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More Companies Are Committed to 100 Percent Renewable Energy: Is It Enough?

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Energy & Environment
solar power renewable energy

The push for 100 percent renewable energy is growing among multinational companies. More than 200 of them have formally committed to 100 percent renewables through the RE100 initiative organized by The Climate Group. However, as the COP25 climate talks in Madrid get under way, it is important to keep in mind that just 20 global enterprises are responsible for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and none of them are part of the RE100 effort.

Multinationals and 100 percent renewable energy

The RE100's focus on multinational companies is important because decisions made at the top can ripple out across the globe, potentially impacting government and non-government policy in many jurisdictions instead of just one.

Earlier this week, the RE100 initiative ran the numbers on its more than 200 members and reported that almost half of them are positioned to influence policymakers, utility companies and other stakeholders to accelerate the renewable energy transition.

The group of 200 has set ambitious goals. The average date for achieving 100 percent renewable energy is 2028, and 75 percent of the group plan to be powered entirely by renewables by 2030 at the latest.

Collectively, they are well on their way. A third of RE100 members have already topped 75 percent renewables, and more than 30 are already at 100 percent.

The RE100 movement has also grown globally. At its launch during Climate Week NYC in 2014, RE100 attracted interest mainly from companies headquartered in Europe and North America, as well as India and China. More recently, the organization’s influence has spread into the Asia Pacific region, including Australia and Japan. 

Overall, interest in the RE100 has accelerated. Membership grew by more than a third over the past year, more than 40 percent of that growth consisting of companies headquartered in the Asia Pacific region.

Why renewable energy?

The RE100 report also notes several significant trends driving the interest in 100 percent renewable energy.

Paul Simpson, CEO of the carbon-tracking organization CDP (a partner in the RE100 initiative), explains that “companies are now making the shift because it makes business sense—in part due to changing expectations from their key stakeholders—be that investors, customers or employees.”

That conclusion is backed up by an RE100 survey of its members. Some key figures are:

  • 87 percent cite customer expectations as "important" or "very important"
  • 76 percent say the same of shareholder requests
  • Over half identified benefits in terms of employee satisfaction and staff retention
  • 80 percent cite cost savings as an "important" or "very important" driver, despite challenges in certain markets

Along with being an impactful addition to corporate citizenship profiles, renewable energy commitments are already having a positive influence on utilities and local energy policy: More than 25 percent of the clean power sourced by RE100 members involved adding new renewable energy capacity to the local grid, according to the report.

Two-thirds of corporate members are planning to implement this “impactful procurement” approach in the coming year. And 44 percent say they are already influencing their electricity suppliers, compared to 36 percent who said the same last year. 

The 800-pound gorilla in the COP25 room

All of this is encouraging, but business-as-usual on climate action is no longer acceptable. With the impacts of catastrophic climate change already falling on parts of the globe, the pace of action must increase significantly, advocates say.

Unfortunately, as RE100 notes, the ambitious intentions of global companies are not enough to counteract the foot-dragging among government policymakers and other companies still lagging behind.

This circles around to that group of 20 companies with the highest greenhouse gas profiles, as identified by researchers at the Climate Accountability Institute. Unsurprisingly, every company on the list is a major global coal, oil or gas stakeholder, so it’s also not a surprise that none of them have committed to 100 percent renewables.

More to the point, 12 of the companies on the list are government owned, and these firms alone have contributed 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1965, according to the Institute. That direct intertwining of national interests and fossil fuel investment certainly complicates matters for COP25 negotiators.

In a report on the new research, last month The Guardian contacted all 20 companies on the list regarding their climate policies. Only eight companies responded. Of that group, only PetroChina and Brazil’s Petrobas represented the cohort of state-owned companies.

The refusal of most of the state-owned companies to discuss their climate policies with The Guardian does not bode well for COP25. 

From climate goat to climate hero, but the question is: How fast?

Results from the seven investor-owned companies that responded to The Guardian inquiry are somewhat more encouraging.

Shell, for example, stated: “We fully support the Paris Agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future,” noting that it has “already invested billions of dollars in a range of low-carbon technologies, from biofuels, hydrogen and wind power, to electric vehicle charging and smart energy storage solutions.”

Chevron replied in a similar vein, as did Total, ConocoPhillips, BHP and Peabody Energy.

Even ExxonMobil acknowledged to the Guardian that “we believe climate change is a serious issue,” though the company’s history of contributing to misinformation around climate change indicates otherwise (legal issues may also be a factor in the company’s recent change of heart).

The harsh truth is: If the need for climate action is urgent, then efforts like RE100 are not enough. Investor-owned fossil fuel companies must put real dollars behind their purported support for decarbonization, and nations that own fossil interests must make that commitment as well.

A list of the 20 companies profiled by The Guardian is available here.

Image credit: Andreas Gücklhorn/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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