Advocating for climate policy

Anna Triponel

August 5, 2022
Our key takeaway: The private sector has a responsibility and a strategic opportunity to publicly advocate for responsible net-zero aligned climate policy. Companies like Microsoft, EDF and Unilever are leveraging their influence and their voice to promote policies for a net-zero transformation at a local, national and global level. Some of our top takeaways from their experiences: Transparency is crucial—what are you advocating for, who are you advocating with and how do your positions as a company diverge from the positions of industry associations you are a part of? Second, put your money where your mouth is by aligning public advocacy with meaningful net-zero goals integrated across the full company, including in the value chain and in lobbying and philanthropic giving. And, perhaps most importantly, ensure that all climate policy advocacy follows the principles of a just transition that considers impacts on communities, especially the most vulnerable. 

Transform to Net Zero, “a cross-sector initiative to accelerate the transition to an inclusive net zero global economy,” launched the Climate Policy Engagement Transformation Guide (July 2022) as part of a series to share experiences and lessons learned from initiative members. In this guide, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Microsoft and Unilever share their experiences and learnings to outline how companies can advocate for public policies which promote net zero transformation:

  • Why policy engagement by companies matters: Achieving a net-zero transition requires the private sector to not only come on board with responsible climate action, but also to lead on action. To lead strategically, companies should publicly advocate for 1.5°C aligned science-based climate policies. According to the guide, “[p]olicy advocacy goes beyond membership in coalitions and alliances to encompass direct engagement with policy makers on critical net zero supportive initiatives at the local, state and federal level” as a way to signal private sector support for climate action. That said, public engagement can be challenging and requires companies to tread carefully and select strategic targets and moments to advocate, while also putting their money where their mouth is—that is, aligning their public voice with their own actions to reach net-zero. The guide also underscores that “the power balance between communities most likely to suffer from the impacts of climate change and corporations dictates that corporations committed to net zero transition must advocate for policies to promote climate justice.”
  • Four key takeaways from the experiences of Microsoft, Unilever and EDF: First, companies should align on what climate policy engagement means for them. A large and complex global policy landscape can make it difficult for companies to know where to prioritise their efforts and resources, so “[d]efining the scope of sustainability policy for your company, including levels of engagement (i.e., global advocacy, participation in trade associations, direct engagement with policymakers, etc.) and priority areas and jurisdictions, can help develop a clear roadmap for more successful policy engagement.” Second, policy engagement must be aligned across all parts of the business, especially those functions with responsibility for climate action. Third, companies should be transparent about what they engage on, and who they engage with. Specifically, the guide points out that “publicly stating when your company’s position diverges from that of a trade association you are a member of is important to ensure ongoing alignment of policy engagements with climate priorities.” Fourth, companies should incorporate a “justice lens” into their advocacy: "Sustainability policy is expanding beyond mitigation to include adaptation and resilience efforts that consider those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change. It is necessary to always consider how policy engagements will impact communities and identify ways in which these can be designed to support those most vulnerable.”
  • Checklist of actions for companies: The guide offers a checklist of actionable steps that companies can take to effectively advocate for responsible climate policy and align their own actions with their advocacy. These actions include: “Determine policy positions on key climate topics that will enable the company and wider value chain to transform to net zero emissions; Gain internal alignment on policy positions from the executive suite, and engage internally on how public policy will help meet corporate sustainability goals; Identify a determined internal champion, armed with a clear business case for engaging in public policy advocacy, to help overcome internal review processes; Publicly disclose all trade associations in which the company has a membership to meet investors’ and stakeholders’ interests in transparency; Audit trade associations’ climate lobbying activities to ensure that the association’s advocacy on climate policy continues to align with the organizational net zero vision; Join or create climate-aligned taskforces committed to climate policy advocacy better aligned with corporate goals; Publicly disclose spending on activities designed to influence climate policy, including all lobbying and political spending, direct and indirect; Disclose policies and procedures for using corporate funds for lobbying or election-related activities.”

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