The companies, which represent a combined market capitalisation of US$2.3trn, have pledged to align their businesses with science-based targets to limit the ‘worst impacts’ of climate change.
They have committed to set climate targets across their operations and value chains aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.
The companies have also agreed to set science-based targets through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which independently assesses corporate emissions reduction targets in line with what climate scientists say is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The pledge, which was initially issued in June in response to a call UN-baked call to action, was spearheaded by 28 companies including Magnum-to-Knorr manufacturer Unilever.
Since that time, the number of companies joining the movement has more than tripled. New signatories from the food sector include Danone and Nestlé as well as UK convenience retailer The Co-operative Group. Various ingredients firms have also added their weight to the effort, with Firmenich, IFF, Novozymes, Royal DSM and Natura among the latest cohort of signatories.
Private sector ‘leading the way’
The news comes ahead of the Climate Action Summit, which is taking place in New York this week.
The Summit is being hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres with the ambition to provide a platform for governments, businesses and other stakeholders to present plans of action aligned with the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warned of 'catastrophic consequences' should global warming exceed 1.5°C.
Guterres ‘challenged’ governments to come to the Summit prepared with revamped national climate action plans and long-term net-zero targets. Demonstrating the private sector’s support for these efforts, companies are now leading the way, he suggested.
“It is encouraging to see many first-movers in the private sector align with civil society and ambitious Governments by stepping up in support of a 1.5°C future,” said Guterres. “Now we need many more companies to join the movement, sending a clear signal that markets are shifting.”
Lise Kingo, CEO and executive director of the UN Global Compact, added: “These bold companies are leading the way towards a positive tipping point where 1.5°C-aligned corporate strategies are the new normal for businesses and their supply chains around the world. This is the type of transformative change we need to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals for both people and planet.”
‘Policy makers need to step up’
Firmenich CEO Cilbert Ghostine stressed that the scale of the climate change challenge requires action across government, civil society and the private sector. “Given the scale of today’s climate challenge, it is imperative that governments, civil society and business act together to accelerate the transition to sustainable economies,” he noted.
Likewise, Feike Sijbesma, CEO of Royal DSM, called for a greater commitment from policy makers and regulators globally.
“The need for climate action is more urgent than ever,” he warned. “It is critical that policymakers also step up and urgently commit to implement the key policies needed to embed climate action into our financial system, i.e. via carbon pricing.
“This is the way to unlock the potential from investors and companies from the private sector to support zero-emissions innovations."
Claus Stig Pedersen, Novozymes global sustainability head, added that there is already evidence of a shift in private sector attitudes. This, Pedersen suggested, is being supported by the expectations of the Novozymes’ investors as well as the company’s food sector customers.
“Climate change is important to investors, customers and our own employees. Many investors view this issue as a way to mitigate risks and maximise opportunities. At the same time increasing numbers of investors are expecting companies to reduce emissions from their operations and supply chain – even if they produce low carbon solutions.
“In addition, many customers want to reduce their product-level carbon footprints, which means they expect us to reduce emissions across our operations and supply chain.”