Report finds four-fifths of world trade ‘unsustainable’

Report finds four-fifths of world trade ‘unsustainable’

The Wake-up call for ESG difficulties in pursuance is getting more obvious as a report finds four-fifths of world trade ‘unsustainable’.  Here it is.

Wake-up call for ESG as report finds four-fifths of world trade ‘unsustainable’

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The overwhelming majority of global trade contributes negatively to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to new research, which calls for better guidance for banks and corporates around what sustainable trade should look like.

Released this week by trade data and analytics provider Coriolis Technologies in partnership with MEP Saskia Bricmont and the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, Measuring sustainability through trade maps countries’ export and import data against the 17 SDGs to identify negative and positive contributions.

It found that, on a scale of -1 to +1 where -1 means that all trade makes negative contributions, zero is neutral and +1 means that all trade makes positive contributions, world trade scores -0.58, with 80% of global trade by value being unsustainable.

A closer look at the numbers reveals some interesting findings. First, if the SDGs are broken down into their environmental, social and governance (ESG) elements, world trade scores -0.73 with regard to its environmental impact, and an almost entirely negative -0.91 for its social impact. However, when it comes to the ‘G’ in ESG – governance – global trade scores a positive 0.43.

“In other words, the world of trade and trade finance, alongside regulators, has put in place the governance structures to minimise economic risks in the form of employment, economic growth and provisions of basic health, but the price for the environment and for social equality and justice is overwhelmingly high,” the report says. It adds that trade policy can do “significantly more” to promote the basic human rights of trade as represented by the commitment to fair and open trade to promote sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, and to shore up the institutions of trade that help peace and justice.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the most advanced economies that have the least sustainable trade, with the G20 nations accounting for some US$18.5tn in value terms in negative contributions to responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).

“These are economies where automotives, consumer electronics and machinery and components are routinely among the top five sectors for both imports and exports,” the report says.

However, while the poorest nations in the world score better, this is because imports are often for subsistence purposes rather than being aimed at luxury or consumption-based markets.

“If we are to meet the ambitious targets laid out at Cop26, we cannot afford to ignore the messages here – that the majority of world trade is unsustainable, and where it is not, it is a symptom of under-development,” the report says.

Defining what is and isn’t sustainable in global trade is a topic that policymakers, financiers and exporters alike have long tussled with. Unlike other asset classes, such as bonds, there are currently no standards that allow financial institutions to properly assess the entirety of the sustainability performance of trade finance transactions, leaving the industry open to accusations of greenwashing.

In its research, which it calls “an initial contribution to the process of creating an automated and consistent mechanism for measuring sustainability”, Coriolis Technologies has built on a methodology established by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, which takes HS codes – the internationally standardised system of names and numbers to classify traded products – and compares them against the 17 SDGs.

For example, trade in tobacco negatively contributes to SDG 3 – good health and wellbeing – while trade in medicine would be a positive contributor. Because the methodology uses HS codes at six-digit level, it is able to distinguish between, for example, a diesel car (870332) and an electric car (870380) or, indeed, a hybrid car (870360), each of which have varying impacts on SDG 7 – clean and affordable energy, and SDG 12 – sustainable consumption.

The methodology isn’t without its shortcomings. For example, while specific goods may not in themselves be sustainable, they can often be used for purposes such as sustainable infrastructure. The same also applies in reverse when it comes to the trade of sustainable goods for non-sustainable purposes. What’s more, Coriolis Technologies adds that the scope to distinguish between resource utilisation for the same product in different countries is limited: “For example, a fruit such as a strawberry produced in the Middle East requires more water and energy to produce than in its indigenous environment,” the report says.

However, industry bodies and regulators are in wide agreement that the SDGs are an adequate taxonomy of reference to enable a comprehensive framework for sustainability, including the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which refers to them in its recent position paper on defining and setting common standards for sustainable trade and associated financing.

By providing a quick and simple measurement, Coriolis Technologies has laid bare the enormous amount of work ahead to make global trade more sustainable – but has also provided a call to action for policymakers.

“Since we know the sustainable development goals where the largest negative contributions are likely to be across world trade, we know the levers we should pull,” the report says, adding that too much of world trade contributes negatively to zero hunger, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sustainable cities.

“We also know the sectors which are to blame for the low scores of some countries: automotives, consumer electronics, machinery and components, plastics, iron and steel, and oil and gas. Oil and gas alone contributes some 10% to the value of EU trade, so if we can reduce our dependency on it, we can also reduce the negative contributions to the SDGs,” the report says, adding that the countries that have the worst scores all have automotives in their top five imports and/or exports. As a solution, it puts forward policy incentives towards the use of electric cars and clean energy in order to address the negative role that automotive and fossil fuel trade play at present.

Although Coriolis Technologies admits that the challenge of ensuring trade becomes a positive contributor to sustainable development is not an easy one to address, its development of a model to map out ESG weaknesses in trade should go some way to focusing minds as the trade and trade finance industry attempts to become more sustainable.

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UN sustainable development goals failing to have meaningful impact

UN sustainable development goals failing to have meaningful impact

UN sustainable development goals failing to have meaningful impact, our research warns

By Frank Biermann, Professor of Global Sustainability Governance, Utrecht University

The above-featured image is credit to Kiara Worth/IISD/ENB, Author provided

In September 2015, leaders from 193 countries gathered in the UN assembly hall in New York to plan nothing less than “transforming our world”. This was the birth of the sustainable development goals, which aimed to “free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet”.

There are 17 sustainable development goals, or SDGs, encompassing 169 more detailed targets and over 200 measures of progress. There is almost nothing that the UN does not seek to improve with these goals, from reducing poverty and hunger to securing better health, education, gender equality, sanitation, energy, economic growth and infrastructure, while reducing social inequality, ensuring sustainable consumption, protecting the climate, ocean, biodiversity and forests, and furthering peace and justice.

To give just a few examples of the 169 targets under these overarching goals, governments agreed, by 2030, to halve the proportion of people in poverty, end hunger, ensure all children complete a quality education for free, raise the income of the poorest 40% of each country’s population at a rate above the national average, and significantly increase funding to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems. The list goes on.

Sustainable development goals are found wherever UN bureaucrats and international diplomats meet. You’ll see the 17 flags of the SDGs in the lush gardens of the UN headquarters in New York. Posters listing the SDGs hang in government offices all around the world. Dozens of international meetings are held to discuss them each year. The UN even announced an international decade of action for achieving the goals. In the Netherlands, where I live, the government has appointed an SDG coordinator whom I once spotted in an electric car painted with the SDG symbols and a suit with the SDGs printed on the inner lining. In short, if you turn over a stone, you may find an SDG.

And yet, it is fair to ask: do these global goals actually change anything? Do they tangibly influence the actions of governments, business leaders, mayors, UN bureaucrats and university presidents? For the last few years, a growing community of social scientists has considered this question. With 61 colleagues from around the world, we analysed more than 3,000 academic studies that scrutinised aspects of the SDGs. Our findings are published in the journal Nature Sustainability, and a more detailed assessment will soon be published as a book. Because we believe it is important to share what we found with everyone, both publications will be free to download and read.

All talk, no action

Unfortunately, our findings are disheartening. The SDGs have infiltrated the things people say, think and write about global sustainability challenges. Governments mention the SDGs in their national reports to the UN, and some have set up coordinating units to implement them. Multinational corporations like to refer to the SDGs as well – especially those goals that are least disruptive to their commercial activities, like SDG 8 which calls on governments to “sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances”. And unsurprisingly, UN organisations are all formally supportive of the SDGs.

UN sustainable development goals failing to have meaningful impact

People pick through a mountain of waste.

Coordinated action to reduce poverty has not materialised. EPA-EFE/Piyal Adhikary, Author provided

But nothing has changed where it matters. We found few new policies, institutions or budget allocations designed to further specific goals. Did any government change its laws to achieve the many intersecting transformations envisioned by the SDGs? Did any ministry in those governments create new programmes for implementing the SDGs? If so, there is little evidence of it. What we found instead are changes in discourse. Those in power now refer to the SDGs often. Yet the way they govern has not changed.

What should we make of this? Optimists point to the SDG timeline: the SDGs were only agreed upon in 2015 and are to be achieved by 2030. The analysis that we published largely uses research from before 2021. In other words, we have eight more years to go. That governments and corporations talk differently about sustainability and refer to the SDGs more often today can be seen as a sign of hope that this talk will be followed by action.

And yet, mere talk can backfire by conferring legitimacy on unsustainable behaviour, letting corporate leaders wave colourful SDG flags while prizing profits above all else. Simply talking about SDGs can demobilise civil society by creating a false impression of action. Even as promised, transformations remain elusive. Idle talk acts as a smokescreen, hiding the reality of delay and stagnation.

I do not want to belittle the importance of having the SDGs. Our study only provides a snapshot of the present state of implementing them. The SDGs do reflect some wonderfully high-minded global ambitions, not least by focusing on global inequalities (SDG 10), necessary improvements to national and global institutions (SDG 16) and the reduction of harmful consumption patterns in wealthy countries (SDG 12).

But we have to make the goals actually work. Civil society and social movements need to prick the bubble of SDG talk. Government leaders and industry bosses must not be allowed to hide behind SDG flags in their offices, SDG buttons on their lapels and SDG logos on their glossy pamphlets. The SDGs cannot remain a lofty inspiration. We must convert their promise to action.


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Egyptian waste to supply hydrogen to Germany

Egyptian waste to supply hydrogen to Germany

Rethink Technology Research in an article by Harry Morgan informs that H2-Industries intend to use Egyptian waste to supply hydrogen to Germany.

 

Egyptian waste to supply hydrogen to Germany, says H2-Industries

Hydrogen produced from waste could soon be flowing from Egypt to Germany, with US-based H2-Industries signing deals this week that could see its ‘carbon-negative’ supplying the market with the lowest cost of hydrogen yet. 
This week, the company announced plans to produce 300,000 tons of hydrogen per year in Egypt, out of 4 million tons of organic waste and non-recyclable plastic.   
The announcement comes just days after talks at the MEFED energy conference in Jordan, where Germany climate minister Robert Habeck agreed to collaborate with H2-Industries to find German off-takers for the hydrogen produced in the MENA region, as part of the country’s new strategy to ramp up hydrogen imports to replace Russian gas.
The company has also recently signed MoUs for the design, delivery, installation, and operation of hydrogen production plants in Egypt and Oman. In late April, it unveiled plans to develop a $1.4 billion waste-to-hydrogen plant in conjunction with 300 MW of solar power plants and baseload capacity in Oman. It claims that it is in discussion for subsequent projects in “30 countries from South America, Europe, the Middle East to all areas in Africa.” In total, the company’s projects in the MENA region will aim to produce up to two million tons of clean hydrogen per year from 2030.
Further agreements are also being negotiated to see the hydrogen produced stored using the company’s liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) technology, which will then be transported to Germany for industrial off-takers.
H2 Industries hydrogen production uses a process called thermolysis, which unlike combustion, uses a high-temperature conversion process to produce hydrogen without oxygen. In thermolysis units – which take a similar form to pre-assembled and scalable shipping container frames – waste is decomposed through steam-reforming at a temperature of around 900 degrees Celsius. The product from this reaction is a hydrogen-rich gas mixture, from which hydrogen can be extracted and purified, as well as some additional waste, which can be discarded, or sometimes used in fertilizers.
The system can use a range of waste materials as its feedstock, including non-recyclable plastic waste such as hydrocarbons like polyethylene, biogenic residues from agriculture, forestry, food waste, and sewage sludge.
Through preventing any emissions from this process, such production of hydrogen can essentially be labelled as ‘carbon negative.’ On a global scale, the vast majority of municipal waste goes into open dumps (33%) and landfills without gas collection (28.9%). With a high biomass content in this situation, waste can be a major source of methane – with an 84-times greater impact on the climate than CO2, over a 20-year period. By processing waste for green hydrogen, the methane emitted from waste can theoretically be eliminated. As could the emissions of toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls which occur when waste is incinerated.
The other issue that the technology addresses is the current capacity to source green hydrogen solely from renewables. Using alternative technologies, wind and solar can be left dedicated to electricity production. To reach suggested targets of 24% of the world’s energy mix by 2050, green hydrogen production would demand 31,320 TWh of electricity – more than the 26,000 TWh of global power generation from all sources, and far more than the 3,000 TWh of wind and solar power generation used for electricity today.
Another key advantage is that the costs of this type of hydrogen could be offset significantly by the ‘gate-fees’ that local authorities typically require for treating waste, as well as the carbon credits for avoiding landfill methane emissions. In California, for example, municipalities must pay in excess of $100 per ton to have their waste processed.
By competing with these gate fees, H2 Industries believes that the cost of hydrogen it produces will be around half of the existing green hydrogen production technologies, and lower than the $1.50 per kilogram benchmark cost of grey hydrogen.
One thing that must be considered, however – and is often neglected due to some sneaky accounting – is the significant energy needed to dry to waste before it can be turned into hydrogen.
The Suez Canal project will be the first of its kind at this scale, although there are several others focused on producing hydrogen using waste feedstocks.Boson Energy – a Luxembourg based company – has developed a plasma-assisted gasification process that uses extremely high temperatures to break waste down into hydrogen, carbon dioxide and a molten slurry that solidifies into a glassy rock that can be sold for profit and used in cement, concrete or road building. The company claims that the income from this could offset the cost of hydrogen production, and allow the hydrogen to be produced at zero or even sub-zero costs.

Ways2H, similarly, is looking to use a processed feedstock of Municipal Solid Waste, mixed with ceramic beads that have been heated to around 1,000°C. At this heat, the bulk of the waste is converted to methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and CO2, while a portion is left as solid char – which can be identified as ‘stored carbon.’ This char is recovered and burned as the supply of heat for the ceramic beads.

The mixture of gases then undergoes steam reforming, to produce hydrogen and CO2 from the methane – improving hydrogen yield by 50%. Depending on the initial feedstock, Ways2H claims that one ton of dry waste can produce up to 120 kilograms of hydrogen – although typical yields sit between 40 and 50 kilograms. This depends on the water content of the feedstock – which inherently boosts hydrogen content – with the 120 kg figure coming from Ways2H’s pilot in South America, which uses sewage sludge as its feedstock.

Last week, the UK also approved its second waste plastic to hydrogen plant, with the £20 million West Dunbartonshire facility using Powerhouse Energy’s technology aiming to produce 13,500 tons of hydrogen per year.

The above-featured image is of H2-Industries (Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ Alexander Kirch

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Russia and Climate Change benefits

Russia and Climate Change benefits

The news of more than a month now has been and still is that of Ukraine.  The refusal of the latter to get in step and put itself in the lap of the big brother gives us all this crash of landscapes and other nuisances of the country’s built environment. What if Russia played all its cards except that of Global Warming.   Explanations on Russia and Climate Change benefits can play in its favour. After all, Climate Change is Cataclysmic — but not apocalyptic, to say the least.

The above-featured image is for illustration and is of WorldAtlas.

Indeed, it is easy to see that with this, Russia with a good part of its now sterile land set aside because covered with snow for most of the year, will be thawed and possibly turned and transformed into a good land and potentially farms.

Climate change is therefore not negative as it should be for the rest of the planet’s network.  Canada, the Scandinavian countries, Iceland, and Greenland must also benefit.

On the other hand, it is the opposite that is confirmed day by day in its southern parts.  Would this hint at a redistribution of food production around the world?

As everyone should know today, arctic poles and tips of glaciers are melting, seawater rising, temperatures going up, semi-arid lands drying up, desertification advancing in bordering areas, and countless natural disasters among many others are the convincing results that dominate our planet.  Few can deny these anymore.

So, the great Russia, which is only great because it is adjacent to this huge and vast Siberia.  This one with frozen ground and/or covered with snow all-year-round had never allowed any large-scale human settlement, except for some exploitation of natural resources at great expense, here and there. 

Global warming is remedying all this.  That said, with or without the blessing of the rest of the world, Russia may end up with vast tracts of agrarian mounds.  A situation that will prevail once this skirmish is concluded with not only this direct impact on Russia’s geography but also on its future position as a food giant. 

With a little luck, Ukraine could be able to find itself but with some modestly in the same position of a major supplier of food to the world and if it incorporated into the EU, it will be able to turn the latter, into another great of the new “Food Power”. 

In conclusion, we seem to be at the dawn of a novel distribution of world food shares with the ultimate heavy price still on the countries of the south.

Here’re Some Unique Use of Solar Technologies Worldwide

Here’re Some Unique Use of Solar Technologies Worldwide

Here are some unique use of Solar Technologies worldwide proposed by TWC India Edit Team.

Solar Appreciation Day 2022: Here’re Some Unique Use of Solar Technologies Worldwide to Combat Energy Crisis

India’s budget for FY2022-23 clearly highlights the country’s priority to double down for ‘green’ and renewable energy, particularly solar, to combat climate change and meet the emission reduction targets set for 2030.

Moreover, as the Ukraine-Russia war continues, coal and natural gas prices are surging sharply across the globe. With the soaring power bills, several European and Asian countries are seeking alternatives to Russian supplies. And using technologies based on solar energy is a comparative quick fix to the energy crisis.

Meanwhile, Solar Appreciation Day 2022 is here, which is celebrated globally on every second Friday of March. The day has become all the more significant amid the ongoing climate and energy crisis. On this day, here are some unique solar technologies that demonstrate the immense potential of solar technologies to address the needs of the modern world.

Solar trolley invented by a farmer from Haryana

Pradeep Kumar, a farmer from Haryana, has built a mobile solar plant with panels mounted on a trolley that can be moved on demand. The trolley is custom made as per the user’s requirements.

In an interview with The Better India, Pradeep said, “the devices come in two sizes and carry solar panels which provide electricity of 2 HP and 10 HP. The trolley can also be mounted to the back of a tractor and has sturdy wheels that allow it to move over uneven surfaces.”

The cost-effective technology has benefitted over 2000 farmers so far.

Bihar’s floating solar power plant

The Mithila region in North Bihar is called the ‘Land of Ponds’ and is taking complete advantage of its gift. A floating solar plant is set to be commissioned in the region, consisting of 4,004 solar modules. Each module lodged in a pond can generate 505-megawatt peak (MWp) electricity and nearly 2 MW of green and clean energy. The plant can supply electricity to 10,000 people in the state.

The main benefit of a floating solar power plant is that the water cools the solar panels, ensuring their efficiency when temperatures rise, resulting in increased power generation. It also minimises evoporation of freshwater and aids fishery.

This innovation has hit two birds with one stone: producing green energy from solar panels and promoting fish farming underwater.

South Korea’s solar shade

In South Korea, a highway runs between Daejon and Sejong and its entire bike lane on the 32 km stretch is covered with solar roof panels. Not only do they generate sufficient electricity, but they also isolate cyclists from traffic and protect them from the sun.

The two-way bike lane is constructed right in the middle of the road, while there are three other lanes for vehicles to travel on either side. This also obstructs the high beam lights of oncoming cars.

Using the technology, the country can intern produce clean, renewable energy.

Solar-powered desalination technique by Chinese and American researchers

Desalination process is considered to be among the most energy-intensive activities. Now researchers have developed a solar desalination process that can treat contaminated water and generate steam for sterilizing medical instruments without requiring any power source other than sunlight itself.

The design includes a dark material that absorbs the sun’s heat and a thin water layer above a perforated material that sits atop a deep reservoir of salty water such as a tank or a pond. The holes allow for a natural convective circulation between the warmer upper layer of water and the colder reservoir below and draw the salt from the water.

Not only is the solar-powered desalination method efficient but also highly cost-effective.

Saudi Arabia’s goal of sustainable development using solar technology

Here're Some Unique Use of Solar Technologies Worldwide
FILE PHOTO: A solar plant is seen in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 10, 2018. Picture taken April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Dry-climate arid regions are prone to droughts and often face water scarcity. While local food production would have been a distant dream for countries that host mostly deserts, scientists in Saudi Arabia have developed a unique solution using solar technology.

In an experiment, they designed a solar-driven system that could successfully cultivate spinach using water drawn from the air while producing electricity. This proof-of-concept design has demonstrated a sustainable, low-cost strategy to improve food and water security for people living in dry-climate regions.

“Our goal is to create an integrated system of clean energy, water, and food production, especially the water-creation part in our design, which sets us apart from current agrophotovoltaics,” says senior researcher Peng Wang.

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The top image is for illustration and is of a Solar power plant (IANS)