John Kerry is at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week to highlight the role business can play in achieving the world's ambitious global climate goals.
President Joe Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate appeared Wednesday alongside Bill Gates and leaders at Microsoft (MSFT), Salesforce (CRM), and Google (GOOG, GOOGL). In an interview with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer, he also highlighted the companies he says are “taking the lead in many places.”
Those leaders include Danish shipping company Maersk, which plans to launch a carbon neutral container ship next year. Another is Swedish carmaker Volvo, which is trying to buy more “green steel.” And Kerry pointed out that major airlines have agreed to use more sustainable aviation fuel.
The moves, a not-so-subtle contrast to the slow pace of some government action, represent “a gigantic shift,” Kerry says. The former secretary of state said these actions give key stakeholders the tools to tackle “the hard to do things” in the climate fight.
More than 50 major corporations have signed on to what Kerry and other leaders have dubbed the “First Movers Coalition.” The direct goal is targeting “hard to abate” sectors accounting for 30% of global emissions: aluminum, aviation, chemicals, concrete, shipping, steel, and trucking.
Steel production, as an example, accounts for 8% of total global CO2 emissions. Climate activists have tried to develop a “green steel” industry — produced using hydrogen rather than coal — with only limited success so far given the higher costs. Concrete is also responsible for roughly 8% of global carbon emissions with similar efforts underway to develop low-carbon production methods.
‘There are a whole lot of things that individual companies’ can do
Even fossil fuel companies can help combat climate change, Kerry says. They're “working very hard to become energy companies and transition to producing electricity and doing it in a clean way, either through hydrogen or nuclear or in other ways.”
Not everybody agrees that oil companies deserve praise. Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk tweeted his disagreement last week when the Standard & Poor’s sustainability index dropped his company, the world’s largest electric vehicle maker, from its list but continued to feature companies like Exxon (XOM).
This week’s comments from Kerry come as government actions on climate change have slowed or stalled. In the U.S., the Biden administration has wrapped up its ambitious climate agenda in the still-stuck Build Back Better Plan. White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy, Kerry's domestic counterpart, told Yahoo Finance recently that U.S. government action is still possible this year but “we need Congress to join in.”
Kerry promises that at least on the private sector front, more announcements will come.
“There are a whole lot of things that individual companies, banks, major financial institutions and others” can do, he says.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.