Commentary

Take Five: Sticking Point

A selection of this week’s major stories impacting ESG investors, in five easy pieces. 

This week, G20 nations were unable to reach consensus on reducing the use of fossil fuels as the world grapples with a rapidly warming planet.

Sticking point – The G20 failed to agree on the phasing down of fossil fuels, leaving climate scientists and environmental campaigners frustrated amid weeks of extreme weather events around the globe demonstrating the escalating climate crisis. Negotiations broke down in India between the world’s wealthiest economies – which account for more than 75% of global emissions – due to objections by some producer nations. The news is disappointing to say the least, given the group’s vital role in the net zero transition and the battle against climate change, with disagreements centring around the intended tripling of renewable energy capacities by 2030, resulting in officials issuing an outcome statement rather than a joint communique. Countries led by Saudi Arabia opted to block a reduction in use of fossil fuels in favour of investment in developing carbon capture and storage technology to address rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions. Speaking at the end of the four-day meeting in Bambolim, in the Indian coastal state of Goa, Indian Minister of Power RK Singh told onlookers that the reduction of fossil fuel production was a “sticking point” in the discussions. But with 43% decline in emissions required by 2030 to stop global temperatures rising above 1.5°C global leaders must find a way out of this sticky situation.  

Seeing red – News of British Gas recording record profits of almost £1 billion has left UK households seeing red as they face a “debt time-bomb” as millions struggle to cope with the cost-of-living crisis. The windfall was largely the result of a change to the energy price cap by regulator Ofgem which permitted British Gas to recoup the costs of supplying customers during the energy crisis. Paul Nowak, the Trades Union Congress General Secretary, said: “While families across Britain have struggled to pay their bills, energy companies have been allowed to laugh all the way to the bank.” The news has reignited calls for the UK government to close the “Swiss cheese” holes in its windfall tax on energy companies, with the Labour opposition labelling Downing Street’s stance on the issue “perverse”.  

Falling short – This week, Anglo-American miner Rio Tinto announced that it is likely to miss its 2025 decarbonisation target, representing a 15% reduction in group emissions, unless it turns to its “last resort” of buying carbon credits. Its admission that its climate target is in jeopardy highlights the inherent decarbonisation challenges faced by the mining sector, which plays a vital role in extracting natural resources and critical minerals essential for the energy transition. Next week, many of the world’s largest mining companies will publish their progress in implementing the Global Industry Standard on Tailing Management aimed at driving mining industry safety standards. The Standard was developed following the 2019 Brumadinho disaster in Brazil which resulted in the deaths of 272 individuals. With rapid expansion of the mining industry required to meet the demands of the low-carbon transition, the sector has an uphill battle ahead to deliver crucial supply of minerals while mitigating the potential social and environmental ramifications.  

Lawyer up – Lawsuits against government and corporate inaction to address the climate crisis are on the rise and represent a key tool in driving change, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. The study highlighted that the number of climate-related court cases has more than doubled since 2017 and continues to climb worldwide, with climate litigation fast becoming an integral part of securing climate justice. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said that climate policies are “far behind” what is needed to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C, with people increasingly turning to the courts to hold the governments and the private sector to account on combatting climate change. This week, law firm ClientEarth announced that it plans to appeal the rejection of its landmark lawsuit against Shell’s Board of Directors over climate risk mismanagement after a High Court judge dismissed its claim.  

Ocean current collapse – Scientists this week warned of a forthcoming collapse of Atlantic currents this century, which will exacerbate already extreme weathers events seen this summer. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen noted that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is responsible for bringing warmer water upwards from the tropics to the North Atlantic, will fail at some point between 2025 and 2095 with 95% confidence. 

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