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Global Businesses Show Cautious Support For Climate Deal


The global climate agreement from Paris has nearly 200 countries promising to curb carbon emissions. Now, a lot of the work to reduce emissions will fall to business and industry. As NPR's John Ydstie reports, many U.S. companies are endorsing the goals of the Paris accord, but some of them are also concerned about how it will be implemented.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: The Paris agreement has sparked a positive response from Main Street to Fortune 500 executive suites. Kevin Smith runs an insurance agency in Helena, Ark., along the Mississippi River, just south of Memphis.

KEVIN SMITH: As many people have said, it's not a panacea, but it's a beginning.

YDSTIE: Smith sells insurance to homeowners, businesses and farmers. He got interested in climate change after his son brought him along to Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." He says he soon realized climate change and extreme weather events could dramatically affect his business.

SMITH: What we see clearly is extremely escalating property insurance rates for everybody and some people that won't even be able to get insurance. That's the future outlook unless the world community does something now.

YDSTIE: At the Fortune 500 level, Jerry Lynch has a similar view. He's the chief sustainability officer at General Mills, the giant food company.

JERRY LYNCH: I'm sure lots of people would have liked to have seen a legally binding agreement, but it's a important and good step in the right direction.

YDSTIE: Lynch attended the Paris conference, representing General Mills. He brought with him the company's pledge to reduce its emissions to a sustainable level by 2050. Ed Cameron of a coalition called We Mean Business says hundreds of other companies have made pledges, including some under the banner Renewable Energy 100.

ED CAMERON: This is a whole group of companies - there's currently 61 - who have committed to going 100 percent renewable power by 2020, some by 2025.

YDSTIE: Those companies include Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson and IKEA. Cameron says more than 1,000 business representatives were in Paris, most supporting action to curb carbon emissions. He says businesses largely got what they'd hoped for - first, clear policy goals that provide a level playing field, also an agreement that can endure despite changes in governments and one that fuels economic growth through investment in a new low-carbon infrastructure.

CAMERON: ...Governments that send a clear signal that the era of high-carbon development is coming to an end and that the era of low-carbon development is really now underway, and I think companies will respond to that.

YDSTIE: Of course, a low-carbon future poses a challenge for the oil and gas industry. Louis Finkel is an executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry think tank. He expresses skepticism that the Paris accord is a solution to climate change.

LOUIS FINKEL: I think the jury's still out on that. I think we won't know for years to come. But what I can say is that because of clean-burning natural gas, U.S. emissions are already coming down.

YDSTIE: Finkel credits innovative shale gas producers for providing a market-based solution - cheap natural gas to replace dirtier coal. The National Association of Manufacturers is also responding cautiously. It issued a statement saying U.S. manufacturers believe in the spirit of the Paris agreement, but they, quote, "have great concerns over the domestic policies that have been and will be put in place to meet the commitments made." John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.