Welcome to this week’s Media Roundup: a curated digest of top stories and major developments in the climate finance space.
Read on below.
For supporters of the movement to divest from fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report on the climate crisis is further evidence that investors need to shift their capital away from businesses responsible for carbon emissions. One of the biggest financial movements in sustainability is applying social and economic pressure on the capital reserves of fossil-fuel companies. The divestment movement — where investors are encouraged to sell their financial assets connected to coal, oil, and natural-gas companies — was estimated to be worth $14 trillion last year.
With global climate change threatening to wreak havoc on their industry, insurance companies are increasingly looking to limit their exposure to the fossil fuel sector. “This was not an issue that was central in the insurance sector, even 7 years ago,” said Robin Edger, national director of climate change for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “But now it is moving at light speed.” In the past three years, 23 major global insurance companies have adopted policies that end or limit insurance for the coal industry, and nine insurers have ended or limited insurance for the Canadian oilsands.
Climate activist group Market Forces has accused HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered of continuing to provide billions of dollars in fresh funding to fossil fuel projects, despite increasingly urgent calls for drastic action on carbon emissions. The organisation, which typically focuses on forcing shareholder action on environmental issues, says it has launched a project to monitor financing for oil, gas and coal activities in real-time, using data from specialist project finance journal IJGlobal.
The US government has placed further delays on a proposed multibillion dollar plastics plant in south Louisiana, marking a major victory for environmental activists and members of the majority Black community who have campaigned for years against construction. The planned $9.4bn petrochemical facility, owned by Formosa Plastics, would roughly double toxic emissions in its local area and, according to environmentalists, release up to 13m tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants, to become one of the largest pollution-causing plastics facilities in the world.
Calculating the future cost of global warming is one of society’s most urgent challenges. And that math will depend on the speed of major shifts in Earth’s climate system, like the complete loss of summer Arctic sea ice or the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which could raise sea level much faster and higher than expected. The climate science report released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change heightened concerns about such climate “tipping points,” because many of the studies it was based on show those shifts are already happening. The report noted a high likelihood that they will accelerate if global warming surges much beyond 1.5 degree Celsius, the safest-possible cap on warming recommended by the Paris climate agreement.
Fossil fuels don’t just damage the planet by emitting climate-warming greenhouse gases when they are burned. Extracting coal, oil and gas has a huge impact on the surface of the earth, including strip mines the size of cities and offshore oil spills that pollute country-sized swaths of ocean. Years of research has shown how the fracking boom has contaminated groundwater in some areas. But a study published on Thursday in the journal Science suggests there is also a previously undocumented risk to surface water in streams, rivers and lakes.
A new California building code is a leap forward for reducing the use of natural gas, with rules that set a strong preference for electric heating in new construction. That’s the glass-half-full view of the rules the state’s energy commission approved last week, according to environmental advocates….who ad hoped that California would become the first state in the country to ban natural gas in most new construction, at a time of growing awareness of the health and climate benefits of all-electric buildings. Now, advocates are looking to other states that may be the first to pass some kind of gas ban, with candidates that include Massachusetts, New York and Washington.
The kids are mad as hell—and so are teachers who want their California teacher pension fund, CalSTRS, to join 1,000 other institutions collectively divesting $14.5 trillion from the fossil fuel industry that threatens climate catastrophe. The retirement fund divestment fight, led by retired teachers in Fossil Free CA and students from Youth vs Apocalypse and Earth Guardians, estimates CalSTRS’ portfolio investments in fossil fuels at $16 billion, mostly in oil and gas delivery systems, but $6 billion in direct investments in oil behemoths, with $400 million in Exxon-Mobil, $350 million in Chevron, $250 million in BP and $108 million in Enbridge Inc. This is the same corporation sending attack dogs to maul water protectors protesting drilling at river crossings on indigenous land, where Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline will send sludgy tar sands through Minnesota. The estimated pollution from the pipeline is equivalent to 50 coal powered plants running for 50 years.
Governments around the world have started to make climate-risk reporting mandatory instead of voluntary, unleashing a complex accounting-style challenge that many businesses, asset managers and banks will have to address in the near term. Several climate risk reporting frameworks exist, but the one that many policymakers have endorsed is the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, or TCFD. The taskforce designed standardized guidelines to help organizations disclose material climate risks, explain their plans to manage exposure, and describe how the shift to a zero-carbon economy would affect their operations. In other words, the TCFD is a way for a company to look under the hood of its operations and determine what impact its activities are having on the climate, and, in turn, what impact rising temperatures could have on its business.
In the wake of a global pandemic and a devastating IPCC report that reinforced a growing consumer demand for corporations to act on the climate crisis and protect public health, Stand.earth’s annual Fossil-Free Fashion Scorecard
released on August 24 shows how companies are failing in their efforts to tackle climate change. As a multi-trillion dollar industry whose greenhouse gas emissions are expected to drastically increase in the coming decades, the scorecard reveals fashion companies are not doing enough to move from climate commitments to actions at the scale desperately needed.
Over $14 trillion in fossil fuel stock has been divested from institutional portfolios since 2014, and Yale’s isn’t the first big endowment to signal its intentions to add to the loss. In the last two years, Brown, Columbia, Georgetown, and the University of Cambridge, among others, have announced plans to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewables over the next decade. At the same time, activist investors have been waging a war of words at places like Exxon and Chevron to get the industry to reform. As of its last disclosure, Yale’s endowment had holdings in fossil fuel companies amounting to roughly $800 million. Along with the June announcement, Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) published a preliminary list of 45 fossil fuel companies barred from future investment by the endowment; the list will be expanded in the coming months. Coal mining operations will no longer be eligible for investment, a decision that caps off Yale’s $10 million divestment from coal mining and oil sands in 2016.