Summer of doom unlocks a new will to act
This month, we’re excited to announce a shift in focus that has been incubating for some time. We’re moving to an explicit emphasis on new and emerging trends in the sustainability agenda. We will continue to monitor the ESG and finance space, but taking the perspective of: What are the main trend lines and new influences that will shape sustainability reporting requirements.
The rationale for this is that we’re mindful of the fact that the sustainability agenda is changing at high speed in tandem with the impacts of environmental change - witness this summer - and that sustainability professionals need quick summaries of what’s on the horizon and what’s interesting.
Furthermore, it’s just too easy to tune out amidst the relentlessly dark tone of media coverage. Our goal is to provide an easy dose of the important information and save you the doom-scroll.
In this newsletter, you’ll find proof that while the news might be bad (okay, really bad) right now we are being stirred to action. Even in unexpected places.
Big disasters can prompt big change
One thing is that the impacts of the summer of heat, drought and fires are making governments move faster on adaptation, and doing things that can help us in the future anticipate extreme events. Indeed, we can see the events of this summer as a fast-track for the adaptation agenda worldwide.
In a clear sign that heatwaves are now business as usual, Spain has launched a naming trial for heatwaves, with Zoe being the inaugural name for the 2022 event that scorched southern Spain. Taking a page from tropical cyclone naming which helps provide early warning to those at risk, the pilot aims to increase public awareness of impending heat risk.
Dry rivers are the new normal
The stark images of Europe’s great rivers bled dry this summer reminds us of the iconic Vietnam war image of ‘Napalm Girl’ that sent shockwaves through the world and fire power into the anti-war movement. There is no hiding from the reality that we are now in a much drier world, and everyone has to act.
The new geopolitics of climate talks
The recent cycle of disasters, in particular floods in Pakistan, is turbo-charging the already tense North-South fault lines in climate talks. Pakistan is just one of many countries that will call for climate reparations from rich countries, and this on top of the ongoing frustration about the $100 billion for adaptation that soured last year’s COP26 in Glasgow.
Furthermore, we’ll get a sneak peak of the “new world order” (code for “the world that isn’t run by the West”) at the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkhand. Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend, his first overseas trip since January 2020, as will Russia’s President Putin.
The SCO is a Eurasian alliance that brings together China, Russia, India, Pakistan and the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to promote stability across the region. This is an important group, the largest regional bloc in the world, and its membership is growing fast. Iran will attend for the first time as a full member and six new dialogue partners will be admitted at this year’s summit - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Chinese emissions down
The latest quarterly analysis of China’s emissions trends shows that its emissions fell a record 8% in the second quarter of 2022. Factors in this drop include ongoing COVID restrictions, falls in steel and cement production due to the real estate slowdown, plus a 6% fall in coal use. Analyst Lauri Myllyvirta notes that coal usage was back up in July and August due to heatwaves and drought.
👉 This has not changed the more salient drivers of falling emissions. The Chinese government is responding to the economic slowdown with a stimulus package towards real estate and infrastructure projects, but will also benefit clean-energy investment. This policy response will determine whether China’s emissions have already peaked or whether they will rebound before peaking later this decade.
A bestseller in Japan on Marx, sustainability and degrowth
Japanese academic Kohei Saito’s book “Capital in the Anthropocene” has become a surprise hit among young people, selling more than half a million copies since it was published in September 2020. Inspired by Marx, the book argues that capitalism’s demand for unlimited profits is destroying the planet and only “degrowth” can repair the damage by slowing down social production and sharing wealth.
Buying eco bags and bottles without changing anything about the economic system … SDGs mask the systemic problem and reduce everything to the responsibility of the individual, while obscuring the responsibility of corporations and politicians.
I discovered how Marx was interested in sustainability and how non-capitalist and pre-capitalist societies are sustainable, because they are realising the stationary economy, they are not growth-driven.
He tweets in Japanese out of @koheisaito0131, where his bio states simply “Marxist”.
If you’re interested to learn more about degrowth, I recommend our podcast episode from last year with Julia Steinberger and Malcolm Fairbrother. In it, they debate the differences and similarities between degrowth and green growth.
What you need to know about extreme weather events
The summer from hell isn’t over, Pakistan is still in full crisis mode, and the American West is still struggling with heat, power shortages and ongoing drought.
To make sense of what’s happening, this is it a great round-up from Amy Luers, Global Director of Sustainability Science at Microsoft. Follow her on Linked In, she shares clear and usable insights from the best sustainability science.
👉 Extreme weather is more frequent and more severe than expected from climate models.
The Arctic has warmed four times as rapidly as the rest of the globe, much faster than expected, and is contributing to increased extreme weather events in other regions
Heatwaves in Europe have increased 3-4 times more rapidly than other mid-latitude regions.
👉 Science for attributing human and economic losses to climate change is improving, and becoming more important in policy, legal, and business settings.
Physicians are calling for climate change to be listed on death certificates for heat-related fatalities. Recent research shows that deaths can be reliably attributed to climate change when data is available on socio-economic vulnerability and health impacts of past heat waves.
👉 Climate risk assessment services available today are inadequate for preparing businesses and communities for climate extremes.
Despite rapid growth in demand, standard climate risk assessments (CRAs) are inappropriate for effectively assessing the true exposure of society and business to climate-related risk. Challenges include limitations to scope: risks assessed in isolation, and on an one-off basis; and poor data quality - too generic and non-scalable.
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From the podcast
Water, and specifically water resilience, is top of mind for many right now as their countries and communities continue to struggle with persistent drought.
We’ve mentioned before how important and little-discussed water issues are (you can even catch up on a whole podcast 🎙️ about it). So here are two stories to make you hopeful that we *may* be getting some increased political traction on water resilience:
The EU taxonomy on sustainable finance contains six environmental objectives and one of them covers the sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, while another is about transitioning to a circular economy, which could help reduce both demand for and wastage of water.
Climate negotiations have paid scant attention to water scarcity and insecurity to date, but is expected to be a key theme of next year’s COP28 talks in the United Arab Emirates.
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