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Wed, May

Some of the UK’s largest pension funds are in danger of legal action over the risks posed by climate change, according to ClientEarth.

The group of activist lawyers has written to 14 pension funds in the UK, including BP, Tesco and BAE Systems, to remind them of their legal responsibilities to holders.

The letter warns the funds that their current failure to address and communicate the growing financial risks as a result of climate change could result in litigation.

“…you are potentially putting members’ retirement outcomes at risk and exposing yourselves to the possibility of legal challenges for breach of your fiduciary duties,” the letter reads.

ClientEarth lawyer Joanne Etherton pointed out that the legal duties for trustees are not static and now require more transparency on climate concerns.

A new government proposal will make it easier for schemes to divest from fossil fuels and other assets which damage the environment.

“As some of the biggest pension schemes in the UK, these schemes represent the retirement income of a large number of people, making it crucial that they step up their actions on protecting and future-proofing members’ pensions,” she said.

In recent months, pension funds have received more attention on their current role in addressing climate risks. A survey from the Environmental Audit Committee found that some of the top pension schemes were “worryingly complacent” on the issue. Out of 25 funds polled, a quarter of pension were seen as less engaged on the issue and had not even considered climate change as a risk.

“We are now putting these schemes on notice of the available evidence and setting out the standard that they should be looking to meet as they develop their climate policies, as well as the risk for failing to do so,” added Etherton.

Read more: UK pension funds could face legal action over...

Corporations are purchasing more clean energy than ever, with 2018 already exceeding the record-amount set last year.

7.2 gigawatts (GW) of clean power has so far been agreed between corporate companies, such as Facebook, and wind and solar developers.

The amount for the first seven months of 2018 surpasses the 5.4 GW signed across the whole of 2017, itself a 20 percent uplift on the previous year.

Analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) released the data, which show the United States and the Nordic countries responsible for 80 percent of all purchases across 28 markets.

Facebook has already inked 1.1GW of agreements this year, followed by AT&T on 820 megawatts (MW). Norway’s Norsk Hydro has signed 667 MW, including a 29-year onshore wind deal in Sweden, reportedly the longest such agreement in the world.

The growth in corporate sustainability plans has helped stoke the market for long-term clean power agreements. These plans often focus on reducing direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions within a corporation’s business. However, as analysts pointed out, the decline in cost for new renewable energy projects has also played a part.

“…activity would not approach current levels if there were no opportunity for long-term savings,” said a statement from Bloomberg; solar PV modules have reduced by 84 per cent since 2010. Wind turbines have come down by 32 percent over the same period.

Bloomberg anticipates this strong level of growth to continue, especially as the number of signatories to the RE100 campaign increases. The initiative commits leading corporates to source 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy. The pledges represent an increase in demand for wind and solar farms to the tune of 100 GW by 2030.  

“As more multi-nationals establish renewables targets, we expect corporations to have an increasing impact on power market design around the world, opening up new avenues for companies to purchase clean energy.”

Read more: Facebook leads record clean power purchases in...

Brazil has already hit its targets for emissions from deforestation, according to the government.

The Environment Ministry announced yesterday that overall emissions caused by deforestation in the Amazon rainforest were down by 610 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is ahead of its 2020 target of 564 million tonnes.

Brazil’s stewardship of the Amazon, 60 percent of which is contained within its borders, is an important weapon in the fight against climate change. The huge number of trees can absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide, preventing them from reaching the Earth’s atmosphere.

High levels of deforestation in South America over the past few decades, particularly Brazil, threatens this progress and also destroys biodiversity.

In addition, Brazil managed to reduce emissions in the Cerrado savanna by 170 million tonnes compared to a target of 140 million. The tropical region gets far less attention than the Amazon, but it covers 20 per cent of the country and is the largest in South America.

“The policy message is that we can and should remain in the Paris Agreement; it is possible to effectively implement the commitments that have been made,” said climate minister Thiago Mendes, according to the Reuters news agency.

Despite this progress, data released from the Global Forest Watch in June showed that a near-record amount of tree cover was lost in 2017. 29.4 million hectares disappeared over the world, the equivalent of the size of Italy. Significant forest fires in Brazil attributed to high rates of tree lost in the past year.

“The main reason tropical forests are disappearing is not a mystery – vast areas continue to be cleared for soy, beef, palm oil, timber, and other globally traded commodities,” commented Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute at the time. “Much of this clearing is illegal and linked to corruption.”

Read more: Brazil cuts emissions from deforestation two...

California is currently battling the largest wildfire in the state’s history as over 280,000 acres of land is being burned through.

This comes hot on the heels of 2017 which also caused a record amount and breadth of damage. Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown described the situation as “a new normal” and one the state was forced to deal with.

Extreme weather events like this are made more likely due to climate change, but new research has shown how household growth is also increasing exposure to wildfires.

Lead author Stephen M. Strader analysed data from 1940 to 2010 on the number of wildfires in the United States, along with the density of land used for housing.

He found that over this 70 year period, the amount of land area and homes exposed to wildfires has increased throughout the lower 48 states by almost 1350 per cent.

Housing units in the western US jumped a massive 1150 per cent during that time, from 1.7 million to 20.2 million, the biggest increase in the country. These developments have often taken place in areas which are historically prone to wildfires, such as California, Oregon and Nevada.

At the same time, the research revealed that in the past two decades, wildfires have become more frequent across the whole country. On average, since 1992, there are 36 more wildfires of moderate to large size per year.

In an online post, Professor Strader explained that climate change was one part of the problem.

 “The wildfire disaster problem is a two-headed monster with increasing fire frequency, fire size, and escalating built-environment.”

“To right the ship, it's going to take some strong efforts and wise choices by the general population, developers, policy makers, and insurers. Right now there is a lack of incentives to slow any of these processes down,” he concluded.

Source: Stephen M. Strader/Villanova University

Read more: Population growth fuels exposure to wildfires in...

A coalition of 26 Caribbean nations is joining forces to drive forward low-carbon and climate-smart solutions.

The group of countries, including Jamaica, St Lucia and Barbados, will work to develop sustainable societies which can respond to the growing threats posed by climate change.

The coalition is joined by 40 private sector organisations, including the Clinton Foundation, Tesla and the Virgin Group.

$1 billion has already been pledged to kick start work on the project, called the Caribbean Climate Smart Accelerator.

Speaking at the launch event in Kingston last week, Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness said: “Being climate-smart means putting the people of the Caribbean at the centre of all we do – to protect them from the challenges of climate change. The Caribbean Accelerator will also encourage job creation, social inclusion and economic growth.”

Sir Richard Branson, who also spoke at the event, added: “Our goal is ambitious and bold: we are creating the world’s first climate-smart zone. We have a vision of a Caribbean which is greener, stronger and more resilient than ever before – built on innovation, powered by clean, sustainable energy and accelerated by public and private investment.”

The coalition is defining a climate-smart zone as one which reduces emissions and vulnerability to climate change while enhancing ecosystems, energy security and food security.

The Inter-American Development Bank has played an instrumental role in bringing the heads of government and businesses together on the project. Its president, Luis Alberto Moreno said the bank will offer affordable financing to support the venture. The IDB recently announced $500 million to support Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname and The Bahamas in the wake of last year’s natural disasters.

President Moreno added: “The IDB Group reaffirms its commitment to the Caribbean and will work with leaders of the region to improve lives by creating climate-smart and vibrant economies, where people are safe, productive, and happy. Through this Climate-Smart Accelerator, in addition to offering new affordable financing, we will use the IDB’s extensive regional experience and presence on the ground to work closely with the people of the region to design their Caribbean of the future, today.”

Photo Credit: Adrian Creary

Read more: $1bn pledged to support climate resilience in...

AccorHotels is making strong progress on plans to cut food waste around the world.

The global chain announced yesterday that it has installed 600 urban gardens at 4,300 of its hotels.

These gardens help to provide fresh vegetables for use in its restaurants and bars without the need for imports. Collectively, they are helping the chain reach a goal of reducing food waste by 30 percent by 2020 with plans to increase the number of gardens to 1,000.

26 of these gardens are based within the UK, including some of the main Novotel brands in London. These make use of pesticide-free spaces to provide mint and basil over the summer months, and beehives on its roofs to keep it well stocked with honey.

“As a group that produces a lot of food for our guests across the world, it is vital that we play our part in reducing food waste and investing in sustainable food systems,” said Thomas Dubaere, chief operating officer for Northern Europe.

While the hotel group does support sustainable food production in rural areas, the increase in urban gardens is designed to address the explosion in urban living. An estimated 70 percent of the global population will live in cities by 2050.

"Our hotels are encouraged to source local produce, reducing the environmental impact from their food purchases and providing outlets for farmers to sell their produce. Additionally, the vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers that are produced in our urban gardens feature in the restaurant menus, in the bar cocktails or in our spas' aromatic oils and herbal teas," he added.

Accor is also targeting 100 percent of its renovated or new hotels to be low-carbon by 2020, and that 60 percent of its overall waste is recovered.

Photo Credit: Maibp85/CC

Read more: 600 AccorHotels worldwide now grow their own food

Ørsted has announced the purchase of renewables developer Lincoln Clean Energy (LCE) for $580 million.

The acquisition is the first move from the Danish green energy company into the US onshore wind market.

LCE has built out 513 megawatts of onshore wind and solar, spread across Texas, California and New Jersey. A further 300 MW is under construction and 1,500MW in development.

Ørsted first entered the US in 2015, but its concerns have largely been concentrated to offshore wind and additional interests in battery storage and solar power.

The company is one of the world leaders in offshore wind and operates a large fleet of projects in Europe, notably in the UK. In the US, it currently has the rights to build the Bay State Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, which could be operational by 2020.

Henrik Poulsen, CEO of Ørsted, said the purchase will provide a “strong growth platform” for to expand in the US, seen as a key market for the company.

“The global market for onshore wind power is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, and the US is a leading onshore wind market.

“(The purchase) is an investment case with healthy economics based on prudent assumptions about key value drivers and market developments,” he added.

Declan Flanagan, CEO of Lincoln Clean Energy, added: “The Lincoln team is excited to join Ørsted and to work toward our shared goal of creating a world that runs entirely on green energy. This transaction will enhance our project execution and growth trajectory.”

The buyout is still subject to approval from US competition authorities, but is expected to close by the end of the year.

In recent years, Ørsted has made the transition away from its historic reliance on fossil fuels to become an entirely renewables-based company. As a result, it dropped its old name of DONG (Danish Oil and Natural Gas) last year.

Read more: Ørsted buys US firm to enter onshore wind market

The UK Government has committed over half a billion pounds to foster innovation and new breakthrough technologies.

The £780 million pledge will boost research and development across eight ‘Catapult’ centres across the country, from clean tech and energy systems to advanced manufacturing and gene therapy. The centres have been in operation since 2011 and this latest announcement secures their future in the medium term.

The government is hoping the funds will help create fertile ground for new innovations, high-skilled jobs and industries to blossom.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said: “It is by backing innovative British companies to grow and create jobs that we will continue this progress and build an economy fit for the future. Today’s £780 million investment will support innovators across the country to create the technologies of the future, and the better, highly-paid jobs we urgently need.”

£180 million will support the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and the Centre for Process Innovation in north-east England.

The offshore centre, which also has a site in Scotland, has become a hub for businesses to research and test new technologies in the offshore wind industry. GE chose the site to test its new 12 megawatt turbine over the next five years. The Haliade-X will be the most powerful turbine in the world when it’s brought to market in 2021.

A large chunk of the cash, £270.9 million, will be spent in the West Midlands to fund the Manufacturing Technology Centre and Energy Systems Catapult over the next five years.

Business Secretary Greg Clark added: “This government wants to make the UK the most innovative nation in the world and the investment in our world leading catapult network will play a key role in building on UK strengths, bringing new ideas and products to market and helping drive local economies across the UK.”

Read more: £780m pledged to support UK innovation

New Zealand is intending to outlaw plastic bags in a bid to cut back on waste.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the news this week, joining a growing list of countries taking action on the issue.

“We’re phasing out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand’s clean, green reputation,” she said, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Two of New Zealand’s largest supermarkets, Countdown and New World, said last year that they plan to remove plastic bags from their stores by the end of 2018.

“Every year in New Zealand we use hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags. A mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life, and all of this when there are viable alternatives for consumers and business,” she added.

The Prime Minister is asking people to submit their views on the ban over the next month. More details on the commitment are expected in the autumn.

In response, the leader of the opposition, Simon Bridges, claimed that the sign of support from central government wouldn’t make any difference.

“Measures introduced by the previous government alongside industry would already have seen a more than 75 per cent reduction in plastic bag use without new regulations and higher costs,” he claimed.

Momentum is growing on tackling the huge amount of waste caused by single-use plastic bags. Earlier this year, Chile adopted a new law to ban the material, adding to a list of around 40 countries which have taken steps to curb its usage.

Kenya has passed some of the strictest laws, threatening fines of up to $40,000 and a four year jail term.

Read more: New Zealand will ban single-use plastic bags by...

The UK and Ireland arm of Aldi is planning to go carbon neutral by next year.

The discount supermarket made the announcement this week to hit net-zero emissions, building on its already impressive attempts to tackle its carbon footprint.

Since 2012 it has managed to reduce its emissions by 53 percent per metre square of sales floor. This has been led by new investments in energy efficiency, water conservation, and renewable energy.

388 solar panels have been installed across its stores and £20 million invested in upgrading its refrigeration system to reduce energy consumption. 100 percent of its electricity is now accredited as coming from renewable sources.

To achieve its goal of carbon neutrality the company will work with ClimatePartner to offset its remaining emissions. This will include supporting forestry projects in Peru, water purification in India, and clean cooking stoves in China.

Aldi sees reducing fuel consumption in transport as a key component in hitting zero emissions across its operations. To do this it is deploying lighter vehicles with “more fuel-efficient tyres and improved aerodynamics”, according to the company.

Fuel management systems and tracking software to find the most efficient routes will also minimise emissions from its fleet of trucks.

Fritz Walleczek, managing director of corporate responsibility, said: “Becoming carbon neutral is a key part of our corporate responsibility commitments. We are continually reviewing our operations to reduce emissions and be kinder to the environment, while also future-proofing our growing store portfolio for many years to come.”

The news is the latest move from the corporation to up its sustainability commitments. In February, it announced a plan to halve its food waste across UK and Ireland by 2030.

The commitment is part of the Champions 12.3 coalition, a campaign to bring businesses and governments together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The 12.3 goal specifically refers to cutting global food waste on the retail and consumer levels.

Photo Credit: Brandon King/CC

Read more: Aldi sets out plan to go carbon neutral by 2019
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