It has been over a year since our daily lives were modified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The shutdown of our countries’ activities has already had heavy effects on the economy, education, mental health, and has brought to light models that are probably here to stay, at least in some forms.
December 2020 was the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate accord, marked by a climate summit held in the UK with 70 world leaders. In advance of this milestone, the UK threw down the gauntlet to other countries by elevating their emissions reduction target to 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, 11% higher than the previous target. These targets are considered the second toughest in the world, following only those of Sweden.
Bill Gates recently published his new book, a green manifesto called ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’. We’re still reading our copy but we believe a core element to this manifesto is noteworthy – addressing the price differential between a fossil-fuel-based way of doing something and the clean, non-emitting way of doing the same thing – what Mr Gates calls the Green Premium.
Sustainable investing, considered a niche investment option just a few years ago, is now a key component of a balanced investment strategy for a wide range of investors. The COVID crisis, rather than deprioritise responsible investment, has helped accelerate its development and push sustainability to the forefront. Recent figures from Morningstar track this accelerated growth, highlighting its concentration in Europe as well as the future opportunity elsewhere.
The retail industry and its supply chain are not without controversies and challenges for sustainable investors and consumers alike. As with other industries, retailers are facing increasing pressure to take responsibility for their footprints and what happens in their supply chains: the environmental impacts of their materials, the human rights and labour standards in the workhouses of their suppliers, and how the concept of fast fashion fits into a circular economy.
This week South Korea became the third large Asian economy to pledge carbon neutrality, marking a major milestone for the fight against climate change. All three countries, China, Japan and South Korea, are in the top 10 country emitters of carbon dioxide in the world due to a continued reliance on coal-powered energy, and together represent over a third of annual global emissions.
The election of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States is a relief for those involved in sustainability. From an environmental perspective simply a return to science-based policy making will be hugely welcome. Biden plans to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement on day one of his presidency, and despite potentially not having control of the Senate he should be able to proceed with many of his green goals; a task force put together during the campaign identified 56 policy moves on climate and energy that do not need help from Congress.
Last month was the 50th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s influential report titled ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits’, a mantra often heralded as the basis of the capitalist model used globally since, and now quite widely criticised as a cause of social inequalities and environmental externalities. The concept, as we are all aware of, was that business leaders should focus on creating as much value as possible for the owners of the company rather than on improving outcomes for a broader set of stakeholders.
California seems to be in the eye of the storm at the moment when it comes to the impacts of climate change. Images of yellow smoke-filled skies are proliferating news sources and social media, the result of wildfires that are seasonal for the state due to hot and dry weather, but that this year have burned through over 5 million acres already, worse than any year in the history books. The season for wildfires usually continues until December and may continue to force people to stay at home due to the air quality, further impacting businesses already reeling from the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
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