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More than one third of world’s largest aquifers are unsustainable

Thirteen of the world’s largest 31 aquifers are experiencing unsustainable levels of water extraction, with eight classified as “overstressed” and five as “extremely” or “highly” stressed, a study by the University of California, Irvine, and NASA. The term ‘stressed’ is used in the study to describe situations in which water use exceeds sustainable water availability over a ten-year period. The worst affected are the Ganges and Indus Basin in India, the Californian Central Valley Aquifer System, the North China Aquifer System, and the Tarim Basin in China. High population and irrigation levels are the main cause of water depletion. Although surface water is the principal freshwater supply used by humans globally, groundwater is currently the primary source of freshwater for around 2 billion people.

Quantifying Renewable Groundwater with Grace

Private equity backers factoring in non-financial risks

Seven out of 10 institutional investors interviewed by financial services group PwC say that concerns about environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk would cause them to decline to take part in a private equity fundraising or turn down a co-investment. The poll of 60 “limited partners” – typically institutional investors funding private equity firms – finds that 88% think investing responsibly adds financial value in private equity. While 83% of respondents say better management of ESG factors is part of their fiduciary duty, nearly half (47%) say they never use the industry’s benchmark ESG Disclosure Framework which helps managers report ESG risks to investors. A further 14% say they only use the guideline framework “occasionally”. Fewer than one fifth of investors withdraw or withhold capital once it’s committed if ESG concerns come to light. The respondents come from 14 countries and collectively allocate around $500bn to private equity fund managers.

PwC, Bridging the Gap 

G7 coal produces double the emissions of Africa

Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and France together burned 16% more coal in 2013 than in 2009, signalling a worrying trend towards greater use of coal-fired power, new research from Oxfam reveals. According to the UK charity, coal power plants in G7 countries emit twice as much carbon dioxide as the entire African continent and 10 times as much as the world’s 48 least developed countries. The annual costs to Africa in terms of climate change impacts from G7 coal-based emissions, meanwhile, are projected to reach $43bn by the 2080s and $84bn by the end of the century. This is 60 times what G7 countries give Africa in agricultural and rural development aid. Oxfam puts the global annual costs of G7 coal emissions at $260bn and $450bn by the 2080s and 2100, respectively. If coal plants in G7 nations were a single country, it would be the fifth most polluting in the world, Oxfam calculates.

Oxfam, Let them East Coal

Demand for greener holidays growing, but eco-tourism still niche

Just over half of those interviewed in a recent survey by Booking.com say they would favour an environmentally low-impact holiday, yet only 10% have any interest in a “sustainable trip”. Examples of the latter include an eco-tour, a volunteering holiday, a farm stay and a camping holiday. The survey, which is based on 32,000 respondents, finds a number of regional variations. Almost three-quarters of Brazilian holidaymakers say they would factor sustainability issues into their travel plans, for instance. The Danish (36%) and Dutch (39%) score the lowest.

Source: www.booking.com

Institutional Insights

Industry schemes could cut 630m tonnes of CO2

The world’s largest 1,000 companies could cut 630m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2020 if they fully commit to existing industry initiatives, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The figures derive from the projected impact of 14 major climate change programmes and alliances. The list ranges from industry-specific schemes, such as the Cement Sustainability Initiative (which counts 25 signatories) and the Ultra-Low Carbon Dioxide Steelmaking initiative (whose backers numbers 10 large companies) through to catch-all initiatives such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (which has 192 business members) and Responsible Care (which has 152 companies signed up). The best-supported pro-climate business group is Caring for Climate, with 399 company signatories, followed by CSP Carbon Action, which counts 307 participating investors.

Meantime, the UNEP report maintains that the world’s top 1,000 largest companies are responsible for annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of around 10bn tonnes, equating to about one fifth of total annual greenhouse gas emissions. An alarming study by information provider Thomson Reuters and sustainability expert BSD Consulting, meanwhile, suggests that Russian energy giant Gazprom is responsible for producing 11.7bn tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The 2013 figures are for all 32 firms in Gazprom’s portfolio of companies. Unlike the UNEP calculation, Thomson Reuters calculates the firm’s indirect as well as direct carbon footprint. This includes the emissions from all the coal, oil and gas that Gazprom produces. The next largest corporate emitters, in order, are Coal India, Glencore, Petrochina, Rosneft, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil.

UNEP report (PDF)

Thomson Reuters report

Big banking sectors slow growth

Far from promoting general economic wellbeing, a large banking sector can potentially imperil economic equality and even slow growth. This is the finding of a damning OECD report into the economic performance of its 34 member states over a 50-year period. Too much finance pushes credit to the wrong places, meaning that finance is “not used for the most efficient social purposes”, the report states. On average across OECD countries, a 10% increase in the stock of bank credit is associated with a 0.3% reduction in long-term growth. Pay in the sector is also imbalanced. While finance workers make up only 4% of the workforce, for example, they make up 20% of the top 1% of earners. The lowest paid finance workers, meanwhile, earn 15% more than their counterparts doing similar jobs in other sectors. The gap widens to as much as 40% at the top of the scale.

OECD report

E-waste largely illegally traded

Between 60% and 90% of electronic waste is illegally traded or dumped, with estimates of the value of these activities ranging from $12.5bn to $18.8bn, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. According to the UN body, the average price of e-waste is now around $500 a tonne. The legal recycling and disposal of e-waste only accounts for between 10% and 40% of all such waste produced. Europe and the US are the largest producers of e-waste, although Asia is fast catching up. The global market for waste of all kinds, meanwhile, is estimated to have reached $410bn a year, although this does not include a large part of the informal sector.

UNEP, Waste Crimes, Waste Risks

400m lack essential health services

Around 400m people do not have access to essential health services, while around 6% of those in low- and middle-income countries experience extreme poverty because of their spending on health, a joint report from the World Health Organization and World Bank finds. The institutions define essential health services as including family planning, antenatal care, skilled birth attendance and child immunization, as well as access to clean water and sanitation. The percentage of those tipped into or pushed further into poverty, meanwhile, expands from 6% to 17% if the poverty measure is set at $2 per day as opposed to $1.25 per day.

WHO/World Bank, Tracking Universal Health Coverage

Corporate Snapshots

Royal Mail employs one in 180 UK workers

One in every 180 employees in the UK works for the Royal Mail, making the firm one of the largest employers in Europe. The recently privatised letter and parcel delivery firm has a workforce of 160,000 and an annual wage bill of £4.4bn. In its latest sustainability report, the company calculates that its direct and indirect contribution to the UK economy is £11.1bn, making it the sixth largest corporate contributor in the UK.

Royal Mail, Corporate Responsibility Report 2014-2015

Two-thirds of M&S products now Plan A compliant

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Marks & Spencer products now have at least one social or environmental best practice feature that accords with the UK retailer’s ambitious Plan A sustainability strategy. The plan includes 101 targets for 2020, 47 of which have been met and 39 of which are on track. The company is behind on its targets for customer clothes recycling and for sustainable building standards in its international stores. It has yet to start on four of its new targets, meanwhile, and has failed to meet nine, including transport-related fuel efficiency and integrating Plan A into marketing. According to the UK retailer, which posted pre-tax profits of £600m for its latest full year, Plan A has contributed £160m in net business benefits.

M&S Plan A Report

Land Securities cuts energy consumption

Energy consumption in retail sites managed by Land Securities fell by 10% in 2014. Energy use for its sites in London fell by 8%. The commercial property company credits the retrofitting of LED lights, the use of a ground source heat pump system, and the introduction of solar panel arrays for helping in the reductions. Land Securities, which owns and manages more than 26.5m square feet of property, recently committed to reduce its energy consumption by 15% in its five most energy-hungry buildings by 2020 (against a 2014 benchmark). These properties, all of which are in London, account for 37% of Land Securities’ overall energy footprint. Commercial property is responsible for about 18% of the UK’s current carbon emissions.

Land Securities, 2015 Sustainability Report

Dell reveals suppliers’ carbon footprint

US technology firm Dell has published the total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of its supply chain (so-called Scope 3) for the first time, putting the figure at 2.04m tonnes. The calculation is based on revenue-apportioned emissions from suppliers representing more than 95% of Dell’s total procurement spend. In comparison, the emissions from the company’s direct operations are 38,467 tonnes, up fractionally on its 2013 figure of 37,014 tonnes. Dell’s latest corporate responsibility report reveals that it has reduced the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 30.1% over the past three years, thus reducing customers’ electricity spend by an anticipated $450m this year compared with 2012.

Dell, Corporate Responsibility Report 2015 

CR Cheat Sheet  water conservation  water crises  water management  financial investments  Ethical investment  coal  emissions  sustainable tourism 

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