2024 Must Be the Year To Turn Goals Into Climate Action

Feb 19, 2024 6:00 AM ET
Campaign: Climate Change
Paved road leads to green horizon

This column was originally published on Forbes.

By Mindy Lubber, CEO and President of Ceres

2023 was the year of reckoning. The hottest year on record. The year it became clear how dramatically we’re endangering our world, our businesses, and our families through the climate pollution that is dangerously overheating the planet. The year that this stark reality set in: we are not on track to meet our goal to limit global temperatures from rising to catastrophic levels.

This reckoning brings absolute clarity about what we need to do. We need to act now, and we need to act urgently to protect the planet and strengthen the economy for the next generation. This is why I do the work I do. For my two kids, my community, and this Earth that sustains us and allows us to prosper. It’s our responsibility to leave behind a world that’s safe, clean, and livable for future generations.

The good news is that many countries have set goals for reducing climate pollution. And over the past several years, we’ve seen thousands of the world’s largest companies commit to tackling climate change, water pollution, and nature–related loss. Hundreds of the worlds’ largest investors—including many in Massachusetts—are factoring the financial risk of fossil fuel companies in their portfolios.

But this year, they must turbocharge their efforts for reaching these goals.

We need to be sure that this is the year of the specifics, the bottom line, the details on how these massive companies and investors will move from commitments and goals to explicit, metrics-driven plans with accountability built in. Climate action plans that lay out a year-by-year set of metrics that match up with lofty goals. Meeting these ambitious goals won’t be easy, which is why climate action plans, with their short-term targets and near-term wins that pave the way bit by bit to achieving the big goals, are so crucial.

This process is going to unleash so much business innovation, so many advances that will benefit us all—our families, communities, and the broader economy. Clear climate action plans, coupled with state and federal policy, will accelerate the clean energy economy, bringing innovation and jobs to every state in our nation. Clean energy is growing at the fastest pace in two decades and now provides 30% of the world’s electricity, a shift that’s expected to hit 40% in four years.

States need to have plans, too. Just as my home state Massachusetts does with its ambitious climate plan for meeting its goals for zeroing out climate pollution by 2050 that includes programs for cleaning up the power sector, making our buildings more energy efficient, and reducing pollution from cars and trucks. Now, it’s aiming to bolster this through new state investments to further establish Massachusetts as a hub for clean tech companies, just as it is for IT companies.

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So where are investors and companies in their planning? Again, there is encouraging news. Since releasing clear expectations and guidance for robust transition plans, many more are creating the plans they need. About a quarter of 13,000 of the world’s largest companies that provide data about their environmental impact say they will develop these plans in the next two years.

As part of its plan for reducing its share of climate pollution, managing its climate risks, and creating a business that can thrive in a clean economy, candy giant Mars Inc. in September laid out near-term strategies for cutting emissions by 50% by 2030 that include spending $1 billion over the next three years on efforts like financial incentives for farmers to adopt regenerative farming.

More investors are also stepping up. In November, California Public Employees' Retirement System, the U.S.’s largest public pension fund, announced it would invest $100 billion in climate solutions by 2030, doubling its climate investments in a step that underpins its comprehensive strategy for zeroing out its emissions from its portfolio investments by 2050.

Examples like this show what’s possible. And last year showed why we can’t wait any longer. Other forward-thinking investors, corporate leaders, and policy makers need to act boldly.

I’m an optimist. After decades of working to get private and public sector leaders to recognize the climate risks we face, we’ve seen most major actors lay out ambitious goals during the past five years. But we don’t have time for them to take years to turn those goals into action.

In Massachusetts, we know how much being willing to adapt and lead can benefit not just our families and our communities, but also the world. We led the industrial revolution, the digital transformation, and now our state has laid out the goals—and adopted the plan—to lead the clean economy.

The rest of the private sector here in Massachusetts and around the country needs to follow our state in leading by example. 2024 must be the year of turning goals into action.