The economic recovery from COVID-19 will be a long and painful effort, and judging from recent developments, it may be especially painful for fossil fuel industry stakeholders. Policy makers in the European Union are beginning to coalesce around a strategy of fueling the COVID-19 recovery with renewable energy, and some of the world’s leading corporate citizens are on board with the plan.
Last week the energy advocacy group We Mean Business shared its powerful lineup of organizations in favor of renewable energy and green jobs, and it is impressive.
To start with, the chair of the EU’s committee on environment and public health launched the new European Alliance for Green Recovery. The public-private coalition started with a bang, including representatives from 37 global companies based in Europe.
The impact is bound to ripple across to the U.S., where many of these companies already have a profound influence on the sustainable business landscape.
The list includes Iberdrola, Enel, EDP, H&M, Ikea, Unilever, AB InBev, Nestlé and Volvo Group, along with the construction materials firm Saint-Gobain and the water and waste management company Suez Group.
“These companies understand the growing risks associated with climate change and are acting now to ensure they are able to minimize those risks and be more resilient to future shocks,” We Mean Business explains. “These companies also know that the decisions governments make now will lock in the strategic direction of entire economies for years to come.”
In addition to taking on energy-related carbon emissions, the group also demonstrates that other industrial sectors are part of the solution. Of particular interest is new technology under development by Alliance member HeidelbergCement.
We Mean Business also notes that additional companies have committed to the Science Based Targets initiative in recent weeks, despite the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. SBTi establishes fact-based pathways for businesses to meet the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
More than 850 companies have made commitments to SBTi or set targets, including some of the most recognizable names in North America such as Xerox, Whirlpool, Walmart, Verizon, Hershey, and Coca-Cola, among many others.
Other renewable energy coalitions have also seen growth in recent weeks. That includes three initiatives organized by The Climate Group, all of which have significant support from U.S. business leaders: RE100 (renewable energy), EP100 (energy productivity) and EV100 (electric vehicles).
Among policy makers in the 27 EU Union countries, support for a “green recovery” after COVID-19 is not universal. However, the endorsement of leading businesses may provide enough momentum to swing enough votes in favor.
On April 9, Reuters reported that 10 EU environment ministers out of 27 member countries signed an open letter in support of a green recovery plan, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Latvia and Luxembourg.
“We should withstand the temptations of short-term solutions in response to the present crisis that risk locking the EU in a fossil fuel economy for decades to come,” the letter argues, “Instead, we must remain resolved to increase the EU’s 2030 target before the end of this year…and inspire other global players to raise their ambition as well.”
By April 17, France and Germany also signed on to the letter, which calls for COVID-19 recovery funding to include elements of the EU’s own European Green Deal plan.
The prospects for a national green recovery plan are less certain here in the U.S. The federal legislative process is controlled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has established a firm record of support for the coal industry (though not necessarily for coal miners) and other fossil fuel sectors.
So far, Senator McConnell has opposed efforts to steer stimulus funds in the direction of the wind and solar industries.
Nevertheless, many U.S. businesses are not waiting around to be inspired by activity in the EU. We Mean Business cites Barry Parkin, the Chief of Procurement and Sustainability for Mars, who affirmed his company’s ongoing commitment to accelerating climate action even while prioritizing COVID-19 response.
Parkin also neatly summed up the public health connection between COVID-19 recovery and climate action.
“We urge governments to ensure their plans to rebuild our economies prioritize the health of humans by keeping the health of the environment a core consideration,” he said.
That plea may fall on deaf ears in the office of the Senate Majority Leader, but state governors are certainly listening.
Key U.S. states, including New York and California, are continuing to sprint ahead with their renewable energy plans. Senator McConnell has slowed down progress, but he can’t stop it.
Image credit: Aniek Wessel/Unsplash
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.