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
Thwarting Trump on Climate Change Denial
We now have the remarkable convenience of the internal combustion engine, and also its noise and chaos and emissions to energize climate change. Burning fossil fuels has put us on planet Titanic …
The doomsday clock remains at a critical two minutes to midnight, the ‘new abnormal,’ spelling future disaster, and we will continue to be like the “Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music,” to quote former California governor Jerry Brown. He is now the executive chairman of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the organization behind the clock. This year climate change is cited as a major cause; it was the principal reason in 2012 and 2014.
The U.S. ‘National Climate Assessment’ last November did not mince words when it noted, “The evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming … the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country.” The report mandated by Congress and affirmed by science agencies of the government was repudiated by President Trump: “I do not believe it,” was his blunt response. Mr. Trump religiously opposes climate change, believing it to be a natural phenomenon that will reverse itself also naturally. About the current administration, one prominent scientist, the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, was quoted in Science as saying, “They’re in la-la-land.” Science has labeled the inaction, the policy breakdown of the year.
Sadly this la-la-land is not harmless as tell-tale signs of the exacerbation of weather events are already here: Hurricanes intensify quickly, then move slowly shedding unprecedented amounts of rain. It happened with Harvey over Houston in 2017, and with Florence over North Carolina in 2018. That overall temperature in the oceans is breaking new records is one good reason.
The 1.5C report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has given us, on the safe side, a 12-year window in which to start reducing emissions, to try to achieve neutral balance by mid-century, or eventually a self-reinforcing feedback loop will lead to uncontrollable warming and a “Hothouse Earth.” If we cannot expect any policy initiatives from this administration, can changes in individual behaviors help? Apparently yes, and it is within our power to address two major CO2 sources:
Carbon capture from the atmosphere is difficult and expensive. A better alternative might be to remove it at the source. That means at power stations and factories, and there are new processes offering hope. However, most carbon emission comes from transportation, and it points to a future of electric cars using electricity from CO2 scrubbed power stations. The choice of car is clearly up to us.
Another avenue of individual involvement is dietary change for a sustainable future — in itself clearly at odds with the zealous consumption of meat in rich countries. Ruminants release methane through belching as food passes through their several stomachs. Over their agricultural cycle, cattle alone emit 270,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas per tonne of protein, many times more than poultry. As Bill Gates has observed if cows were a country, they would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions.
There is another way to look at it. One can translate a kilo of different food sources into the number of car miles driven. Lamb is definitely the worst at 91 miles followed by beef at 63. Bad news for vegetarians, cheese comes in at 31 miles. It is followed by pork (28), turkey (25), chicken (16), nuts (5) and lentils (2). Imagine if dietary habits changed from beef to lentils, even once a week would make an enormous difference. Also chicken, turkey and pork are reasonable substitutes as cutting out beef and lamb is clearly critical. By the way, Indian food has delicious lentil recipes.
Scientists may soon have other intriguing possibilities, including lab-grown meat, that is if the current Beyond Burger type bean substitutes do not quite make the taste test. Then there are crickets! They happen to be an excellent source of protein offering more per pound than beef, and their production leaves a tiny ecological footprint in comparison. Ground up into powder, this protein can be added to flour or other foods, and it is available. Kernza is a perennial grain and a substitute for wheat and corn but without their annual tilling which robs the soil of nutrients and also causes erosion. There is also a new oil made from algae. Sourced originally from the sap of a German chestnut tree, it has been developed further to yield more oil, and is being sold under the name Thrive. With a neutral taste and high smoke point, it makes an excellent substitute for the environmentally destructive palm oil, where plantations have ravaged forests in Indonesia and imperiled orangutans.
Personal choices can make a huge difference, including walking whenever possible for short distances instead of driving — mostly it’s just habit. Bicycles, tricycles and push scooters are all out there, including some with electrical power assist.
Yes, there are options available to cut back our contributions to climate change; they require changes in habits and tastes, perhaps difficult, but we will have to eventually if we are not to leave behind a raging planet for future generations. Meanwhile, the young in Europe have been marching in their tens of thousands to draw attention to the issue, and it cannot hurt to do likewise.
Eye in the sky: Using satellites to better manage natural resources
Looking up towards the stars at night, the sky can give the impression of being empty and infinite. In reality, space is getting more and more crowded every day.
According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, there are currently 4,857 satellites orbiting the planet. Among them are two Sentinel-2 satellites, part of a space-borne mission provided by the Copernicus European Earth Observation programme. The two satellites visit the same spot on Earth every two to five days, depending on the location.
Their sensors acquire multispectral images with spatial resolution varying between 10, 20, or 60 metres, depending on the spectral band. The data produced by Sentinel satellites is freely available to the public and the volumes of data are staggering. Between Sentinel 1, 2 and 3, over 10 petabyte of new data are made available for download every year. With a single petabyte equalling 500 billion pages of standard typed text, this is Big Data worthy of its name.
The satellites are providing ever more detailed information about the state of our planet, and businesses have long ago figured out how to use this data. The European Commission estimates that the cumulative benefits of the Copernicus programme by 2020 range between US$11.4 to US$15 billion (10 to 13 billion euros). So how can we translate this wealth of information into tangible benefits for the environment at the local level?
“In Colombia, small-scale, mechanized illegal gold mining is creating environmental challenges on an unprecedented scale,” says Inga Petersen, Senior Extractives Adviser within UN Environment’s Crisis Management Branch. “Excavators and dredgers used to dig up river beds for alluvial gold mining are contributing to wide-ranging deforestation and the loss of natural wetlands. Highly toxic mercury used in processing contaminates air and water and has accumulated in the food chain, posing significant threats to human health and ecosystems,” she adds.
However, mining areas are often hard to reach and keeping track of new or abandoned operations can be a challenge to local government agencies.
To support the mapping of new and abandoned sites and identify opportunities for restoration, UN Environment is collaborating with the University of Liège, in Belgium, to leverage Sentinel-2 data for local-level decision-making and early warning.
Funded by the European Commission (DG Grow) and EIT RawMaterials, the RawMatCop CopX project (Geospatial mining transparency through Copernicus and MapX) is analysing changes on land and water bodies, focusing specifically on mining ponds created on riverbeds. These ponds offer clues regarding the status of the mining activities.
Detecting and analysing these clues with the use of Earth Observation requires machine learning and image processing techniques in challenging, highly clouded areas. These techniques are key to understanding the dynamics in the mining area and to potentially automate the search to cover larger areas and track changes over time.
Testing this innovative underlying methodology started in 2018 in the Bajo Cauca region in the Antioquia department. The project is being implemented in close cooperation with the Government of Colombia, including the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development as well as other UN agencies and strategic partners. Once established, CopX aims for the analysis to be applied at a larger scale and even offer the potential to establish an early warning system which can be adopted by the government to tackle illegal gold mining and monitor the implementation of restoration strategies.
However, translating big data into actionable insights is only a part of the solution. Making this data available to the relevant policymakers at the local and national level in a format which is accessible to non-experts is a critical step to enable evidence-based decision-making.
With this in mind, the project will use MapX, an online, open-source geospatial platform backed by the neutrality of the United Nations, to make the results available in easy-to-understand maps. The platform uses summary story maps, such as this one, to outline the interlinkages between the environment, conflict and natural resources.
“Whilst MapX can host sensitive datasets in private projects, MapX’s mission is to increase global environmental transparency by making the best available data widely accessible. Access to information is especially important in places like Colombia, where the environment features prominently in the 2016 peace agreement,” says Petersen.
In addition to featuring the outcomes of the project, MapX provides a comprehensive data catalogue, including data on the environment, the socio-economic context and conflict interlinkages. Combined with a suite of analytical and visualization tools, platform users can easily analyse, contextualize and visualize interactions between different data layers to increase awareness and inform decisions. Data, maps, narrative and multimedia files can then be summarized in interactive story maps to help tell the story hidden in the data.
Air pollution is choking Bangkok, but a solution is in reach
A recent spell of especially soupy air has Bangkok scrambling to disperse dangerous pollutants and protect residents against dire health impacts.
The government has reacted quickly, clamping down on heavily polluting vehicles, deploying police and military to inspect factories and incinerators, shutting schools to protect children, and even deploying cloud-seeding planes to force rain and clear the air.
According to Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, UN Environment’s Regional Coordinator for Chemicals, Waste, and Air Quality, it’s a good start.
“The government has to take decisive action to enforce pollution regulations, and they are on the right track so far, deploying efforts such as strict enforcement of emission controls. We know they are also looking at more urgent measures and UN Environment is working closely with the government on longer-term solutions,” she said.
“While solutions like cloud seeding may provide temporary relief for larger particulates, it does not, however, help reduce PM2.5,” she warns. “After these interim measures, the next logical step is to shut down the most polluting factory. That may mean accepting some economic damage in the short term, but protecting public health must be the utmost priority. Beyond factories, the government can move urgently to replace soot-spewing public buses and boats running on diesel fuel with versions that are less polluting.”
Air pollution in Bangkok arises from a mix of factors. Traffic, construction and factory emissions are the main reasons, but at this time of the year, burning of waste and crop residues is also a major source. There isn’t just one culprit for the recent bout of air pollution, but it has been exacerbated by weather conditions that have not allowed the pollutants to disperse.
Bangkok and other areas in Thailand already experience regular air pollution. The prolonged period of unhealthy air in Bangkok is not unique to the city nor the country: 92 per cent of Asia and the Pacific’s population—some 4 billion people—are exposed to levels of air pollution that pose a significant risk to their health.
The current countermeasures are a short-term solution to this problem because, as Nagatani-Yoshida points out, “Factories can’t be closed forever. People need to get around. Ultimately, if people want to breathe clean air, numerous measures must be taken to tackle pollution.”
UN Environment recently published guidance on reducing air pollution. Some 25 measures could reduce premature mortality in the region by one third and see one billion people living in Asia breathing clean air.
“We hope country, provincial and city governments across the region, including Bangkok, look at these recommendations and implement them urgently,” said Nagatani-Yoshida.
UN Environment and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition are already working with the Thailand Pollution Control Department, the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency, and other agencies to implement some of these clean air measures and substantially reduce PM2.5 levels.
In particular, UN Environment is collaborating with the Pollution Control Department to leapfrog from Euro IV vehicle emission standards to Euro VI, which are currently the strictest standards in place.
Collaboration will also focus on helping shift 2–3 wheelers in Bangkok from gasoline to electric and retrofitting the numerous boats and ferries used for public transportation in the canal-connected city.
There is no time to waste. The faster the government moves to clamp down on emitters and back clean alternatives, the sooner Bangkok and the rest of the country can start to breathe again.
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