'Consumers, is your supplier committed to climate action?'

18 November 2016

Portrait of Professor Myles Allen

Professor Myles Allen
Professor of Geosystem Science

Myles Allen is Head of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics in the Department of Physics, University of Oxford, and Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment. His research focuses on how human and natural inf...

Portrait of Professor Thomas Hale

Professor Thomas Hale
Associate Professor of Global Public Policy

Thomas Hale’s research explores how we can manage transnational problems effectively and fairly. He seeks to explain how political institutions evolve – or not – to face the challenges raised by globalisation and interdependence, with a particular em...

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As the UN climate conference in Marrakech draws to a close under the shadow of President-Elect Trump, here is a small suggestion. Why not trademark the Eiffel-tower-in-a-leaf logo with the words “Sourced from regions and companies supporting the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement,” or words to that effect.

Until last week, such a logo would have been largely redundant. The Paris Agreement had been signed by all countries except Iraq, Syria, Nicaragua and Uzbekistan. But suppose a major economy were to withdraw from the Agreement explicitly because it wasn’t interested in addressing the problem of climate change at all. Consumers then have a right to know which of the products they are buying are being made in, and from raw materials sourced from, regions that continue to support the Agreement. Companies committed to climate action should be able to demonstrate not only that they are reducing their own emissions, but also that they are sourcing materials from regions committed to do the same. In these cases a label becomes useful.

Sub-national governments and private companies may have very different climate policies from the countries in which they sit. Only countries can sign up to the Paris Agreement. But there is a whole groundswell of climate action from cities, states and provinces, private companies, investors, and others, tracked on the UN’s NAZCA platform.

It would be perverse, in the light of California’s emission reduction goals, which are far more ambitious than most Paris signatory nations, to refuse to apply this label to Californian orange juice. Similarly, we wouldn’t want to stop using Google—which gets 100% of its power from renewable sources—just because the US leaves the Paris Agreement.

Who decides who gets to use the Paris Climate Logo? A number of different systems exist to track these bottom-up actions. The logo below, which we show purely for illustration, is the property of the French Presidency of COP21, so if that were used, they would have to set the ground-rules. But the key requirements would be just what they are in the Paris Agreement: to support the long-term goal of limiting warming to well below 2°C, and possibly as low as 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels; to accept that this means, in effect, achieving net zero global carbon dioxide emissions at some point in the second half of this century; and to present a regularly updated plan on how to contribute to achieving this. Many states, provinces, cities, and companies already have such a plan, at least on paper, and are fully signed up to the long-term goal and its implications.

If this opens a dialogue between orange juice producers in Florida and their workers and politicians about whether Florida should join the Paris Agreement, it would be interesting to see where that conversation goes.

Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science in the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, and co-Director of the Oxford Martin Net Zero Carbon Investment Initiative. Thomas Hale is Associate Professor of Global Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. They are writing here in their capacity as consumers and do not represent the views of the Oxford Martin School.

This opinion piece reflects the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Oxford Martin School or the University of Oxford. Any errors or omissions are those of the author.