Jun 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Big corporate climate pledges often can't work without policy changes

An illustration of earth wit an asterik next to it

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Lyft's newly announced plan to go 100% electric by 2030 blends ambition on climate with an admission that making good relies on variables it can perhaps influence but can't control.

Why it matters: The ride-hailing giant is admirably open about something that can get lost in the avalanche of big pledges over the last two years. They need policy changes to make it work.

  • Lyft outlined a pathway that starts with more near-term electric vehicle deployment through its driver rental program and more slowly spurring electrification of driver-owned cars used for the vast majority of Lyft rides.
  • But it cites the need for "unprecedented leadership from policymakers and regulators to align market rules and incentives for businesses and consumers alike."
  • This sort of acknowledgment is hardly unique in the burgeoning world of aggressive corporate climate pledges.

The big picture: Look closely at various pledges and you'll see that a number — though not all — rely on a mix of corporate decision-making, technology advancements and policy changes to help meet the goals.

  • For instance, consider Duke Energy, one of the largest utilities in the nation and among a growing number of power giants pledging net-zero emissions or 100% carbon-free electricity by midcentury.
  • Its plan to be net-zero emissions by 2050 is shot-through with policy discussion, such as "permitting reforms" that will enable deployment of new technologies.

One level deeper: All the giant European oil companies are now setting targets for steeply cutting "Scope 3" emissions — that is, emissions from the use of their products in the economy, not just the comparatively small emissions from their own operations.

  • This either explicitly or tacitly acknowledges the role of policy in addition to their own business practices (and indeed the companies are also vowing to boost their advocacy).
  • Take the French multinational giant Total, which points out that it's aiming for net-zero overall emissions by 2050 "together with society" and that it will develop "active advocacy" around carbon pricing and more.

The bottom line: It's another lens onto something we've written about before that's getting a lot of attention as President Trump scales back federal efforts.

  • The burst of state, local and business emissions efforts can do a lot — but they're not a substitute for national policy.

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