Commentary

ICYMI, A Cold Wind Can Really Warm Up a Debate

This week saw new developments in the resetting of several relationships: man and nature; investors and investees; the US and, well, everyone else.

What was more chilling this week? The winter storms that stretched across large swathes of North America or the wave of disinformation that has followed in their wake?

As Americans felt the force of Uri and Viola, the rest of us were dealing with Hurricane Bill, as the co-founder of Microsoft swept across global media outlets explaining ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’.

As Gates noted in an accompanying blog, ‘everyone can contribute’, but the book was really directed at policy-makers, outlining “a concrete plan to achieve our goals”. Former UK PM Gordon Brown welcomed the intervention, but had plenty of policy proposals of his own for those attending COP26 or participating in G7 discussions on climate change; others were less convinced.

Policy-makers were not short of food for thought this week, with the release yesterday of ‘Making Peace with Nature’ by the UN Environment Programme, which argues for a joint approach to the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises “to secure a sustainable future and prevent future pandemics”.

A reset of our relationship with nature is clearly essential to a sustainable future. Also important of course is the ongoing reset of the relationship between companies and investors, which remains a work in progress. Reports released this week reflected the hard yards still to travel in sectors from real estate to industrials.

With the academic case further strengthened, investors made the argument for a greater emphasis on sustainability, calling also for the industry to reform itself, as well encouraging change among investee companies.  With ESG and climate-related shareholder proposals coming thick and fast from ClimateAction 100+ and others, one often wishes this year’s AGMs were more physical than virtual. Zoom and Twitter may again be winners.

Positive signs of the power of engagement between investors and the c-suite were also evident this week, notably in the mining and auto sectors. Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg stepped down from the mining and trading firm promising to put its climate strategy to an advisory vote, having already committed to net-zero emissions, including Scope 3, last December.

Jaguar Land Rover confirmed that its luxury Jaguar brand will only build electric vehicles from 2025 with the more rugged Land Rover division following within five years. Personally, I want to know what they plan to do with the legion of diesel-powered SUVs gathering dust on the outskirts of every town in the south-east of England since last March.

The week will end as it began, with attention focused on the US. On Thursday, the finance-led US Climate Action Working Group issued its 10-point Principles for a US Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy, including commitments to science-based goals, multilateralism, carbon pricing, standards harmonisation and a just transition.

But this was a warm-up for the main act. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will mark the official re-entry of the US to the Paris Agreement this afternoon (EST) with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in attendance. It’ll be virtual of course, but hopefully the start of a warm relationship.

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