Heads of 50 major global businesses representing more than $1.5 trillion in total revenue today publish an open letter to world government leaders urging greater collaboration to accelerate outcomes in the race against climate change.
Leaders from the Forum’s Alliance of Climate Action CEOs are committed to using their positions to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals. Thirty of the companies that signed the open letter succeeded in reducing emissions by 9%, (more than 47 million metric tonnes in absolute terms) between 2015 and 2016, the equivalent of taking ten million cars off the road for one year.
The open letter is addressed ahead of the UNFCCC climate conference in Katowice, Poland, where government leaders will meet next week to review progress towards delivering on the goals set in 2015.
Alliance leaders call for greater public-private cooperation to accelerate effective carbon pricing mechanisms and policies to incentivize low-carbon investment and drive demand for carbon-reduction solutions. They also highlight the business case for cutting emissions to generate wider support in the private sector.
“If we have twelve years to avoid a ‘hothouse’ earth, we absolutely cannot pursue a business-as-usual approach. Business and government must forge new partnerships that are able to drive results much more quickly than our current international architecture allows,” said Dominic Waughray, Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods, World Economic Forum.
“Business has an increasingly vital role to play in accelerating the shift to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. This will require partnerships with other companies, governments at all levels and civil society. It also requires bold leadership and good governance, which will allow long-term creation of shareholder value alongside long-term value for our society. We, as business leaders, are committed to climate action and stand ready to facilitate fast-track solutions to help world leaders deliver on an enhanced and more ambitious action plan to tackle climate change and meet the goals set out at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement”, said Feike Sijbesma, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Managing Board, Royal DSM, and Chair of the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders
Among measures taken by members of the Alliance to drive climate action within their businesses:
BT: The UK-based telecom provider is aiming to buy 100% renewable energy by 2020, and to have reduced carbon intensity by 87% from 2017 levels by 2030. It is also aiming to help customers cut emissions by three times its own total carbon impact by 2030.
ENGIE: Having cut coal-fired capacity by 60% since 2016 by closing or selling plants, the France-based energy group has adopted an internal carbon price and is now focusing on low CO2e energy sources like natural gas and renewables, which will represent over 90% of its earnings by 2018.
ING Group: By 2025, the banking group will only finance existing utility clients that use coal for 5% or less of their energy mix. New clients will only be financed if they have near-zero reliance on coal. As of November 2017, 60% of all utilities project financing went towards renewables.
Ørsted: Changed its name in 2017 from Danish Oil and Natural Gas (DONG) Energy to signify its switch from oil and gas to renewable energy. The company has committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity from energy production by 96% by 2023, using a 2006 base-year.
Royal DSM: The Netherlands-based global business in health, nutrition and sustainable living was established in 1902 as a nationalized coal mining company. This year it has committed to an absolute GHG emissions reduction of 30% (2016-2030, Scope 1+2), among other by using 75% purchased renewable electricity by 2030. DSM uses an internal carbon price of €50 per ton of CO2e.
Signify: Formerly Philips Lighting, the company has committed to achieve net-zero carbon buildings by 2030 and to operate a 100% electric and hybrid lease fleet by 2030.
The Alliance of Climate CEOs has also provided input into the UNFCCC Talanoa Dialogue and companies will be looking for a clear signal from COP24 negotiations that governments are willing to strengthen their engagement with the private sector. When they meet in Davos in January 2019, a clear focus will be on setting goals for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September 2019 to further support the urgent action needed – a watershed moment for getting the planet on track to curb emissions and avoid global temperature rise beyond 1.5oC.
View from the C-Suite
José Manuel Entrecanales Domecq, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Acciona: “The second-best time to act against climate change is now; the best has already passed. It´s the moment to foster emission reduction, effective carbon prices, key partnership and climate risk management.”
Cees ‘t Hart, President and Chief Executive Officer, Carlsber: “We’re targeting carbon neutrality by 2030 and are excited to work alongside like-minded businesses in our drive to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, through climate leadership and action.”
John Flint, Chief Executive Officer, HSBC Holdings: “Climate change is a major threat to our environment, societies and economy. Decarbonization of the economy is not straightforward, but it can be achieved by urgent and combined efforts by government, business and policy-makers. HSBC is committed to climate action and has already made significant progress towards our commitment to provide $100 billion of sustainable finance”.
Chen Kangping, Chief Executive Officer, JinkoSolar: “This is the last chance we give to ourselves. Don’t be too late to take action when grid parity is just around the corner.”
Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kaiser Permanente: “We have a real opportunity to create synergistic public-private partnerships. Working together, we can solve these pressing climate change issues.”
Tex Gunning, Chief Executive Officer, LeasePlan: “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing every one of us. That’s why we’re committed to working with the entire stakeholder community to speed up the transition to zero emission mobility. Our ambition is to achieve net zero emissions from our entire fleet of 1.8 million vehicles by 2030.”
“Pollution is having dramatic impact on our climate, our landscapes, our flora and fauna, and our health. We need a higher environmental engagement and a shift towards systems that address the negative and positive externalities of products and businesses. Banks should stop financing dirty businesses and shift financial flows towards a low carbon and more circular economy,” said H.S.H. Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, Chief Executive Officer, LGT.
Henrik Poulsen, Chief Executive Officer, Ørsted: ”Green energy is now fully competitive with fossil energy. There is no economic reason for not accelerating the transition to green energy.”
Eric Rondolat, Chief Executive Officer, Signify: “Today’s weather anomalies are the result of a temperature rise of only 1 degree Celsius. Imagine the impact on our daily lives when temperature rises 2 degrees or more. We – both political and business leaders – need to act now and accelerate targeted integrated policy interventions that stimulate sustainable business and safeguard a healthy planet for future generations. The good news is that we can still limit global warming with the latest available technologies, so let’s step up climate action now for the benefit of all”.
Christian Mumenthaler, Group Chief Executive Officer, Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd.: “Climate change is impacting our societies and will cause irreversible damage if we don’t act. With our partners we need to make societies more resilient and build a low-carbon future”.
Erik Fyrwald, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of Syngenta International: “Climate change poses severe threats to food security, rural communities and economies. As one of the world’s leading agricultural companies we are investing more than US$1 billion every year to achieve a coherent approach to meet that challenge.”
The list of signatories includes:
- Ulrich Spiesshofer, President and Chief Executive Officer, ABB
- Pierre Nanterme, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Accenture
- José Manuel Entrecanales Domecq, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Acciona
- Oliver Bäte, Chief Executive Officer, Allianz
- Peter Oosterveer, Chief Executive Officer, Arcadis
- Gregory Hodkinson, Chairman, Arup Group
- Thomas Buberl, Chief Executive Officer, AXA
- Martin Brudermüller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors and Chief Technology Officer, BASF
- Peter T. Grauer, Chairman, Bloomberg
- Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive, BT Group
- Ion Yadigaroglu, Managing Partner, Capricorn Investment Group
- Cees ‘t Hart, Chief Executive Officer, Carlsberg
- Patrick Allman-Ward, Chief Executive Officer, Dana Gas
- Kim Fausing, President and Chief Executive Officer, Danfoss
- Frank Appel, Chief Executive Officer, Deutsche Post DHL
- Francesco Starace, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, Enel
- Isabelle Kocher, Chief Executive Officer, ENGIE Group
- Jeffrey McDermott, Managing Partner, Greentech Capital Advisors
- Jean-François van Boxmeer, Chairman of the Executive Board and Chief Executive Officer, Heineken
- Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman and Managing Director, HCC
- Ratul Puri, Chairman, Hindustan Powerprojects (Hindustan Power)
- John Flint, Chief Executive Officer, HSBC Holdings
- Ignacio Sánchez Galán, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Iberdrola
- Salil S. Parekh, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Infosys
- Ralph Hamers, Chief Executive Officer, ING Group
- Chen Kangping, Chief Executive Officer, JinkoSolar
- Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kaiser Permanente
- Sandra Wu Wen-Hsiu, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer, Kokusai Kogyo
- Jan Jenisch, Chief Executive Officer, LafargeHolcim
- Tex Gunning, Chief Executive Officer, LeasePlan
- Stefan Doboczky, Chief Executive Officer, Lenzing
- H.S.H. Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, Chief Executive Officer, LGT
- Michael H. McCain, President and Chief Executive Officer, Maple Leaf Foods
- Jean Raby, Chief Executive Officer, Natixis Investment Managers
- Henrik Poulsen, Chief Executive Officer, Ørsted
- Ross Beaty, Chairman, Pan American Silver
- Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC International
- Feike Sybesma, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Managing Board, Royal DSM
- Frans van Houten, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Philips
- Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Electric
- Eric Rondolat, Chief Executive Officer, Signify
- Takeshi Niinami, Chief Executive Officer, Suntory Holdings
- J. Erik Fyrwald, Chief Executive Officer, Syngenta International
- Tulsi Tanti, Chairman, Suzlon Energy
- Christian Mumenthaler, Group Chief Executive Officer, Swiss Reinsurance
- Don Lindsay, President and Chief Executive Officer, Teck Resources
- Sergio P. Ermotti, Group Chief Executive Officer, UBS
- Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever
- Anders Runevad, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vestas Wind Systems
- Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International
Dying Wildlife on a Warming Planet
Authors: Meena Miriam Yust and Arshad M. Khan
The emaciated polar bear, a sorry remnant of magnificence, raiding garbage cans in an iconic, even infamous photo, is one consequence of global warming. As the September (2019) National Geographic cover story displays depressingly, Arctic ice collected over winter is sparser, thinner, and now disappears completely during summer in parts of Canada. If the effects of global warming are staring us in the face, then only the woefully or willfully ignorant – like Trump – can ignore them.
One more aspect of warming on Arctic ice has been reported recently. As we know, two-thirds of an iceberg lies under water. As sea water warms, melt increases and scientists have made measurements to discover that submerged parts of icebergs and glaciers entering the sea are melting significantly more than was previously believed, contributing to rising sea levels.
Researchers are warning that permafrost collapse in the Arctic is releasing nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide. The store is vast: nearly 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon lies trapped in the frozen soils of the permafrost region as a result of decaying organic matter over millennia. That is almost double the quantity in the atmosphere.
The environmental costs of global warming appear in yet other unexpected ways. A new paper in Science reports the threat to coral reef reproduction. Free-spawning marine species synchronize spawning as a way to ensure reproduction. In this way the gametes developed are so numerous that some escape their predators, ensuring species survival. Global warming is now affecting this reproductive synchrony, threatening coral reef recovery.
Rising ocean temperatures impact fish, plankton and crustaceans, in turn affecting the creatures that feed on them. So now sea birds, like the puffin, are struggling to stay alive. These are striking birds with black and white plumage, bright orange legs and feet, and, during the mating season, orange beaks. This past May, it was estimated that between 3,150 and 8,500 puffins starved to death in the Bering Sea, their emaciated bodies washing ashore on the Pribilof Islands, some 300 miles west of mainland Alaska. Prior to the mass deaths, there was a documented period of elevated sea surface temperatures in the eastern Bering Sea according to scientists. The unfortunate result was a shift in zooplankton composition and in forage fish distribution, both food sources for the puffin.
In Iceland, too, puffins are in trouble. Researchers discovered that thousands of puffin chicks had died from starvation in the summer of 2018. It turns out rising ocean temperatures have pushed cold-water fish farther north leaving the baby pufflings with little to eat. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorized the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) as vulnerable on its red list.
Rising ocean temperatures are also affecting food availability and the habitat of many Arctic creatures, including the walrus, polar bear, gray whale, arctic fox, and ice seal. Some are starving to death, some wandering long and far in search of food. Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals at their breathing holes. When the sea is not covered in ice, breathing holes become unnecessary as the seals can come up anywhere for air, and are no longer easy for polar bears to snatch up. The World Wildlife Fund has reported a 40% drop in number of the southern Beaufort Sea polar bears between 2001 and 2010. Worse still, scientists forecasting global polar bear populations estimate a high probability that 30% of polar bears worldwide will be gone by 2050.
Declining sea ice is also harming seals. Baby harp seals lie on the ice during their fragile first few weeks of life. Without a thick and stable span of ice, seal pups may drown or be crushed by broken ice. In 2007, a then surprising 75 percent plus of pups died due to thin ice conditions; in 2010, nearly all. “Some years, when there’s poor ice in a given pupping ground, essentially all of the pups don’t make it,” says Duke marine biologist David Johnston. As temperatures continue to rise, seal survival becomes precarious.
The Pacific walrus population is in decline with only 129,000 animals left. Due to climate change, the floating summer ice that walruses used to haul themselves upon to rest is now way up north. Consequently the animals are swimming ashore and taking to land in huge numbers. Unfortunately their feeding grounds are far away from shore, forcing a 250 mile round trip. In addition to exhaustion from traveling long distances and food scarcity, walruses also face threats from being on the beach in vast crowds. In 2014, 35,000 walruses were seen together on the shore near Point Lay, Alaska. The animals, which can weigh as much as 1.5 tons, can be frightened easily by loud noises like airplanes, causing stampedes and mass deaths by trampling, especially of young calves – as many as 500 in one incident. If ice continues to diminish, their future looks bleak.
Then there are the gray whales. Their favorite crustacean is the amphipod – a small flat morsel with segments and antennae resembling a grasshopper. These lipid-rich crustaceans are devoured by whales in bulk. Over the past 30 years, as currents have warmed and sea ice has melted, amphipod populations have declined in the Bering Sea whale feeding area. As a result, gray whale mothers and babies have had no choice but to swim north through the Bering Strait and far into the Arctic Ocean in search of an alternate food supply. They are so hungry they are eating krill and mysid shrimp, but as it takes an enormous quantity to match the calories of lipid-rich amphipods, the whales remain hungry.
The North Atlantic right whale, a species federally classified as endangered, is also affected by the rising ocean temperatures. The Smithsonian reports that right whales eat more than 2,000 pounds each day, mostly copepods. Their favorite copepod, the Calanus finmarchicus, has dramatically declined because some of the deep waters of the north Atlantic have warmed almost 9 degrees Fahrenheit since 2004, forcing right whales to migrate elsewhere in search of food. Several right whales have been found dead in Canadian waters in recent months, and a sixth dead whale was found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in July of this year. The steep rise since 2010 in the deaths of these whales from shipping vessel strikes as well as entanglement with fishing gear is attributed to the animals moving into new and unexpected areas where speed restrictions for vessels are not in place. With some 400 right whales left (out of 500 in the early 2000s) and about 100 breeding females, the species may face extinction if these trends continue. Researchers are hoping to use satellite technology to detect whales in new territory, allowing for faster responses in moving fishing nets and large vessels.
Creatures large and small face threats from melting ice. Lemmings are like hamsters of the tundra – small, furry rodents with faces and whiskers as adorable as the childhood pet. In winter, northern Norway lemmings burrow under the snow for insulation and protection from prey. During good snow seasons, they reach population peaks and their young prosper. But in Norway in recent years, rising temperatures are causing repeated thawing and icing periods resulting in poor snow conditions for the lemmings. The resulting altered and reduced population cycles mean lemmings are no longer reaching population peaks.
The arctic fox relies on lemmings as a primary food source, and scientists believe lemming decline has contributed to sharp declines and breeding failures in the arctic fox population of Norway. Arctic foxes also face threats from the red fox, a larger more aggressive animal, which historically lived south of the arctic fox habitat. Due to climate change and warming of the Arctic, however, the red fox is encroaching on arctic fox areas. Warming is also converting the tundra to shrublands, a habitat the red fox desires. The poor arctic fox faces loss of habitat, decreased food availability, increased competition for food, and possible displacement by the red fox. And with the Arctic continuing to warm, these changes will only become more extensive. Small wonder then that the arctic fox often has to travel long and hard to find food. One female captured all our hearts as it traveled 3,500 km from Norway to Canada in 76 days, its remarkable journey including 1,512 km on sea ice.
These few examples demonstrate the impact of global warming on diverse forms of life — from coral reefs and lemmings to the right whale. We learn that changes in plankton and tiny crustaceans can starve a giant whale and diminishing ice cover can cause polar bears to lose their primary food source, and we begin to register the intimate interconnectedness in the web of life. Human well-being too is tied to this chain of life. If fish decline, so does a food source for humans and the water birds that feed on fish, and as insect pollinators decline, so do our crops and the plants around us. A study suggests that 40% of insect species are in decline. And the U.S. and Canada have lost three billion birds since 1970. In this anthropocene age, humans are not rapacious owners but stewards of our planet, holding it in trust for succeeding generations. It is what the young led by Greta Thunberg are forcefully making clear to their elders.
Author’s note: This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org.
The Climate Action Summit Fiasco
No one could fail to be touched by the fear (for the future) and urgency in Greta Thunberg’s young voice as she broke down while addressing world leaders on the last day of the UN Climate Summit. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Special Report on the oceans showed a worse prognosis, the patient is clearly worse.
Sad to say, despite all Greta’s efforts, nothing happened — no commitment by any of the major polluters. Trump sauntered by before going on to mock her in his address — a grown man bullying a 16-year old girl!
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres wanted a commitment to the higher ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5C instead of 2C. He got excuses, and of course no promise of net zero by 2050 from any major polluter. Net zero implies balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal. He also wanted a commitment to no new coal plants beyond 2020. Instead China, India and Turkey will be shamelessly expanding coal power well beyond that date.
China wanted the developed nations to take the lead due to their long history of emissions and consequent responsibility. It refused to make concrete commitments unless the US and EU did so. The EU blames Poland, a coal exporter; the US has Mr. Trump. In the end none of the major polluters (China, India, EU, US) did although 80 other countries pledged to reach net zero by 2050.
Included in the 80 who pledged were 47 least developed countries (LDCs) although they are the least responsible for the emissions. They have also been victimized by past colonialism, slavery, and for many the IMF’s notorious structural adjustment programs.
The climate data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presented at the summit is sobering: Global temperatures are up 1.1C since 1850 of which a 0.2C (or near 20 percent) rise occurred from 2011 to 2015. The five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the hottest on record while carbon emissions over the same period are up 20 percent from the previous five years. Sea level rise since 2014 has averaged 5mm annually while the 10-year average up to 2016 was only 4mm.
One consequence of the sea level rise and warmer temperatures has been the human catastrophe from the unprecedented storms in Mozambique and the Bahamas recently.
Ninety percent of the excess heat from climate change is absorbed by water, and the WMO recorded the highest ocean heat content on record in 2018. It poses a special danger for the Greenland ice sheet and the Arctic. New research (July 2019) also finds melt under the water surface from glaciers reaching the sea and icebergs is ‘orders of magnitude’ greater than previously believed. It threatens a dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century.
Professor Brian Hoskins, a meteorologist from Imperial College London warns, “Climate change due to us is accelerating and on a very dangerous course,” adding “We should listen to the loud cry from the school children …” No one is listening Professor, despite human-induced warming exacerbating storms, wildfires, heatwaves, coastal flooding, etc. No, not a single major polluter stood up to make a commitment. The EU blames Poland which relies on coal exports and has veto power over any EU-wide policy; the US, Brazil and Saudi Arabia scrupulously avoided the event as if it were a plague.
The IPCC officially adopted its report on oceans and the cryosphere (those portions of Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, and frozen ground). Compiled by 100 scientists, it forecasts a catastrophic rise in sea levels, coastal flooding and worsening disasters. It moved none of the implacables — not even the terrifying fact that Greenland’s ice sheet alone can raise sea levels by 20 feet. All of it was ignored and instead of a breakthrough, the IPCC was left touting its evidence and reports at the end of the summit.
To summarize, nothing happened. The climate action summit became a climate inaction summit, and the climate can was kicked down the road to Chile for the next IPCC meeting in December.
Actions not words: What was promised at the UN’s landmark climate summit?
UN Secretary-General warned leaders not to come to his landmark Climate Action Summit with beautiful speeches, but to present concrete plans for cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050. So what, exactly, was promised at Monday’s all-day event at UN Headquarters in New York?
Profiting from sustainability
The private sector had a chance to demonstrate how it can bring about real positive change, when 87 major companies – with a combined market capitalization of over US$2.3 trillion, over 4.2 million employees, and annual direct emissions equivalent to 73 coal-fired power plants – committed to setting climate targets across their operations.
These businesses include well-known brands such as Burberry, Danone, Ericsson, Electrolux, IKEA, and Nestlé. A number of these companies (you can find the full list here), went a step further, by committing to “science-based targets”, which means that their corporate emissions cuts can be independently assessed.
Speaking at the UN Global Compact Private Sector Forum, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, an Indian multinational conglomerate with over 200,000 employees, said that more and more business leaders are waking up to the fact that sustainability and profit go together, and that climate action represents the biggest business opportunity of the next few decades.
In the finance sector, some of the world’s largest pension funds and insurers, responsible for directing more than $2 trillion in investments, have joined together to form the Asset Owner Alliance, which committed to moving their portfolios to carbon-neutral investments by 2050. The members of the Alliance are already engaging with companies in which they are investing, to ensure that they are decarbonizing their business models.
Unlocking the power of nature
Using the power of nature is believed to be one of the most effective and immediate ways to address the climate crisis. Strengthening natural ecosystems such as forests, for example, is one such solution: more forests means more capacity for carbon capture, and replanting mangrove forests provides an effective and cheap natural barrier against coastal floods and shoreline erosion.
Monday saw the launch of several initiatives designed to boost nature-based solutions. These include the Global Campaign for Nature, which plans to conserve around 30 percent of the Earth’s lands and oceans by 2030; a High-Level Panel for the Sustainable Ocean Economy, which will build resilience for the ocean and marine-protected areas; and the Central African Forest Initiative promises to protect the region’s forest cover, which provides livelihoods for some 60 million people.
Cleaning up cities
It is now possible to construct buildings that are 100 per cent net-zero carbon emitters, and the Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative is pledging to make all buildings – new build and existing – net zero carbon by 2050. This could potentially lead to a $1 trillion investment in developing countries, by 2030.
A total of 2000 cities committed to placing climate risk at the centre of their decision-making, planning and investments: this includes launching 1,000 bankable, climate-smart urban projects, and creating innovative financing mechanisms.
Tackling traffic congestion and pollution is the aim of the Action Towards Climate Friendly Transport initiative, which includes actions to plan city development in a way that minimises travel, shift from fossil-fuelled vehicles to non-motorized and public transport, and increase the use of zero-emission technologies.
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