Environment & Climate Change World Politics & Affairs

Corporate Responsibility in the Climate Crisis

In Seattle, Washington, there was a ban placed on plastic straws and utensils in 2018. This ban disallowed the use of plastic straws in local businesses, with a plan to phase them out and to encourage consumers to purchase reusable metal straws to use as a replacement. In Seattle, there is also a tax on plastic bags, widespread recycling and compost programs, and a variety of other individual-based programs designed to reduce one’s carbon impact.

In an American context, many climate-based activism movements shift the blame onto the consumer. Reusable straws and bags are an industry in the United States, and individuals are often spoon-fed ways to reduce plastic use and lessen their own carbon footprint. However, in a world in which just one hundred companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions, there is a surprising lack of comprehensive corporate-level legislation surrounding this issue.

And as the world enters climate crunch time, in which we have until 2040 at most before the point of no return is passed, these 100 corporations are increasingly quiet about their efforts to reduce emissions. There’s likely a reason for this—24.8% of the complicit corporations are oil and/or natural gas companies, and other industries with heavy emissions include utilities, transportation, and mining.

It is the inaction of these large corporations that accelerates the process of climate change. For example, in 2018, New York City sued five fossil fuel companies due to their persistent inaction regarding emission reduction and minimization of carbon footprint. In the Netherlands, seven organizations focused on human rights and environmental responsibility have filed lawsuits against the fossil fuel giant, Shell, due to their role in the current undermining of efforts to reduce climate impact. These and other examples show citizens attempting to hold corporate giants responsible for their roles in the climate crisis.

In the example of Shell in the Netherlands, the company released a statement saying that they agree with the values of the much-lauded Paris Climate Accord, but are hesitant to take action.

Looking to this example and others, the question is raised—what is the responsibility of these corporations to alter their behavior and provide reparations in accordance with their role in climate change? Or, at the least, what are they currently doing?

OBERHAUSEN, GERMANY – JANUARY 06: Steam and exhaust rise from different companies on a cold winter day on January 6, 2017 in Oberhausen, Germany. According to a report released by the European Copernicus Climate Change Service, 2016 is likely to have been the hottest year since global temperatures were recorded in the 19th century. According to the report the average global surface temperature was 14.8 degrees Celsius, which is 1.3 degrees higher than estimates for before the Industrial Revolution. Greenhouse gases are among the chief causes of global warming and climates change. (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images)

As it stands, not much. Although many corporations have long-term goals to reduce emissions and lessen general climate impact, there are several factors that are ignored in this impact calculation. Firstly, the impact of corporate products is left out of these climate impact calculations entirely. Emissions standards are set in accordance with carbon emissions and waste produced directly by the manufacturing process and business operation, but it is the long-term impact of corporate products that causes much of the pollution and waste accumulation that is spreading across the globe.

Also, much of the legislation surrounding this issue is far from comprehensive. Although national and international standards and guidelines have been set by various governments and institutions around the world, but there are often cases of individuals, organizations, and municipalities suing corporations for failing to comply with these guidelines, or for a more general lack of involvement in climate reparations.

Currently, it’s unlikely that past emissions will result in catastrophe, although there is a high level of certainty that humans have already irrevocably impacted sea level and various other large-scale environmental traits.

At things currently stand, however, there is no avoiding disastrous impacts and a heightened death toll due to increasingly violent weather patterns and natural disasters—think hurricanes, typhoons, flooding, and other disastrous storm and weather systems. Many of these impacts will occur on a long-term scale rather than immediately, but natural disasters have already begun to increase in regularity.

It can be easy to depersonalize from the climate crisis if one is not a member of a frontline community, but it is likely that many people have, in some way, witnessed and experienced ramifications of the changing planet in some form already. The more extreme impacts of climate change have simply impacted poor and marginalized communities most intimately so far, and will continue to do so as these issues progress. However, if there is no course correction, there will be no escaping climate catastrophe, no matter who you are.

That’s why more comprehensive and immediate legislation and regulation of large-scale polluters, such as municipalities and corporations, is absolutely needed across the globe. Alterations have already been made to the planet’s climate, but currently, it is possible to manage impact that has already been made. This will not be the case for much longer. Without immediate action, the point of no return will be passed in terms of human impact. The nature of managing the climate catastrophe will change—from minimizing emissions to minimizing the death toll.

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