ESG & Sustainability Insights

Climate and sustainability finance news: April 2021

7 minute read time

Developments in the green energy sector and beyond.

Global

COP26 president: world needs to be net zero by 2050

Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, has laid out his aims for the 2021 UN climate change conference and is urging world leaders to set emission reduction targets for 2030 in order to meet a net zero target by 2050.

Writing in the Guardian, Sharma outlined his four aims: global net zero by the middle of the century; adaptation to protect communities and natural habitats from the destructive impact of climate change; ensuring sufficient funds are available to tackle the climate crisis; and working together to make the negotiations in Glasgow a success. He said: “I want to put the world on a path to reach net zero by the middle of the century, which is essential to keeping 1.5°C within reach. Today’s global targets for 2030 are nowhere near enough to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goal.”

The former secretary of state for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is asking governments to set out their targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. Measures suggested include ending new coal power plants and joining the UK in banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles.

REN21: Cities with fossil fuel bans up fivefold

The new study from REN21, a renewable energy think tank, has shown that more than a billion people across the world live in a city “with a renewable energy target or policy” and the number of cities with bans on fossil fuels jumped fivefold in 2020.

The research found that more than 1,300 cities had demonstrated leadership in advancing renewables and that urban commitments to directly support renewables were increasing. Some 43 cities had introduced fossil fuel bans on heating and/or transport.

Focusing on urban areas, the Renewables in Cities report says that city governments in more than 830 cities in 72 countries had set renewable energy targets in at least one sector. More than 10,500 cities globally had adopted CO2 emission reduction targets, and around 800 cities had committed to net-zero targets in 2020.

Net-Zero Company Benchmark: global investors announce “long way to go”

The first findings from Climate Action 100+ have been revealed, with the initiative stating the world’s heavy emitters are set to miss their net-zero goals.

The Climate Action 100+ Net-Zero Company Benchmark is a cohort of the globe’s largest investors focusing on climate change and evaluates the green credentials of the “world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters and other companies with significant opportunity to drive the net-zero transition”.

Initial findings conclude “companies still have a long way to go in delivering on these [net-zero] promises”.

The report adds that, according to the nine key indicators used, no company performed at a high level and no company fully disclosed how it would achieve its goals to become net zero by 2050 or sooner.

Elsewhere, investment in renewable power is outperforming fossil fuel investments, a report by the International Energy Agency and the Centre for Climate Finance & Investment reveals, stating renewable power generated higher total returns over the last 10 years, at 423% compared with 59% for fossil fuels.

Credit rating risk for underperforming countries

The US and the UK are among countries at risk of credit rating downgrade if they don’t step up their climate change credentials, according to a simulation from the University of Cambridge.

The Bennett Institute for Public Policy aims to “to bridge the gap between climate science and real-world financial indicators” by simulating the effect of climate change on the credit ratings of over 100 countries. The study has created the world’s first “climate-adjusted sovereign credit rating”.

The report concluded that, without further action to slow greenhouse gas emissions, 63 nations would be downgraded by this measure by 2030. Those at risk were the UK, facing a drop of one notch from its current rating of AA by 2030, and the US (at risk of a two-notch drop from AA+). Germany and Sweden could suffer a three-notch downgrade from AAA.

Europe

EU countries at 55% climate-target impasse

EU member states continue to battle with the European Parliament over the 2030 net greenhouse gas reduction target.

The latest meeting of the Environment Council (March 2021) saw ministers from the 27 countries double down on their desired target of a 55% reduction in carbon emissions compared with 1990 levels. The EU Parliament is calling on countries to commit to a 60% reduction.

The European climate legislation is currently being debated, with the aim of turning a 2050 climate-neutrality target into law – but the ongoing stand-off over how far along the track countries should be by 2030 is delaying its finalisation.

Sustainability “key to corporate strategy” for AEC

Having a focus on sustainability is seen as important for nearly two thirds (62%) of firms working in the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and manufacturing industries.

Most (86% of) respondents believe a substantial green strategy strengthens and maintains customer relationships, with 75% saying it provides competitive advantage.

The findings come from the latest Autodesk report on Digital Sustainability: The Path to Net Zero, which focuses on the design and manufacturing and AEC industries. The report was the result of a survey with 600 respondents, alongside 24 discussions with leaders for sustainability, digital, and innovation across a spectrum of industries.

UK

UK “halfway to net-zero emissions” but failing on air pollution

Last year saw UK greenhouse gas emissions fall to 51% below 1990 levels, which means the UK is now halfway towards its target of net-zero emissions by 2050, according to new research from Carbon Brief.

Its analysis shows there was an 11% drop in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, largely due to the pandemic, though emissions are likely to rebound with economic recovery.

Despite this fall, government data reveals it is set to miss the legal targets for four out of the five pollutants covered by the National Emission Ceilings Regulations.

Analysis from ClientEarth shows the UK is on course to miss its 2030 emissions-reduction targets for a host of pollutants and it is urging the government to overhaul the Clean Air Strategy.

Private sector coalition launched to reverse biodiversity loss

A coalition of British businesses has launched with the goal of reversing biodiversity loss and strengthening natural ecosystems.

The UK Business Biodiversity Forum held an online inaugural event outlining its aims to connect businesses in order to host knowledge-sharing events and best-practice guidance.

The delegates also discussed the findings of the Dasgupta Review, which was commissioned by the Treasury with the aim of creating a new economic framework for the world to live sustainably.

The report alludes to the joint efforts to rebuild Europe after the Second World War, saying: “If we are to enhance the biosphere’s health and reduce our demands, large-scale changes will be required, underpinned by levels of ambition, co-ordination and political will akin to (or even greater than) those of the Marshall Plan.”

Energy-efficient homes “colossal” challenge

MPs have warned the UK’s net-zero emissions goal would be “impossible to achieve unless urgent action was taken to improve the energy efficiency of homes” – days before the announcement that the Green Homes Grant is to be scrapped.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) revealed that adapting homes to make them more energy efficient and meet climate targets is a “colossal” challenge for which the cost has been “significantly underestimated”.

And the much-publicised grant to help people insulate their homes is being scrapped. The Green Homes Grant scheme reached just 10% of the 600,000 homes promised improvement, with the £300m allocated for the scheme now going into a programme administered by local authorities.

Electric car grant cut

The grant to purchase electric cars has been cut by the government from £3,000 to £2,500 and will no longer be used for high-end purchases.

Models costing more than £35,000 will be excluded from the initiative, meaning cars such as the Tesla Model 3 will no longer be eligible to purchase via the scheme.

The government said these cars were “typically bought by drivers who can afford to switch without a subsidy from taxpayers”.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean said: “The increasing choice of new vehicles, growing demand from customers and rapidly rising number of charge points mean that, while the level of funding remains as high as ever, given soaring demand, we are refocusing our vehicle grants on the more affordable zero-emission vehicles.”

By Louise Hulland