Long stories short
- The European Union agreed on a major climate change law that binds member states to dramatically cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
- Jair Bolsonaro asked the Biden administration for $1 billion in exchange for reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 40 per cent.
- The International Energy Agency predicted a major surge in carbon emissions this year as the world moves out of Covid pandemic restrictions.
Thirty of the UKâ€™s largest listed companies committed to the UNâ€™s Race to Zero campaign to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The companies are big â€“ their market capitalisation adds up to ÂŁ650 billion â€“ and some commitments are even tougher. Vodafone, for example, committed to net zero emissions from its own activities, as well as from the energy it purchases, by 2030. But the real business is cutting emissions from the carbon heavies.
Itâ€™s companies like Shell, BP, and Evraz â€“ the top three emitters â€“ that hold the greatest potential for achieving our climate goals. Hereâ€™s how theyâ€™re doing:
- Shell didnâ€™t sign up to the UNâ€™s Race to Zero campaign, but it outlined its own plans to go net zero by 2050. In its last reporting year, it emitted 72 million tonnes of carbon.
- BP, likewise, didnâ€™t make the UN pledge but has its own plans to go carbon neutral by 2050. It emitted 45.5 million tonnes of carbon last year.
- Evraz, more modestly, committed to keeping its carbon emissions per unit of steel produced steady. It emitted 43.4 million tonnes of carbon.
Put together, the three companies emit almost three times more carbon than all UK households. Even smallish cuts to the companiesâ€™ emissions would have a large impact on global warming and may be easier to achieve than changing the behaviour of 27.5 million households.Â
Thereâ€™s progress. Shell cut its emissions by eight million tonnes â€“ 10 per cent â€“ and BP by 8.9 million tonnes â€“ 16.4 per cent â€“ between reporting periods. That is, the cuts to their emissions over a single year equate to almost a third of all UK household annual emissions. The companies, of course, recognise their potential for impact.
â€śAs one of the worldâ€™s leading steel companies,â€ť Evraz chief executive Alexander Frolov wrote in a statement, â€śwe understand and recognise the importance of climate action.â€ť But in the year before Frolovâ€™s statement, Evraz increased its carbon emissions by 220,000 tonnes â€“ the biggest absolute increase by any of the UKâ€™s largest 100 listed companies â€“ because, it told Tortoise, it had to remove methane, another greenhouse gas, from its mines.Â
And Evraz isnâ€™t alone in increasing emissions. According to a Tortoise analysis, 14 of the UKâ€™s biggest listed companies increased their absolute emissions over the most recent reporting period. Seven of those companies set public targets to reduce emissions.
Tortoise asked the companies why, despite their public targets, their emissions rose. For Ocado, the online shopping company that includes groceries, there was a surge in demand for deliveries during the Covid pandemic. For most companies, though, it was the acquisition of more buildings or other companies.
As far as our planet is concerned, itâ€™s the total of global emissions that matters. If one company divests from fossil fuels by selling its carbon-emitting assets to another company, itâ€™s simply transferring its emissions elsewhere, perhaps to one of the 70 companies that didnâ€™t sign up to the UNâ€™s Race to Zero campaign. For company targets to be useful, they need to be much broader and more consistent. Otherwise itâ€™s swings and roundabouts.
The full rankings of the Tortoise Responsibility 100 Index, including a special comparison of companies based purely on environmental sustainability, will be released at the Tortoise Climate Summit on 29 April.
Join us thenÂ to find out how the UKâ€™s biggest businesses stack up on sustainability, and how to speed up our journey to net zero.
BelongingÂ identity, society, beliefs, countries
A corner of southwest Detroit, district 48217, once attracted tens of thousands of Black people fleeing segregation in the South. They were drawn to the areaâ€™s booming automobile industry. â€śIt used to be a utopia,â€ť resident Theresa Landrum said, in an interview with Sky News. â€śBut not any more.â€ť The area is now home to more than two dozen pollutant-producing facilities owned by multiple companies. Residents said the pollutants contributed to a high local incidence of premature births, respiratory issues like asthma, and cancer. Landrum, a cancer survivor, said more than 12 people on her block died of the disease. â€śEnvironmental racism has a lot to do with where we live,â€ť Landrum added, â€śand where these factories and these industries are located.â€ťÂ
New thingsÂ technology, science, engineering
Coal on a roll
In all the excitement about green tech and renewables, itâ€™s easy to forget that large parts of the world still depend on dirty fuels. The demand for the dirtiest of them all, the greatest source of carbon emissions â€“ coal â€“ is, in fact, soaring. The International Energy Agency predicted coal demand will rise by 4.5 per cent this year to meet electricity demand, which was suppressed during the Covid pandemic. More than 80 per cent of the growth will be concentrated in Asia; 50 per cent in China alone. â€śThis is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,â€ť Fatih Birol, the head of the International EnergyÂ Agency, said.
The 100-year lifeÂ health, education, living, public poliCY
A group of healthcare professionals and NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, wrote to Joe Biden, asking him to address the impact of the climate crisis on maternal and infant health. Letters, treaties and summits are increasing along with the global temperature, but, as this letter revealed, the climate crisisâ€™ health effects are often neglected. Pregnancy is associated with higher respiratory rates and increases in blood and plasma volumes, which increase womenâ€™s vulnerability to heat, smoke, air pollution, and other risks. The stress of extreme weather events, like wildfire, flooding or hurricanes, may all have impacts on foetal development. Newborns and children are especially vulnerable to heat and air pollution. Some legacy weâ€™ve left them.
WealthÂ investment, fairness, prosperity
The Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, a group of Oxford University students and alumni, found the institution received more than ÂŁ11 million from fossil fuel companies since 2015. Its report, based on a number of Freedom of Information requests and publicly available data, is part of the campaignâ€™s mission to get the university to use its â€śenormous financial and cultural clout for environmental justice in a changing climateâ€ť. Itâ€™s not going well: the university, which said it will eliminate its carbon footprint by 2035, accepted a ÂŁ100 million donation from the petrochemical giant Ineos. â€śPartnerships with industry allow the university to apply its knowledge to real challenges of pressing global concern,â€ť a spokesperson for the university said, â€świth funding often going directly into research into climate-related issues and renewables.â€ť Itâ€™s a reminder that we depend on fossil fuel companies for energy, funding, and solutions to the climate crisis.
Our planetÂ environment, natural resources, geopolitics
Joe Biden will today open a two-day virtual summit on the climate to 40 world leaders, including Chinaâ€™s Xi Jinping. Biden pledged that the US will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half by the end of the decade. Itâ€™s a big pledge and itâ€™s meant to galvanise Bidenâ€™s invitees. But it would require Americans to change the way they live, from heating their homes, to what they buy and how they drive. And there are doubts that Biden can enact the aggressive domestic policies that would achieve this goal. At the moment, heâ€™s trying to push an infrastructure package, with plans for heavy spending on electric vehicle stations and transmission lines for wind and solar power, through Congress. Some Republicans offered support for it in exchange for highways, bridges, and no climate provisions.
Thanks for reading, and do share this around.Â
Paul Caruana Galizia
Photographs by Getty Images
Donâ€™t turn the clock back on racial justice
On Stephen Lawrence Day, we should remember what has been achieved since Macphersonâ€™s 1999 report on the teenagerâ€™s murder, what remains to be done, and how the governmentâ€™s Sewell report has imperilled progress