Will business get rid of methane emissions?

Story highlights The idea was proposed earlier this year by the Clinton Global Initiative

The program is being met with resistance from the tech and agricultural sectors

When Hilary Clinton set out to create the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a nonprofit established in 2005 to bring business leaders, public officials and philanthropists together to reduce global poverty and increase shared prosperity, she also wanted to create a competitive environment in which companies and countries that excel in meeting human needs could compete for CGI’s valuable trust and support. As part of its upcoming global summit in San Francisco, the CGI will meet to hear from experts on issues that face the developing world. One of those will be climate change, specifically on the topic of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas that is released from livestock and landfills.

With the Clinton Global Initiative’s Business Solutions to Sustainable Development (B-SNPR) program, Clinton asked companies such as Walmart, General Mills, PepsiCo and IBM to invest $1 billion of their own money in collaborative efforts to reduce methane emissions. The program would go hand-in-hand with global initiatives with the United Nations, the World Bank and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Methane is emitted directly from farts (not from animals), but it also comes from manure, oil and gas wells, forest fires and much more. The World Bank and UNFCCC have conducted studies that show methane emissions account for around 3% of annual global warming, and recent studies have shown that methane emissions in Mexico could increase by almost 50% by 2030 — all without the business sector’s help. Business experts involved in the program believe that changing behavior among livestock, oil and gas companies and greenhouse gas emitters like farms will be the key to stopping those emissions.

Not everyone agrees. According to an internal letter from Steven Denning, director of CGI policy group, the program appears to have little chance of success, given the resistance from various industries to these environmental pledges.

Denning’s letter, obtained by CNN, states that while technology, innovative ideas and governmental action can control the emissions of greenhouse gases, “If you do not change behavior of people who are responsible for the pollution, those actions will lead to even higher emissions.”

The letter also expresses concerns that reaching business goals in the program would amount to voluntary, non-binding targets and would affect investments, but not be enforceable, adding that the program does not consider other programs’ success.

Walmart’s Chief Sustainability Officer Walter Robb is one of those business leaders who isn’t necessarily against environmental sustainability, but he doesn’t think it’s an effective strategy to meet those goals.

“You can’t force businesses to do the right thing,” Robb told CNN Money in a recent interview. “That’s going to require a world of, potentially, entrepreneurs who are willing to change the rules of the game to let businesses follow them.”

Robb feels it would take more than just environmental commitment to convince people to change how they treat animals or consume foods, whether that’s encouraging companies to embrace sustainable packaging or trying to convince people to go organic. He believes climate change is due to a global market failure — rather than individual behavior. It’s dependent on governments and international institutions to take action. “It’s a function of how society chooses to respond to risks and challenges that threaten them,” he added.

According to a survey conducted by the Clinton Foundation, a full 64% of people would be willing to change their eating habits to meet a country’s goal to reduce methane emissions, should it be adopted by those leaders and global institutions who have pledged to develop climate-related solutions. That level of commitment has some experts saying that the B-SNPR program is working.

Dr. Joan Venema, director of science for CGI Action, says that approximately $2.4 billion in investments have already been made to address climate change issues. If the B-SNPR program becomes a reality, Venema believes it will kick-start a movement of businesses, aid agencies and philanthropists working together to address global climate change. “We cannot solve climate change without the involvement of business,” Venema said. “They are the logical partners and it can be the catalyst for other enterprises to bring their resources into these solutions.”

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