Envisioning the decarbonization dream; SDGs offer new hope to animal rights activists; city mayors lead the way on climate action

It is notoriously difficult to imagine the future, much less predict it. Picture business owners in the mid-1980s investing vast sums in the first generation of personal industrial computers. Could they possibly conceive that, four decades later, their cutting-edge technology would be outclassed by something that could fit in a person’s pocket? The idea of a decarbonized future is no different. Turn on the ignition of your car or switch on your home heating and it is tempting to assume that fossil-fuel dependency is here to stay.

Yet the business leaders who have signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative see the future differently. A YouGov poll of 185 executives of the 436 companies that have signed up to reduce their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement finds that 52% believe that at least half of the products and services we will be buying in 10 years’ time will qualify as “low carbon”. One in five of these executives goes further, anticipating 100% of their output to conform to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature below a 2°C increase on pre-industrial levels.

The problem of picturing an eco-friendly future isn’t just constrained by a lack of imagination. Hard, inconvenient facts cloud the looking-glass too. Worldwide, around four-fifths (80.4%) of energy production is still based on fossil fuels, according to the World Bank. Then there’s lobbying by the fossil fuel industry to consider. A new academic paper in the journal Climate Change calculates that industry sectors with a strong link to fossil fuels spent more than $2billion trying to influence climate legislation in the US Congress between 2000 and 2016. In 2009, total spending on anti-climate expenditures reached a high point of $362 million, equivalent to 9% of all lobbying expenditure that year. The biggest spenders were electricity utilities, followed by the oil, gas and coal industries. The paper estimates that anti-climate change lobbyists have outspent environmental groups and the renewable energy sector by a factor of 10:1 since 2000.

Ireland recently became the first country to divest from fossil fuels. (Credit: Vincent MacNamara/Shutterstock)

Lack of political will represents another blot on the horizon for decarbonization. According to a new 463-page report published by two non-profit groups, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Bertelsmann Stiftung, government inaction means the world “risks falling short” of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Worryingly, the report finds that no G20 country has fully aligned its national budget with the SDGs. Out of these 20 ‘leading’ economies, only India boasts a climate policy that is judged compatible with the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, nine of the G20 are deemed to have climate policies that are “highly insufficient”. The list includes the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia and China. Together, China, India and the US account for more than 40 percent of the world's gap in achieving sustainable consumption and production.

Yet the optimist visionaries have reason for hope. At the parliamentary level, for example, Ireland recently became the first country in the world to divest from fossil fuels. A new law, passed on 12 July, will ban the state-owned Ireland Strategic Investment Fund from investing in any company or project that generates more than one fifth (20%) of its revenues from fossil fuels. The discretionary and directed portfolios of the fund, which was set up in 2014, was valued last year at €19.7bn. Its directed portfolio includes major investments in Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland.

Public attitudes also appear to be swinging the way of the optimists. According to a survey by low-carbon power provider Ørsted, nearly three in four (73%) UK consumers would rather buy from a retailer that uses renewable energy over one that does not. An even higher percentage (86%) believe that products made using 100% renewable energy are “worth buying”. With 10 off-shore wind farms on its books, Ørsted is placed at the vanguard of future zero-emissions power supply. According to RenewableUK, an industry body, the UK currently has 7 gigawatts of operational offshore wind capacity under construction or with contract secured. The UK government recently pledged support for between 1-2GW of additional offshore wind capacity per year in the 2020s. With just over 7GW of offshore wind capacity already in place, the UK is projected to generate one fifth (20%) of its power from offshore wind by 2030 – up from 6% at present.

Animal rights: cosmetic testing under the microscope

80% of countries do not ban animal testing for cosmetics. (Credit: Kachalkena Veronika/Shutterstock)

THE ENTIRE animal kingdom has the right to live free of fear or abuse. So a court in the Indian state of Uttarakhand recently declared. The ruling, which is motivated in part as a legal deterrent against poaching and industrial polluters, holds that an animal comprises a “legal person or entity” with corresponding rights as a human being.

Animal rights activists have welcomed the development as a step forward in their struggle for fair treatment of animals. Among that number is Brazilian cosmetic firm Natura, which recently acquired eco-brand The Body Shop. In association with campaign group Cruelty Free International, The Body Shop has gathered 7 million signatures for its Forever Against Animal Testing Campaign. Natura’s executive chairman recently brought up the issue of animal testing in the cosmetics industry at a meeting of the United Nations High Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development in New York. Roberto Marques argued that the question of animal testing is germane to Goal 12 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which pertains to responsible consumption and production.

According to Cruelty Free International, 80% of the world’s nations have no laws on banning animal tests for cosmetics. The European Union is one of the major exceptions in this respect, imposing a ban in 2013. In May this year, 620 Members of the European Parliament voted to push the United Nations to enforce a similar ban globally. The proposed international convention would include a prohibition on the trade in cosmetic ingredients tested on animals. Public opinion data suggests most Europeans are in favour. According to a 2016 survey by the European Commission, nine in every 10 (90%) EU citizens agree that it is important to establish high animal welfare standards across the world.

The Body Shop has gathered 7 million signatures for its anti animal testing campaign. (Credit: The Body Shop)

Global legislators appear to be beginning to take heed. Earlier this month, for example, the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais voted to end the use of animals in cosmetics testing. It is the sixth Brazilian state to have done so, following the likes São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Paraná. To date, 37 countries have approved bans on animal testing in cosmetics. The list includes India, Norway, Switzerland, Taiwan and New Zealand. In the US, the state legislatures of New York, New Jersey, Virginia and California have imposed bans on cosmetic testing, although not on the sale of beauty products tested on animals. According to a recent survey of 15,000 Californian women, nearly half (46%) would agree with such products being removed from the shelves.

Trends in industry appear to be following suit. UK high-street fashion retailer Primark, for instance, recently announced that all its own-brand beauty range is now completely “cruelty free”. The claim was verified by animal protection charity Cruelty Free International, which awarded the British retailer with its Leaping Bunny certification in early July. Childs Farm, the UK baby and child toiletries brand, has also recently been awarded the Leaping Bunny certification for its entire personal care range. In the food and beverage sector, meanwhile, four companies operating in the US have recently pledged to stop testing their products on animals. The group comprises ramen noodle producers Toyo Suisan Kaisha and Nissin Foods, food processing firm Satake, and beverage company Suntory. Collectively, the four corporations have joint sales of over $27 billion.

Animal rights activists will also take heart from new data published by the UK Government’s Home Office, which reveals that scientific testing on live animals is at its lowest level since 2010. Researchers carried out 3.79 million procedures on living animals in England, Scotland and Wales in 2017, 4% down on 2016. Mice, rats and fish account for 87% of experimental procedures. Of around 1.89 million animal experiments performed last year, 50% were assessed as mild, 26% as moderate and 5% as severe.

Cities: Holding the torch for sustainability

New York is the first major urban centre to report its progress towards the SDGs. (Credit: cla78/Shutterstock)

IT IS presidents and prime ministers who usually grab the headlines, but is it time attention shifted to a more municipal level? Power may reside in national governments, for sure, but cities are arguably where the innovation and ideas lie. Proving the point are the elected leaders of Paris, Milan and London, who were among 10 city mayors to call on the European Union to establish a clear net-zero emissions goal. In an open letter, the city leaders urged EU legislators to couple their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement with “consistent and Paris-compatible economic and energy policies”. The mayors form part of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a global coalition of over 9,000 cities that are undertaking measurable climate actions. Moreover, as signatories of the EU Covenant of Mayors, the group behind the letter represent cities that have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. The other cities represented by the mayoral group include Stockholm, Barcelona, Heidelberg, Copenhagen, Bonn, Turku (Finland) and Arendal (Norway).

Another major world city worthy of a news splash is New York. Earlier this month, the Big Apple became the world’s first major urban centre to report to its progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The voluntary review submitted to the United Nations reveals a 15% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, based on a 2005 baseline (its 2050 target is a reduction of 80%). Among the sustainability measures described in the report is a $1.5 billion programme to construct sewers and reduce flooding in the borough of Queens. The city government has also trained more than 3,200 municipal employees in the operation and adoption of renewable energy technologies. The review focuses on the city’s progress toward five SDGs: clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; and protecting land.

According to the Urban Institute, a US policy think tank, three-fifths (61%) of the SDG’s 17 goals and 169 associated targets are relevant to cities. Furthermore, two-thirds (66%) of these can be monitored and measured via existing data collection systems. Cities are vital in the quest for sustainable development in the future. Over half of the world’s population (54%) now lives in cities and cities generate around four-fifths (80%) of global gross domestic product (valued at $60.5tr). Plus, cities are expected to grow: with 1bn extra inhabitants by 2030 and 2bn by 2050. Of these, 1.2bn and 800m will be in Asia and Africa, respectively. A recent report by the US bank Citigroup suggests that cities will require an overall spending of $2.1 trillion per year if the SDG goals are going to be met by 2030. Of this, housing ($650bn per year), recreation ($315bn per year) and ‘smart cities’ ($600m) comprise the lion’s share. By 2030, the world is projected to have 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants, most of them in developing regions.

Main picture credit: Jeff Zehnder/Shutterstock



CSR  decarbonisation  animal testing  cosmetic industry  renewables  clean energy 

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