Sustainable Business for SMEs, wildfires and extreme temperatures, warnings from the IPCC, John Kerry and the new Climate Crisis Advisory Group and the BBC has a change of heart.
First of all let me welcome our latest patron, Sam Styles. Welcome Sam, thanks for becoming a patron and thanks for your support. I hope you enjoy the Sustainable Futures Report and please do get in touch to share any ideas you have about how we could make the podcast better or topics which should be included.
I'd also like to tell you about another podcast I've come across: Climactic. We’re facing an unprecedented future with a destabilised natural world due to rising temperatures.
Climactic tells the stories of the people making a difference. You’ll hear more about Climactic later and you can find it on Apple podcasts and all good podcast sites.
Extreme weather became an increasingly important issue this week, but first, sustainable business.
Of course, if you’re running a mega-business you can probably go the bank and get support to totally re-engineer your organisation to face a zero-carbon future. Although, as we said last week, it’s still a challenge to finance radical new technologies but the financial institutions are beginning to realise that there’s little alternative.
But what if yours is an SME, a small or medium-size business? You may be struggling to know where to start.
I think it comes down to two clear issues: credibility and survival. Whatever your business, there are increasing risks to business continuity. They may not be immediately obvious, but remember that every business has a supply chain and there may be a weak link further down the chain which threatens your business. It’s fine as long as that weak link holds up, but could be a disaster if it breaks and you’re not prepared.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that some carmakers have had to suspend production because of a shortage of computer chips. Every modern car needs dozens of them, and manufacturers across the world have either slowed production or have yards full of completed vehicles just waiting for their chips before they can be delivered. Peugeot has even modified the design of one of its models so it has an analogue speedometer instead of a digital speed display.
There are several reasons for this disruption. First, some carmakers were convinced that car sales would fall off during the pandemic so reduced their orders. Secondly, people working from home needed to acquire or update their computer kit and then when they weren’t working people were buying new phones, tablets, games consoles, TVs, and all of this new kit needed chips. Then there was a violent storm in Texas which knocked out the power to four chip factories causing disruption which will take months to recover from. There was a fire in a major chip factory in Japan.
The Road to Business Sustainability
Step one on the road to business sustainability in the face of the climate crisis must be to examine the links in your supply chain, and make sure you understand the full extent of that chain. Supply chains flow in many directions. Car dealers are going to suffer if their manufacturers can’t provide the cars - and equally if the manufacturers don’t look after their dealers during difficult times they could be faced with the loss of their route to market. But did Uber account for extreme weather in Texas when assessing risks to business continuity? Arguably that’s a step too far. On the other hand every business relies on technology and technology uses chips. Every business should have some idea of what do do in the face of a critical component shortage, even if it doesn’t affect them directly but impacts a link elsewhere in the supply chain.
Survival meets Reputation
Storms and fires and unexpected demand may be disrupting the market at present, but the big issue for the future will be raw materials. The next big threat to chip production will be a shortage of materials, specifically rare earth metals - and this is where business continuity and survival crosses over with reputation and credibility.
Take coltan as an example. It’s in your smartphone and any other electronic device you’d like to mention. It’s a conflict mineral, so-called because most of it comes from the DRC, from unsafe mines controlled by armed factions and organised crime. The actual source of coltan is often unclear because much of it is smuggled out through Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, with the profits, incidentally, funding civil war. By the time the electronics manufacturers get hold of it it has been incorporated into components like capacitors and there is no way of knowing where the coltan originally came from. The big manufacturers’ reputations are safe - for the moment.
There are many more materials than coltan which our electronic future depends on. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre warns that “demand for minerals like lithium, cobalt, copper and nickel is expanding as companies race to produce the technology needed to support the energy transition, from electric vehicles to solar panels to wind turbines. But companies’ human rights due diligence is not keeping pace with expanding exploration, increasing the risk that the transition fuels further abuse in an already troubled sector.”
There’s not just a risk to your reputation from using supplies from questionable sources. The BBC reports that UK firms doing business in China will face fines if they can't show their products aren't linked to forced labour in the country's Xinjiang region. There are allegations that the Uighur community have been used as forced labour in the cotton fields. No wonder Marks and Spencer and others have been quick to deny that any of their garments contain such cotton.
Supply chains therefore are vulnerable not just to shortages but also to sanctions and reputational issues. Supply chains go in both directions: ultimately ending with the consumer, and consumers are increasingly concerned with the ethics of what they buy. Don’t let yours be perceived as the weakest link in the chain.
We’ll come back to sustainable business in future.
Last week I told you about the community of Lytton in Canada where they had recorded a temperature of 49.6C - that’s 121.3F. Lytton is no more. This week wildfires raced across the country and Lytton was burnt out. Canada identified 130 wildfires caused by lightning strikes during this time of extreme heat. Wildfires are raging in California and there is news from Cyprus that wildfires have forced the evacuation of several villages: "It is the worst forest fire in the history of Cyprus," said Director of the Department of Forests Charalambos Alexandrou. The country requested assistance from the European Union and Israel as the fire threatened to spread into the Machairas Forest.
In the Northwest states of America the so-called “heat dome” was still in place over the weekend of 3/4 July. Roads melted, rails buckled, intense use of air conditioners caused power outages. Cities set up cooling centres where people could escape the heat but hospitalisations due to heat-related conditions stretched healthcare resources just as COVID had done. A shortage of chlorine threatened supplies of drinking water. Citizens began to suspect that the consequences of the climate crisis could hit them in the northern latitudes just as much as developing nations in the south.
Climate Crisis Advisory Group
Last week saw the launch of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group. Associated with the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge [University], it’s described as “a new advisory group to help inform the public, governments and financial institutions providing them with the most comprehensive science, and more crucially, guiding them towards action for climate repair.” Crucially, it’s independent of government.
Nowhere is Safe
Its website says, “We are in a crisis, one that requires real and meaningful action now.” Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the British government, said, “Nowhere is safe. Who would have predicted 49℃ in British Columbia? The risks have been understood and known for so long and we have not acted, now we have a very narrow timeline for us to manage the problem.”
Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and also a member of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, said the recent extreme weather anomalies were not represented in global computer models that are used to project how the world might change with more emissions. The fear is that weather systems might be more frequently blocked as a result of human emissions. “It is a risk – of a serious regional weather impact triggered by global warming – that we have underestimated so far,” he said.
Earth’s Energy Imbalance
Meanwhile a joint study from NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), published in Geophysical Research Letters, demonstrates that the Earth’s energy imbalance doubled between 2005 and 2019. In other words the amount by which the solar radiation hitting the earth exceeds the heat radiated back into space has doubled. Global warming is warming faster.
Agence France Presse reports on an IPCC report scheduled to be published in February 2022, long after November’s COP26. According to a leaked draft seen by AGP, “the report reads like a 4,000-page indictment of humanity's stewardship of the planet.”
“The challenges it highlights are systemic, woven into the very fabric of daily life.
“They are also deeply unfair: those least responsible for global warming will suffer disproportionately, the report makes clear.
“And it shows that even as we spew record amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we are undermining the capacity of forests and oceans to absorb them, turning our greatest natural allies in the fight against warming into enemies.
"Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems," it says.
At last week’s Climate Innovation Forum John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, warned that we were not moving fast enough to meet global climate goals.
IMF Carbon Pricing
The IMF says high greenhouse gas emitters should pay for carbon they produce, and recommends $75/tonne to meet the Paris Agreement goals.
Brussels Court Ruling
Meanwhile, the Brussels court of first instance has declared the Belgian state committed an offence under Belgian’s civil law and breached the European convention on human rights.
By not taking all “necessary measures” to prevent the “detrimental” effects of climate change, the court said, Belgian authorities had breached the right to life (article 2) and the right to respect for private and family life (article 8).
The legal victory follows similar rulings in the Netherlands, Germany and France, where judges have condemned governments for inadequate responses to the climate crisis or failing to keep their promises.
But judges rejected the demand that the courts should enforce tough new carbon-cutting targets on the state, saying this would breach the separation of powers. Belgium’s climate minister noted that the court’s decision was without financial or legal consequences.
Klimaatzaak, the NGO which brought the case, vowed to appeal the court’s decision not to compel the government to take action. However they pointed out that on past performance the appeal would take nine and a half years to come to judgement - “and we only have ten years left!”
Time for Action!
There seems to be a theme here. Let’s hope that the British government, and all governments, will be guided by the science and take urgent action.
A report on planned road-building in the UK seems to run counter to this. In the High Court the Transport Action Network claimed that the government’s £27bn roadbuilding programme breached its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
The director of TAN said, “If we are serious about tackling the climate emergency, improving quality of life after the pandemic and delivering a less congested future, we need to reduce traffic … A ruling to quash the largest ever roads programme would be historic, not just for the UK, but for communities worldwide seeking to build back better in the run up to Cop26.”
Judgement is awaited.
A worrying story from the private sector concerns a report by ITV into Amazon. An unidentified whistleblower alleged that he and his colleagues at one of Amazon’s distribution centres were targeted with destroying up to 130,000 items per week. These were either brand-new items, or new items which customers had returned. Amazon provides warehouse space to many sellers, but if stock is slow moving it is cheaper to throw it away than to continue to pay storage fees. Amazon claims that nothing goes to landfill and the items are either donated to charity or sent for recycling. The ITN report disputed this. When manufactured items are discarded, it is not just the material which is wasted, but the energy and human effort involved in the manufacturing process. All of this has a carbon footprint.
Good to hear that the BBC has revised its Bite-Size education pages. Previously it recounted the benefits as well as the risks from climate change.
Previously, the site claimed that warmer temperatures “could lead to healthier outdoor lifestyles” and that a benefit of climate change could mean easier access to oil in Alaska and Siberia. Other apparent benefits highlighted by the BBC included the ability to one day grow more crops in Siberia, new shipping routes created by melting ice, and more tourist destinations.
Campaigner George Monbiot said, “You could come away thinking: ‘on balance, it sounds pretty good’.” Following complaints by Monbiot, educationalists, XR and others the BBC said it had “reviewed the page and was amending the content to be in line with current curricula”. Only the negative aspects remain.
Before I Go,
As promised, here’s more about the Climactic podcast. You’ll find it on all good podcast hosts.
And That’s It…
…for this week. There will be another Sustainable Futures Report next Friday.
Thanks again to Sam Styles for becoming our latest patron. There’s always room for more!
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
Pacific states face brutal reality of climate crisis
Nowhere is safe: warning on escalating climate crisis
Climate Crisis Advisory Group
Risks of regional extreme weather have been underestimated, say scientists
Earth is trapping ‘unprecedented’ amount of heat, Nasa says
IPCC steps up warning on tipping points in leaked draft report
Getting to net zero: the crunch is coming
Climate failures violate human rights, court rules
High greenhouse gas emitters should pay for carbon they produce, says IMF
UK road-building scheme breaches climate commitments, high court told
With Amazon destroying millions of items a year, what are we going to do about e-waste?
BBC removes Bitesize page on climate change ‘benefits’
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