The United Nations Conference on Climate Change will begin Nov. 30 and carry on through Dec. 11. By the end it is hoped an agreement will be reached among the world’s leading nations on how to cooperatively address what is evolving into a global crisis. It is a mammoth task with no guarantees it will be completed.

Many food and beverage companies have been proactive in their efforts to lead by example on the issue. Most recently, the chief executive officers of leading U.S. branded food companies have urged global political leaders to take decisive action toward “clear, achievable, measureable and enforceable science-based targets for carbon emissions reductions.” Signatories to the letter were the c.e.o.s of General Mills, Inc.; Mars, Inc.; Unilever; Nestle USA; Kellogg Co.; Dannon (Danone Dairy North America); Ben & Jerry’s; Stonyfield Farm, Inc.; Clif Bar; and New Belgium Brewing Co.

This level of leadership should be praised as many in the food and beverage industry, especially the leaders of those global companies competing in both emerging and developed markets, recognize the level of risk is high. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming of more than 2°C would have menacing consequences, such as an increase in the number of extreme climate events. In 2009, representatives of countries around the world stated their determination to limit global warming to 2°C between now and 2100.

To achieve that target, climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced between 40% and 70% by 2050 and that carbon neutrality (zero emissions) needs to be reached by the end of the century at the latest.

The aim of the meeting in Paris is to build a Paris Climate Alliance, capable of keeping the average global temperature rise at less than 2°C versus pre-industrial levels and adapt countries to existing disruption. Plan development will have four components, including the negotiation of a universal agreement that creates rules and mechanisms capable of gradually achieving the objective of capping the temperature rise at less than 2°C. All
countries involved also will present their national contributions prior to the meeting in an effort to generate momentum and demonstrate that all are moving forward, based on their national realities, in the same direction.

The financial aspect of the plan will be the third component, and should enable support for developing countries and financing of the transition toward low-carbon, resilient economies before and after 2020. There also will be a push to strengthen the commitments of non-government stakeholders and involve all stakeholders to begin taking action prior to entry into the agreement that will not take effect until 2020.

In their letter, the food and beverage executives made a commitment to take steps they characterized as “doing their part” to address climate change issues, including re-energizing their continued efforts to ensure that supply chain becomes more sustainable, based on specific targets. The executives also agreed to talk transparently about their efforts and share their best practices so other companies and other industries are encouraged to join in the effort. Finally, they promised to use their voices to advocate for governments to set clear, achievable, measurable and enforceable science-based targets for carbon emissions reductions.

It was on the latter point the executives said they were seeking progress at the Paris negotiations.

“Now is the time to meaningfully address the reality of climate change,” the letter said. “We are asking you to embrace the opportunity presented to you in Paris and to come back with a sound agreement, properly financed, that can effect real change.”

Real change will be measurable by all. It has been commonplace in recent times for each year to be hotter than the one before. The definition of real change may be a reversal of that trend.