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‘Urgent action’ required to protect pension savings from climate change



Pension funds need to go further in avoiding the financial risks posed by climate change which directly affect their savers and investors, according to a major new drive to raise awareness.

The Green Light campaign, which is being launched by pensions minister Steve Webb on Tuesday, is co-ordinated by responsible investment campaign group ShareAction. It has the support of a range of unions and NGOs, including WWF-UK, Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid and Unite.

It aims to help to help pension funds industry understand and limit their collective exposure to various climate-related risks, ranging from policy through to the physical impacts of climate change that are set to play out in the coming decades.

The launch comes less than a week after a group of major investors, collectively worth over $3 trillion, called on fossil fuels firms to assess the future sustainability of their businesses, in the face of the threats posed by climate change.

An accompanying report says that British pension funds are indirectly responsible for emitting around a quarter of all UK greenhouse gases, through the firms they invest in. Popular high-carbon stocks, listed on the London Stock Exchange, include BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Rio Tinto.

The UK’s private pensions system – thought to be worth over £3 trillion – is one of the largest in the world. Millions of workers across the country are currently being placed in workplace pension schemes in a process known as automatic enrolment – many of them under the age of 30.

The Green Light campaign says it “focuses on the interests of the growing numbers of younger savers who bear all the investment risk in defined contribution pension schemes.” It adds that these younger workers are the ones who will experience the worst financial impacts that derive from climate change and resource scarcity.

Pension savers are rightly demanding urgent action to protect their savings and their future quality of life by focusing on the economic risks of climate change”, said Catherine Howarth, CEO of ShareAction.

A growing chorus of voices is challenging our pension industry’s complacency about the climate stability we depend on. Today’s campaign is a major step forward in uniting those voices and putting pension savers interests back at the heart of what the industry does.”

Pension fund sustainability was thrust into the spotlight earlier this month when, at the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) annual conference, Prince Charles described the industry as “increasingly unfit for purpose” because of its short-term outlook.

He said, “Is there not a case for ensuring your portfolios are sustainable in the long-term? Could you not do so by incorporating sustainability into your long-term strategy rather than having it sit in a subordinate silo?”

As replacement stocks for fossil fuels, the Green Light report encourages pension funds to look at what it describes as “significant” low-carbon investment opportunities.

It says, “We have recommended that pension funds take steps to articulate their demand for green investment opportunities that match the fund’s risk/return requirements to both policymakers and their investment agents.”

It describes such opportunities as “viable and desirable” for two reasons:  as a hedge against climate risks and an as a “powerful” signal of public demand to the industry.

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said investors and savers have an important role to play in recognising the risks posed by high-carbon investments.

He added, “The successful businesses of the future will be the ones who value, manage and restore natural assets and limit their exposure to risks such as those presented by a changing climate.”

ShareAction has also published a report, a ‘how to’ guide for pension savers, which sets out the steps that pension funds need to take to back a sustainable future. Click here to download it for free.

Further reading:

Prince Charles: pensions industry ‘has a duty’ to be sustainable

Fossil fuel divestment campaigns can help ‘stigmatise’ industry

Investors worth $3tn put pressure on fossil fuels industry to rethink future

Climate change a ‘firmly established’ material risk for mainstream investors

The Guide to Climate Change 2013


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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