We’ve all heard the news; a recent UN report says we are at a “code red for humanity” and reiterates a solemn truth: It’s now or never to take action to address climate change. Future generations deserve to grow up in a world that isn’t constantly being battered by extreme weather events, wildfires, unstable living conditions, and air pollution. If we are going to meet this moment, we must continue to fight for state and federal policies that aggressively address climate change and the disproportionate effects of air pollution on underserved and under-resourced communities. But even that won’t be enough. My message to the global business community is that we have a responsibility to act on our own to achieve the kind of deep emissions reductions that will be required to head off the worst effects of global warming.
At Exelon, we’ve woven this imperative into our business strategy. When the company was formed in 2000, we launched a deliberate strategy to divest or retire our coal-fired power generation and shift investment to zero-carbon nuclear and renewable energy, which now represents 90 percent of the company’s output and makes us by far the nation’s largest producer of carbon-free energy. Since then, we’ve set a series of carbon-reduction goals, culminating in our recently launched “Path to Clean” initiative to achieve net-zero operations-driven emissions across our six utilities by 2050.
We’ve taken these actions not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s what our customers demand from us. Our own research and polling from numerous independent organizations shows that a majority of Americans want action on climate, and they expect business leaders to be part of the solution.
As energy providers, we recognize that we are an indispensable partner in confronting climate change in the communities we serve. It starts with working to reduce our own emissions, while helping our customers and communities to do the same.
What does that mean, practically? It means we’re making the necessary investments in infrastructure to provide reliable, affordable energy to power clean transportation. It means we’re working with our partners to fund electric vehicle solutions in low and middle-income areas, building charging infrastructure for school bus programs and the electrification of public transport, and electrifying 50 percent of our own fleet of vehicles by 2030. In that same timeframe we will have cut operations-driven emissions in half and will achieve net-zero by 2050. These efforts come on top of our ongoing programs to invest in technology to prepare the grid for more renewable energy sources and help customers become more energy efficient, among other actions.
When we hit our “Path to Clean” goal, we will have reduced more than 650,000 metric tons of emissions. That’s especially welcome in the communities that are the hardest hit by the impacts of air pollution. The 2021 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association found that people of color are 61 percent more likely to be breathing the most polluted air. Nearly 70 million people of color live in counties that received at least one failing grade for ozone and/or particle pollution. Of those 20 million, 14 million are people of color.
We can’t afford to leave communities of color behind when addressing harmful emissions. As an industry leader, we have a responsibility to the health of everyone we serve. Somewhere right now in our jurisdictions – in Baltimore, in Camden, in Philadelphia, in Wilmington, in Chicago – a child is reaching for her inhaler to cope with the polluted air in her city.
Until that child breathes more easily, none of us should.
The “Path to Clean” initiative is a natural progression of our efforts to remain a leader in addressing climate change. But it can also serve as a roadmap for how the business community can step up and address the urgency of this problem when public policies fall short or, too often, are simply absent. It can also serve as a model for how climate action can be designed to ensure that the benefits are shared equitably – especially in vulnerable communities.
We still have a long way to go, as the UN report makes clear. But the first step is recognizing that it’s up to each of us to do our part to create the cleaner future we all deserve.