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Week 37: And... so what?
And. We start this week’s newsletter with ‘and’. It is the sort of word that explains so much. It is a small one, almost unnoticeable, thus so powerful. It connects and disconnects. It can be playful, hard, interrogating, comic. And it is. You may ask why and why now? I think we have come to ‘and’ since most of the other words in the vocabulary got scared, running as far as they can from the reality they were supposed to describe.
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And, a planetary boundaries framework update, done by The Potsdam Institute, finds that six of the nine boundaries are transgressed, suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity. Ocean acidification is close to being breached, while aerosol loading regionally exceeds the boundary. Stratospheric ozone levels have slightly recovered. The transgression level has increased for all boundaries earlier identified as overstepped.
As primary production drives Earth system biosphere functions, human appropriation of net primary production is proposed as a control variable for functional biosphere integrity. This boundary is also transgressed. Earth system modelling of different levels of the transgression of the climate and land system change boundaries illustrates that these anthropogenic impacts on Earth’s system must be considered in a systemic context.
And, they are not considered by any means in a systemic context of the economic model we operate, called capitalism. And, it does not matter at all. How come? Who pays for all of this? We do, and, we love it.
And, the world’s corporations produce so much climate change pollution, it could eat up about 44% of their profits if they had to pay damages for it, according to a study by economists of nearly 15,000 public companies.
The “corporate carbon damages” from those publicly owned companies analysed — a fraction of all the corporations — probably runs in the trillions of dollars globally and in the hundreds of billions for American firms, one of the study authors estimated in figures that were not part of the published research. That’s based on the cost of carbon dioxide pollution that the United States government has proposed.
Nearly 90% of that calculated damage comes from four industries: energy, utilities, transportation and manufacturing of materials such as steel. The study in Thursday’s journal Science by a team of economists and finance professors looks at what new government efforts to get companies to report their emissions of heat-trapping gases would mean, both to the firm’s bottom lines and the world’s ecological health.
Study co-author Christian Leuz, a finance and accounting professor at the University of Chicago, said the idea “of shining the light on corporate activities that have costs to society is very powerful, but it is not enough to save the planet.”
An earlier study of his found that after fracking firms disclosed their pollution rates, those contamination levels dropped 10% to 15%, he said. Leuz and his colleagues used a private analysis firm that finds or estimates carbon emissions of some publicly owned companies and analyzed the carbon pollution from 14,879 firms. Then they compared them to company revenues and profits. That calculation shows “which activities are particularly costly to society from a climate perspective,” Leuz said.
Still, he cautioned that “it would not be correct to just blame the companies. It is not possible to divide responsibility for these damages between the firms that make the products and consumers who buy them.” The calculations are for only a fraction of the world’s corporations, with many public companies not included and private firms not listed at all, Leuz said.
The economists didn’t identify or tease out single companies but instead grouped firms by industry and by country. And they only used direct emissions, not what happens downstream. So the gas in a person’s car does not count toward an oil company’s emissions or corporate carbon damages. And, you can find this scary piece, written by Seth Borenstein.
And, I wrote about this so many times.
And, a carbon offset deal could see Liberia concede 10 percent of its territory to a private Emirati company, extinguishing customary land rights and giving the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pollution rights equivalent to the forest’s carbon sequestration.
The deal would give the company blanket control over one million hectares of forest. The company would then “harvest” carbon credits, supposedly from restoring and protecting the land, which they would then sell onto major polluters to offset their emissions. If signed, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) would violate a number of Liberian laws, including the 2019 land rights law, a legislation that asserts communities’ right to “customary land”.
It would also concede near total control of one of the most densely forested territories in Africa to the Dubai-based firm Blue Carbon for a period of 30 years. Additionally, the deal would prevent Liberia from using the land to meet its own international climate targets.
Up until recently, the agreement was shrouded in secrecy; while the MoU was concluded in March, with the final draft to be signed imminently, local NGOs were reportedly unaware of the contract until government sources leaked the news.
“We only got to know about the draft agreement a few weeks ago,” Jonathan Yiah of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), a member of Liberia’s Independent Forest Monitoring Coordinating Mechanism (IFMCM), a consortium of seven environmental and community rights organisations, told Middle East Eye.
Following the leak, the government scrambled to invite local stakeholders to meetings. But the SDI reported that participants were only sent the draft contract a day before the first meeting, with subsequent meetings rescheduled at the last minute. The upcoming Liberian elections in October suggest that government officials were in a hurry to pocket the initial upfront payment of $50m, an amount revealed in the leak. And so, what? We don’t have a problem with this, transition is win-win for us, who cares about the rest!
And, you know that SBTI thing that was about to change things around the world, yes that scientific thing, those targets. And, if you want to laugh out loud this is a good spot. In this article written by the brilliant Attracta Mooney in the FT, you can find out why.
The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) will become a standalone UK company that will examine and validate corporate net zero emission targets, a service for which it charges fees. The profits will go to a separate non-profit umbrella body that will continue to set the standards for those targets, with the full structure to be put into place by year end.
Originally a partnership of a handful of non-profit organisations, including an UN initiative, CDP, the World Resources Institute and WWF, the body grew rapidly after it launched ahead of the 2015 Paris accord.
But it was forced to review its own governance practices following a formal complaint last year about potential conflicts of interest, based on concerns that it was setting the criteria for net zero targets while also charging companies to validate their targets.
The new chair of the SBTi board of trustees will be Francesco Starace, former chief executive of Enel, the Italian state-controlled utility company, who was on the board of the UN Global Compact corporate initiative.
SBTi has become one of the most influential advisers on climate change to companies and investors and the gold standard for corporate net zero plans. It has validated the plans of about 3,400 companies and institutions since it was established.
Although the group said it validated 87 per cent more companies in 2022 than the previous year, Starace said the company will “need to hire more people” and make better use of technology to meet rising demand.
The number of companies publishing targets this year had more than doubled from the previous year, and it aims to sign off plans for 10,000 companies by 2025. At the same time, it will face the challenge of companies weakening or restating their previously verified pledges. Oil and gas companies are among those that have shifted their targets, for example, including Shell and BP.
But the SBTi does not check the accuracy of the emissions data reported by companies and does not require the data to be verified by a third party. Starace said the SBTi’s job was to ensure a company “has committed to a creditor target in a credible manner.” “We are not the police of this system. We are guaranteeing that their promise is realistic and does not contravene the laws of science,” he said. And, are you still laughing?
And, Mr Starace probably does not know this or maybe he does but then again, and so what? ExxonMobil executives privately sought to undermine climate science even after the oil and gas giant publicly acknowledged the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change, according to previously unreported documents revealed by the Wall Street Journal.
The new revelations are based on previously unreported documents subpoenaed by New York’s attorney general as part of an investigation into the company announced in 2015. They add to a slew of documents that record a decades-long misinformation campaign waged by Exxon, which are cited in a growing number of state and municipal lawsuits against big oil.
Many of the newly released documents date back to the 2006-16 tenure of former chief executive Rex Tillerson, who oversaw a major shift in the company’s climate messaging. In 2006, Exxon publicly accepted that the climate crisis posed risks, and it went on to support the Paris agreement. Yet behind closed doors, the company behaved differently, the documents show.
The documents also show Exxon’s displeasure with scientific warnings from top authorities. After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ top climate body, sounded the alarm about the urgent need to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in 2011, Tillerson told a leading Exxon researcher that the IPCC’s warning was “not credible”, and said he was “dissatisfied” with the media’s coverage of the warning about the worst-case climate scenarios.
Tillerson also wanted to engage with the scientists “to influence [the group], in addition to gathering info”, the Exxon researcher told colleagues in a 2012 email about the findings. Years later, Tillerson expressed doubt about the United Nations’ Paris accord months before it was signed. The international agreement aims to keep global heating “well below” 2C over pre-industrial temperatures.
After a climate science presentation to Exxon’s board of directors in April 2015, Tillerson called the 2C goal “something magical”, according to a summary of the meeting. “Who is to say 2.5 is not good enough?” he said, noting that meeting such targets would be “very expensive”. More here.
And we know most of this, and we know what it means, and, and, and, and, and. Nothing.
Have a great, and-so-what-week, just like most of our other ‘and weeks’.
This week’s podcast: Driving real change
This week I spoke with Phil Dillard at Thruline Networks about using the financial industry as a tool box for tangible change, the future of ESG and impact investing, and the importance of continuing to inspire the next generation of environmental activists. Listen in!
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