Looking back, looking forward

The beginning of the new year marks a time to look back and learn lessons for the future. John Dyer reports from Boston.

Many are hoping that 2019 will bring about a “Green New Deal”. Image credit: Jonatan Pie via Unsplash

In the world of sustainability, 2018 was a year of ominous signals that humanity is thankfully now addressing. This is prompting some to hope for a so-called “Green New Deal”, echoing the economic stimulus program that American President Franklin Roosevelt launched in the 1930s during the dark days of the Great Depression.

Big moves needed to tackle climate change

“We should make a big move to tackle climate change, and that this move should accentuate the positive, not the negative,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman in a recent New York Times column.

Krugman noted, for example, that much of the world would produce far-less greenhouse gases if governments phased out coal-fired power plants and encouraged a switchover to electric vehicles – changes that would not necessarily require people to use less energy or drive less.

“These policies would visibly create jobs in renewable energy, which already employs a lot more people than coal mining,” he wrote.

Krugman’s call to action came as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, warned in 2018 that people had to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 to avoid the worst side effects of climate change. Without action, the IPCC warned, extreme weather events, rising ocean levels and other problems were unavoidable.

The Harvard Business Review listed signs of the IPCC’s potential nightmarish future, noting that wildfires destroyed the town of Paradise in California, typhoons wiping out coastal communities in China and the Philippines, a drought nearly crippled the major, wealthy city of Cape Town, South Africa and corals around the world are on the brink of death.

Companies, investors and governments all taking action

Fast Company and others reported on signs of Krugman’s Green New Deal too, though.

McDonald’s and Starbucks are working on a sustainable coffee cup. A consortium of almost companies like PepsiCo and H&M, academic institutions and organizations like the World Economic Forum are developing a circular supply chain to keep plastic out of the ocean and landfills. French multinational food-products giant Danone has become the world’s largest B corporation, meaning its business model is pursuing and reflecting environmental, social and governance, or ESG, concerns.

On the topic of ESG, Quartz wrote that investors are developing better, more exacting standards for the ESG label. That shows how amorphous ESG can be. But it also shows how popular conscious investing has become in recent years.

That investing has fueled the success of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, the world’s largest carbon market. Last year, after officials overhauled the market, the price of carbon increased from $8 to $28.50. Forecasts envision the price to hit $34.64 or more this year.

Governments are also taking action. Chinese subsidies helped consumers in the world’s most populous (and arguably polluted) country buy 1 million electric cars and 2 million electric two-wheeled vehicles in 2018. Electric two-wheeled vehicles are a perfect alternative to traditional carbon-spewing cars in China’s smoggy cities.

High stakes, win-win solutions

The challenges to the worldwide sustainability crisis are big, wrote Stephen Wheeler, managing director of wind-farm company SSE Ireland in the Irish News.

“When it comes to sustainable business practices and corporate social responsibility, it’s no longer enough for companies to simply ‘abide by the rules’ or engage in isolated acts of philanthropy,” Wheeler argued. “The stakes are just too high… We need to embrace a new economy for this century that ends our outmoded dependency on traditional fuel sources and technologies, in pursuit of a new, low-carbon, green energy ambition.”

But so are the solutions, Wheeler added.

“While corporate sustainability might seem like a new phenomenon, for us it represents one of the oldest concepts in business – the ‘win-win,’” he wrote. “It’s up to us to take our responsibilities seriously, and do all we can to help achieve economic, social and environmental wellbeing for current and future generations.”




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