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1.5 Percent of Corporate Profits Can Transform the Fight Against Climate Change

If every company in the Fortune Global 500 invested 1.5 percent of their annual profits in climate finance, we'd avoid a stunning 2.6 billion tons of carbon emissions, according to Climate Impact Partners. That's even more than what scientists say is necessary to cap global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. 
A climate activist holds a sign that states "act now or swim later."

The current narrative on climate action puts the world in a bind. On one side, present-day action is considered inadequate to achieve the global warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius determined by the U.N. On the other side, there is increasing debate over whether that limit is even attainable.

This narrative is dubbed the “doom loop” in a recent report from the U.K.-based think tanks Chatham House and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). In the doom loop, the focus on crisis consequences and failure to reach targets takes away from the focus required to implement solutions.

In order to move forward, the narrative needs to quickly change to one that encourages action. TriplePundit spoke with Saskia Feast, managing director of global client solutions at Climate Impact Partners, about how collective private-sector action can help to catalyze that change — starting with Fortune Global 500 companies. 

We don't need large investments to create change 

Fortune Global 500 companies made more than $2.2 trillion in annual profits over the last three years, according to a recent report by Climate Impact Partners. Investing only 1.5 percent of that — about $33.5 billion — to fund carbon reduction projects like forest conservation, reforestation and micro-renewables would be a massive step toward achieving the transformational change required to hit global climate action targets.

On average, each Global 500 company made $6.7 billion over the last year, according to the report. Committing 1.5 percent of those profits ($100 million) could cut 7.8 million tons of carbon emissions, plant 60,000 trees and protect 120,000 hectares of forest. If every company in the index did the same each year, it would amount to more than 2.6 billion tons in carbon reductions — even more than what scientists say is necessary to cap global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. 

To put this corporate expense into perspective, on average the world’s largest companies spend 12 percent of their annual profits on research and development, 27 percent on sales and administrative expenses, 8.7 percent on marketing and 8.2 percent on information technology, according to the report. 

Offsets or no offsets?

For more than 20 years, Climate Impact Partners has worked with businesses to support over 600 carbon removal and reduction projects in 56 countries. But its work faces criticism around carbon offsets. 

“There is a lot of criticism of the companies who are taking action around offsetting carbon emissions and this idea that it is greenwashing,” Feast said. “By not criticizing the companies that are not taking action, those companies are feeling safer.” 

Saskia Feast, the managing director of global client solutions at Climate Impact Partners.
Saskia Feast, managing director of global client solutions at Climate Impact Partners. Photo courtesy of Climate Impact Partners.

Inaction on climate change could cost the global economy $178 trillion over the next 50 years, or a 7.6 percent cut to global gross domestic product (GDP) in the year 2070 alone, according to a recent report from the Deloitte Center for Sustainable Progress. 

Carbon offsetting is a long-debated method for companies and other large emitters to get involved. Supporters claim it is effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while conserving natural resources in sectors like transportation, energy and agriculture.

Some critics dismiss the practice as a flawed system that has negligible impact on reducing emissions. They argue offsets are generated by projects that enable polluting industries to continue their harmful practices. 

When a company first starts its carbon-neutral journey, it might need to offset a higher proportion of emissions, Feast said. But putting a price on it forces emission reductions over time. 

“Once you start putting a price on carbon, you start measuring it and looking for strategic ways to reduce it,” she said. “That helps you drive the internal reduction strategy or the adoption of renewable energy within your organization. The role of the offsetting market is just to help transition us to the low-carbon economy.”

The number of companies using, or planning to use, an internal carbon price increased by 80 percent over just five years, according to a 2021 report by the environmental disclosure management nonprofit CDP. 

The return on sustainability investments

Today, financial success and sustainable practices are increasingly tied to each other. “The business of sustainability reporting has improved dramatically over the last 20 years,” Feast said. “What we're seeing now is companies including those metrics in their annual reports, like a carbon footprint or water use risk. So, the metrics are merging, which is a great development in the market. We're seeing sustainability leaders, who are our clients, now working directly with investor relations, their CFO and financial teams.” 

The business case is stronger than before as company sustainability measures impact reputation, market value, and overall ability to attract and retain employees. And now there are many carbon footprint and ESG measurement tools that enable business leaders to truly consider how their operations impact people and the planet. 

Smaller companies can fight climate change, too

Investing in carbon reduction and removal is for every company — small, medium or large. Smaller companies that want to act don’t need a grand plan, Feast said. They can start making decisions in incremental steps like measuring their footprint, supporting renewable energy, making climate-friendly products, and discussing the price of carbon on their business.  

“We want to encourage companies to take action,” she said.”Get out there, start taking your steps and maybe one day run a marathon.”

COP28 Global Stocktake: Tracking progress to 1.5 degrees Celsius

As the baton moves from climate technicians to politicians at the COP28 Global Stocktake, which is also commented on with skepticism, policies driving increased financing of climate action could make a significant impact.

Emerging markets and developing economies must collectively invest at least $1 trillion in energy infrastructure by 2030 and $3 trillion to $6 trillion per year across all sectors by 2050 to mitigate climate change by substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Monetary Fund.

An additional $140 billion to $300 billion a year is needed by 2030 to adapt to the environmental consequences of climate change, such as rising sea levels and intensifying droughts. This could skyrocket to between $520 billion and $1.75 trillion annually after 2050 depending on how effective climate mitigation measures are.

“One of the most important things is to move away from talking about climate financing — and actually doing the financing,” Feast said. “The more money we can put to finance these projects, the more we will be reducing emissions going forward.”

Image credit: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Abha Malpani Naismith headshot

Abha Malpani Naismith is a writer and communications professional who works towards helping businesses grow in Dubai. She is a strong believer in the triple bottom line and keen to make a difference. She is also a new mum, trying to work out a balance between thriving at work and being a mum. In her endeavor to do that, she founded the Working Mums Club, a newsletter for mums who want to build better careers and be better mums.

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