The Global Canopy Programme’s ‘Forest 500’, the world’s first rainforest ratings agency that analyses the most influential companies, investors and governments in the race towards a deforestation-free global economy, today launched its annual results.
It revealed that while the corporate sector improved marginally overall, many laggards are yet to make public sustainability commitments. Commercial agriculture drives at least two thirds of tropical deforestation yet only 8% of all the 250 powerbroker companies assessed have zero or zero net commitments in place that apply across forest risk commodities (palm oil, soya, beef, leather, paper, and timber). The investment community has made even more limited progress, with the exception of BNP Paribas (France) who has become the first Forest 500 investor to make a commitment to zero net deforestation in their agricultural lendings.
The 2015 Forest 500, assessed and ranked 250 companies, with total annual revenues in excess of US $4.5 trillion; 150 investors and lenders; 50 countries and regions; and 50 other influential actors in this space. These 500 powerbrokers play a major role in supply chains for commodities fuelling deforestation, which accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, a key contributor to climate change.
Andrew Mitchell, Founder and Executive Director of the Global Canopy Programme said, “GCP’s Forest 500 holds the most influential global players to account for their role in the deforestation economy. Together, these 500 powerbrokers control the complex supply chains of key ‘forest risk commodities’ that are found in over 50% of packaged products in supermarkets.
“Through these commodities, we are all part of a hidden deforestation economy – from our toothpaste, to our pensions. At this crucial time leading up to the international climate change negotiations, GCP is calling on these companies and investors to take the first critical step in addressing tropical deforestation by adopting, strengthening and implementing deforestation policies in their value chains.”
The 2015 Forest 500 found:
– Despite 2020 being a key deadline set by the New York Declaration on Forests, one year on since its publication, few powerbrokers have made new or strengthened procurement and production commitments.
– Whilst the corporate sector has improved marginally overall, many laggards are yet to make public sustainability commitments. Only 8% of all the 250 powerbroker companies now have zero or zero net commitments in place that apply across all forest risk commodities.
– The corporate leader board remains unchanged, with; Groupe Danone (France), Kao Corp. (Japan), Nestlé S.A. (Switzerland), Procter & Gamble (US), Reckitt Benckiser Group (UK), and Unilever (UK) the only companies to score 5 points.
– New York Declaration signatories lead the way towards achieving zero deforestation in agricultural supply chains scoring on average three times higher than non-signatories.
– The investment community has made even more limited progress with less than 1% of investors adopting zero or zero net commitments that apply to all of their investments or lendings in agricultural supply chains.
– BNP Paribas (France) has become the first Forest 500 investor to make a commitment to zero net deforestation in their agricultural lendings and joins HSBC (UK) in the top score band.
– Of the jurisdictions assessed, none has significantly strengthened their national or state-level deforestation policies to improve their Forest 500 score.
Séverin Fischer, BNP Paribas, Head of Environment and Extra Financial Accountability, said, ‘BNP Paribas has taken the strategic decision to make a zero net deforestation commitment that will be implemented by 2020. This applies to all our lendings in agricultural commodities as it makes both commercial and environmental sense, we are managing risk over the long term. The Forest 500 is an important benchmarking tool that helps us recognise risk in our portfolios and we are delighted that our leadership position has been recognised, we hope others will follow.’
Tom Bregman, Project Manager of the Forest 500 said, ‘The Forest 500 platform now includes significant enhancements which enable users to compare progress across sectors and target their engagement with powerbrokers to incentivise change. In the coming months, the Forest 500 is going to be working with others, together we hope to create a race to the top.’
2015 Forest 500 detailed findings:
Whilst there has been some improvement overall in the corporate sector, performance continues to be poor.
– Of the 31 companies that did not have any policy in year one, only four made a new public policy related to sustainable production/procurement of agricultural commodities this year. Furthermore, three companies dropped from one point to zero points due to a reduction in the amount of information that is publicly available (on their respective websites).
– Interestingly, North American headquartered companies make up 20% of the total membership of the Forest 500 and 33% of improvers are based here highlighting the progress that companies headquartered in North America are making.
– Driving behaviour change is central to the Forest 500 and so credit goes to the 31 companies who moved up by at least one point, with five (Astra Agro Lestari, Groupe Eram, Grupo Bimbo, Mewah International, and News Corp.) moving up by two points and also to McDonalds and Bunge for introducing zero net deforestation policies across all of their commodities this year.
– Members of the Consumer Goods Forum, on average, score twice as many points as non-members.
The investment community
Performance of the investment community was even worse than the corporate sector.
– Nearly a third of investors assessed had no policies in place relating to their investments and lendings.
– However, the number of investors scoring two points out of five has increased from 35 to 44, with reductions in those scoring zero or one points.
– 18 investors improved their score by one or more points with three improving by two points (ATP, Columbia Threadneedle Investments, and Ontario Teachers Pension Plan).
– Overall there was an increase in the number of investors making commodity-specific sourcing policies. Specifically, the number of investors making lending commitments in relation to soy and cattle companies, increased from eight to 11 and six to eight respectively.
Of the remaining powerbrokers that make up the 500, little has changed. Incremental progress has been made across forest, trading and subnational jurisdictions, with no countries releasing more comprehensive national policies focused on tackling deforestation
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
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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