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Haves and have-nots

A new report by global bank Credit Suisse reckons that almost half of the world’s private assets is in the hands of just 1% of the population. In contrast, the poorest two-thirds own just a 3% share of total wealth. This distributional imbalance is compounded by the rise in global private assets, which is estimated now at $241tn, up 68% over the past decade.

The Credit Suisse World Wealth report puts average wealth at $51,600 per adult, with the richest 10% owning 86% of all assets. The Swiss-based bank estimates that wealth will jump by 40% between now and 2018, reaching £334tn. The world’s richest countries are Switzerland (where the average adult has assets worth $513,000), Australia ($403,000), Norway ($380,000) and Luxembourg ($315,000). China is a surprising underperformer. The populous country, which accounts for about one-fifth of the world’s population, holds only 9% of global wealth.

Smart city market opportunities

The smart cities industry could be worth more than £250bn by the end of the decade, according to a new report by the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – The Smart City Market: Opportunities for the UK. The upbeat estimate draws heavily on the implications of global demographic trends. According to UN projections, the world population is likely to hit nine billion by 2050. Three-quarters of the 2050 population will live in cities, leading to massive demand for efficient and intelligent public services. The urban population is expected to reach as much as 80% in the UK by mid-century. The UK government hopes to gain 10% of the projected market for smart city solutions. Research Councils UK recently invested £95m in smart city research. The UK government is investing in other schemes too, such as the construction of a £50m Future Cities Catapult centre in London.

Clean tech slowing up

The clean energy market looks like it could be stuck in a global slowdown as political will to decarbonise falters. Total investment in the sector amounted to $45.9bn in the third quarter of 2013, down one-fifth on the same three-month period in 2012. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance , it is “almost certain” that total investment for 2013 will fall short of the $281bn total in 2012 – itself an 11% drop on 2011. Investment in the US was hardest hit, dropping from $9.4bn in the second quarter of 2013 to $5.5bn in the year’s third quarter. One area that seems to be bucking the trend is solar photovoltaic power, which now measures a record global generating capacity of about 37GW. Declining investment runs contrary to the performance of clean tech stocks. The benchmark WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index (or NEX), which tracks the top 96 quoted clean tech firms worldwide, is up nearly 47% since the beginning of the year.

India law to generate jobs

India’s decision to require large companies to meet obligatory social investment targets is set to generate a huge demand for advisory services in the sector, according to recruitment company GlobalHunt. It is estimated that 50,000 jobs could be created by the mandatory social investment measures introduced under India’s Companies Act. The ruling will force companies with a turnover of more than 10bn rupees ($160m), net worth of 5bn rupees or with profits of more than 50m rupees to re-invest 2% of profits in social programmes. About 8,000 companies will be affected, it is thought.

Investor appetite for sustainability

More than six out of 10 of British investors claim to want the option to buy into sustainable or ethical funds or stocks, according to a survey commissioned by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association.

A similar percentage say they are worried about the downside risks of investing in unsustainable companies. The figures coincide with a report by specialist research firm EIRIS, which puts the total assets under management by UK responsible investment funds at £12.2bn.

Progress on gender equality stalling

Women have increased their participation in the total UK labour force over the past four decades. More than two-thirds of working age women are now in work, compared with about half in 1971. However, their relative position within the job market shows less advancement. Of the 13.4 million female employees in the UK fewer than one in five (18%) occupy “upper-middle skilled roles”, according to a study by the UK’s Office of National Statistics. This compares with 37% of men. That said, the proportion of women in managerial positions (around 35%) compares favourably with the average in the European Union (33.5%). At a regional level, women in the UK are most likely to be in work in the east of England (69.8%), followed by the southwest (69.4%) and the southeast at (69.3%) of England. The lowest figures are posted for Northern Ireland (62.3%), London (62.6%) and the northeast (62.9%) of England.

Food waste in US

Two-fifths of food produced in the US is never eaten, according to research by the Natural Resource Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Food worth about $165bn per year is wasted, most of which is edible. Inconsistent labelling by food producers and retailers is identified as a major contributing factor to US consumers’ throwing away of food.

Scotland progresses on renewables

Scotland increased its displacement of power-related CO2 emissions in 2012 by 24% compared with the previous year thanks to a rise in clean energy generation. Scotland's renewable electricity industry generated 14,825GWh in 2012, displacing 10.3m tonnes of CO2. In 2011, the volume of displaced CO2 stood at 8.3m tonnes. Renewables now generate the equivalent of 40% of the commercial and domestic demand, government figures suggest.

Organisation snapshots

Global warming ‘unequivocal’, UN body finds

The vast majority  of scientists say it is “extremely likely” that humans are the dominant cause of climate change since the 1950s, a landmark report by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds. Concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased to levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years, the report adds. Today, there is 40% more atmospheric carbon dioxide than the years leading up to the industrial revolution. Other headline statistics in the report include the prediction that sea levels will rise 26-82 cm by the end of the 21st century, and that snow cover in the northern hemisphere will reduce by 25% over the same period. The report concedes, however, that world temperatures have remained relatively constant over the past 15 years. Temperature rises have dropped from 0.12C per decade since 1951 to just 0.05C per decade since 1998.

Linking sustainability to performance

Companies with a commitment to non-financial disclosure provide a higher return on equity, better cash flow stability and higher dividend growth than rivals without such a commitment. The findings are based on an analysis of firms in the top quintile of the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) performance and disclosure ranking. The scores of those in the Climate Disclosure Leadership Index, which represents the leading 500 companies ranked by CDP, rose by 18% from 2008 to 2013.

The report will be welcome reading for chief executives, who reportedly struggle to identify the business value of sustainability. A study by the UN Global Compact and Accenture found that 37% of the 1,000 CEOs surveyed saw linking sustainability to the bottom line as a key barrier. That said, a similar proportion (38%) felt that they were able to quantify the value of their sustainability initiatives. Somewhat alarmingly, only one third (33%) of CEOs believe business is doing enough to address global sustainability challenges.

Fall in child labour

The quantity of illegal underage workers around the world has declined by one third since 2000. From an estimated 246 million illegal child workers, the number has dropped to about 168 million in 2013, a new report by the International Labor Organisation finds. Three in five of today’s underage workers are employed in agriculture. The most progress in combating child labour is among girls. Today, 40% fewer female children work illegally than in 2000. The number of male child workers has decreased as well, dropping 25% over the same period. The ILO figures indicate that the most progress was made between 2008 and 2012, during which time the overall number of child workers dropped from 215 million to 168 million. Asia-Pacific registered the most significant decrease, falling from 114 million in 2008 to 78 million in 2012. Child labour persists stubbornly in sub-Saharan Africa, however, where more than one in five (21%) children are employed illegally. The number of children in hazardous work, meanwhile, stands at 85 million, roughly half what it was in 2000 (171 million).

Company insights

Cybercrime up, Symantec reveals

US software and programming giant Symantec operates 69m attack sensors as part of its internet protection system. Research by the company finds that targeted attacks against internet and phone users increased by 42% in 2012. New unique malicious web domains increased to 74,000 during 2012, up from 55,000 in 2011 and 43,000 in 2010. Small businesses are now the target of 31% of all attacks, a threefold increase from 2011. Symantec, which owns internet security brand Norton, estimates that the direct costs of global consumer crime accounts are $110bn a year.

Hertz reports on fleet efficiency

Three-quarters of rental vehicles in Hertz’s fleet average fuel efficiency levels of 28 miles per gallon or better, with 55% averaging more than 32 mpg. The average for the US firm’s Green Traveller Collection, which comprises electric vehicles and other alternatively powered vehicles, is 48 mpg or more. It costs 64% less to fuel an electric vehicle than a conventional petrol-powered car. Hertz also reports that 70% of the earthmoving equipment it leases is powered by low-emission engines in models that are 2012 and newer. These reduce air-pollution by 90% compared with older models.

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