Trump Administration Continues Attempts to Unravel U.S. Environmental Protections Put in Place Over Many Years – Now, Shareholder Proxy Resolution Actions on Climate Issues Also In Focus For Investors…

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

We should not have been surprised: in 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that among his first steps when in the Oval Office would be the tearing up of his predecessor’s commitment to join the family of nations in addressing climate change challenges. 

In late-December 2015 in Paris, with almost 200 nations coming to agreement on tackling climate change issues, the United States of America with President Barack Obama presiding signed on to the “Paris Agreement” (or Accord) for sovereign nations and private, public and social sector organizations come together to work to prevent further damage to the planet.

The goal is to limit damage and stop global temperatures from rising about 2-degrees Centigrade, the issues agreed to. 

As the largest economy, of course the United States of America has a key role to play in addressing climate change.  Needed: the political will, close collaboration among private, public and social sectors — and funding for the transition to a low-carbon economy (which many US cities and companies are already addressing).

So where is the USA? 

On June 1st 2017 now-President Trump followed through on the promise made and said that the U.S.A. would begin the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, joining the 13 nations that have not formally ratified the agreement by the end of 2018 (such as Russia, North Korea, Turkey and Iran).  

Entering 2019, 197 nations have ratified the Agreement.

A series of actions followed President Trump’s Paris Agreement announcement – many changes in policy at US EPA and other agencies — most of which served to attempt to weaken long-existing environmental protections, critics charged.

The latest move to put on your radar:  In April, President Trump signed an Executive Order that addresses “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth”.

[Energy] Infrastructure needs – a bipartisan issue – are very much in focus in the president’s recent EO.  But not the right kind to suit climate change action advocates. 

Important: The EO addressed continued administration promotion and encouraging of coal, oil and natural gas production; developing infrastructure for transport of these resources; cutting “regulatory uncertainties”; review of Clean Water Act requirements; and updating of the DOT safety regulations for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities.

Critics and supporters of these actions will of course line up on both sides of the issues.

There are things to like and to dislike for both sides in the president’s continuing actions related to environmental protections that are already in place.

And then there is the big issue in the EO:  a possible attempt to limit shareholder advocacy to encourage, persuade, pressure companies to address ESG issues.

Section 5 of the EO“Environment, Social and Governance Issues; Proxy Firms; and Financing of Energy Projects Through the U.S. Capital Markets.” 

The EO language addresses the issue of Materiality as the US Supreme Court advises.  Is ESG strategy, performance and outcome material for fiduciaries? Many in the mainstream investment community believe the answer is YES!

Within 180 days of the order signing, the Secretary of the Department of Labor will complete a review existing DOL guidance on fiduciary responsibilities for investor proxy voting to determine whether such guidance should be rescinded, replaced, or modified to “ensure consistency with current law and policies that promote long-term growth and maximize return on ERISA plan assets”. 

(Think of the impact on fiduciaries of the recommendations to be made by the DOL, such as public employee pension plans.) 

The Obama Administration in 2016 issued a DOL Interpretive Bulletin many see as a “green light” for fiduciaries to consider when incorporating ESG analysis and portfolio decision-making.  The Trump EO seems to pose a direct threat to that guidance.

We can expect to see sustainable & responsible investors marshal forces to aggressively push back against any changes that the Trump/DOL forces might advance to weaken the ability of shareholders – fiduciaries, the owners of the companies! – to influence corporate strategies and actions (or lack of action) on climate change risks and opportunities.  Especially through their actions in the annual corporate proxy ballot process and in engagements. 

You’ll want to stay tuned to this and the other issues addressed in the Executive Order.  We’ll have more to report to you in future issues of the newsletter.

Click here to President Trump’s April 10, 2019 Executive Order.

Facts or not?  Click here if you would like to fact check the president’s comments on withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

We are still in!  For the reaction of top US companies to the Trump announcement on pulling out of the Paris Accord, check The Guardiancoverage of the day.

At year end 2018, this was the roundup of countries in/and not.

For commentaries published by G&A Institute on the Sustainability Update blog related to the above matters, check out it here.

Check out our Top Story for details on President Trump’s recent EO.

This Week’s Top Stories

Trump Order Takes Aim at Shareholders Pushing Companies to Address Climate Change
(Wednesday – April 77, 2019) Source: Climate Liability News – President Trump has ordered a review of the influence of proxy advisory firms on investments in the fossil fuel industry, a mot that…

When Will Sustainable Investing Be Considered to be in the Mainstream?

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

“Movements” – what comes to mind when we describe the characteristics of this term are some 20th Century examples.

The late-20th Century “environmental movement” was a segue from the older 19th and early 20th Century “conservation movement” that was jump started by President Theodore Roosevelt (#26), who in his 8 years in the Oval Office preserved some 100,000 acres of American land every work day (this before the creation of the National Parks System a decade later).

The catalysts for the comparatively rapid uptake of the environmental movement?  American rivers literally burned in the 1960’s and 1970’s (look it up – Cuyahoga River in Ohio was one).

And that was just one reason the alarm bells were going off.  New York’s Hudson River was becoming an open, moving sewer, with its once-abundant fish dying and with junk moving toward the Atlantic Ocean.  Many East Coast beaches were becoming fouled swamp lands.

One clarion call – loud & clear — for change came from the pen.  The inspired naturalist / author Rachel Carson wielded her mighty pen in writing the 1962 best-seller, “Silent Spring”. 

That book helped to catalyze the rising concerns of American citizens. 

She quickly attracted great industry criticism for sounding the alarm…but her words mobilized thousands of early activists. And they turned into the millions of the new movement.

She explained the title:  There was a strange stillness.  Where had the little birds gone? The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly.”  (Hint:  the book had the poisonous aspects of the DDT pesticide at its center as the major villain.)

Americans in the 1960s were becoming more and more alarmed not only of dumping of chemical wastes into rivers and streams and drifting off to the distant oceans —

—but also of tall factory smokestacks belching forth black clouds and coal soot particles;

–of large cities frequently buried beneath great clouds of yellow smog a mile high on what were cone clear days;

–of dangerous substances making their way into foods from the yields of land and sea;

–of yes, birds dropping out of the sky, poisoned;

–of tops of evergreen and other trees on hilltops and mountains in the Northeast burned clean off by acid rain wafting in from tall utility smokestacks hundreds of miles away in the Midwest…and more. 

Scary days. For public health professionals, dangerous days.

We will soon again be celebrating Earth Day; give thanks, we are long way from that first celebration back in spring 1970. (Thank you, US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin for creating that first Earth Day!)

Most of our days now are (as the pilots cheer) CAVU – ceiling (or clear) and visibility unlimited. 

We can breathe deep and as we exhale thank many activists for persevering and driving dramatic change and creating the modern environmental movement… and on to the sustainability movement. 

And now – is it time (or, isn’t time!) for another movement along these lines…the sustainable investing movement going mainstream? 

Experts pose the question and provide some perspectives in this week’s Top Story.

In Forbes magazine, they ask:  “Why Hasn’t Sustainable Investing Gone Viral Yet?”

Decio Fascimento, a member of Forbes Council (and chief investment officer of the Richmond Global Compass Fund) and the Forbes Finance Council address the question in their essay.

In reading this, we’re reminded that such mainstream powerhouse asset managers as BlackRock, State Street/SSgA, Vanguard Funds, TIAA-CREF, and asset owners New York State Common Fund, New York City pension funds (NYCPERS), CalPERS, CalSTRS and other capital market players have embraced sustainable investing approaches. 

But – as the authors ask:  what will it take for many more capital market players to join the movement?  There’s interesting reading for you in the Top Story – if you have thoughts on this, send them along to share with other readers in the G&A Institute universe.

Or send comments our way to supplement this blog post.


This Week’s Top Stories

Why Hasn’t Sustainable Investing Gone Viral Yet?
(Wednesday – April 10, 2019) Source: Forbes – Let’s first look at what sustainability looks like in financial terms. In sustainable investing, the ideal scenario is when you find opportunities that produce the highest returns and have the highest positive impact. 

And of further reading for those interested:

Have You Tuned in to The Green New Deal? The “GND”? — You’d Better!

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Here we are at the start of year 2019 and the nation’s 116th U.S. Congress. Radical and exciting ideas with something for everyone from Wall Street to Main Street to the Corporate Suite and Board Room are now on the table for discussion as this new Congress gets settled in.  We are tuning in to this emerging movement…

Question for you: Have you tuned in to the “Green New Deal”? The “GND” is a concept advanced first by The Green Party in the 2016 election cycle; the concepts gained traction bit-by-bit over time and have been embraced by a fiery new member of the 116th Congress as a platform for re-doing our economic system, our political system, public policies of many kinds.  As well re-structuring our nation’s monetary policy (with creative new stimuli suggested for financing important infrastructure in place to meet climate change challenges) …and more. Much more.

The new champion advancing the GND today is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term democratic socialist from New York City.

The proposals are dramatic, bold, sweeping — with something that some people can love and champion and other condemn and do battle against.

We should recall here for perspective that the original New Deal was ushered in by newly-elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon taking office in March 1933…in the midst of the Great Depression.

Sweeping, radical ideas were then needed to literally save the U.S. economy and avoid slipping into some form of communism, fascism, or worse. The stakes were high.

At the time, the country’s economy – and people! – were being crushed by the negative forces of the Great Depression, which followed the disastrous crash of the stock market in October 1929.

Manufacturers’ lots were filled with unsold merchandise, or in many cases factories were being shuttered and workers laid off. There was a global trade war looming (with passage of the Smoot Hawley protective trade legislation). Fascism was on the rise in Europe. European countries were in an expensive arms race. Many countries were not able to pay their debts. U.S. banks were closing by the scores and then in the thousands in this country. There were few safety nets.

Said President FDR: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. The country needs, and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Scientists and experts tell us today that climate change challenges represent the kind of threat that the Great Depression did for our nation, and that time is running short for bold action. 

“Try Something” – and so today in part inspired by the historic (and sweeping, long-lasting) New Deal accomplishments, key elements of our population – Millennials, civic leaders, business leaders, elected members of the House and Senate, NGOs – have been advancing some bold ideas for our consideration. Meet the concept of the “Green New Deal”.

Origins: As explained, elements of the Green New Deal originally were developed by The Green Party of the United States as its 2016 election platform — there were four pillars with pages-upon-pages of detail to explain each:

  • The Economic Bill of Rights
  • A Green Transition
  • Real Financial Reform
  • A Functioning Democracy

You can read the details of the Party’s GND here: https://gpus.org/organizing-tools/the-green-new-deal/

Will There Be Action in the 116th Congress?

Newly-installed member of the House of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced an 11-page draft text resolution to form a new select committee in the House to rapidly develop a plan of action to finance and implement the GND.

Her draft bill calls for creation of a Green New Deal (“GND”) Select Committee to be composed of 15 House members appointed by the Speaker of the House with authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan, for the transition of the economy to GHG-neutral (drawing down GHGs from the atmosphere and oceans), and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.

The committee would draw on the expertise of leaders in business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, academia, and broadly-represented civil society groups and communities.

The actions taken would be driven by the Federal government in collaboration and co-creation and partnerships with these and other stakeholders:  business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, research institutions, and civil society groups and communities, the plan to be executed (for the U.S. to become GHG-neutral) in not longer than 10 years from the start.

  • The final Plan would be ready by January 1, 2020. Draft legislation to enact the Plan would be completed by March 1, 2020.

The Plan for a Green New Deal would have the objective(s) of reaching these “bold” and we can say, “radical” outcomes:

  • Dramatic expansion of existing renewable energy power sources and new production capacity to meet 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources.
  • Build a national, energy-efficient, smart grid.
  • Upgrade every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.
  • Eliminate GHGs from manufacturing, agriculture and other industries (including investment in local-scale ag in communities across the U.S.).
  • Eliminate GHG emissions from transportation and other infrastructure; upgrade water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water (UN Sustainable Development Goal #6).
  • Fund massive investments in the drawdown of Greenhouse Gasses.
  • Make “green” technology, industry, expertise, products, services, a major export of the United States, to become the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely GHG-neutral economies, to bring about a global Green New Deal.

The draft envisions the Plan to be an historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the U.S., to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation. This could be done through job guarantees to assure living wages to every person.

Among the benefits seen:

  • Diversify local and regional economies.
  • Require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety and wage standards, including the right to organize.
  • Ensure a “just transition” for all workers.
  • End harm faced by “front line” communities posed by climate change, pollution and environmental harm.
  • Protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations (there are more than 300 in the U.S.A.).
  • Mitigate deeply-entrenched racial, regional and gender-biased inequities income and wealth.
  • Assure basic income programs and universal healthcare.
  • Involve labor unions in leadership roles for job training / re-training and worker deployment.

How to finance all of this? The draft text calls for financing by the Federal government, using a combination of the resources and abilities of the  Federal Reserve System, a [possible] new public bank, or a system of regional and specialized public banks, public venture funds, and other vehicles or structures.

Interest and returns would then return to the U.S. Treasury to reduce the burden on taxpayers and allow for more investments.

Paying For the GND

In the bill’s draft, a Q&A section notes: Many will say, how can we pay for this?

To which the Representative and supporters say:  Let’s look at some of the ways that we paid for the 2008 bank bailout, aid to the auto industry, extended quantitative easing programs, the same ways we paid for World War II and many other wars. New public banks can be created to ensure credit and combination of various taxation tools, including taxes on carbon and other emissions, and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.  (The immediate news media frenzy was not over the many elements of the proposed actions but on taxing the rich.)

You can read the entire draft text at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jxUzp9SZ6-VB-4wSm8sselVMsqWZrSrYpYC9slHKLzo/edit#

More than 40 members of the new Congress endorsed the move, including Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Corey Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren — and a few dozen fellow House members with more sure to join the movement.

Emergent: A Movement?

This is now being described by supporters as a movement that aims to enact no less than dramatic, sweeping economic and climate change policies in the 116th Congress — and to in the process “change politics in America.”

The Controversial Conversation about GND

On the CBS “60 Minutes” program segment that will air this coming Sunday (January 6th), the congresswoman argues that the Green New Deal agenda can be financed by imposing a 70 percent income tax on the wealthiest Americans. That would be “a fair share” in taxes to fund an extensive clean energy infrastructure.

Representative Oscasio-Cortez has described herself as a democrat socialist – in the models set by President Abraham Lincoln (citing the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of a great civil war) and President Franklin Roosevelt (whose New Deal programs re-shaped the American economy and political system).

She has focused on economic, social and racial justice as key issues to be addressed by the Federal government in her campaigning (she upset a long-standing Democrat House member (4th ranking Dem and Caucus Chair Joseph Crowley) in New York State in the November 2018 election. The Green New Deal would help in those efforts, while stimulating economic growth.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign platform included tuition-free education, universal health care and the Green New Deal developed by the Green Party as its platform.

During the 2018 campaign, she spent less than $200,000, compared to her opponent’s purse of more than $3 million.

Media Reactions

The right wing publication Washington Examiner warned that the Green New Deal would add trillions of dollars in debt and would represent “the most radical policy shift in modern U.S. history”. (We would ask: what about success of the New Deal of the 1930s  – was it worth the money invested by government?)

Fox News tells viewers that the GND legislation “would eliminate much of the U.S. fossil fuel consumption, dramatically increase America’s already skyrocketing debt, and transform the U.S. into a European-style socialist nation.”

Unfortunately, mainstream media such as CNN and daily newspapers (like the New York News full page headline) have been focusing on the drama of the proposed “tax on the rich” aspects of the concept and not the meat of the sweeping proposals, which American voters and business leaders might see as immediate and long-term opportunities for creating new wealth and a greatly-enhanced economy with many beneficiaries.

Important addition to the above:  On January 9, 2019, influential author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman weighed in.  He called to readers’ attention “A Green New Deal Revisited!” – his column today about the ideas he floated back in 2007 (that prescient commentary was about a Green New Deal), and expanded on in his best-seller, “Hot, Flat and Crowded”.

In that book (published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has numerous comments on GHGs, energy, energy efficiency, environmental technology, environmentalism, green collar jobs, green hawks, the green revolution, and the Civil Rights movement and WW II analogies to the emerging green revolution.

Friedman today likes the urgency and energy [the representative] and groups like the Sunrise Movement are bringing to this task. He says:  So for now I say:  Let a hundred Green New Deal ideas bloom!  Let’s see what sticks and what falls by the wayside. 

He wrote today in the column:  Who believes that America can remain a great country and not lead the next great global industry?  Not me.  A New Green New Deal, in other words, is a strategy for American national security, national resilience, national security and economic leadership in the 21st Century.  Surely some conservatives can support that. 

Money, Money, Money!

The projected additions to national debt are of course especially in focus for those in opposition to the plan.

In the discussions we should keep in mind that the “tax reform” package passed by the 115th Congress added almost $2 trillion in national debt, with benefits for a narrower band of constituents; the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected additional debt (from 2018 to 2028) with not too much criticism occurred short-term. (The commentary about the country’s staggering debt has been increasing lately.) The Republicans in Congress have talked about a second round of tax cuts (“tax reform 2.0”), which would add another $3 trillion to the Federal deficit (to be financed by still more debt).

The Social Media Universe Lights Up

In a Twitter post in December, as the social media universe lit up with mentions of the GND, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted: “…and we have #GreenNewDeal lift-off! Never underestimate the power of public imagination.”

While the first action taken by the new member of Congress called for establishing a committee, she writes on Twitter: “Our ultimate end goal is not a Select Committee. Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the sale necessary – a/k/a Green New Deal – to get it done.”

Note that the Congresswoman has about 2 million Twitter followers.

There’s a very well done commentary on the Green New Deal concepts for you on Vox: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/12/21/18144138/green-new-deal-alexandria-ocasio-cortez

And the Sunrise Movement has information focused on the political side as the public policy debate continues in the new House: https://www.sunrisemovement.org/gnd/

Putting Things in Perspective

We do live in the age of greater prosperity, compared as to the time when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the reins of the nation at a very dark moment in our history.

Climate change challenges pose threats to the future of this nation, many experts posit, including many elements of the United States government itself.

Then, in the 1930s, one-in-four-households was unemployed. States and many cities were running out of relief money. Farmers were being foreclosed because of crop failures, lack of foreign markets, the failure of the bigger banks they borrowed from, and poor land management (recall the “dust bowl” crisis in the west). In America, fear was rampant – with men and women wondering where was the next meal or dollar coming from.

The New Deal title was inspired in part by a book of the same name by prominent liberal author / economist Stuart Chase, published in August 1932 (the presidential election was that November). At the conclusion of his screed he observed (about the radical recommendations he put on the table for discussion): “We do not have to suppose; we know that these speculations will be met with a superior smile of incredulity. The funny thing about it is that the groups are actually beginning to form. As yet they are scattered and amorphous; here a body of engineers, there a body of economic planners. Watch them. They will bear watching. If an occasion arises, join them. They are part of what [author] H.G. Wells has called the Open Conspiracy.”

The groups he referred to some eight decades ago were the American voters, small business owners, Big Business leaders, investment bankers, trade associations, chambers of commerce, government leaders, labor unions, farmers, and academics.

These are the stakeholders clearly identified and explained in the 2019 House draft text that may or may not gain traction in the House of Representatives and for sure not in the U.S. Senate, even among rank & file Democrats who should be in favor of many of the elements of the proposal as stated so far.

Some of the 1930s ideas of Stuart Chase (far left wing and radical they were at the time!) very quickly ended up as necessary public policy adopted to bring the nation out of the scary depths of the Great Depression by a new head of state (FDR) and his assembled Brains Trust.

The Green New Deal is a blossoming idea – yes, radical, of course! – that will be both loved and hated, criticized and championed by various segments of society.

Something For Everyone!

But there is something for everyone in the package and the Plan that could emerge if the Select Committee is formed and elements of the plan get implemented, as promised with the key elements of the American Society  participating.  The actions of the public and private sectors could be as breathtaking in the sweep of what is to be accomplished as were the achievements of the 1930s New Deal.

Those actions helped to create the most powerful economy and democratic political structure the world has ever experienced.  The laws, regulations, rules, policies and actions shaped the modern U.S. and global economies that have delivered benefits to many of us.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cautioned us just a few weeks back that we had about 10 years to reverse course and accelerate measures to address the challenges of climate change. The supporters of the GND movement cite this clear warning as part of the rationale for radical and dramatic thinking, commitment and action over the next decade.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment was released by the Federal government shortly after that, and echoed the rising threats to our economy, businesses, the public sector, and the American nation’s well-being due to the dramatically rising threats inherent in climate change.

For more details on this, see our comments in our November 30 To the Point management brief at: https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/tune-in-to-this-important-report-the-fourth-official-climate-science-special-report-issued-by-the-u-s-governments-global-change-research-program/

Possible GND Impact on Politics

Some presidential hopefuls have recently been saying that climate change will be among the top — if not the top — issues in 2020 races.

Billionaire Congressman Tom Steyer (California) said that climate change could help Democrats sweep into office in 2020. He told USA Today in December: “When we talk about what’s at stake here, we’re talking about unimaginable suffering by the American people unless we solve the problem over the next 12 years. And I think we are very far from doing that. And it is unclear to me that we can summon that will without having substantial political victories across the board.”

Re-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that climate change will become a front-and-center issue if the Democrats take back the house. She told The New York Times in October days before the elections that she would resurrect the defunct Select Committee on Climate Change if the party wins back the House. (The Republican leaders killed the committee in 2011 when they took mid-term power.)

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has taken Speaker Pelosi at her word and put the meat on the table with her draft bill.  (During the orientation of the new members, Ocasio-Cortez led a protest outside the Speaker’s office to draw attention to climate change.)

Ocasio-Cortez in the youngest member of the House, from New York’s 14th District in New York City, upsetting a leading Democratic member in the primary. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and was an educator and community organizer in the [NYC] boro/county of The Bronx before running for office.

Background:  She was a winner of an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in high school; was graduated from Boston University (cum laude); served as an intern in the office of Senator Edward Kennedy; was an organizer in Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign; was endorsed by Move On, Black Lives Matter, Democracy for America, and others. Including NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio.

And so against this background — we’ll see where the GND movement goes from here!

Do tune in and learn more about the critical elements of the plan being championed now in the Halls of Congress as the tempo of the conversation increases.  The “60 Minutes” program on the CBS network tomorrow night is sure to create a national buzz, pro and con, and ensure Representative Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez greater notoriety (and both support and condemnation) in the days ahead.

Created January 5, 2019 – updated January 9, 2019

Global Warming / Climate Change — What Are Current Weather Events and Dramatic Changes Telling Us?

By Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The National Geographic describes “Global Warming” as a set of changes to the Earth’s climate, or long-term weather patterns, varying from place-to-place.  The dramatic changes in the rhythms of climate could affect the face of our planet – coasts, forests, farms, mountains…all hang in the balance.

So, also hanging in the balance:  the fate of humanity!

Explains NatGeo:  “Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, cloud forests are dying, and wildlife scrambles to keep pace.  It’s becoming clear that humans have caused most of the past century’s warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as we power our modern lives.  Greenhouse gases (GhGs) are at higher levels now than in the last 650,000 years.” *

“Climate Change” is the less politically-volatile term used by leaders in the public and private sectors (such as in the numerous shareholder-presented proxy resolutions that are on the ballots of public companies for owner voting and in the language of corporate sustainability reporting).

Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2) released into the atmosphere have increased by a third since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and so addressing this challenge would logically be a prime responsibility of those who benefited most from the 200-year-plus revolution – pretty much all of us!

The political climate in most of the developed industrial world is mostly reflective of the will to do “something” – witness the almost 200 sovereign nations signing on to the Paris Agreement in 2015 (“COP 21”) to work together and separately to holding the temperature rise to well below 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5F), the pre-industrial levels — and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5-degrees C above pre-industrial levels. (“As soon as possible.”)

The Agreement also calls for the increasing society’s ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience including low GHG emissions development. **

The outlier nation to the agreement, sad to say, is the world’s largest economy and significant GHG emitter, the United States of America, which has begun the withdrawal process from the Paris Agreement.

This week we present a selection of top stories about climate change – and global warming! – to illustrate the effects of a changed climate around the globe.  And to send signals to the doubting policymakers in Washington DC that the threat is real!

The good news is that many corporate managements, powerful institutional investors, and public policy makers in a growing number of leaders in U.S. cities, states and regions are committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement and working to implement steps to hold the line – to build resilience – that will benefit all of society.

We really do have to hurry — take a look at what is happening around our planet:

This Week’s Top Stories:
Drought, Heat Wave, Wild Fires
— Is the Earth Burning Up?

Earth at risk of becoming ‘hothouse’ if tipping point reached, report warns
(Tuesday – August 07, 2018) Source: CNN – Scientists are warning that a domino effect will kick if global temperatures rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, leading to “hothouse” conditions and higher sea levels, making some areas on Earth uninhabitable.

5-year drought raises questions over Israel’s water strategy
(Monday – August 06, 2018) Source: ABC News – For years, public service announcements warned Israelis to save water: Take shorter showers. Plant resilient gardens. Conserve. Then Israel invested heavily in desalination technology and professed to have solved the problem by…

Our climate plans are in pieces as killer summer shreds records
(Monday – August 06, 2018) Source: CNN – Deadly fires have scorched swaths of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, from California to Arctic Sweden and down to Greece on the sunny Mediterranean. Drought in Europe has turned verdant land barren, while people in Japan and…

Are devastating wildfires a new normal? “It’s actually worse than that,” climate scientist says
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: CBS News – California Gov. Jerry Brown has called the devastating wildfires tearing through Northern California “part of a trend — a new normal.” But one climate scientists says “it’s actually worse than that.”

Europe battles wildfires amid massive heat wave
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: ABC News – Record-breaking temperatures across Europe have forced people to sleep in a Finnish supermarket, uncovered a piece of World War II history in Ireland and are making it harder to battle the wildfires that have been raging in Spain…

Don’t despair – climate change catastrophe can still be averted
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: The Guardian – The future looks fiery and dangerous, according to new reports. But political will and grassroots engagement can change this…

Australia’s most populous state now entirely in drought
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: CBS – CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s most populous state was declared entirely in drought on Wednesday and struggling farmers were given new authority to shoot kangaroos that compete with livestock for sparse pasture during the…

Nearly 140 people dead amid Japan heat wave
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: WTNH – Japan is dealing with a heat wave that had killed 138 people. The heat wave started back in May and has been roasting the country ever since…

Europe bakes again in near-record temperatures
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: Phys.org – Europe baked in near-record temperatures on Monday but hopes were for some respite after weeks of non-stop sunshine as people come to terms with what may prove to be the new normal in climate change Europe…

* Greenhouse Gases are defined as a gas trapping heat in the atmosphere, contributing to the “greenhouse effect” by absorbing radiation:  carbon dioxide/CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and flouorinated gases (such as chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride).

** The Paris Agreement is at: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf

Urban Centers – Preferable Place for Billions of Us to Settle Down — So What About Helping Growing Cities Become More Sustainable?

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

In focus:  With the majority of the population moving into urban centers in coming decades…how can the action of today’s city planners create a better future for us?  Scientific American shares some perspectives.

The Seto Lab at Yale University tells us that in 2008, the global urban population exceeded the world’s rural population for the first time – and that by 2050, 70% of the population will be living in urban areas.  Nearer term, by 2030 there will be 1.5 million square kilometers of new urban land area.  That will triple the global urban land area of the year 2000 as we entered the 21st Century.

The forecasts suggest a limited window opportunity to shape future urban development.  Author Chan Heng Chee offers suggestions in a very interesting Scientific American article for you – our Top Story this week.

Author Chan Heng Chee is Ambassador-at-Large for the Singapore Foreign Ministry, and chair of the Lee Kuan Yew Center for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.  We may remember her as the ambassador to the U.S.A. (1996-2012).

She reports from this year’s World Cities Summit  in Singapore, which this year focused on “Livable and Sustainable Cities: Embracing the Future Through Innovation and Sustainable Cities.”

One necessary ingredient for embracing sustainable development:  a visionary leader and a desire to implement the vision.  The availability of the Sustainable Development Goals is another.  Institutional structures are needed to put the vision in place (she offers examples from her home country of Singapore). And the fellowship of the city leaders worldwide is important – the example being the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

The message: You are not alone – and collaboration and cooperation is critical if the civic, business, financial and other sectors are going to make the world’s urban areas sustainable in this century.  This is a fascinating report that you will want to read.

FYI – the Top 10 Cities roster today (in descending order) identifies:  Zurich (#1), Singapore, Stockholm, Vienna, London, Frankfurt, Seoul, Hamburg, Prague, and Munich at #10).

Top Stories

3 Ways Cities Can Become More Sustainable
(Monday – July 09, 2018) Source: Scientific America – With the majority of the population moving into urban centers in coming decades, the actions of city planners now could create a better future for us all. But how?

And related to this story:
UN forum spotlights cities, where struggle for sustainability ‘will be won or lost’
(Friday – July 13, 2018) Source: Modern Diplomacy – Although cities are often characterized by stark socioeconomic inequalities and poor environmental conditions, they also offer growth and development potential – making them central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development…

Cities and states mull straw ban
(Wednesday – July 11, 2018) Source: ABC Ban – Starbucks’ announcement that it will be going strawless soon to help the environment is part of a broader effort from private companies like McDonald’s and Marriott and cities like New York and Seattle to curb the use of plastic…

Information about the Seto Lab and its work in urbanization and global change: https://urban.yale.edu/research/theme-3

U.S. States and Cities — “Still In” to the Paris Agreement — and Great Progress is Being Made

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

This is our second commentary this week on the occasion of the first anniversary of the decision by the Trump White House in June 2017 to begin the multi-year process of formal withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris COP 21 climate agreement…

The action now is at the state and municipal levels in these United States of America.

Where for years the world could count on US leadership in critical multilateral initiatives – it was the USA that birthed the United Nations! – alas, there are 196 nations on one side of the climate change issue (signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement) and one on the other side: the United States of America. At least at the sovereign level.

Important for us to keep in mind: Individual states within the Union are aligned with the rest of the world’s sovereign nations in acknowledging and pledging to address the challenges posed by climate change, short- and longer-term.

Here’s some good news: The United States Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 17 governors committed to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. These are among the most populous of the states and include states on both coasts and in the nation’s Heartland.

The Paris meetings were in 2015 and at that time, the USA was fully on board. That was in a universe now far far away, since the election of climate-denier-in-chief Donald Trump in 2016.

On to the COP 23 and the USA

In 2017, two years after the Paris meetings, the USA officially snubbed their sovereign colleagues at the annual climate talks. A number of U.S. public and private sector leaders did travel to Bonn, Germany, to participate in talks and represent the American point-of-view. This included Jerry Brown, Governor, California (the de facto leader now of the USA in climate change); former New York City Mayor (and Bloomberg LP principal) Michael Bloomberg; executives from Mars, Wal-mart and Citi Group.

While the U.S. government skipped having a pavilion at the annual United Nations-sponsored climate summit for 2017, the US presence was proclaimed loud and clear by the representatives of the U.S. Climate Action Center, representing the climate change priorities of US cities, states, tribes and businesses large and small who want action on climate change issues.

Declared California State Senator Ricardo Lara in Bonn: “Greetings from the official resistance to the Trump Administration. Let’s relish being rebels. Despite what happens in Washington DC we are still here.”

# # #

As the one year anniversary of President Trump’s announcement to leave the global Paris Agreement (June 1, 2018), state governors announced a new wave of initiatives to not only stay on board with the terms agreed to in Paris (by the Obama Administration) but to accelerate and scale up their climate actions.

Consider: The Alliance members say they are on track to have their state meet their share of the Paris Agreement emission targets by 2025.

Consider: The governors represent more than 40 percent of the U.S. population (160 million people); represent at least a US$9 trillion economic bloc (greater than the #3 global economy, Japan); and, as a group and individually are determined to meet their share of the 2015 Paris Agreement emissions targets.

Consider: Just one of the states – California – in June 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund, became the sixth largest economy in the world, ahead of the total economy of France (at #7) and India (#8).

Consider: The US GDP is estimated at $19.9 trillion (“real” GDP as measured by World Bank); the $9 trillion in GDP estimated for the participating states is a considerable portion of the national total.

The states involved are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The initiatives announced on June 1, 2018 include:

Reducing Super Pollutants (including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), one of the Greenhouse Gases, and harnessing waste methane (another GhG).

Mobilizing Financing for Climate Projects (through collaboration on a Green Banking Initiative); NY Green Bank alone is raising $1 billion or more from the private sector to deploy nationally).

Modernizing the Electric Grid (through a Grid Modernization Initiative, that includes avoidance of building out the traditional electric transmission/distribution infrastructure through “non-wire” alternatives).

Developing More Renewable Energy (creating a Solar Soft Costs Initiative to reduce costs of solar projects and drive down soft costs; this should help to reduce the impact of solar tariffs established in January by the federal government).

Developing Appliance Efficiency Standards (a number of states are collaborating to advance energy efficiency standards for appliances and consumer products sold in their state as the federal government effort is stalled; this is designed to save consumers’ money and cut GhG emissions).

Building More Resilient Community Infrastructure and Protect Natural Resources (working in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the National Council on Science and the Environment, to change the way infrastructure is designed and procured, and help protect against the threats of floods, wildfires and drought).

Increase Carbon Storage (various states are pursuing opportunity to increase carbon storage in forests, farms and ecosystems through best practices in land conservation, management and restoration, in partnerships with The Nature Conservancy, American Forests, World Resources Institute, American Farmland Trust, the Trust For Public Land, Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation).

Deploying Clean Transportation (collaborating to accelerate deployment of zero-emissions vehicles; expanding/improving public transportation choices; other steps toward zero-emission vehicles miles traveled.

Think About The Societal Impacts

The powerful effects of all of this state-level collaboration, partnering, financial investment, changes in standards and best practice approaches, public sector purchasing practices, public sector investment (such as through state pension funds), approvals of renewable energy facilities (such as windmills and solar farms) in state and possibly with affecting neighboring states, purchase of fleet vehicles…more.

California vehicle buyers comprise at least 10% (and more) of total US car, SUV and light truck purchases. Think about the impact of vehicle emissions standards in that state and the manufacturers’ need to comply. They will not build “customized” systems in cars for just marketing in California – it’s better to comply by building in systems that meet the stricter standards on the West Coast.

US car sales in 2016 according to Statista were more than 1 million units in California (ranked #1); add in the other states you would have New York (just under 400,000 vehicles sold); Illinois (250,000); New Jersey (250,000) – reaching to about million more. How many more vehicles are sold in the other Coalition states? Millions more!

(Of course, we should acknowledge here that the states not participating yet have sizable markets — 600,000 vehicles sold in Florida and 570,000 in Texas.)

Project that kind of effect onto: local and state building codes, architectural designs, materials for home construction; planning the electric distribution system for a state or region (such as New England); appliance design and marketing in the Coalition states (same issues – do you design a refrigerator just for California and Illinois?).

There are quotes from each of the Coalition governors that might be of use to you. (Sample: Jerry Brown, California: “The Paris Agreement is a good deal for America. The President’s move to pull out was the wrong call. We are still in.”) You can see them in the news release at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a4cfbfe18b27d4da21c9361/t/5b114e35575d1ff3789a8f53/1527860790022/180601_PressRelease_Alliance+Anniversary+-+final.pdf

# # #

In covering the 2017 Bonn meetings, Slate published a report by The Guardian with permission of the Climate Desk. Said writers Oliver Milman and Jonathan Watts: “Deep schisms in the United States over climate change are on show at the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, where two sharply different visions of America’s role in addressing dangerous global warming have been put forward to the world.

“Donald Trump’s decision [to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement] has created a vacuum into which dozens of city, state and business leaders have leapt, with the aim of convincing other countries that the administration is out of kilter with the American people…”

# # #

At the US City Level

Jacob Corvidae, writing in Greenbiz, explains how with the White House intending to withdraw, cities are now in the driver’s seat leading the charge against climate change.

Cities have more than half of the world’s populations and have the political and economic power to drive change.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is the Coalition helping cities to make things happen. The C40 Climate Action Planning Framework is part of a larger effort to make meaningful progress toward carbon reduction goals and build capacity at the municipal level. Cities are expected to have a comprehensive climate action plan in place by 2020. This will include 2050 targets and required interim goals.

The cities have the Carbon-Free City Handbook to work with; this was released in Bonn in 2017 at COP 23. There are 22 specific actions that can (1) drive positive impacts and (2) create economic development. This September the Carbon-Free Regions Handbook will be available. There is information for you about all of this at: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/every-action-how-cities-are-using-new-tools-drive-climate-action

The clarion call, loud and clear: We Are Still In!  Watch the states, cities and business community for leadership on meeting climate change issues in the new norms of 2018 and beyond.

We Are “Out” of the Paris Accord — Really? What a Year! Signs of Great Progress in the Trump Denial Era

June 1, 2018

By Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

It was just one year ago – ah,, but it seems much longer…

WASHINGTON — The New York Times – June 1, 2017: “President Trump announced on Thursday that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, weakening efforts to combat global warming and embracing isolationist voices in his White House who argued that the agreement was a pernicious threat to the economy and American sovereignty.

In a speech from the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said the landmark 2015 pact imposed wildly unfair environmental standards on American businesses and workers. He vowed to stand with the people of the United States against what he called a “draconian” international deal.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the president said, drawing support from members of his Republican Party but widespread condemnation from political leaders, business executives and environmentalists around the globe.”

What was to follow?

A Year of Significant Progress!

Today — interesting perspectives are shared in The Washington Post on where we are one year after President Donald Trump “withdrew” from the Paris Climate Accord. The United States of America is the first – and perhaps will be the only – nation to join and then withdraw the Agreement. Sort of.

Participation in the agreement for the USA runs to year 2020 so we are “still in” (officially).  The withdrawal process will take the next three years.

By that time, there might be a new occupant in the White House. 

This nation is still in by examination of various other factors that are explained by writer Chris Mooney in the WaPo. (He covers climate change, energy and the environment, reported from the Paris negotiations in 2015, and has published four books on the the subjects he covers.)

The key points we took away from Mooney’s excellent wrap up today:

  • The Trump Administration still has no consistent message about climate change,  and no clear policy, except for the antics of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, with his slash & burn attacks on environmental and climate-related regulations.
  • There is a positive development: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine embraced climate science.  (See notes at end.)
  • There has been unrelenting attack on President Barack Obama’s skilled moves to protect the country – and the planet! – such as the Clean Power Plan.
  • But, while the White House is the cheerleader for the coal industry, market forces reward renewable energy and natural gas as powerful drivers for change.
  • Other countries are sticking with the Paris Accord, but some of those countries may find it challenging to stay the course without U.S. leadership (says John Sterman of MIT).

BackgroundThe Obama Administration agreed in Paris with many other nations to the goals of a 26%-to-28% reduction of emissions below the 2005 levels — and today the U.S. and the whole world is off that metric, writes Chris Mooney.

Even if the commitments were realized, there would be a temperature rise of 3.3 degrees Celsius (almost 6% F) over time (according to MIT’s Sterman). So the USA would have to do even more than agreed-to in Paris. (The USA is the world’s second largest GhG emitter.)

Where are we? According to the Climate Action Tracker produced by NewClimate Institute and Ecofys, the USA is on track for an 11% to 13% decrease by year 2025, which is about halfway to the Obama Administration pledge.

What may interfere: the move to rollback auto fuel efficiency standards; an analysis by Rhodium Group projects adding 100 million tons (annually) by year 2035 for auto emissions alone if the rollbacks move forward.

The good news – from the “We Are Still In” front: the states of Virginia and New Jersey are making moves to cut emissions and the states of Colorado and California are developing new electric vehicle policies.

Vicky Arroyo (director of the Georgetown Climate Center is quoted:   At least we are not losing the momentum that was feared (one year ago today).

Kate Larsen, who directs climate change research at the Rhodium Group, thinks that the country is on track to meet or even exceed the Obama-era Clean Power Plan goals — thanks to the use of lower-cost renewable fuel sources and natural gas.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States are “hardly set to explode” and the country is moving toward lower GhG emissions over time, writes Mooney.

But. What the Trump announcement did last year on June 1 was to create fog about US national policy regarding climate change. The thing we all have to face: the slow progress exhibited and achieving climate change goals (those coming out of Paris) are not compatible.

The WaPo commentary is at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/06/01/trump-withdrew-from-the-paris-climate-plan-a-year-ago-heres-what-has-changed/?utm_term=.782d3cb38b3f&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Counterpoint!

The EDF – a/k/a Environmental Defense Fund – today trumpeted the Year of Climate Progress (since June 1 2018).

EDF members and environmentalists immediately began the counter-attack in June 2017 and in EDF’s words, that led to a year of extraordinary climate progress. The organization presents a timeline on line.  Highlights:

  • June 5, 2018 – EDF helps launch a coalition of organizations, businesses and state and local civic and political leaders to pledge “We Are Still In!” – today there are 2,700 leaders participating.
  • On to July 2017 – California Governor Jerry Brown signs into law an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program out to 2030.  The state is the sixth largest economy in all of the world!
  • September – North of the border, Ontario Province links its cap-and-trade program to the California-Quebec carbon market, creating a huge market covering 580 million tons of emissions. Sister province British Columbia intends to increase its carbon tax for April 2018 through 2021.
  • Nine Northeastern US States in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative complete their second program review and agree to reduce emissions by 30% from 2020 to 2030.
  • Halfway around the world in December 2017 China announced its national carbon market (to be largest in the world); this will start with electric power and expand to seven other industrial sectors. (So much for the Trumpian claim China is doing nothing to meet Paris Accord conditions.)
  • We move further into 2018 and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejects the DOE coal and nuclear proposal.
  • Despite shouts and threats and Trumpian boasting, the U.S. Congress adopts the 2018 budget in March 2018 that leaves the EPA budget mostly intact (EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wanted to cut the agency’s budget by 30%. Other environmental / energy agencies see budget increases.)
  • April – the UN’s International Maritime Organization adopts a climate plan to lower emissions from container ships, bulk and oil carriers, by at least 50% below 2008 levels by 2050.
  • Also in April — In the key industrial State of Ohio, the Public Utilities Commission approves AEP’s Electric Security Plan – this, EDF points out, will enhance and diversify the state economy, unlock millions in funding, provide customers with clean energy options and overall, will reduce pollution.
  • Next door, in April, the Illinois Commerce Commission approves the state’s Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan to have a pathway for electric utilities to produce 25% of power from renewable sources by 2025 and put incentives in play for development of wind and power.
  • April — EDF President Fred Krupp gives a TED Talk, outlining the plan to launch methane-detecting satellites in orbit above Earth to map and measure oil and gas methane emissions. The data and information gathered will help countries and companies spot problems, identify savings opportunities and measure progress.
  • April sure was a busy month – Canada issued policies to cut oil and gas emissions by 40% to 45% at new and existing facilities. This was part of a pledge made in 2016 (when President Obama was in office) for the USA, Canada and Mexico to decreased such emissions in North America by that amount by 2025.
  • On to May – and recently-elected New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy – a former Goldman Sachs exec – signed into law the plan to cut GhG emissions by almost half by 2030 (hey, that’s twice what the Clean Power Plan would have required!). The Garden State will require 50% of NJ electric needs to be met from renewable sources.
  • And on to May – ExxonMobil announced plans to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 15% and flared gas volume by 25% — worldwide – by 2020.

Yes – a remarkable year, kicked off on June 1st 2017 by a vindictive head of state set on reversing the significant progress made under his predecessors.

But many individuals, companies, investors, civic organizations, NGOs proclaimed: We are still in.  The movement represents city halls, board room, college campuses, investors, and more…interests representing US$6.2 trillion (one-sixth of the entire American economy) have signed on to the We Are Still In declaration — https://www.wearestillin.com/we-are-still-declaration

Have you?

Notes:

The New York Times story by Michael Shear, June 1 2017 is at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/trump-paris-climate-agreement.html

The American Institute of Physics info on NASA, embrace of climate change consensus: https://www.aip.org/fyi/2018/bridenstine-embraces-nasa-science-climate-change-consensus

We Are Still In information at: https://www.wearestillin.com/

Global Trade – Good or Bad For Nations – For Individuals — a Factor in Encouraging Greater Sustainability for Society?

by Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

“Trade” can be viewed in the macro-environment or the micro, with personal advantages and disadvantages for men and women in both developed and developing nations.

With a new administration coming to Washington DC in January 2017, the heated rhetoric of the 2016 presidential primaries and during the general campaign quickly moved “trade” as a loose-lip and often-un-informed talking point at rallies in the direction of possibly enacted national public policy.

Tear up NAFTA  – punish China – make cozy deals with countries one-at-a-time instead of multi-lateral agreements.  That’s seemingly the direction of the Trump Administration policy-making in 2018 — if we believe the rhetoric.

So — the question hangs — is global trade good or bad for U.S. workers…for the economy…for workers in both developed and developing nations…as a positive or negative in the quest for greater global sustainability?

As in all policy making, we must search for truth and evidence to help answer the questions — and guide public governance.

We do have help if we want to tune in to the source:  The independent, not-for-profit National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) weighed in in April with a Working Paper: “How Large Are the U.S. Economy’s Gains From Trade?”

FYI – NBER (founded in 1920) is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has a huge cadre of economists and researchers that work to provide us with “objective, quantitative analysis of the American economy.”

The scholars issue a steady stream of Working Papers for public consumption (and study and discussion by policy makers looking for “truth, fact, objectivity, reliable findings”  — my characterizations).

The name may ring a bell — NBER is the non-governmental organization that declares the official start and end of a U.S. recession, for example.  Their declaration is often separate of what is going on in the capital markets so it stands out.

In the current paper, the researchers examined “estimates of the economic benefits of a globally-open economy.”  And the impact plus or minus on the American economy.

Most likely results: they see a gain for the U.S. domestic economy of from 2% to 8% through open global trade, depending on certain assumptions about consumer and producer behavior.

What if we actually slammed the door shut on trade beyond our borders?  Authors Arnaud Costinot and Andres Rodrigues-Clare explain there is [surprisingly] little direct quantitative evidence on how the economy would react if we did begin to close the doors on global trade. (Note to policymakers: That’s why we don’t make hasty or dumb decisions on trade!)

Looking at such factors as labor and capital embedded in goods purchased from around the world, they estimated the gains from trade by comparing the size of a “counter-factual” U.S. economy that would depend entirely on domestic sources compared with a nation (like the USA) that has ready access to foreign services and goods.

While the dollar value of U.S. imports is large, as a percentage of national spending it is actually really small.

There are varying impacts of open trade on individual industries – and the enterprises and their workers.

For garment and apparel companies the demand for cheap labor is “in-elastic” in economic lingo. Not much wiggle room or flexibility. That is why the companies go to East Asia for labor inputs.

For an American automaker, the import of German-made transmissions for installation in Detroit’s models is somewhat lesser of an impact (there are always alternatives).  US manufacturers used to be more “integrated” and made most of the components for their trucks and cars. Now the industry is defined as a global sourcer.

For U.S. farmers, the impact depends on where else in the world wheat is grown and the ready availability and pricing for that wheat. Trade is critical to the American farm belt.

Think of rare minerals used in manufacturing — if vital minerals are only available in certain areas of the globe, and are needed (say for making cell phones or other electronic products), the dependency is greater for U.S. manufacturers (again, in-elasticity reigns).

Tradeoffs in global trade exist everywhere: Lower consumer prices are enjoyed (as designer-label garments flow to U.S. retailers’ shelves from cheap East Asian labor sourcing) — but too many American workers may lose jobs and/or work for lower wages.  And in turn, local communities suffer.  The 2016 elections showed one of the results of that suffering as voters signalled their discontent with trade policies.

Global Trade ESG Issues

NBER researchers looked at a different topic in the trade bucket for their Working Paper: the effects of Fair Trade Certification.

The movement began led by a church-affiliated NGO in Holland and quickly spread throughout Europe and to the U.S.A. and various groups coalesced in the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (“FLO”) in 1997.

In this research effort, NBER authors Raluca Dragusanu and Nathan Nunn examined the impact of the Fair Trade movement on coffee producers in the Central American nation of Costa Rica, in the heart of the global coffee belt (typically countries near the Equator).

They looked at FLO impacts on incomes of coffee growers, their neighbors and communities.

Fair Trade policies, they assert, is a positive as it raises prices for local growers, to begin with, high enough to cover the cost of production. The higher prices are typically intended as well to raise the quality of life in the coffee-growing region.

Premium prices paid by buyers above the set minimums are used to build schools and establish scholarships, create local health care facilities, and various infrastructure, and to help improve growing practices.

Through fair trade practices, income rises in Fair Trade growing areas, for both certified growers and many of their non-growers neighbors.

Income levels were on average 3.5% higher for growers and as much as 7.5% for “skilled” coffee growers (when the “intensity of fair trade increases in an area).

The researchers found that price premiums for growers increased school enrollments (2%-to-5%) for children ages 13-to-17 — critical ages for young men and women preparing for their adult lives.

# # #

We found this and other NBER research interesting. We have “cold, hard facts” about the economy and trade and the “what-ifs” if present trade policies and practices are messed with, and the results are in the main “unknown”.

And we see that global trade is lifting people and their communities in a Central American country where coffee growing is an important agricultural pursuit.  And a benefit of open and fair trade.

Like climate change and many other public issues, there are plusses and minuses in trade affairs — and no easy answers!

Therefore, we can argue, let reason reign, common sense be applied — and science and facts and evidence-based research be the foundations of good public sector decision-making!

Thanks to NBER researchers for their efforts (in producing more than 1,000 Working Papers a year) to continue to produce research and surface evidence that can add to be leveraged to develop both public and private sector strategies.

You can learn more at:  www.nber.org

Dispatch From London and The Economist Sustainability Summit 2018

Guest Post By Juliet Russell – Sustainability Reporting Analyst, G&A Institute

The Economist’s third annual Sustainability Summit was convened in London on March 22nd, 2018. I attended as a representative of G&A Institute.

The discussions focused on how to shift from “responsibility to leadership”: how to lead and encourage co-operation on the path to progress.

I was impressed that significant players from a diverse range of sectors attended the conference, including representatives of Government, NGOs, Business and Academia. Panelists ranged from the CEO of Sainsbury’s, to Google’s Lead for Sustainability, to the Chair of the Board of Directors for Greenpeace and to a Deputy Mayor of London.

Each provided their own views and experiences of sustainability leadership and how to really see actions, instead of ‘just talk and promises’.

The key themes from the day centered around the need for collaboration, communication, shared responsibility, disruptive innovation, combatting short-termism and internalizing sustainability into core strategy and business models.

 

One of the most poignant messages for me was the need for understanding the urgency of the issues we are facing today, particularly in relation to climate change – “we are behaving as though the delta is zero and the delta is clearly not zero” (Jay Koh, The Lightsmith Group).

An attendee told a story of new LEED Platinum Certified buildings in Seattle that everyone is of course proud of — but in 30 years these super energy-efficient buildings will be underwater because we’re too busy focusing on small wins and continual growth, failing to act fast enough or understand the urgency when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise.

As quoted from Baroness Bryony Worthington of the Environmental Defense Fund – “…winning slowly with climate change is the same as losing!”

The conference was incredibly insightful, with such a breadth of timely and interesting topics, which highlighted different areas of debate and offered up potential solutions. Four of the panel discussions I feel are particularly worth highlighting:

1)    ‘A TALE OF THREE CITIES’
Discussion led by Mark Watts, Director of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
and featuring three city government representatives: Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London (Environment and Energy); Solly Tshepiso, Mayor of Tshwane, South Africa; and,  Karsten Biering Nielsen, Deputy Director of Technical and Environmental Administration for the City of Copenhagen.

The lack of adequate and strategic government action is failing so far in preventing climate change and also in reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).

Mayor Solly discussed as example how slow progress on Paris Agreement targets were partly due to the lack of communication from top Government-level down to the city-level in South Africa. City-to-city communication and partnerships were touted as solutions to these kind of problems, as well as being vital in reaching the SDGs.

The C40 Cities Group facilitates this kind of partnership and network through the sharing of best-practice and successful innovation among their 92 affiliated cities around the world.

2)    ‘PIECES OF THE PUZZLE’
Discussion led by Christopher Davis, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns from The Body Shop International.

This panel discussion focused around how to “do good and do well,”; Chris suggested that we need to be gearing business to be truly sustainable based on what the planet needs – not the economy or the shareholders – and creating benchmarks against planetary and societal needs.

Essential consideration for creating a sustainable business:  when sustainability is not an add-on function but embedded in the strategy and business model and thus integral to all activities. The Body Shop International management will know that they have been successful in their sustainability mission when sustainability is ingrained in everything the company is doing and they no longer have a need for a separate sustainability team.

3)    ‘CHANGING MINDS’
Discussion led Dr. Simone Schnall from the University of Cambridge and Prerana Issar from the UN World Food Programme.

This discussion revolved around the relevance of ‘nudging’ in changing behaviour (a behavioral economics approach) to push progress in sustainability. Dr. Simone discussed the concept of ‘nudging’ – creating a choice architecture, which is set up so that people are more inclined to go for the ‘beneficial’ option, gently pushing people to do the right thing.

An example of this might be in putting the recycled paper products at eye-level, with the products made from less sustainable materials at a more awkward height to see and reach.

Essentially, using nudging, we bypass the attempt at changing minds but still change the behaviour.

This can help to reduce problems such as ‘moral licensing’, where people feel licensed to do something ‘bad’ if they have just done something morally good (and vice versa). For example, when using energy efficient products, some people then feel they are able to use them more often because they are doing a ‘good’, which actually negates the positive efficiency benefit.

Nudging may be more and more necessary as actions towards sustainability become more urgent, as we can’t generally rely on society to make the best and informed decisions all the time. Though as nudging still relies on choice, is this enough to make us change? In reality, society may need more guidance and regulation and here, there’s a role for stricter governance and policy.

4)    ‘PIECES OF THE PUZZLE’
Discussion led by Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer for Kering.

Touching on the themes of innovation, partnerships and collaboration, Marie-Claire discussed a tool that Kering developed and are using: their Environmental Profit and Loss (“E P&L”).

Many people around the world and across sectors acknowledge that over-exploitation and degradation of the environment and our resources are partially due to the fact that these resources, our ‘natural capital’, have not been accounted for in economic decision-making and cost-benefit analyses.

Because of this, we are failing to internalize the negative externalities, which is crucial if we are to properly be accountable and responsible for our actions in society today, thus failing to understand the true environmental consequences of our actions.

Many businesses would fail to acknowledge the environment as a stakeholder unless it explicitly showed up on their profit and loss accounting.

Kering, a first-mover in their field, created and proposed an E P&L accounting tool as a way to do this and it can be applied throughout the entire value chain. This tool allows identification of impact areas and thus increases ability to reduce it.

Kering also provide their E P&L methodology open-source, to encourage other companies to follow and increase their accountability. This hones in on the knowledge-sharing and sharing of best-practice theme.

During the final session of the day, editors from The Economist newspaper came up with their main takeaways, the “four Ps”:

  • Pragmatic – that is, moving from debating who is responsible and asking, ‘is it really happening?’ to understanding that the situation “is what it is” — and we need to just get on with it. For this, collaborations at all levels will be key.
  • Persistent – sustainability needs to be talked about and implemented persistently, in order to become deeply embedded – not something that has the ‘fickleness of fashion’ – being ‘in’ the one day and passé the next. Persistence can help to bring a necessary sense of depth to the issues and challenges we are facing, in order to trigger action.
  • Problem – understanding reality and assessing our achievements: if we add up all of our efforts today, is it anywhere near enough? I’m sure you’ll all agree that the answer is most definitely not. How do we scale up these efforts effectively? We need to be mindful of the scale of the threats the planet and society face – increasing measurement and transparency can help to uncover this.
  • Prioritization – at present, we can’t robustly value different externalities, which is necessary for internalizing them and dealing in the most efficient and effective way. We must remember to be aware that each trade-off has consequences and consider alternative actions.

Coming away from this wonderful conference, it was clear to me that the main takeaway was of the potential of collaboration – within companies, within industries, between industries, and across sectors. This was picked up on in nearly every talk.

We need a whole ‘ecosystem’ featuring collaboration (involving business, NGOs, government, academia and citizens) in order to win with the current challenges we’re facing; to really progress in sustainability and work towards meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The conference was undoubtedly a timely and powerful call for action.

This Is Hurricane Season in the Americas — And Climate Change Discussions Will Accompany News Reports About the Super-Storms Coming Ashore

All news/all the time — that was the American television viewer’s diet of content during the week long siege, with Hurricane Harvey sweeping ashore along the Gulf of Mexico areas of the State of Texas.  And the plight of the people of the Houston region, in particular, was on everyone’s mind as we watched the struggles of the residents there to stay safe and help their neighbors.

As we watched, many of us from afar, this was the American Spirit at its very best, in such terrible times for Texans to remind us all of the traditions of neighbor-helping-neighbor.

The public debate about the issues surrounding climate change (is it happening/what is the cause/what can be done) goes on, folks on both sides of the issue were cautious and sensitive about bringing the subject up in the midst of the suffering in Texas.  But gradually, the debate centered on Harvey’s effects came around to the point.

And Florida, another U.S. state, was brought into focus by writers at The Guardian as writer Richard Luscombe (a free lancer based in Miami) reminded readers of perhaps one of the early canaries-in-the-coal-mine — Hurricane Andrew almost 25 years ago to the day that the giant storm tore through Miami-Dade County — and causing US$15 billion in insured losses.

Professor Hugh Gladwin in the piece wondered:  Will people base their real estate decisions on climate change futures? He sees higher-standing areas of booming Miami becoming gentrified as a result of sea level rise…and coastal areas threatened by flooding and storm surge will decrease in value.

Writer Luscombe tells us that residents of South Florida are already buying houses in North Carolina and Tennessee — to have a safe place to go as the seas rise in the Sunshine State!

Climate Corporation (San Francisco) says that it will only take a few climatic events in a row for a collapse in regional/local real property values to fall.  That could make the housing crisis of 2008 “look small.”

Luscombe writes that properties in Norfolk, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Savannah and Charleston, Georgia; and Miami Beach, Florida — all have areas now where fish swim in driveways and people drive through salt water streets.

As we’ve reported for you recently, the nation’s urban leaders (the mayors of cities large and small) are already addressing the challenges of climate change and making their cities more resilient.  As the TV coverage of Hurricane Harvey slows and we move on to the next news cycle, no doubt climate change discussions will increase in tempo.  This is hurricane season, after all, and there is already a Category Five storm approaching the American coastlines.

We can debate “when” it is appropriate to raise the issues surrounding climate change, and what to do about it.  But we think it is a conversation that is necessary — so in the end we should do our best to protect all of the U.S.A.’s coastal areas, where 2/3 of the American population reside.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and colleagues in Houston and the Texas and Louisiana coastal region.  We should all pitch in to help — neighbor-to-neighbor — in any way that we can.

What are your thoughts on all of this?

Top Stories This Week…

How climate change could turn US real estate prices upside down
(Wednesday – August 30, 2017)
Source: The Guardian – Floridians have long recognized climate’s threat to their homes. Amid the disaster wrought by Harvey, home buyers may look to higher ground