A greener stock market, the gender pay gap, climate and conflict and fairer food

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UK shoppers want fairer food

An overwhelming number of British shoppers (92%) believe that food companies should ensure food production is fair and sustainable, while more than half (58%) say they would be willing to pay more if they knew products were benefiting producers. A similar proportion (53%) would pay more for food that is produced in an environmentally friendly fashion. The research, commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation, finds that many consumers are unaware of the consequences of unsustainable methods of food production. More than half (57%) of consumers fail to connect such practices with future food availability, for example, while 45% don’t see a significant link between future food security and climate change.

In a related study by communications firm WE, the 2,000 UK consumers surveyed said that they would pay on average 10% more for a product if they felt it would have a positive impact on society. The proportion increases to 15% for adults aged 18-24. Four in 10 consumers, meanwhile, say they consider sustainability as important compared to factors such as price and quality when buying a product.

Shoppers would pay more if it benefited food producers

Africa’s costly gender equality problem

Gender inequality in sub-Saharan Africa costs the region $95bn a year, a new report new from the UN Development Programme states. African women achieve only 87% of the human development outcomes of men, mostly on account of lower levels of secondary attainment, lower participation in the workforce and high maternal mortality. Although the majority (61%) of women work, most are employed in the informal sector on low wages. In the non-agricultural informal sector (which comprises 66% women), for example, female workers only make 70 cents for each dollar made by men. Depending on the country, anywhere between 70% and 93% of private firms do not have a single female manager. According to the UNDP’s report, a 1% increase in gender inequality can reduce a country’s human development index by 0.75%.

G20: progress on renewables

The world’s largest 20 economies collectively produced 8% of their electricity from renewable sources in 2015, up from 4.6% in 2010. In the case of seven of the G20, the figure tops 10%. Germany tops the list at 36%, research by Bloomberg New Energy Financefinds. Behind Europe’s largest economy are the UK, Italy and France, all of which generated more than 19% of their electricity mix from solar, wind or other renewable sources. The average for the 28 members of the European Union was 18%. The figures could potentially be higher, but they do not include hydropower. Despite being one of the world's largest consumers of fossil fuels, China is the world’s largest clean energy market, accounting for nearly a third of the $329bn invested in clean energy globally last year.

The average renewables rate for EU members was 18%

Clean energy stocks outperform

The stock market may be greener than you think. According to newly published data, cleaner-than-average energy companies generated nearly triple the annualised returns of oil and gas companies over the past decade. The Clean200, a list of 200 energy companies with low-carbon investments, put together by US-based non-profit As You Sow and market information provider Corporate Knights, show a simulated annualised return of 21.82% over the past decade. This compares with 7.84% generated by an equivalent group of fossil fuel companies, called the Carbon Underground 200TM. The strong performance of the clean energy stocks owes in large part to the explosive performance of the Chinese renewables market. The parameters of the study are generous; Clean200 firms only have to earn more than 10% of their total revenues from clean energy sources. More than one third (70%) of the listed companies, however, earn half or more of their revenues from renewables or low-carbon energy sources. To be eligible for the ranking, which will be updated every quarter, companies must be listed and have a market capitalisation of more than $1bn. The Clean200 list includes brands such as Vestas (wind power), Philips Lighting (LED lighting) and Tesla Motors (electric vehicles).

The Chinese renewables market performed strongly

Gender pay gap resolute

The average hourly wages of women in the UK are 18% lower than those of men, a new briefing note by the Institute of Fiscal Studies finds. This marks a mild improvement over time, with the gap in 2003 and 1993 measuring 23% and 28%, respectively. The slow reduction is most marked among the lowest-educated individuals. Women with A-levels or a university degree, in contrast, have not seen their wages improve in relation to men’s. The arrival of children accounts for a gradual widening of the gap. Over the first 12 years of the life of a woman’s first child, she can expect the gender pay gap that she experiences to increase from an average of one tenth at the start to one third by year 12. Hourly wages for women who leave work after childbirth and then re-join are about 2% lower for each year that they have been out of employment.

Contributing to the UK gap is different career trajectories. According to a separate report by the Chartered Management Institute, men who have been with the same employer for five years have a 47% probability of getting promoted, compared to 39% of women. Salary data for more than 60,000 UK employees last year indicates that 14% of men gained promotions compared with 10% of women. Under new UK government regulations, due to come into force next April, large companies will have to report on how much they pay their male and female staff.

Women with degrees have not seen pay gap narrow

Water scarcity solutions

There are few places in the world where water scarcity can be alleviated without substantially reducing the volume of water being consumptively used in agriculture, a new report from The Nature Conservancy argues (pdf). More than 90% of water consumption in water-scarce regions goes to irrigated agriculture, the US non-profit notes. Globally, meanwhile, irrigation consumes 10 times more water than all other uses combined. Water scarcity is arguably the biggest threat to international food supply, the report adds. Other startling statistics include the facts that; more than three-quarters of all irrigated farmlands are vulnerable to water shortages, and one-fifth of all irrigated crops are being produced with non-renewable groundwater abstraction. Along with better sustainable water management practices, policymakers need to consider "caps" on water consumption and other tough demand-side measures, The Nature Conservancy concludes.

Links between climate and conflict

Almost one in 10 (95%) of all outbreaks of armed conflict between 1980 and 2010 were linked to a climactic disaster such as heat wave or drought. The figure leaps to 23% for those countries that are ethnically highly fractionalised. The acerbating effect of climate calamities on countries liable to conflict is identified using event coincidence analysis. The authors of the report, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, argue that the findings have “important implications” for security policy in conflict-prone regions, such as Central Asia, North Africa and Central Africa (pdf).

Biofuel not so climate-friendly

The use of ethanol and biodiesel may not be as climate-friendly as once thought. Drawing on data from the US Department of Agriculture, researchers show that the carbon dioxide that feedstock crops take up as they grow is only enough to offset % of the CO2 emissions owth and CO2 emissions during combustion balanced one another out. Consumption of liquid biofuels, mainly corn ethanol and biodiesel, grew in the US from 4.2bn gallons in 2005 to 14.6bn gallons in 2013.combustion balanced one another out. Consumption of liquid biofuels, mainly corn ethanol and biodiesel, grew in the US from 4.2bn gallons in 2005 to 14.6bn gallons in 2013.

Consumption of liquid biofuels is growing in US

UK employers favour apprentices

Three in four (76%) UK employers who take on apprentices are willing to offer the candidates a full-time job, according to a survey by the work-based training provider Positive Outcomes.. In addition, 87% of the employers interviewed felt that an apprentice was more employable than a young person who had not completed an apprenticeship. Wages for those who move from apprenticeships into full-time work remain low, however, with 60% of employers saying they would pay £14,000-£18,000 per annum.

Company snapshots

Diageo reduces polluted wastewater

UK beverage giant Diageo successfully reduced the “polluting power” of its wastewater by more than one third (37.7%) last year, thanks in large part to improvements at its breweries in Africa and India. Polluting power is measured in tonnes of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), which stood at 20,401 tonnes in 2016 compared with 32,765 in 2015. The company’s water efficiency record improved as well, increasing by 12.5% in 2016 compared to last year and up 37.7% on its 2007 baseline. According to Diageo’s latest annual report, 26,682 cubic metres of water were used for agricultural purposes on land under the company’s operational control. The brewer succeeded in replenishing only around one fifth (21%) of the water it extracted from water-stressed areas, equivalent to 215,000 cubic metres. Around 8.4% (or roughly 1.8m cubic metres) of all the water it used in its production facilities was either recycled or reused.

Diageo's water efficiency record improved

Virgin Media's gender diversity

Nearly one third (32%) of senior management roles at Virgin Media are occupied by women, up 2% on 2014. In its latest sustainability performance summary, the UK television, internet and telecoms provider aims to have women in 40% of its senior roles by 2018. If successful, the target would see it double the average for the European telecoms industry, which stands at a mere 20%.

gender pay  climate  G20  economy  renewables  clean energy  water shortage  biofuel  CO2 emissions  sustainability 

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