Weekly wrap: Bloomberg sets the clean business agenda

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Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading the charge for climate-proof investment (Pic: US Navy)


While the Donald Trump horrorshow continues, this week brought some reasons for climate watchers to be cheerful.

Trump’s cabinet picks suggest he places fossil fuel interests – embodied by Exxon chief Rex Tillerson for secretary of state – at the heart of his vision of American greatness.

Still, the US is not the world, oil is not all business and a G20 taskforce of financial heavyweights set out a radically different vision for a prosperous future.

Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney told energy giants to come clean on climate risk and avert another 2008-style financial crisis.

It may not have made much of a splash in the mainstream media. The conclusions had been extensively trailed and the panel’s weighty tome of guidelines was not the kind of thing to set journalist hearts racing.

But if assessing climate risk becomes a routine, everyday task for the financial sector, it will start shifting the trillions needed for climate-proofed infrastructure.

Ed King profiled Carney, an unlikely climate champion.

Pole position

One tool to get cash flowing to climate-friendly investments at scale is the green bond. Development banks and corporates have already got in on the act; now it’s the turn of governments.

To the chagrin of the French, Poland might just beat them to issue the world’s first sovereign green bond. Investors and NGOs are understandably sceptical, given Warsaw’s usual hostility towards renewable energy, but an official explicitly ruled out any of the proceeds going to coal assets.

Divestment earthquake

Pushing climate risk up the financial agenda are hundreds of organisations committed to divesting from some or all fossil fuel holdings. From small beginnings, the movement has mushroomed to include a few major investors.

The Divest-Invest network says these now represent an astonishing US$5 trillion of assets under management, exceeding the value of all listed oil and gas companies put together.

Number of the week

Enough US solar power capacity was added last quarter to power a new home every 11 seconds, in a glut of large scale projects

Trump bump

US green groups have seen membership surge in the past month, as citizens prepare to defend environmental protections from the incoming Republican administration.

“People are telling us that this election shook them to the core and those who’ve never been to a rally or a protest before are now itching to get out on the streets and make their voices heard,” said Peter Stocker of Friends of the Earth.

Coal plateau

The coal curve is bending in the right direction, with the International Energy Agency cutting its global demand forecast for the fifth year in a row.

It’s still not in line with the steep emissions cuts needed to keep global temperature rise within 2C, but makes Trump’s promises to revive miners’ fortunes look empty.

And India’s draft National Electricity Plan indicates a massive scaling back of coal power development, with no new plants needed between 2022 and 2027.

Africa files

Sipho Kings took a trip to South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park, where he found cheetahs too heat-exhausted to hunt and rangers killing hippo and buffalo to ease pressure on water resources. Essential reading.

EU carbon belt-tightening

The EU’s environment committee proposed carbon market reforms that will trim a surplus of pollution permits next decade.

It’s not enough to deliver a strong price signal for low carbon investment, say analysts, but moves in the right direction.

In parallel, a Brussels crackdown on hidden fossil fuel subsidies could force countries like Spain to stop propping up old coal and gas plants, says think-tank IEEFA.

Back to Trump

Ok, ok, I can’t avoid it any longer. The incoming leader of the free world continues to nominate fossil-friendly white men to key roles and emphasise their mandate to scrap environmental regulations.

Lord Nicholas Stern, a leading economist, is encouraging climate advocates to shower praise on the rare positive notes in Trump’s rambling and inconsistent rhetoric.

Mary Robinson, former Ireland president turned UN envoy for El Nino and La Nina, is more combative. If Trump backslides on climate commitments, the US “must be called out as a rogue state”, she told Climate Home.

Funding trickle

One of the clearest positions in the Republican platform was a pledge to axe support for the UN-backed Green Climate Fund. That was the elephant in the room as its board met this week in Samoa, observers reported.

The Fund approved projects worth US$315m, falling short of its 2016 funding target and kicking policy decisions down the road.

Brazil turmoil

While Trump seizes the headlines, it’s worth keeping an eye on South America’s biggest, if troubled, economy.

Environment minister Jose Sarney Filho is defending protections for forests and land use against a powerful rural lobby in Congress.

Lawmakers are set to vote on December 21 on a bill Filho warns will start “environmental civil war” and undermine climate commitments.

And finally…

Climate scientists must fight the rising tide of “bullshit”, argues UK-based researcher Philip Williamson in an editorial for Nature.

He proposes a rating system for websites reporting on science: “We could call it the Scientific Honesty and Integrity Tracker, and give online nonsense the SHAIT rating it deserves.”

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