The above picture is for illustration and is of Arab News.
The topic of ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles is back on the agenda as the world witnesses catastrophic flooding and fires not seen in decades, with “climate change” due to environmental mismanagement the seeming culprit.
While sustainability is now a hot topic due to the increasing awareness of climate change and global inequality, at the same time there is a debate that an application of ethical-based investment decisions by society at large can lead to a more sustainable economic and social basis, leading to questions about whether ethical investment and sustainability derived from ESG application are interlinked or separate issues.
There is still no universal definition of sustainability, but many note the seminal UN 1987 Brundtland Report that calls for sustainable development, which, in principle, meets our needs today without compromising the needs of those in the future. Others argue that religion has advocated similar principles, with Islam specifically stating that humans are mere guardians of nature’s wealth and not its owners and should act accordingly in this guardianship role to pass it on to future generations. Thus, the idea of meeting our needs without sacrificing the needs of our future generations is the basis of what the majority of mankind can agree as meeting a definition of “sustainability.”
The definition by default focuses on our planet’s capacity to meet our economic needs, as without a healthy planet, society will be unable to meet sustainable needs for food, shelter, clean air, water and other basic necessities of life. This, however, assumes that all societies accept the same “sustainability” definitions and goals, but in reality there are different opinions as these touch on politics and the degree of economic growth and resource consumption by different countries.
The debate is stark and will not easily go away with simple slogans as it involves those “who have” versus those that “have not,” a “North” vs. “South” debate, or more crudely, stopping a poorer “South” from “having their place in the sun” and in turn asking the “North” to sacrifice more for the sake of global sustainability and equality.
There is growing evidence that companies that take their environmental and social responsibilities more seriously perform better financially, making their shareholders happy and feeling righteous too.
Dr. Mohamed Ramady
The poorer “South” will argue that the “North’s” high-income earners are far more likely to be contributing disproportionately to climate change, while those who live in less affluent parts of the world are more likely to suffer the consequences. They watch in awe and disbelief as multibillionaires spend a few minutes joyriding in outer space at a cost enough to provide whole villages with proper sanitation, health, education and safer transportation, let alone feed hungry mouths.
In practice ESG today refers to the environmental, social and governance information about a firm and there is growing evidence that companies that take their environmental and social responsibilities more seriously perform better financially, making their shareholders happy and feeling righteous too. The bottom line for all is that ESG is good for business. The UN-Global Compact value driver model uses key business matrices common to all industries to determine the return on investments of corporate sustainability activities. These can be best summarized under: Growth (revenue growth from sustainable products); productivity (cost savings from sustainability related innovation); and risk management, all leading to a higher return on equity.
Have these matrices made an impact on corporate performance in reality? In essence companies that follow enhanced ethical and economic sustainability management characteristics have the potential to perform better over time, but the question is where? It would seem that improvements in environmental performance achieved with better technology, leading to cost savings and process efficiency, is one way, resulting in high sustainability companies outperforming their counterparts over the long term, through stock market and accounting performance. Analysis of some ESG-related stock market indices such as the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index, and MSCI Emerging Market ESG Index, seems to support this argument. So, what is missing to implement ESG?
In forthcoming articles, we shall examine the role of sustainability accounting, corporate stakeholders interaction and the need to educate both capital market borrowers and lenders on ESG policies, and on how international ESG regulators have faced this.
• Dr. Mohamed Ramady is a former senior banker and Professor of Finance and Economics, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran.
Carbon emissions to reach record levels in 2023 as stimulus spending fails to match net-zero ambition says IEA executive director Fatih Birol. Would the man nevertheless be heard at the oncoming COP 26 of Glasgow?
The financial resources allocated by governments globally to clean-energy measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis currently represent only 2% of the $16-trillion in total fiscal support set aside for economic stimulus, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) new Sustainable Recovery Tracker shows.
The $380-billion announced to support clean-energy actions as of the end of the second quarter of 2021 is set to be supplemented by an additional $350-billion a year between 2021 and 2023.
The IEA warns that such spending will fall well short of what is required to meet global climate goals and is expected to result in a surge in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The IEA calculates these allocations to represent only 35% of what is required to meet the Sustainable Recovery Plan outlined in its recent special report, titled ‘Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector’.
The economic recovery measures announced to date would also result in CO2 emissions climbing to record levels in 2023 and continuing to rise thereafter.
While the CO2 trajectory is 800-million tonnes lower in 2023 than it would have been without any sustainable recovery efforts, it is still 3 500-million tonnes above the pathway set out in the Net Zero by 2050 report, which recommended $1-trillion of spending globally on clean-energy measures in recovery plans.
“Since the Covid-19 crisis erupted, many governments may have talked about the importance of building back better for a cleaner future, but many of them are yet to put their money where their mouth is,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.
“Not only is clean energy investment still far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century, it’s not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record,” he warned.
The IEA found that governments have mobilised $16-trillion in fiscal support throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, most of it focused on emergency financial relief for households and firms.
Based on an analysis of over 800 policy measures across more than 50 countries, the tracker shows that government spending for energy-related sustainable recovery measures has been channelled mostly through programmes that already exist, such as energy efficiency grants, public procurement, utility plans and support for electric transport options.
In addition, most of this spending is in G20 economies, with recovery measures announced to date in advanced economies expected to meet 60% of the investment needs set out for these economies in the Sustainable Recovery Plan.
In emerging and developing economies this share falls to 20%, where many countries have focussed their more limited fiscal leeway primarily on emergency health and economic measures.
The tracker shows that, while advanced economies have earmarked about $76-billion a year in government spending from 2021 to 2023 for clean energy, emerging and developing economy governments have earmarked only $8-billion yearly over the same period.
A report published in March by the Global Recovery Observatory, an initiative of Oxford University’s Economic Recovery Project and the United Nations Environment Programme, also concluded that recovery spending was falling short of nations’ commitments to a sustainable recovery.
The analysis concluded that only 18% of recovery spending announced to the end of February could be considered ‘green’ and that this spending was mostly accounted for by a small group of high-income countries.
It also concluded that global green spending, to date, had been incommensurate with the scale of the ongoing environmental crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution.
Can net-zero carbon emission targets be met without crashing the economy? wondered Cornelia Meyer in her article.
Can net-zero carbon emission targets be met
July 09, 2021
The campaign for net-zero emissions by 2050 is gaining momentum ahead of COP26 in November
Divestment of assets may burnish image of oil companies, but will not lead to desired decarbonization
BERN, Switzerland: Global warming was on the international agenda long before the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change produced the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, widely seen as a landmark for the environmental movement. But it was the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 parties at COP21 in December 2015, that promised to be the game-changer.
The agreement stipulated that any rise in temperatures by the end of the century must be limited to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists believe that in order to achieve this the world must reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which necessitates a 45-percent carbon-emissions reduction between 2010 and 2030.
According to the World Resources Institute, 59 countries, which between them are responsible for 54 percent of global emissions, have committed to binding net-zero targets. The UAE is reportedly considering its own net-zero goal by 2050, which would make it the first OPEC state to do so.
China, the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, has pushed back its net-zero deadline to 2060, as has its neighbor Kazakhstan. Russia and India, together responsible for 11.5 percent of global CO2 emissions, have yet to make any commitment.
There is, nevertheless, considerable momentum ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow this November. The majority of the countries that so far have committed to net-zero targets did so in 2020. The US followed suit in 2021.
Countries and multilateral entities such as the EU have the legislative power to drive change. But if net-zero targets are to be met, civil society plays a significant role.
Greta Thunberg is a case in point. The Swedish activist’s school strikes galvanized young people around the world and influenced the political agenda of many countries. So much so that parties have had to sign up to the green agenda in order to garner votes.
However, it is undeniable that the required changes will permeate every aspect of our lives. Action is needed to eliminate coal-fired power stations; install more renewable energy sources; retrofit buildings; decarbonize cement, plastics, aviation and shipping; expand public transport networks; and shift road traffic to electric vehicles. The list goes on.
All of the above will require huge investment. Indeed, the US intends to plough a good proportion of its post-pandemic infrastructure spending into green finance.
In the GCC, Saudi Arabia is leading the way with the Saudi and Middle East Green initiatives, which aim to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent with the help of clean hydrocarbon technologies and by planting 50 billion trees, including 10 billion in the Kingdom.
These steps were recently acknowledged by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who had high praise for Riyadh’s plan to invest $5 billion in the world’s largest green hydrogen plant in NEOM — the smart city under construction on the Red Sea coast.
The EU’s Green Deal will similarly be financed by €600 billion from its Next Generation pandemic-recovery plan and the European Commission’s seven-year budget. The plan is aggressive in setting out how to decarbonize the economy. Given its environmental dimension, the Green Deal’s carbon border adjustment mechanism has the potential to revolutionize tariffs worldwide.
The price of carbon may also rise by 50 percent to €85 per ton by 2030. This is a step in the right direction, but carbon pricing will only be truly effective if it is applied globally. In which case it can become a mechanism for directing actions and allocating investments.
This is the story for rich nations with the funds and technology needed to implement rapid change. But what about the developing world, which faces significant climate threats but has limited means to adapt?
The Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Green Initiative obliged wealthy nations to fund climate-adaptation costs in developing countries. The Paris Agreements’ Green Climate Fund, in particular, was groundbreaking in this respect.
However, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has had to call on rich nations to meet their $100 billion-a-year pledge to fund mitigation and adaptation measures in developing nations. According to The New York Times, only a third of this sum has actually been met.
* Net-zero will be achieved when all global greenhouse gases released by humans are counterbalanced by their removal from the atmosphere.
Then there are the private sources of funding behind net-zero initiatives, which are particularly important because finance is a cornerstone of the Paris Agreement, binding as it does global providers of capital into the agenda.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles — the non-financial factors that investors look at when identifying risk and growth opportunities — constitute the fastest-growing asset class in the world. Deloitte expects some 50 percent, or $34.5 trillion, of all professionally managed money in the US will flow into ESG-compatible investments by 2025.
On July 7, Aviva Investors and Fidelity International, alongside another 113 investors overseeing assets worth $4.2 trillion, urged 63 of the world’s global banks to up their game on climate change, including the publication of short-term climate targets compliant with the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s net-zero scenario before annual shareholder meetings.
While this is an encouraging sign, there remain several questions about standards and so-called greenwashing. So far there are no universally agreed ESG standards, although several institutions, including the World Economic Forum (WEF), are working to create their own benchmarks.
The drive towards ESG investments channels funds towards green companies and has diminished the investor base for oil, gas and coal.
Most big companies have subscribed to net-zero 2050 targets and many European oil majors have defined themselves for some time now as ‘energy firms’ rather than oil giants, with aggressive plans to shift their activities toward renewables.
While these developments will lead to higher greener-energy production, they can also be misleading. Oil majors increasingly divest assets, which other entities, particularly in the private equity space or national oil companies, snap up on the cheap.
Shuffling the deckchairs might help improve the image of publicly listed oil companies, but it will not necessarily move more carbon out of the system.
The purists, meanwhile, want to defund hydrocarbons altogether. In May, the IEA issued a report, titled “Net Zero by 2050,” which recommended no new investments in upstream oil and gas assets after 2021.
It says clean-energy investment needs to triple to $4 trillion by 2030. Although well-intentioned, the proposal is much more feasible for developed countries, which can afford measures like the electrification of road traffic. But in developing countries, where almost 800 million people have no access to electricity, gas is still needed as an affordable transition fuel.
The IEA report also said the new green economy could create 30 million jobs. It was unrealistic, however, when it calculated job losses of 5 million. In some of the world’s developing countries, many more than this number work in the coal sector alone.
Also, many Western governments underestimate the role that carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) will play in decarbonization of the economy. The concept of the circular carbon economy, which will reduce reuse, recycle and remove carbon, and which was endorsed by the G20, could be better appreciated by decision-makers.
Furthermore, nobody has yet compiled a full environmental and economic analysis of the life cycle of various sources of energy. A failure to understand their impact could lead to policy failures and the misallocation of funds.
In all of the above, clear and predictable regulatory frameworks are essential if initiatives are to win the backing of investors. In other words, expect the journey to net-zero to be bumpy, occasionally acrimonious, and not as straightforward as many would like.
* Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of business consultancy Meyer Resources. Twitter: @MeyerResources
Sciences News published the University of Leeds‘ Securing decent living standards for all while reducing global energy use could good news for those petro economies of the MENA region. Jefim Vogel’s proposed approach to the must-do energy transition might be helpful in that it provides little extra time for its implementation. Anyway, here it is.
Securing decent living standards for all while reducing global energy use
July 5, 2021
According to new research, fundamental changes in our economies are required to secure decent living standards for all in the struggle against climate breakdown.
Governments need to dramatically improve public services, reduce income disparities, scale back resource extraction, and abandon economic growth in affluent countries, for people around the world to thrive whilst cutting global average energy use in half.
Without such fundamental changes, the study warns, we face an existential dilemma: in our current economic system, the energy savings required to avert catastrophic climate changes might undermine living standards; while the improvements in living standards required to end material poverty would need large increases in energy use, further exacerbating climate breakdown.
The study, led by the University of Leeds and published today (30 June 2021) in Global Environmental Change, examined what policies could enable countries to use less energy whilst providing the whole population with ‘decent living standards’ — conditions that satisfy fundamental human needs for food, water, sanitation, health, education, and livelihoods.
Lead author Jefim Vogel, PhD researcher at Leeds’ Sustainability Research Institute, explained: “Decent living standards are crucial for human well-being, and reducing global energy use is crucial for averting catastrophic climate changes. Truly sustainable development would mean providing decent living standards for everyone at much lower, sustainable energy and resource use levels.
“But in the current economic system, no country in the world accomplishes that — not even close. It appears that our economic system is fundamentally misaligned with the aspirations of sustainable development: it is unfit for the challenges of the 21st century.”
Co-author Professor Julia Steinberger, from the University of Leeds and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, added: “The problem is that in our current economic system, all countries that achieve decent living standards use much more energy than what can be sustained if we are to avert dangerous climate breakdown.”
By 2050, global energy use needs to be as low as 27 gigajoules (GJ) of final energy per person to reach the aspirations of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C without relying on speculative future technologies to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That means current global average energy use (55 GJ per person) must be cut in half. In comparison, affluent countries like the UK (81 GJ per person) or Spain (77 GJ per person) need to reduce their average energy use by as much as 65%, France (95 GJ per person) by more than 70%. The most energy-hungry countries like the USA (204 GJ per person) or Canada (232 GJ per person) need to cut by as much as 90%.
However, a major concern is that such profound reductions in energy use might undermine living standards, as currently, only countries with high energy use accomplish decent living standards.
Even the energy-lightest of the countries that achieve decent living standards — spearheaded by Argentina (53 GJ per person), Cyprus (55 GJ per person), and Greece (63 GJ per person) — use at least double the ‘sustainable’ level of 27 GJ per person, and many countries use even much more.
On the other hand, in all countries with energy use levels below 27 GJ per person, large parts of the population currently suffer from precarious living standards — for example, in India (19 GJ per person) and Zambia (23 GJ per person), where at least half the population is deprived of fundamental needs.
It appears that in the current economic system, reducing energy use in affluent countries could undermine living standards, while improving living standards in less affluent countries would require large increases in energy use and thus further exacerbate climate breakdown.
But this is not inevitable, the research team show: fundamental changes in economic and social priorities could resolve this dilemma of sustainable development.
Co-author Dr Daniel O’Neill from Leeds’ School of earth and Environment explained: “Our findings suggest that improving public services could enable countries to provide decent living standards at lower levels of energy use. Governments should offer free and high-quality public services in health, education, and public transport.
“We also found that fairer income distribution is crucial for achieving decent living standards at low energy use. To reduce existing income disparities, governments could raise minimum wages, provide a Universal Basic Income, and introduce a maximum income level. We also need much higher taxes on high incomes and lower taxes on low incomes.”
Another essential factor, the research team found, is affordable and reliable electricity and modern fuels. While this is already near-universal in affluent countries, it still lacks billions of people in lower-income countries, highlighting important infrastructure needs.
Perhaps the most crucial and perhaps the most surprising finding is that economic growth beyond moderate levels of affluence is detrimental for aspirations of sustainable development.
Professor Steinberger explained: “In contrast with wide-spread assumptions, the evidence suggests that decent living standards require neither perpetual economic growth nor high levels of affluence.
“In fact, economic growth in affluent or even moderately affluent countries is detrimental for living standards. And it is also fundamentally unsustainable: economic growth is tied to increases in energy use, and thus makes the energy savings that are required for tackling climate breakdown virtually impossible.”
“Another detrimental factor is the extraction of natural resources such as coal, oil, gas or minerals — these industries need to be scaled back rapidly.”
Lead-author Jefim Vogel concluded: “In short, we need to abandon economic growth in affluent countries, scale back resource extraction, and prioritise public services, basic infrastructures and fair income distributions everywhere.
“With these policies in place, rich countries could slash their energy use and emissions whilst maintaining or even improving living standards, and less affluent countries could achieve decent living standards and end material poverty without needing vast amounts of energy. That’s good news for climate justice, good news for human well-being, good news for poverty eradication, and good news for energy security.
“But we need to be clear that achieving this ultimately requires a broader, more fundamental transformation of our growth-dependent economic system. In my view, the most promising and integral vision for the required transformation is the idea of degrowth — it is an idea whose time has come.”
Najib Saab writes in ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English how in his opinion, climate change should be faced up, most appropriately in the MENA region. So is it A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?
For the last 100 years, the region that supplied the world with liquid and gaseous fossil fuels should take a stand that the energy transition to cleaner sources is underway and that fossil fuels would not have acceptability forever. And that the already ongoing shift towards the clean energy ecosystem the world over will only increase to the point where there will not be a need for any action towards lessening any global warming anymore.
A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?
20 June, 2021
When US climate envoy John Kerry called to transform the science of climate change into policies and laws, he only got it half right, because setting public policies is not a simple matter. It rather is a complex issue that requires compromises to balance economic, social and environmental aspects. Even when scientific facts indicate the need to immediately stop carbon emissions in order to confront the impacts of climate change, fast full implementation may not be feasible. Any abrupt change is likely to affect the economy and disrupt human life, instigating poverty, hunger and death no less than the dangers of climate change itself. What is required is to provide appropriate conditions and find viable alternatives. Those do exist in most cases, but achieving them requires serious political will and adequate funding.
The major interrelationship between environmental and climate decisions on one hand, and social and economic conditions on the other, was evident in recent days, both at the Group of Seven (G7) summit and the Swiss popular referendum. While the seven world leaders, hosted by Britain, tried to bridge a fine line between climate commitments and the economy, Swiss voters rejected a government proposal for a radical cut in carbon emissions, arguing that it will affect the economy. The complications from the coronavirus pandemic were the main factor in both cases.
Fifty-one percent of Swiss voters rejected a government proposal to introduce an additional tax on fuel and airline tickets, in order to reduce consumption and enhance efficiency, to achieve the goal of reducing carbon emissions in half by 2030, compared to 1990. While the proposal was supported by 49 percent, it was rejected by a small margin by a group that feared its effects on the economy, especially during the coronavirus recovery period.
It is noteworthy that Swiss voters also rejected, by a large majority, in another referendum, a government proposal to ban the use of synthetic pesticides, and to limit aid and support to farmers who stop using chemicals. The farmers believed that these measures would compromise their competitiveness and eventually lead to bankruptcy, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that some pesticides and fertilizers pollute the water and harm plant, animal and human life. Now, the Swiss government has no choice but to come up with alternative solutions that preserve the environment, and protect the economy and the people at the same time.
In conjunction with the announcement of the results of the Swiss referendum, the G7 final statement included an item on environment and climate, under which the leaders committed themselves to launching a green revolution that creates jobs, halving carbon emissions by 2030 and reaching zero before 2050, as well as conserving and protecting at least 30 percent of land and oceans by 2030. The summit also renewed the commitment to keep the increase in the average global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the most ambitious target set by the Paris Climate Summit. The G7 also pledged to stop all coal-fired power plants in their countries, unless they relied on techniques to safely capture carbon, rather than release it into the atmosphere. It also promised, in return, to help developing countries get rid of polluting coal plants and adopt other clean technologies for energy production, in parallel with stopping all funding for new polluting plants. But effects of this measure will be limited, as long as China continues to build hundreds of coal plants in developing countries, requiring intense international cooperation to reach common grounds.
However, all these pledges fell short of what environmental activists and many experts and the scientific community expected, especially in the field of finance. While the leaders renewed their pledge to contribute annually until 2025 to a $100 million climate fund, from the public and private sectors, to help poor countries reduce carbon emissions, they did not address the gap in these commitments, since the announcement was made back in 2009. But the United States, Germany and Britain have tried to make up for this collective failure, by promising hundreds of millions of bilateral aid to support the communities most affected by climate change. On another hand, Lord Nicholas Stern, a British economist who is a world authority on the implications of climate change, called for a doubling of government support to fund climate action in developing countries. He also emphasized the economic feasibility of investing a large part of the thousands of billions of dollars earmarked for economic recovery from the pandemic, in projects that promote the transition to a green economy.
Economic revival was the main item in the G7 summit, albeit under environmental and social headlines. As a collective challenge to China’s Silk Road projects, the summit established a Global Infrastructure Fund, to support the transportation network in poor countries and help their transition to green growth, mainly comprising renewable energy and clean technology.
Can the Western-Chinese rivalry be utilized as a race in the interest of the environment, climate and sustainable development, or would it lead to a new cold war, of sorts, to control natural resources? Should this happen, the first victims will be poor people, which both blocks claim to serve.
Originally posted on globalrhythmz: The music Aziza Brahim makes reflects both the sorrow and the hope of these people. She grew up in one of those camps in the Algerian desert, along with thousands of other Saharwai who were removed from their homes in the Western Sahara. The refugee camp was the place that formed…
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