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Businesses see market signal in Paris agreement; Congress shouldn’t turn a blind eye

For an American business community that recognizes the rising cost of inaction on climate change – and the once-in-a-generation economic opportunity that comes with switching to a clean energy economy – the historic international climate agreement reached Saturday near Paris is an extremely welcome market signal. 

But when Congress stands in the way of funding the Paris agreement, fails to support policies like the Clean Power Plan, or blocks long-term extension of tax incentives for renewable energy, smart corporate planning runs the risk of a hitting a Beltway road block that will cost businesses and investors money. 

{mosads}So as the business world charts its clean energy path from Paris, it’s important to ensure policymakers do their part, too. 

That’s why the national nonpartisan business groups we lead – Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) – spoke out from Paris on behalf of more than 200,000 businesses and individual business leaders. 

By releasing separate letters urging Congress not to interfere with a strong outcome in Paris, our members told Capitol Hill to quit wasting everyone’s time with futile efforts to derail the talks – and begin backing the kinds of policies that will help grow America’s clean energy economy. 

Unfortunately, when the two of us returned from Paris, we weren’t surprised to hear that some in Congress are turning a blind eye to the fact that leaders from nearly 200 countries and the majority of Americans agree we must address climate change now. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for example, said the Paris agreement is “nothing more than a long-term planning document” and that President Obama is “writing checks he can’t cash.” 

That’s nonsense. If McConnell doesn’t recognize the value of the Paris agreement, the business world surely does. Because when it comes to creating our clean energy future, the private sector takes seriously a moment when nearly every nation on the planet commits to reducing carbon emissions.  

Across the United States, businesses like the thousands of those run by our members sit on the front lines of climate change. Trucking companies, general contractors, food distributors and others are all rattled by supply chain disruptions caused by floods. Infrastructure is washed away by hurricanes. Crops wither in persistent drought. 

As climate change costs pile up, CEOs aren’t sitting on the sidelines or impeding progress, like McConnell and too many other members of Congress. Instead, they’re rolling up their sleeves and demanding action from policymakers. 

That’s why in the weeks leading up to and during the Paris talks, negotiators heard a loud, steady drumbeat of announcements from a business community that’s increasingly taking on an activist role in climate change. For example:

·         Hundreds of companies, big and small, announced plans to take action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and increase their use of renewable energy. In the United States, more than 150 U.S. companies with a combined market capitalization of more than $7 trillion laid out the details of their plans in the White House American Business Act on Climate pledge. About 500 more companies around the globe made similar pledges through the We Mean Business Coalition.

·         More than 500 institutions representing $3.4 trillion in assets — institutions ranging from California’s biggest pension funds to Europe’s biggest insurance company — have agreed to divest their fossil fuel holdings. Look for much of that money to start flowing into clean energy – and creating good jobs across the country.

·         And Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates announced a new fund that will invest billions of dollars in clean energy research and development over the next five years. In addition, the United States and 19 other countries will invest even more on clean energy R&D, for a total of $20 billion over the next five years.

As we said in Paris when we released our letters, a robust agreement gives international markets certainty and calms fears companies have about the rising economic costs of climate change.

An estimated $50 trillion will be invested in the global energy system over the next two decades. Thanks to the outcome in Paris, much of that will go toward clean, renewable power like wind and solar, and to systems to help distribute and store the energy they produce. 

The more supportive U.S. policymakers are for these industries – and the more they begin to unwind century-old subsidies to the fossil industry – the more American businesses will lead the world.  

Instead of impeding progress, Congress should follow the example of the U.S. business community and support the historic Paris agreement.

Keefe is the executive director of the national nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). Eidlin is the co-founder and vice president for policy and campaigns at the American Sustainable Business Council.

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