the Paris Agreement.

This is not what Americans hope to see. According to a separate JUST survey, two-thirds say companies can make a real difference to climate change by being transparent about their progress on climate goals. Seventy-three percent of those respondents also noted that oil and gas companies could have a big impact by “leading the transition to clean energy and [ending] fossil fuel production.” Only a fifth of companies in this sector have made Net Zero commitments, JUST noted.

Also notable: the top 100 polluters on the Russell 1000 index are way more likely to commit to emissions reductions, as are larger companies in general, most likely due to having “more resources and avenues to set these commitments,” JUST said.

JUST’s takeaway? “While we can hope these companies are setting meaningful goals and will stick to their commitments, reassurance is hard to come by. The leadership in companies will likely experience turnover by the year 2050, the finish line of a lot of climate commitments…That’s why intermittent targets (5, 10, 15 years out) are necessary for stakeholders to adequately assess the progress of these commitments and to ensure that companies achieve these goals.”

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Separately, let’s play a role-playing game. You’re Mark Zuckerberg, and you have problems. Antitrust regulators are scrutinizing potential abuse of your powerful market position. Some people are baying at you to be more serious about keeping hate speech and disinformation off your platform, while others are demanding that you stop manipulating what people see through censorship. What do you do?

If your answer is “sign off on a secret plan to manipulate users’ news feeds by promoting pro-Facebook news articles in order to improve the company’s image,” then congratulations, you might actually be Mark Zuckerberg—at least, according to this New York Times exposé, which should provide fresh ammunition to pretty much all of Facebook’s various critics. (Zuckerberg responded on Facebook by accusing the Times of saying “false things about my work” and trying to deflect the conversation to one about his patriotic hydrofoil.)

In related news, new lawsuits by Facebook shareholders allege that the company overpaid billions in its $5 billion FTC settlement over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in order to save its great leader’s face. As one suit put it: “Zuckerberg, [COO Sheryl] Sandberg, and other Facebook directors agreed to authorize a multi-billion settlement with the FTC as an express quid pro quo to protect Zuckerberg from being named in the FTC’s complaint, made subject to personal liability, or even required to sit for a deposition.”

Reputation management is hard, isn’t it? More news below. And do check out Susie Gharib’s interview with Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden, who talks about why most Americans feel optimistic about the future—though women are notably less likely to feel so upbeat.

David Meyer
@superglaze

david.meyer@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Climate commitments

Turning from corporate to national climate commitments, President Joe Biden has pledged that the U.S. will double its much-derided $5.7 billion commitment to help low-income countries adapt to the warming world. Activists are less than impressed at the still-meager amount. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to stop financing coal projects…in other countries. Washington Post

J&J booster

Johnson & Johnson says a second dose of its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine provides full protection against severe disease, when administered two months later—and the antibody levels are even higher when the gap is six months. Fortune

Biden backed

Seventeen Nobel-winning economists have backed President Biden's $3.5 trillion Build Back Better "human infrastructure" package, which would involve $2.9 trillion more in taxes for the wealthiest Americans and large multinationals. "Because this agenda invests in long-term economic capacity and will enhance the ability of more Americans to participate productively in the economy, it will ease longer-term inflationary pressures," they wrote. Fortune

Zoom probe

Zoom wants to buy the U.S. customer-service software firm Five9 for nearly $15 billion, but a Justice Department-led interagency panel called "Team Telecom" is now probing the deal's national-security implications. That's probably down to Zoom's China ties. Ironically, the U.S. government probe could also now increase scrutiny of Zoom in Beijing. Wall Street Journal

AROUND THE WATER COOLER

North American U.K.

The U.K.'s Brexity dream of signing a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. probably won't come true anytime soon, so the country now wants to apply to join the I-can't-believe-it's-not-NAFTA USMCA pact between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. "The question is whether the U.S. administration is ready," said a senior British official, presumably based on the fact that the U.K. already has trade deals with Canada and Mexico. However, the USMCA has no simple accession clause—the U.K. would have to negotiate with all three potential partners. Financial Times

Chinese phones

Lithuania's defense ministry has urged the country's citizens to ditch their Chinese smartphones, because they have built-in censorship capabilities that haven't been activated in the EU—but could be, remotely. A government report found Xiaomi's flagship devices can detect and censor terms such as "democracy movement" or "Free Tibet". Reuters

Shutdown threat

It’s deadline time again in the U.S., with the federal budget set to expire at the end of the month, and the country rapidly approaching its debt ceiling. Fortune's Megan Leonhardt explains what's at stake. Fortune

Bitcoin boo-boo

Some of Wall Street's biggest players use a cryptocurrency market-data network called Pyth—which for some reason showed a 90% plunge in Bitcoin's value on Monday. Sure, Bitcoin can be volatile but that just didn't happen. Pyth has now issued a report on the glitch, and says it is trying to ensure it won't happen again. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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