Exclusive: Elizabeth Warren calls out CEOs for 'weak and meaningless' climate commitments

Senator Elizabeth Warren fears Corporate America's latest commitment to fight the climate crisis is little more than a publicity stunt.

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Matt Egan
, CNN Business
CNN — Senator Elizabeth Warren fears Corporate America's latest commitment to fight the climate crisis is little more than a publicity stunt.

The Massachusetts Democrat is demanding the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying group headed by leading CEOs, follow up on its recent call to adopt new principles to address climate change with concrete steps.

"The seriousness of the climate crisis deserves more than empty rhetoric without any actual climate action," Warren wrote in a letter first obtained by CNN Business.

In September, the Business Roundtable called for "market-based solutions" to fight climate change, including a price on carbon "where feasible and effective." The group urged businesses and governments to work together to limit the rise in global temperatures in line with the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement and acknowledged that current efforts are "falling far short" of what's required.

But the group's accompanying report did not endorse a specific climate pricing proposal and only suggested "voluntary" disclosures on climate emissions.

"The actual text of the report contained weak and meaningless commitments," Warren's press office said in a statement.

'Another empty press release'

In Warren's letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who chairs the Business Roundtable, the Senator urged the group to provide detailed information to her office by November 23 about "concrete actions to require corporations to meet these demands," including specific policies that the CEOs will commit to supporting. Warren also wants the Roundtable to report the progress of its member companies towards reaching climate goals.

"Failure to do so would indicate that the new statement is yet another empty press release by the BRT, designed to boost its public image without taking any action that would merit it," Warren wrote in the letter, which was also addressed to Mark Sutton, the CEO of International Paper and head of the group's energy & environmental committee.

In response, the Business Roundtable said in a statement to CNN Business: "Climate is an important issue to our CEO members. We look forward to engaging with the Senator and other policymakers on ways to address climate change."

Call for CEOs to reverse prior positions

Corporate America has taken significant steps to mitigate climate change in recent years -- despite the Trump Administration's controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017.

Major companies, including Facebook, Adobe and General Motors, have promised to buy vast amounts of renewable energy, paving the way for the development of massive solar and wind farms. Last year, snack giant Mondelez committed to buy enough solar power to produce 10 billion Oreo cookies per year.

But Warren called out the Business Roundtable for opposing environmental safeguards during the Obama administration, such as supporting the Keystone XL pipeline and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects and backing environmental rollbacks by the Trump Administration. She asked if the group will publicly issue statements "reversing" these positions.

This is hardly Warren's first clash with the Business Roundtable. In September, she slammed the group's 2019 statement redefining the purpose of a corporation to include caring for society as an "empty publicity stunt."

The latest letter comes amid speculation over Warren's future in a Biden administration. Warren has been floated as a potential Treasury secretary -- an appointment that would strike fear in the hearts of many in Corporate America and on Wall Street.

However, Senate Democrats' worse-than-expected election performance could prevent that from happening.

If Warren were to step down to join the Biden Cabinet, it could temporarily tip the balance of power in the Senate further in the direction of Republicans. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, himself a Republican, would be able to name a member of his own party to take Warren's place until a special election is held.

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