Companies seeing impacts of climate change

At a time when the climate issue is being overshadowed in capitals around the world by economic concerns, some may be surprised that interest in climate change in both the investor and corporate communities remains strong. In a recent survey of the world’s 500 largest companies, 96 percent of the 379 responding said that climate change is dealt with at the senior executive or board level, while 78 percent have integrated climate change into their business strategies. In the same survey, 37 percent say the impacts of climate change are already affecting their operations, up sharply from just 10 percent two years ago.

To understand why, just look at the numbers.

For example, last year Intel lost $1 billion in revenue and the Japanese automotive industry was expected to lose around $450 million as a result of business interruptions from flooding at their Thailand-based suppliers. Daimler, Dell, and HP all reported significant impacts from those floods, which caused combined insurance claims of $15 billion to $20 billion. Meanwhile, continuing drought this year in the U.S. Midwest is causing large agricultural losses and skyrocketing corn and soybean prices.

The survey findings are part of the latest report by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which works with the investor community to send questionnaires to corporations asking them to disclose climate-related data, risks and opportunities. Since the CDP began, the number of investors endorsing the survey has climbed eighteen-fold – from 35 institutions with $4.5 trillion in assets in 2003, to 655 institutions with $78 trillion of assets today. As investor interest has climbed, so has the number of companies reporting. In 2003, the number was 235, but in 2012 it was over 3000, including 81 percent of the Global 500 and 69 percent of the S&P 500.

The increase in investor interest could come from the fact that since 2006, companies on CDP’s Leadership Indexes (those that score in the highest percentile based on their responses) delivered total returns of more 67 percent, which was more than double the return of the Global 500.

This is not to say that there is a direct causality between carbon disclosure, emissions reductions and stock prices. Yet, it may demonstrate that companies that fully consider the risks and opportunities from climate change in their core corporate strategies can gain a competitive advantage. It clearly shows that increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions doesn’t preclude growing a business. In fact, good carbon and energy management reflect both a longer-term view and good management in general, which translates into an increased bottom line.

C2ES extends congratulations to the members of our Business Environmental Leadership Council who were recognized on this year’s CDP Leadership Indexes: Air Products & Chemicals, Bayer, Bank of America, Daimler, DuPont, Entergy, Exelon, HP, Intel, Johnson Controls, and PG&E.

While there were many promising trends in the analysis, including an increase in the number of companies reporting greenhouse gas reduction targets, the reports also underscore a stark reality: While much is being done by corporations to reduce emissions, it is not nearly enough. PwC, which prepared the report, has established a Low-Carbon Economy Index, in which it estimates that to keep warming under the 2 degrees Celsius agreed to in UN negotiations, global will carbon intensity must fall by more than 4 percent per year until 2050. Company commitments to reduce emissions, however, are currently only on the order of about 1 percent per year, leaving a huge gap.  So while we have come a long way since the CDP started reporting in 2003, we still have a long way to go – and we will only get there by putting a price on carbon emissions.