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Group of 200 CEOs calls for price on carbon to tackle climate change

A group of CEOs of major U.S. companies is calling for the corporate world to take a leading role fighting climate change, advocating a market-based strategy that includes setting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, but with some caveats.

"Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the planet today, and we believe businesses are an essential part of the solution," Doug McMillon, Walmart Inc. president and CEO and Chairman of Business Roundtable, said in a statement. The roundtable comprises more than 200 CEOs of companies representing $7.5 trillion in annual revenue. "The new Business Roundtable position on climate change reflects our belief that a national market-based emissions reduction policy is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels designed to avoid the worst effects and mitigate the impacts of climate change."

Companies have come under increasing pressure from investors in recent years to disclose their long-term climate risks and related strategies and set decarbonization targets in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change. The roundtable's new stance also comes weeks ahead of the November elections in which U.S. Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden has pledged to set the U.S. on the path to achieving economywide net-zero emissions by 2050 if he is elected.

The roundtable called for international cooperation and diplomacy backed by a broadly supported U.S. policy. President Donald Trump pledged to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement in November, a move he promised during his first year in office.

The group, which includes CEOs of major energy companies, said it supports the creation of a market-based solution to climate change but does not endorse any specific mechanism. A price on carbon would provide an "effective" incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, including through the development and deployment of needed technologies, the roundtable said. But the CEO group also suggested the price on carbon should be approached "in a manner that ensures environmental effectiveness while fostering innovation, maintaining U.S. competitiveness, maximizing compliance flexibility, and minimizing costs to business and society."

While dozens of corporations around the world have announced plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 — a level the scientific community has said is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C relative to pre-industrial levels and to forestall some of the more catastrophic impacts of climate change to the global economy — the Business Roundtable endorsed reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. That target is in line with a goal to limit global warming to about 2 degrees C.

Tucked into the new stance on climate change is a call for companies to disclose, "when appropriate," their climate strategies and progress toward their decarbonization targets. But the statement also argued that disclosures should remain voluntary. Biden has pledged to make companies disclose their climate risks and plans if he wins the White House. Also, the California Public Utilities Commission recently ordered electric utilities in the state to report on their climate risks and long-term strategies.

If the U.S. does adopt a price on carbon, the Business Roundtable said, the government should reduce the potential for economic activity and associated emissions to shift to countries with less aggressive policies. Options could include rebates, allowances and border adjustments, the CEOs said. "Policymakers must also ensure that U.S. companies are not at a disadvantage from carbon pricing policies that may be implemented abroad."

The group also suggested a transition period to a market-based policy to allow companies and consumers time to plan, invest and adjust. To help facilitate that transition, resulting revenues from any market-based mechanisms should be used for policies that support economic growth, reduce societal impact and provide assistance for individuals and communities most negatively affected, the group suggested. The new climate stance also called for Congress to at least double its funding for research, development and demonstration of emissions-reducing technologies.

A little more than a year ago, a majority of CEOs on the roundtable issued a statement that suggested that companies should focus on benefits to "all stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders," rather than primarily on deriving profits for shareholders.