ESG materiality ranges beyond ‘bottom line’: SEC official

Read the full story at CFO Dive.

The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) will look beyond the figures that underlie net income when determining whether a company is in compliance with the agency’s proposed climate risk disclosure rule, an SEC enforcement official said Tuesday.

“If the company has really put a lot of emphasis in its marketing around, for example, what it’s doing in the climate space, those are ways that I think it can become material even if you don’t necessarily see that translate to the bottom line,” according to Carolyn Welshhans, associate director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

“Something can be material to a company — for example specific to that company’s business or its operations — not just as financial statements,” Welshhans said at Securities Enforcement Forum 2022 after noting that her comments did not necessarily reflect the view of the agency. “It’s not just quantitative — it’s not just ‘does something impact the bottom line.’”

How the energy crisis is pressuring countries’ climate plans – while some race to renewables, others see wealth in natural gas, but drilling benefits may be short-lived

A pipeline in Tunisia supplies natural gas from Algeria to Italy. Fethi Belaid/AFP via Getty Images

by Robert Brecha, University of Dayton

Russia’s war on Ukraine has cast a shadow over this week’s meetings of world leaders at the G-20 summit in Bali and the United Nations climate change conference in Egypt.

The war has dramatically disrupted energy markets the world over, leaving many countries vulnerable to price spikes amid supply shortages.

Europe, worried about keeping the heat on through winter, is outbidding poor countries for natural gas, even paying premiums to reroute tanker ships after Russia cut off most of its usual natural gas supply. Some countries are restarting coal-fired power plants. Others are looking for ways to expand fossil fuel production, including new projects in Africa.

These actions are a long way from the countries’ pledges just a year ago to rein in fossil fuels, and they’re likely to further increase greenhouse gas emissions, at least temporarily.

But will the war and the economic turmoil prevent the world from meeting the Paris climate agreement’s long-term goals?

Kerry leans toward Scholz and raises a finger as if to point while seated during the UN climate conference.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry speaks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the U.N. climate change conference, known as COP27, on Nov. 7, 2022, in Egypt. Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

There are reasons to believe that this may not be the case.

The answer depends in part on how wealthy countries respond to a focus of this year’s climate conference: fulfilling their pledges in the Paris Agreement to provide support for low- and middle-income countries to build clean energy systems.

Europe speeds up clean energy plans

A key lesson many countries are taking away from the ongoing energy crisis is that, if anything, the transition to renewable energy must be pushed forward faster.

I work with countries as they update national climate pledges and have been involved in evaluating the compatibility of global emissions reduction scenarios with the Paris Agreement. I see the energy crisis affecting countries’ plans in different ways.

About 80% of the world’s energy is still from fossil sources. Global trade in coal, oil and natural gas has meant that even countries with their own energy supplies have felt some of the pain of exorbitant prices. In the U.S., for example, natural gas and electricity prices are higher than normal because they are increasingly tied to international markets, and the U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

The shortage has led to a scramble to find fossil fuel suppliers in the short term. European countries have offered to help African countries produce more natural gas and have courted authoritarian regimes. The Biden administration is urging companies to extract more oil and gas, has tried to pressure Saudi Arabia to produce more oil, and considered lifting sanctions against Venezuela.

However, Europe also has a growing renewable energy supply that has helped cushion some of the impact. A quarter of the European Union’s electricity comes from solar and wind, avoiding billions of euros in fossil fuel costs. Globally, investments in the clean energy transition increased by about 16% in 2022, the International Energy Agency estimates.

Developing countries face complex challenges

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call to accelerate the clean energy transition in wealthier countries, the situation is much more complex in developing countries.

Low-income countries are being hit hard by the impact of Russia’s war, not only by high energy costs, but also by decreases in grain and cooking oil exports. The more these countries are dependent on foreign oil and gas imports for their energy supply, the more they will be exposed to global market gyrations.

Renewable energy can reduce some of that exposure.

The costs of solar and wind energy have dropped dramatically in the past decade and now represent the cheapest sources of energy in most regions. But advances in expanding access to clean electricity have been set back by the war. Borrowing costs can also be a barrier for low-income countries, and those costs will increase as countries raise interest rates to fight inflation.

As part of the Paris Agreement, wealthy countries were supposed to make good on promises to make US$100 billion per year available for climate finance, but the actual amounts provided have fallen short.

To achieve the Paris Agreement targets, coal, oil and natural gas consumption must decrease dramatically in the next decade or two. International cooperation will be necessary to help poorer countries expand energy access and transition to low-emissions development pathways.

Africa’s fossil fuels and stranded asset risks

A number of developing countries have their own fossil fuel resources, and some in Africa have been calling for increasing production, although not without pushback.

Without a strong alternative within local contexts for sustainable energy resources, and with wealthy countries scrambling for fossil fuels, developing countries will exploit fossil resources – just as the wealthiest countries have done for over a century. For example, Tanzania’s energy minister, January Makamba, told Bloomberg during the U.N. climate conference that his country expects to sign agreements with Shell and other oil majors for a $40 billion liquefied natural gas export project.

While this intersection of interests could boost some developing countries, it can also set up future challenges.

Encouraging the construction of new fossil-fuel infrastructure in Africa – presumably to be earmarked for Europe in the short to medium term – may help ameliorate some near-term supply shortages, but how long will those customers need the fuel? And how much of that income will benefit the people of those countries?

The IEA sees natural gas demand plateauing by 2030 and oil and coal demand falling, even without more ambitious climate policies. Any infrastructure built today for short-term supplies risks becoming a stranded asset, worthless in a low-emissions world.

Layer chart shows natural gas use leveling off in the 2020s while coal and oil demand fall.
The International Energy Agency’s projections show natural gas demand plateauing soon. IEA 2022, CC BY

Encouraging developing countries to take on debt risk to invest in fossil fuel extraction for which the world will have no use would potentially do these countries a great disservice, taking advantage of them for short-term gain.

The world has made progress on emissions in recent years, and the worst warming projections from a decade ago seem to be highly unlikely now. But every tenth of a degree has an impact, and the current “business-as-usual” path still leads the planet toward warming levels with climate change costs that are hard to contemplate, especially for the most vulnerable countries. The outcomes from the climate conference and G-20 summit will give an indication of whether the global community is willing to accelerate the transition.

This article was updated Nov. 14, 2022, with the G-20 summit start.

Robert Brecha, Professor of Sustainability, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to reduce food waste at Thanksgiving dinner

Read the full story from the Washington Post.

Food waste is a year-round concern. Still, the large Thanksgiving meal presents a particular challenge when it comes to preventing it. You’re buying many more ingredients. You’re making large-scale recipes, with lots of potential leftovers. You may just be even more preoccupied with everything else going on around you.

But there are ways to reduce food waste and therefore your environmental impact, even around the holidays. Here are a few tips geared toward Thanksgiving dinner.

2023 Indiana Sustainability and Resilience Conference set for February 17

The 2023 Indiana Sustainability and Resilience Conference is set for Friday, February 17 at the IUPUI Campus Center. Organized by the IU Environmental Resilience Institute and IUPUI Sustainability, the conference will feature speakers, panels, exhibits, trainings, and networking opportunities for climate and resilience advocates from across the state. The Indianapolis Airport Authority is the presenting supporter of ISRC 2023.

At the conference, attendees can expect to:

•    Learn about cross-sector collaboration to address climate change
•    Identify potential funding sources for climate and resilience work
•    Explore how to integrate climate research and practice
•    Develop new skills through interactive trainings
•    Network with other Indiana climate leaders

Rooftop solar cells can be a boon for water conservation too

Read the full story at Duke Today.

Electricity-generating rooftop solar cells not only save on planet-warming carbon emissions, they also save a significant amount of water, say a pair of Duke University researchers who have done the math.

A given household may save an average 16,200 gallons of water per year by installing rooftop solar, they found. In some states, like California, this saving can increase to 53,000 gallons, which is equivalent to 60 percent of the average household water use in the U.S.

You won’t see the savings on your home water bill, but they’re still important.

Environment ministry creating genetic database of captive elephants to curb illegal trade: Officials

Read the full story at the New Indian Express.

A large number of captive elephants in India are privately owned and a majority of them are used for commercial or ceremonial purposes and rituals.

Project aims to reduce water consumption in food production by 15 to 30%

Read the full story at Tech Xplore.

Carlsberg recently won a Global Water Award for the world’s best water project in the industry category. The award is one of the highest recognitions that you can receive in the global water sector, and it was given for a new water-efficient brewery in Fredericia.

Here, Carlsberg has found an innovative way to recycle 90% of the production process water. This means that the brewery reduces its water consumption for beers and soft drinks from 2.7 to 1.4 liters per liter produced. In addition, the recycling plant reduces the brewery’s energy consumption by 10% through own biogas production and recirculation of hot water. The treated water is used to clean process equipment, pipes, and packaging at the brewery and is not included in the production of beers and soft drinks.

Burying short sections of power lines would drastically reduce hurricanes’ future impact on coastal residents

Read the full story from Princeton University.

As Earth warms due to climate change, people living near the coasts not only face a higher risk of major hurricanes, but are also more likely to experience a subsequent heat wave while grappling with widespread power outages.

Princeton researchers investigated the risk of this compound hazard occurring in the future under a “business-as-usual” climate scenario, using Harris County, Texas, as an example. They estimated that the risk of undergoing at least one hurricane-blackout-heat wave lasting more than five days in a 20-year span would increase 23 times by the end of the century. But there is some good news: Strategically burying just 5% of power lines — specifically those near main distribution points — would almost halve the number of affected residents.

Valuable data tool designed for Hawaiʻi Island farmers

Read the full story from the University of Hawaiʻi.

Hawaiʻi Island farmers will be able to find critical data at their fingertips to help them manage their crops and improve yield because of a project involving the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation and East-West Center.

A new climate dashboard will display weather, climate predictions and environmental conditions relevant to Hawaiʻi Island farmers. The pilot project will co-produce a poly-forestry climate dashboard in partnership with the Keaukaha Panaʻewa Farmers Association on Hawaiʻi Island.

Poly-forestry (“poly” to mean both “many” as well as “Polynesian”) is a traditional Pacific Island system for managing land use that aims to increase the overall yield of the land by combining the productions of crops (including tree crops) and forest plants and/or animals on a given unit of land. The pilot will apply management practices that are culturally compatible with the local population.

Universities’ research aims to make railroads climate resilient

Read the full story at Freight Waves.

California wildfires that closed down portions of the Union Pacific and BNSF train networks for days. Severe flooding in the Midwest that damaged tracks. The extreme cold temperatures of Texas in February 2021 that caused considerable service disruptions on the freight rail system.

While the rail industry is accustomed to seasonal disruptions such as winter blizzards, the possibility of even more extreme weather events as a result of climate change takes disruption threats to a new level. Furthermore, these extreme weather interruptions come at a time when the height of the COVID-19 pandemic showed how vulnerable the supply chain can be. 

“Extreme weather and heat and their aftereffects can have catastrophic impacts,”  Karen Philbrick, executive director of San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), told FreightWaves. “It threatens lives, destroys equipment, disrupts service and literally costs billions of dollars for response and recovery to the transport sector in the communities served. And so when I think about freight, for example, we’re already in such a crisis when it comes to the supply chain. If that were to further be disrupted because of different climate-related events then that just exasperates the problem further.”

With this in mind, Philbrick’s organization is seeking to address how the U.S. passenger and freight rail network can become climate resilient.