Week 39: A letter from year 2050

In this issue: ▸ My letter from 2050 ▸ Banks, investors and insurers are driving oil and gas expansion in the Arctic ▸ The disastrous rush to mine the deep sea ▸ Corporate logic and climate sins

Dear all,

The year is 2050. Most of us are old, and some of us are wandering through the fields of Valhalla with sun in our faces and songs of glory and past memories in our ears. 

The world in 2050 is different. In so many ways. Back in the 2020s, the majority of the population on planet Earth came to realise that the economic models based on continuous growth and consumption resulting in continuous depletion of earth’s resources, inequality, climate crisis were not serving a purpose for very many.

Yes, initially – in the mid 2020s – political elites tried to maintain beliefs and control the narrative around a model of society based on profit maximisation and individual pursuit of happiness defined as material status. All of that changed rapidly in the beginning of the 2030s. The climate crisis, and the spiraling inequality propelled by it, caused tectonic shifts in societies around the world. The amount of storms, droughts, and unpredicted weather events increased 10-fold in a very short period of time.

The middle classes, the beacons of growth in the consumption-based economies of the developing world, started questioning the system and its ability to sustain safety and security of their lives. The CO2 emissions that were supposed to peak in 2030 were growing despite symbolic efforts, mainly based on trying to cope with the consequences and not the causes.

Off-setting technologies were providing some solutions, but mostly to maintain a narrative in the developing countries that something was happening. By the end of the 2030s, the forests of the world were owned by a few individuals to compensate for their enormous CO2 emissions. And, occasionally, to sell credits to states that needed financing to feed growing populations.

The solutions provided in the beginning of the 2020s, like electric cars, were abandoned, mostly due to lack of the materials used to sustain them. New technologies were tested for years, and instead of vehicles, more and more people demanded entirely new transport solutions.

The energy supply from nuclear increased in mid-2030s, but in the 2040s the majority of the global energy supply was burned energy. Coal, oil and gas.

In the beginning of 2040s, movements around the world emerged questioning the purpose of the very system they were living in, working and dying for. In the political debates around the world, in the boardrooms, in the elite schools, at the desks of the dodgy bars in the outskirts of megacities, in the sweatshops, on the streets, a new narrative was emerging. A narrative about the purpose of living on this planet. About other kinds of happiness, not defined by material profits, not defined by the lines on the maps we draw, not by race, religion or even gender. A narrative built on local and regional cooperation, human and nature centric. A collective consciousness based on the profound connectivity of humanity and nature.

From 2042 an onwards, that narrative redefined the purpose of the economic models, from few to many. The new age of humanity began. 

Banks, investors and insurers are driving oil and gas expansion in the Arctic

The world in 2050 will indeed be different, much different. Reading the above makes 2021 seem like a rather dull place. But we are still here.

There are many scenarios about what the future could look like, and many different opinions about where our current modus operandi will lead us. A perpetual circular energy flowing through our societies, through time, space and our imagination. Where are we going from here?

Some people are already setting the scene for what is to come.

According to Lord Deben, aka John Gummer, who chairs UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change, it would be a mistake to frighten people too much on climate change, despite the challenge the world faces. Lord Deben recently said that, yes, the situation is “catastrophic”, but if you scare the public “you don't get people to act”. Instead his committee says “drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”.

Well, in that case I think we should “drink and be merry” for this one about extraction in the Arctic too. But more out of sorrow.

As it turns out, oil and gas firms are planning to ramp up their fossil-fuel extraction in the Arctic by more than 20 per cent over the next five years, partly thanks to the financial support they receive from the banking sector, according to a new report by Reclaim Finance.

The report lists France’s Total as the leading European energy firm when it comes to oil and gas expansion in the fragile polar region – with its production expected to increase by 28 percent over the next decade. But the Russian energy giant Gazprom is considered the biggest Arctic predator, since 74 percent of its reserves are based there.

Other energy companies with short-term expansion plans in the Arctic are the US’s ConocoPhillips, Norway’s Equinor, Spain’s Repsol and Dutch Shell. 

From 2016 to 2020, commercial banks have channeled more than $314 bn to the leading companies developing new oil and gas projects in the  Arctic.

The top backers of Arctic expansionists include banks who have committed to restricting oil and gas financing in the Arctic: JPMorgan Chase (top globally with  $18.6bn between 2016-2020), Barclays (4th largest, $13.2bn) Citigroup (6th, $12.2bn) and BNP Paribas (7th, $11.8bn).  

European banks account for more than a quarter of the global underwriting and loans to Arctic developers, with increasing support from 2016 ($16.6bn) to 2020 ($28.4bn). Two European banks – HSBC and BNP Paribas – were top bankers of Arctic expansionists in 2020.  

As per March 2021, investors hold roughly $272 bn in the top companies developing new oil and gas projects in the Arctic region. The biggest investors supporting Arctic expansionists include BlackRock, Vanguard and Amundi.

You can read how banks, investors and insurers are driving oil and gas expansion in the Arctic in the report.

But please bear in mind that all of the above mentioned financial institutions are, by any means necessary, “sustainable”……..

The disastrous rush to mine the deep sea

Keep drinking now, and go for the harder stuff, whiskey or vodka. Yes, it’s Sunday, but what you are about to read demands something stronger.

One of the largest mining operations ever seen on Earth aims to despoil an ocean we are only barely beginning to understand.

In late June, the island republic of Nauru informed the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Kingston, Jamaica of its intention to start mining the seabed in two years’ time via a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, The Metals Company (TMC, until recently known as DeepGreen).

As harmless as it may sound, this note was a starting gun for a resource race on the planet’s last vast frontier: the abyssal plains that stretch between continental shelves deep below the oceans. In the three months since it was fired, the sound of that shot has reverberated through government offices, conservation movements and scientific academies, and is now starting to reach a wider public, who are asking how the fate of the greatest of global commons can be decided by a sponsorship deal between a tiny island and a multinational mining corporation.

The risks are enormous. Oversight is almost impossible. Regulators admit humanity knows more about deep space than the deep ocean. The technology is unproven. Scientists are not even sure what lives in those profound ecosystems. State governments have yet to agree on a rulebook on how deep oceans can be exploited. No national ballot has ever included a vote on excavating the seabed.

Conservationists, including David Attenborough and Chris Packham, argue it is reckless to go ahead with so much uncertainty and such potential devastation ahead.

Mining companies insist on urgency – to start exploration. They say the minerals – copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese – are essential for a green transition. If the world wants to decarbonize and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, they say we must start extracting the resources for car batteries and wind turbines soon.

They already have exploration permits for an expanse of international seabed as large as France and Germany combined, an area that is likely to expand rapidly. All they need now is a set of internationally agreed operating rules. 

Read more here.

A corporate logic to absolve climate sins

Are you ok? How do you feel? Want another one? Maybe a bottle this time?

After reading about the Arctic, I left for a walk in the forest nearby where I live. I had to. I could not “drink” any more. I had to touch the trees and look at the autumn leaves doing their tango with the northern wind, before landing on the humid ground.

The human relationship with forests goes way back. Nowadays, forests and their capacity to process CO2 emissions are used as compensation sinks so we can continue doing what we shouldn’t. As I walked around in the forest I was wondering who has used the carbon credits from the different trees I was looking at. Corporate names are still not there, but I would not be surprised if it will happen very soon.

At first glance, big corporations appear to be protecting great swaths of the U.S. forests in the fight against climate change. JPMorgan Chase (yes, them again) has paid almost $1 million to preserve forestland in eastern Pennsylvania. And forty miles away, Walt Disney Co. has spent hundreds of thousands to keep the city of Bethlehem, Pa., from aggressively harvesting a forest that surrounds its reservoirs.

Across the state line in New York, BlackRock (yes, also them again) has paid thousands to the city of Albany to refrain from cutting trees around its reservoirs.

PMorgan, Disney, and BlackRock tout these projects as an important mechanism for slashing their own large carbon footprints. By funding the preservation of carbon-absorbing forests, the companies say, they’re offsetting the carbon-producing impact of their global operations. But in all of those cases, the land was never threatened; the trees were already part of well-preserved forests.

Rather than dramatically change their operations – JPMorgan executives continue to jet around the globe, Disney’s cruise ships still burn oil, and BlackRock’s office buildings gobble up electricity – the corporations are working with the Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental group, to employ far-fetched logic to help absolve them of their climate sins.

By taking credit for saving well-protected land, these companies are reducing nowhere near the pollution that they claim.

The market for these credits is booming, according to BloombergNEF. In the first 10 months of this year, companies used more than 55.1 million carbon credits to offset their emissions (equivalent to the pollution from 12 million cars), a 28% increase from the same period in 2019.

While some of these credits are paying for projects that are truly reducing emissions, an unknown number represent inflated claims.

Greenwashing is rife – poor ESG standards partly to blame

Dear friends. The greenwashing we are facing today is rife.

Environmental, social and governance funds do little to drive change, largely because they rely on ESG rankings and other data that set the bar for good corporate citizenship “abysmally low”, research suggests.

Most sustainability funds, and the data underpinning them, focus on relative performance of metrics based on self-reported data, rather than on the absolute impact of their business activities on social or environmental goals, according to a report published last week from Util, a London-based fintech, that crunches publicly disclosed data to measure impact on sustainability goals.

As a result, sustainable funds look like and impact the world much like “vanilla funds”, the report noted. “Sustainable funds perform a little less badly, but the net impact is still bad,” it said. 

Ok, that bottle that I wrote above before… Today it almost feels like an entire distillery would not be enough.

The world in 2050 will be so different.

That’s all for today.

Kind regards,
Sasja