By Cailey Carpenter
There’s no doubt about it: large corporations are largely responsible for furthering the climate crisis. How can we, as individuals, help these companies take accountability for their impacts on the environment?
The Carbon Majors Report
The Carbon Majors Report is an annual collaboration between the Carbon Majors Database and the Climate Accountability Institute to identify the top emitters of greenhouse gasses internationally, namely carbon dioxide and methane. Analysis of the 2015 Carbon Majors data revealed that only 100 companies were responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Although this data is from 7 years ago, many of the top producers from the list remain in the most recent 2018 report. It’s no surprise that these headliners are fossil fuel extraction, refinement, and distribution companies. For years, environmental policy has focused on the replacement of fossil fuel energy sources with renewable energy sources.
What about consumer goods?
Tackling the large problem of fossil fuel emissions is key, but what about manufacturing of other consumer goods? This is an often overlooked, but important part of maintaining the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. Industry currently relies on the burning of fossil fuels for energy, and therefore results in 24% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US. A study by the Rhodium Group found that China, a large industrial center, was responsible for 27% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, followed by the US at 11%. There is a clear correlation between the amount of industry and greenhouse gas emissions, yet this is often overlooked in our climate policies that focus on the largest sector of emissions: transportation. Fossil fuels for energy won’t disappear overnight - once the dependence on non-renewable energy sources is reduced for transportation, the next largest contributor will be industry. Industrial emitters currently have little incentive to reduce their climate impact; the major focus is on being profitable, and fossil fuels are the cheapest and easiest to implement with their ongoing use. This issue likely won’t be a major point of global conversation for a few years, so how can we as individuals begin the push towards climate-cognizant manufacturing?
Greenhouse gas emissions policy at COP27
COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland saw the completion of the Paris Agreement Rulebook with the creation of the Glasgow Climate Pact. The Glasgow Climate Pact focuses on maintaining the target of keeping the world temperature from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This agreement has 4 goals: Mitigation, Adaptation, Finance, and Collaboration. Under the category of mitigation, 153 countries agreed on new 2030 emissions targets, and the largest greenhouse gas emitting countries (G20) agreed to return to COP27 with stronger commitments to reducing emissions. At COP27, this commitment was maintained, and discussion focused largely on the implementation of carbon-reducing measures. While this implies stricter policies across all sectors, there was no explicit discourse on reducing the emissions of large industry. It is understandable that the parties at COP27 favored addressing the large topics of energy sources and finance, it is a bit disappointing that big business was not held accountable for their actions. This makes it even more important for individuals to take action.
Ways to support green manufacturing practices
Reduce your demand. Companies operate on the fundamental principles of economics: supply and demand. By reducing your demand, the supplier has less incentive to manufacture certain products that increase their energy cost (and therefore emissions). Ways to decrease your demand include:
Commit to companies with set plans to reduce emissions. Evaluate the products you use daily, then research these companies and determine how they are handling emissions. Shift your consumption to corporations with a clear plan to reduce energy consumption and handle emissions. Check in every once in a while to ensure they are making progress towards these goals. Not sure where to start? Green Citizen has compiled a great list.
Become involved with the government. Contrary to popular opinion, affecting environmental policy does not require you to be a lawmaker. Lawmakers make decisions based on the issues that are important to their communities, so simply voicing your climate concerns can make a difference. Support lawmakers with climate policies that will help us maintain the 1.5°C goal, and who have proven their ability to act on their promises. In democratic countries like the US, support can come in the form of voting, making your opinion known to governments through protests and lobbying, or having a direct impact in creating laws by holding a local government position.