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Oceans' food chain could collapse
01:26 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Paul Polman is CEO of Unilever. The views expressed are his own.

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Paul Polman: Climate change is an issue for all global companies

We need more businesses to embrace the sustainable development agenda, he says

CNN  — 

The effects of climate change threaten us all, often hitting the poorest communities the hardest. During the last few weeks, the world has seen some phenomenal climate action commitments from both the public and private sectors as we move to address this issue.

The United States and China have crafted a common vision that has strengthened their commitments to reduce carbon emissions. In addition, China has announced it will have a national emissions-trading system by 2017 and will contribute $3.1 billion to a bilateral fund to help developing countries fight climate change. The United States previously pledged $3 billion for the fund.

Major businesses, including Unilever, have publicly stated the need for businesses and governments to reach “net zero by 2050” in greenhouse gas emissions. We are also one of 38 companies committed to the long-term goal of sourcing 100% electricity from renewables as part of the RE100 initiative, and are one of more than 400 companies that are already using an internal price on carbon in their reporting.

The level of ambition from governments and businesses is great news for people and the planet, but in the end, history will judge us not by what we say – but by what we do. It’s time to act.

This month, governments from around the world agreed on the new sustainable development goals. Now, businesses, governments and partner organizations must work collaboratively to turn these commitments into action. That is why the B Team leaders, a group of global business leaders, have called for a business plan to deliver these goals.

Specifically, we are calling for business leaders and entrepreneurs to work together – and with governments and civil society – to champion the business case for sustainable development.

We need to overcome the common misconception that somehow action on climate and poverty are at odds with economic growth. If we don’t all tackle climate change in a constructive way, global economic growth will be stifled. Climate change needs to be addressed for economies, businesses and society to function.

The B Team leaders are calling on companies to set and report on corporate objectives that support sustainable development, and to create innovative business models and technology solutions to accelerate achievement of global goals.

We also need governments to enact national implementation plans, a robust financing and investment architecture, and ambitious policies that will support businesses to advance the global goals.

As business leaders, our voice, and our leadership, are paramount in supporting governments to take decisive action. And our actions send market signals that the world really can change path, and business leaders are committed to making it happen.

At Unilever, we operate in 190 countries with 2 billion people using our products daily. We know that our actions affect those 2 billion people – and that means it affects our business, too. It is important for us to set bold goals, but it is much more important for us to take actions to deliver on these.

As part of our commitment to “net zero by 2050,” we remain dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint. Earlier in the year we reached a new milestone of 1 million tons of carbon dioxide savings since 2008 – across our manufacturing network. We achieved this through reducing our energy consumption by 20%, which resulted in significant cost savings of 244 million euros ($270 million).

Clearly, there is not just a moral imperative to be sustainable but a clear business case, too.

Unilever has also been looking at new business models to save carbon emissions. For example, taking a circular approach has been successful at the UK Marmite factory, where we convert waste into methane via an anaerobic digester that is used to provide 30% of the factory’s thermal energy needs.

Taking a different approach to the way we see waste and the way we source energy is a critical part of getting us to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We need more businesses to embrace the sustainable development agenda and treat it as an important driver of core business strategies and investment decisions.

On that note, it is great to see the level of collaboration and partnership already taking place with regard to halting deforestation. Unilever is one of the biggest users of key commodities such as palm oil, soy, paper and pulp, and it is critical that we eliminate deforestation from the supply chain. We are part of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, and we are working with other global companies and governments and civil society groups to eliminate deforestation from the supply chain.

Likewise, the Brazilian Coalition is playing an important role in its region. Every coalition member has pledged to ensure there is no illegal deforestation in its production chain, and to achieve zero-net deforestation in its supply chain.

Halting all tropical deforestation and forest degradation could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 3 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year. By comparison, total greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 were the equivalent of 45 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

It is essential we set public goals and hold ourselves accountable for achieving them. Ensuring good governance and transparency will be key to ensuring businesses and governments around the world are doing what they promise to do.

Climate change really does threaten us all, affecting both consumers and supply chains and often hitting the poorest communities the hardest. It is an issue for all global companies, not just Unilever.

In years to come, let’s be judged on what we have actually achieved.

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