#Time for action
Welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 6th December. I'm Anthony Day. First of all a big welcome to my latest gold patron Paul O’Mahoney. Welcome Paul, thanks for listening; thanks also for recommending this podcast to other people. Your special edition Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge is in the post.
COP25, the UN Climate Change Conference, started this week in Madrid under the Presidency of the Government of Chile and with logistical support from the Government of Spain. Big beasts on the financial scene, like Christine LaGarde and Mark Carney are entering the climate debate. As coal becomes uninsurable fossil fuel lobbyists redouble their greenwash and VW has its day in court to answer the emissions scandal. There’s a lack of clarity in a recently-released report on fracking, Simon Tilley tells us a story - not for the faint-hearted - and Greenpeace has served up a turkey - but hopes that you won’t.
COP25 continues until next Friday 13th December. Yes, it’s the 25th COP - the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.
As Greta Thunberg sails in to Portugal on her way to Madrid the journal Nature publishes an article headed:
“Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against”
“The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions,” it says. The article goes on to identify and analyse the threats: ice collapse in Greenland and Antarctica leading to sea-level rise, droughts in the Amazon, the slowing of the Atlantic Circulation and Gulf Stream, dying coral reefs and thawing permafrost.
It's not a very long article and I recommend you read it. You'll find the link on the Sustainable Futures Report blog which is at www.sustainablefutures.report.
In closing the authors say,
“In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute.
“We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best. Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping — and hence the risk posed — could still be under our control to some extent.
The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action — not just words — must reflect this.”
This is the context in which COP25 starts. The authors of the Nature article are by no means alone in saying that we are perilously close to the tipping point and that this is the opportunity for the world to take decisive action.
It's the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Back in 2015 all the signatory countries were given five years to report back on the progress they were making against the targets. This then is the final COP before 2020 when all countries must submit their revised plans for achieving their Paris obligations.
However, the commitments agreed in Paris in 2015 were insufficient to achieve the 2℃ target maximum warming, although it was generally agreed that they would keep warming below 3.5℃. In the five years since Paris scientists have reported that climate events are occurring faster and are more intense than expected, and that 1.5℃ should be the new target.
The UN warns that currently, not enough is being done to meet the three climate goals: reducing emissions 45 per cent by 2030; achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (which means a net zero carbon footprint), and stabilising global temperature rise at 1.5°C by the end of the century.
All this will be discussed over the next 10 days.
Fight to the Death
In the opening sessions President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands explained how her Pacific nation had been fighting rising tides, and how powerful swells averaging 5m (16ft) washed across the capital city, Majuro, last week.
She said the nation was in a "fight to the death" after freak waves inundated the capital.
greenbiz.com sets out four things that countries should do:
- Step up ambition - commitments must be strengthened.
- Make progress on outstanding rules - like carbon markets
- Assess loss and damage - This includes losses and damages that go beyond what countries and communities can adapt to or recover from, such as loss of cultural heritage, land, lives and livelihoods.
- Advance finance and capacity-building. Developing countries — particularly those most vulnerable to climate change — cannot step up climate action without financial support from developed ones.
New commitments must be set out at COP26, due to take place in Glasgow a year from now. Messages coming from COP25 indicate that those commitments must be formulated and implemented as a matter of urgency. The conference tagline is #timeforaction.
President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement claiming it will damage his nation’s competitive position. Nevertheless there is a US delegation and one of the most significant messages as the conference opened came from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The US will take action on greenhouse gases and engage with other countries on the climate emergency despite Donald Trump’s rejection of international cooperation.
“We are outraged by the dithering and retreat of one of the most culpable polluters from the Paris agreement,” Lois Young, Belize’s permanent representative to the UN and chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States, told the conference.
“In the midst of a climate emergency, retreat and inaction are tantamount to sanctioning ecocide. They reflect profound failure to honour collective global commitment to protect the most vulnerable.”
More from COP25 next time. There’s links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog to the COP25 site and to the live webcast.
An article from Common Dreams complains that some of the biggest sponsors of COP25 are some of the world’s biggest polluters.
While pollution from coal may slow down because new schemes are considered uninsurable, not that that’s holding coal development back in China, the fossil fuel lobby is desperately lobbying. A report from lobbyist watchdog InfluenceMap has found that although some investors support the EU’s “green labelling” rules, 98% of Europe’s 50 largest investors are members of lobby groups trying to weaken the proposals. Elsewhere they are targeting regulations on emissions, shipping, vehicles and aviation, as well as on electricity and clean power, carbon taxes and low carbon energy.
InfluenceMap points out that the asset management sector plays a pivotal role in the financial system given the vast portfolios the leading players manage, their interactions with companies in the real economy and power in shaping government policy as a key economic sector in its own right. Their analysis shows the sector as a whole is not demonstrating the kind of leadership at present, through any of these levers, that the recent escalation in the urgency of climate change would apparently warrant.
Asset Managers dragging feet
The portfolios held by the 15 largest asset management groups remain significantly misaligned with the targets of the Paris Agreement even under the fairly conservative IEA ‘Beyond 2 Degrees’ Scenario (B2DS) within the key [motor], electric power and fossil fuel production sectors, (with aggregate market values of at least US $8 Tn in widely held listed companies). This misalignment is reflective of the fact that the majority of companies in these sectors are very far from aligning their business models to meet the goals of Paris and that the 15 leading players all hold diversified global portfolios of equities often using index driven strategies.
By this last phrase I assume they mean that managers are making decisions purely based on the numbers, without taking account of the operations or consequences of the organisations that they have invested in.
Black Marks for BlackRock
BlackRock, an investment company with $7trn under management has been accused of greenwashing. BlackRock is certainly engaging with the climate issue. The allegation is that it’s just not pushing very hard. Rival fund manager Sir Christopher Hohn says that BlackRock backs only about 10% of climate-related resolutions tabled by shareholders, whereas big European names such as Legal & General and UBS are in the 80%-90% range. These two, plus Allianz, are the only ones taking climate change seriously. Sadly they seem to be in a minority.
Vorsprung durch… [whatever the German word for fraud is]
The cynicism and irresponsibility of some businesses is epitomised by the VW emissions scandal. It’s taken 4 years, but lawyers representing more than 90,000 motorists will accuse the carmaker Volkswagen of fitting some of its most popular models with an emissions defeat device, in the biggest class action of its kind in the UK.
In the US the company has already pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid out $4.3bn in civil and criminal penalties. In Europe, however, VW is still denying that the software it used was an illegal defeat device – despite German regulators having ruled in 2015 that it was designed to cheat emissions tests. If the UK action succeeds, drivers will presumably receive compensation. It’s not clear what will be done about the damage to the environment.
And in other news,
Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, has said that it should do more to help tackle the climate emergency, as she comes under pressure from MEPs to step up action against global heating.
In a strong hint that she would move the ECB beyond its traditional remit of controlling inflation, Lagarde said the bank would incorporate the climate threat into both its economic forecasts and in its capacity as watchdog of the financial system. Could we see a move away from chasing GDP and growth towards targeting human happiness and wellbeing? A lot of people would hope for that, but I think it will be a while yet.
More evidence that the climate crisis is being taken seriously at top levels comes as Mark Carney, retiring governor of the Bank of England, has been appointed as UN special envoy for climate action and finance. His main focus will be on mobilising private finance to invest in schemes that will help achieve the Paris climate agreement goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C.
He said: “The disclosures of climate risk must become comprehensive, climate risk management must be transformed, and investing for a net-zero world must go mainstream. The Bank of England, the UK government and the UK financial sector can play leading roles in making these imperatives happen.”
Let’s hope we can see carbon reporting becoming part of an organisation’s statutory reports, defined and audited to accounting standards.
Carney has previously spoken out about the need for change, warning in October that the global financial system was backing carbon-producing projects that would raise the temperature of the planet by over 4C.
Fracking is once more in the news. The British government has released a report on fracking which apparently was drawn up in 2016. This is the redacted version. Line after line, even page after page is totally blacked out. In fact the only page which has no redactions on it is the title page. If you've got something to hide this is surely a really good way of drawing attention to it.
And now…let me tell you a story.
I received this recently from Simon Tilley and he’s agreed that I can share it with you. This is what he said:
“I don’t know about you, but most of my bad dreams seem to involve helplessness. Here’s one: I’m a tall chap on a coach going down a motorway. I’ve got the seat just behind the driver, with plenty of legroom, and I’m comfortable, even serene. Then I become aware that in the distance just over the hill there’s a pile-up. The driver hasn’t noticed - indeed he’s actually accelerating a bit.
I do nothing; I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. But as we get closer, I see it is quite a big pile-up, and he still doesn’t seem to have noticed. I wonder whether I should speak up. In the end I say, in a conversational tone: ‘Looks like there’s a bit of a prang up ahead.’ He makes no reply. I repeat myself a bit louder, and two things happen. He says ‘It’s just a bit of congestion’ and one of my fellow passengers nudges me and points to a sign saying: ‘Do not speak to the driver while the vehicle is in motion.’ ‘Please be quiet,’ she says, ‘it’s not safe to speak to the driver and you’re upsetting my friend.
’You know how these things go; no one else appears to have clocked what is becoming a really obvious disaster up ahead or, if they have, seem oblivious to the danger. They go on chatting and reading and sleeping, and when I try to get their attention, they just look at me as if I were a television. And the coach continues to accelerate...
I’m screaming now, pointing ahead: ‘For God’s sake, stop! Brake! Brake hard!’
Amazingly no one seems to hear. One or two of the other passengers are looking at me with mild, bovine interest, but most are remonstrating with me for disrupting their journey. We reach the prow of the hill and I notice brake fluid escaping onto the road…the hill starts to descend quickly…..And then, with about a hundred yards to go before we pile into the destruction ahead, the driver applies the brakes but they are soft and spongey, we start to slow but far too little and too late………....
This is where I wake up, to that overwhelming feeling of relief that it was just a dream.
I usually ask myself what led up to that dream. Often there’s a logical explanation, based somewhere in reality. When you’re asleep, your brain sorts stuff you’ve been dealing with, re-runs it by and sorts out my emotional response while you’re offline. I went on a coach to London recently for the last People’s Vote march, and I’ve been reading a book about climate breakdown, (There is No Planet-B by Mike Berners-Lee) so that explains that.
Except, of course, that isn’t really a dream. When I wake I don’t get a surge of relief, just a feeling of despair at the reality: the clear and unanswerable fact that we are on the brink of irreversible climate breakdown; the knowledge that, in their anxiety not to be alarmist the media sits quiet, our scientists understated the danger and the ongoing complacency of some of our politicians is obvious, even when faced by the reality of fires in California and Australia, famine in South Sudan and floods in Fishlake. And I wish I’d pushed the driver out of the way and taken over the steering wheel myself earlier. The brow of the hill and the leaking brake fluid must have represented a tipping point beyond which we can not retreat. These are approaching but we don’t know when.
Everything I have done over the last two decades in Hockerton Housing Projector have been Reasonable and Proper. I’ve written articles, spoken to the media, talked with friends and family, had polite meetings with my MP, written letters and signed petitions. All to no avail. So, I fear, perhaps it’s not time to stay polite, but get arrested. And dare to dream of a hopeful future. Nonviolent direct action is starting to turn the tide, but we don’t have long.
Every action we take counts, where we bank, where we shop and for what, how we vote and what we choose to eat, how high we have the heating and how far we travel. A better future can be envisaged but we need to act and act to make it happen now.”
That piece was written by Simon Tilley, Director of the Hockerton Housing Project.
If you want to find out about some practical steps you can take especially if you’re interested in low energy housing, environmental education and or renewable energy you can contact Simon via links on the Sustainable Futures Report blog. You’ll also find a link to Hockerton’s videos on sustainability.
That story is certainly something to think about. I've been thinking, too, that a lot of what I bring you in the Sustainable Futures Report seems to be negative worrying and concerned with things that are going wrong and how little is being done about it. Actually attitudes are changing significantly.
Best Practice and Changing Attitudes
About 3.5 years ago I promoted and hosted the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange and from that I launched the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group. It sank without trace. Last week I was at a sustainability event and I mentioned my failed attempt to a couple of the speakers. Immediate interest. Maybe I was ahead of my time in 2016. Maybe this time it will work. I’ll keep you posted. The truth is that attitudes and awareness have changed dramatically in the last 12 months. XR is one reason for this, but people and governments and corporations are beginning to pay more than lip service to the climate situation. There’s a long way to go, and a lot of people still to convince, but this growing realisation that something must be done can only be good.
At the same time as promoting the actions needed to mitigate and slow down climate change - which can sound really negative - we should also be looking at how we can cope with and adapt to the changes that are inevitable. Remember, in the Nature article that I quoted at the start of this episode the authors said, “…the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping — and hence the risk posed — could still be under our control to some extent.” In future episodes therefore I’m going to bring you ideas from people with techniques and systems to help us live with the changes that are already locked into the climate.
It’s a Turkey!
Not to be outdone by the supermarkets, climate campaigners Greenpeace have issued their own Christmas video. It pits a turkey against a potato and makes the point that many turkeys are fattened on foods from abroad. Food like soya, grown on farms cleared from the South American rainforests. I’ve put a link to the video on the Sustainable Futures Report blog, but you really wouldn’t want to watch it. It’s an absolute turkey.
And that’s it…
For another week. As always, my grateful thanks to you for listening, especially if you’ve got this far, for your ideas and - if you are - for being a patron. And if you’re not, www.patreon.com/sfr explains what you’re missing.
The next episode will appear on Friday 13th December, when we’ll know the result of the UK General Election. Except that I’ll have to record and publish the Sustainable Futures Report long before the polls close, so I won’t be able to comment on the result. Anyway, we don’t do politics on the Sustainable Futures Report do we? All I would say is: vote for a party that understands the climate crisis and is committed to doing something sensible about it. Not that it will make much difference under our wonderful first-past-the-post electoral system.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time!
Climate tipping points
Flooded Islands - and the BBC video guide to COP25
Top emitters must act
4 Key Tasks
US Congress commits to act on climate crisis, despite Donald Trump
Coal power becoming 'uninsurable' as firms refuse cover
Fossil fuel lobbyists push to dilute EU anti-greenwash plan
Volkswagen emissions scandal: class action begins in UK
BlackRock's Larry Fink must think again over tackling climate crisis
UN appoints Mark Carney to help finance climate action goals
Lagarde: ECB should do more to tackle climate emergency
'Black wall' of redacted pages as fracking report finally released
A Christmas Story
Mr S Tilley, CEng MEng MIMechE
Director, Hockerton Housing Project Trading Ltd
Hockerton Housing Project : bringing sustainability to life
Bespoke tours and training courses arranged to meet your needs.
Did you know we are open to the public six times a year? Book here!
T 01636 816902
E firstname.lastname@example.org direct
E email@example.com main office
Hockerton’s videos on sustainability please click here.
Greenpeace Christmas video - important message but the video’s a bit of a turkey.