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A powerful start toward ambitious, durable climate policy

On Tuesday, I was pleased to be joined by top corporate leaders in a virtual event highlighting the business case for strong climate action. Yesterday, President Biden issued a round of executive orders launching an ambitious whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis.

Just one week into the administration, these are powerful signs that we have indeed entered a hopeful new chapter in America’s long, often faltering, struggle to address climate change. We face extraordinary challenges ahead—with containing the pandemic and restoring the economy at the top of the list—but extraordinary opportunities as well.

To help seize on these opportunities, C2ES this week released Climate Policy Priorities for the New Administration and Congress, a brief outlining a comprehensive set of recommendations that speak to the scale and urgency of the climate challenge and to the present political moment.

We believe that many of these measures could garner bipartisan support in the near term and that, taken together, they would establish the essential foundation of an ambitious, just, and durable U.S. climate policy. We were pleased to see many of the recommendations reflected in the steps announced yesterday by the president.

Our recommendations build on a recent statement signed by 47 major companies calling climate action “a business imperative” and urging the incoming administration and Congress to work together on a long-term climate policy.

In our event Tuesday, The Business Case for Ambitious Bipartisan Climate Action, leaders of major companies in three different sectors — the Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), LafargeHolcim, and Bank of America — emphasized the need for stronger policy, including economy-wide carbon pricing.

Ralph Izzo, CEO of PSEG, said “we recommend five steps to bring about this new future, and one of them, most importantly…is an economy-wide price on carbon.” Jamie M. Gentoso, CEO of U.S. Cement Operations at LafargeHolcim, added “we’re working every day to accelerate our efforts and reduce our CO2 intensity, but we…need help from a policy perspective – and we believe that an economy-wide price on carbon is something that can help us get there.”

Among the executive actions taken yesterday by the president that align closely with C2ES recommendations:

  • starting the process of developing the U.S. Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement
  • leveraging federal purchasing power to advance zero-carbon power and vehicles
  • directing relevant agencies to report on ways to expand and improve climate forecast and information sharing capabilities
  • directing the Secretary of Agriculture to collect input from farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders on how to use federal programs to encourage adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices that produce verifiable carbon reductions
  • establishing an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization to support a “just transition”
  • launching the development of a climate and environmental justice screening tool to support federal efforts to deliver climate justice
  • Sending the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement to phasedown hydrofluorocarbons, to the Senate for ratification
  • create a Civilian Climate Corps to mobilize a new generation of conservation and resilience workers to increase reforestation and carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, among other priorities.

Despite positive initial steps, we know the administration must go further and needs support from Congress, state and local governments, companies, and others. C2ES’s policy recommendations, developed in collaboration with more than 30 major companies under C2ES’s Climate Innovation 2050 initiative, cover 15 policy areas – those critical for decarbonization, such as power, transportation, and buildings, as well as some not traditionally associated with climate, such as trade, resilience, and finance.

In our event, Anne Finucane, Vice Chairman of Bank of America, underscored the opportunity in the financial sector, noting that investments prioritizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) values “not only match the rest of the industry but they generally exceed, and those companies invested in ESG…are doing better [and] performing better.”

The C2ES policy recommendations include establishing an economy-wide price on carbon, setting new greenhouse gas performance standards to ensure that all light-duty vehicles on the road in 2050 are zero-emitting, and scaling up climate-related innovation funding to at least $20 billion a year by 2030. This is only a small glimpse at the range of executive and legislative recommendations that together provide the basis for a truly comprehensive response.

I believe the present moment presents an absolutely vital opportunity to strengthen the U.S. climate effort – one that we must work together to seize. At C2ES, we look forward to continuing to work with the Biden Administration, members of Congress from both parties, business leaders, and many others to adopt and implement ambitious, durable climate policies.