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Top US Companies Pledge Action to Slow Climate Change

FILE - President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order, entitled “Planning for Sustainability in the Next Decade,” which will cut the Federal Government’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next decade, March 19, 2015. Behind the president is Senior Adviser Brian Deese and Kate Brandt, Federal Chief Sustainability Officer.

Today, 13 giants of the U.S. economy made a pledge to stand with the Obama Administration's American Business Act on Climate Change.

Company executives joined Secretary of State John Kerry and senior White House officials in promising to change the private sector's role in America's efforts to reduce global carbon pollution.

At a conference call before the pledge signing, Senior Advisor to the President Brian Deese said these select companies are "walking the walk" in making innovative and ambitious commitments, beyond what they are already doing to reduce their carbon footprints.

"What's exciting about this is these commitments are new," Deese said. "[They] push beyond what has been done heretofore, and they are accountable and measurable and verifiable."

Follow the Leader

The companies supporting the effort are Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS and Walmart.

A major goal of their pledge is to have other companies eventually follow in the reduced-carbon footsteps of these titans in their respective industries. The executive says this strategy will prove critical as the world prepares to make a binding and universal environmental agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this December in Paris.

"Paris is a big deal," said Kevin McKnight, Chief of Sustainability at Alcoa. "It's critical that the business community get behind government and ensure that we really do use Paris as the opportunity to really move the world in a different direction."

Scientists warn that increasing global warming will lead to more severe weather and rising oceans, and adversely affect public health, problems that few will be able to ignore in the coming years. Recognizing the gravity of climate change's mounting impact, President Obama has committed the United States to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025. This promise was made last November, as Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who promised that his country will peak its emissions by 2030.

The environmental bottom line

The initial partnering companies represented more than $1.3 trillion in revenue last year, and a combined market capitalization of at least $2.5 trillion. As such, their participation will result in $140 billion in new low-carbon investments and more than 1,600 megawatts of new renewable energy. Without these combined efforts from both the public and private sectors, they say, the president's goal would have been considered overly ambitious.

"There's an opportunity to not only demonstrate environmental leadership in the way we operate our company, but also to use the services and products that we have to really empower people and organizations everywhere to transform the way they think about energy and climate issues," said Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist.

One of the ways that Microsoft will do its part is through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, using data to improve agricultural yields and outcomes. Bernard cited a recent report from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, which predicts that leveraging technology could cut the estimated 2020 carbon emissions by 16.5 percent.

McKnight says, for its part, Alcoa will contribute to the efforts by developing a more lightweight titanium to make cars like the Ford F-150 more fuel efficient. Since aluminum requires a lot of energy to produce, another goal is to demonstrate that the net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will be equal to at least three times the emissions created by their production.

Strong regulatory tools...not a partisan message

All countries that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have to develop their own regulatory frameworks for ensuring success. By having companies commit to long-term carbon emission reduction goals, Deese says this will naturally drive the investment and innovations necessary to uphold those goals in the U.S.

"We need to be smart but very aggressive in using the regulatory tools we have in order to try to drive the long-term trend toward low-carbon economy."