When it comes to climate investment funds, diverse management is imperative

April 13, 2021 by  
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When it comes to climate investment funds, diverse management is imperative Marilyn Waite Tue, 04/13/2021 – 02:00 The engine behind green business is the same as any business: capital. And while social, human and natural capital are all critical, financial capital is the one form that systemically fails the companies and leaders working on the most impactful solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals. Venture capitalists decide who gets to be a billionaire and what solutions reach billions in market penetration. Real asset investors choose what critical infrastructure is built, where it’s built and who benefits from it. Fixed-income investors are able to drive how much of the bond market is green, or better yet, which bonds adhere to the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice . Public equity asset managers drive what kinds of companies are valuable and thus have the capital to grow, to what industries retirement savings flow by default and what companies can achieve a scale that affords them outsized political and policy influence. Needless to say, investment managers and financial advisers are powerful. And as is the case with many axes of power, financial professionals across asset classes are disproportionately male and white. In a 2019 study , the U.S. National Academy of Sciences found evidence of racial bias in the investment decisions of asset allocators, including rating white-led funds more favorably than Black-led funds at similar strong performance levels. Granular, industry-wide data is hard to come by — even after the national awakening brought by the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements. In 2020, when the Diverse Asset Managers Initiative (DAMI) surveyed the 30 largest U.S. investment consulting firms to gain insights into gender and racial representation, only 16 responded . Here’s what we do know: in the United States, partners in venture capital firms are only 4.1 percent female , with those women being 67 percent white, 16 percent East Asian, 7.7 percent South Asian, 4.8 percent Black and 3.5 percent Latinx. Mutual fund, hedge fund, private equity and real estate fund managers are collectively 98.7 percent white male-led. ESG funds, including those focused on climate change mitigation, do not fare better. According to a 2019 survey , white staff represents 79 percent of the employees of U.S. SRI/ESG mutual funds. It’s important to increase the asset allocation in women- and BIPOC-led climate funds because they are acutely concerned and engaged in climate-related financial risks and impacts, they are the ones disproportionately affected by and thus uniquely positioned to make wise investment decisions in solving climate change, and they are key sources for driving innovation. A recent survey by PRI illustrated that globally, women are more engaged on climate-related issues than men, especially for people 35 and older. Another recent study by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that Black and Hispanic communities in the U.S. are also more concerned and willing to engage on climate issues than white communities. Using six categories, ranging from “Alarmed” (most concerned about climate change and most supportive of climate policies) to “Dismissive” (reject the reality and threat of climate change and oppose taking action), they found that Hispanics/Latinos (69 percent) and African Americans (57 percent) are more likely to be “Alarmed” or “Concerned” about global warming than white Americans (49 percent), as well as more willing to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce climate change. This heightened concern logically would lead women and BIPOC fund managers to perform climate-related diligence on investment deals and have a climate-forward approach to their portfolio. Climate change makes virtually all aspects of the economy and society, especially existing inequalities, worse. Climate impacts, including heatwaves, droughts, rising sea levels and extreme flooding, disproportionately affect women and people of color. Yet, due to their local knowledge and leadership in climate change solutions, such as sustainable resource management , and their responsiveness to community and consumer needs, women and people of color are uniquely essential in solving climate change. [ Marilyn Waite is a featured mainstage speaker this week during GreenFin 21 . ] In the United States, race is the No. 1 indicator for the placement of toxic facilities, including climate-polluting ones. This reality also means that Black and brown financial leaders have on-the-ground knowledge of transitioning from dirty to clean and the types and structures of investments that will bring retail and institutional investors risk-adjusted returns. Knowledge and information, including local knowledge, are core to what investors use to outperform peers, indices and allocator expectations. For example, HSBC’s investment policy states, “We look to deliver quality and value through a robust risk management framework that leverages our global capabilities and local knowledge to drive better investment decisions across a wide range of investment strategies.” Lastly, diversity drives innovation. Study after study shows diversity, including gender and racial diversity, leads to a better return on investment, return on equity and revenues. As Katherine Phillips put it , “Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.” In investment, why pay for an asset management firm if you can just buy every stock in the market and fare the same? Why pay venture capital fees if you can just, as the industry says, “spray and pray” in a suite of startups as an angel investor? Part of the value proposition of fund managers is that their investment teams have specialized knowledge and perform the diligence that the asset owner or allocator does not have or cannot otherwise implement. Climate investing is no exception. Given climate change is such a pervasive and entrenched problem, it will take novel thinking and new investment approaches, which will be missing without such gender and racial diversity. One hypothesis that VC Include (VCI) will start to test this year is if and how diverse-led climate funds lead to diverse green business ownership, leadership and workforce opportunities in climate-impacted communities. To that end, VCI is launching a Diverse Climate Fund Manager initiative to engage and financially support women and BIPOC emerging managers that are addressing climate change in their strategy. Why aren’t asset owners allocating capital to women- and BIPOC-led climate funds? As Rachel Robasciotti of Adasina Social Capital states , “The problem lies in how the asset manager evaluation process exacerbates existing inequities in financial services, while also failing to account for real impact and diversity outcomes.” These barriers include needing to have at least $200 million in assets under management, or AUM (which starts with personal wealth that women and BIPOC leaders seldom hold), a three-year track record and laborious questionnaires (some with over 1,000 questions). Although it’s important to not conflate emerging managers with diverse managers (not all diverse managers are new and vice versa), women- and BIPOC-led funds are disproportionately newer and may not meet the three-year track record threshold. For example, 73 percent of women-led asset management firms were founded in the last five years. The Due Diligence 2.0 Commitment outlines nine ways forward for a more equitable asset allocation and investment sector, as follows: consider track record alternatives; expand what it means to work together; reassess AUM as a risk metric; respect BIPOC time; contextualize fees, including historically unrecognized risks; be willing to go first; offer transparency about remaining hurdles; and provide detailed feedback. There is a generic diverse asset manager directory run by Emerging Manager Monthly , providing information on minority, women, veteran and disabled-owned firms where you can filter by asset class/investment strategy. Hannah Davis of Techstars and I put together this list of women and BIPOC climate fund investment advisers and asset managers. This list is primarily intended to help retail and institutional asset owners allocate capital to diverse-led climate-friendly funds. Other uses include syndicating with women- and BIPOC-led funds and finding diverse investors for a company’s growth. To add to the list, please fill out this form. Topics Finance & Investing Social Justice Diversity and Inclusion GreenFin 21 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Fizkes Close Authorship

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When it comes to climate investment funds, diverse management is imperative

5 themes for a capital week

April 12, 2021 by  
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5 themes for a capital week Joel Makower Mon, 04/12/2021 – 02:11 GreenFin 21 takes place this week (April 13–14), a fact that I hope has not been lost on you. We’ll be livestreaming the daily 75-minute plenary sessions on GreenBiz.com, starting promptly at 11:30 a.m. Eastern / 8:30 a.m. Pacific, although you’ll need to register to partake in the dozens of breakout, roundtable and networking sessions that will follow both days. It’s such an exciting time in green finance, with significant news and developments happening at a whirlwind clip. In just the past week, for example, Bank of America announced a goal of deploying $1 trillion to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy; BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager, said it would peg the interest rate of a $4.4 billion line of credit to its performance on such metrics as female leadership in the company and its employment of people of color; Invesco, a global investment manager with about $1.3 trillion under management, set a goal of integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics into all of its investments by 2023; and JetBlue announced it would tie senior leaders’ compensation to a series of ESG metrics, including reduced emissions per available seat-mile and efforts to engage and work with minority- and women-owned businesses. That’s a mere sampling of what seems to be taking place every week lately. It’s such an exciting time in green finance, with significant news and developments happening at a whirlwind clip. But enough about the past. Let’s talk about this week. Here are five themes you’ll be hearing at GreenFin 21 — and, presumably, beyond — that help define this moment in sustainable finance and corporate sustainability reporting. In no particular order: 1. The rise of sustainability in corporate finance. The above headlines demonstrate the rise of ESG on the investor side, but there’s plenty happening on the corporate site. For the first time, chief financial officers, corporate treasurers, chief investor relations officers and other corporate leaders are leaning into ESG metrics, since these things have become important to lenders and investors. And that’s driven the sustainability agenda up the ranks, all the way to the board of directors. Of course, merely reporting data to investors and banks doesn’t necessarily equate to the kinds of things that matter to people and the planet: drastically reducing carbon emissions, turning waste streams into circular value, creating jobs, ensuring environmental justice and more. So, there’s also increased attention — by activists and regulators, as well as investors — to corporate greenwash, in which a company’s actions doesn’t match its proclamations. 2. The revolution in social finance. The “S” in ESG is also rising. There are new investment funds targeting women, people of color, rural communities and others who haven’t historically had sufficient access to capital. And, as noted above, companies are being assessed by investors and credit-rating agencies in part by their attention to diversity, especially in the higher echelons of company leadership. Social justice issues are another growing field for companies, including ensuring access to healthcare and education, protecting human rights and fostering employee well-being. Still another area that’s gaining traction are company investments in local businesses. In the past, that has been difficult for big firms to do at scale — there’s just too much due diligence and risk for most corporate appetites. But innovative social enterprises are finding ways to funnel tens of millions of big-company dollars to lend to women- and minority-owned local businesses, potentially enabling these companies to grow and thrive, along with their communities. 3. The need to simplify ESG data and reporting. This has been festering for years, but suddenly there’s hope. The recent rapid rise of ESG in finance circles seems to be spurring global efforts to consolidate and harmonize the many reporting standards and frameworks. The past year saw a relative flurry of activity by nonprofit and professional organizations to align and harmonize their frameworks. SASB, GRI, CDP, TCFD, et al. — the whole alphabet soup of corporate reporting seems to be coming together. The big kahuna, though, is a relative newcomer to the sustainability space: the IFRS Foundation, which sets global accounting standards. It is moving — slowly, but ever so surely — toward a unified set of sustainability reporting metrics. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Biden administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission is moving toward mandatory climate-risk reporting, joining its European counterparts. That would likely accelerate the standardization of reporting, moving everyone forward. 4. A growing menu of financial products. We’ve been covering the world of green bonds and sustainability-linked loans for a while now, so it should be no surprise that these and other financing mechanisms are on the rise. Issuance of sustainability-related bonds — green bonds, blue bonds, sustainability bonds, social bonds and more — are among the fastest-growing products offered by financial institutions. Each quarter seems to set a new record in the issuance of such bonds and loans as the demand by investors seems to show no end, leading some to predict a green-financing bubble. Many of the bond issuances have been oversubscribed — meaning investor demand exceeds supply — by five or ten times. What’s also significant is how these bonds and loans are aligning the interests of corporate finance and sustainability departments, which historically rarely ventured into the other’s territory. (See theme No. 1, above.) 5. Financing the just transition. In some ways, the focus on ESG is the least interesting part of the sustainable finance arena. The standards and language will eventually sort themselves out, and ESG reporting will become humdrum routine. The much, much bigger question is how to find and deploy tens of trillions of dollars globally to fund the transition to a clean and just economy. For my money, this is one of the most exciting and dynamic challenges the world will face in the coming decades. There’s roughly a quarter of a quadrillion dollars available globally — yes, quadrillion with a Q — according to a study by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Whether and how that money can be used to finance clean energy, electrified transportation, sustainable food production and other parts of the clean economy represents perhaps the biggest economic opportunity in human history. That’s just a taste. I hope you can join us this week at GreenFin 21. There’s still time to request an invitation . I invite you to  follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter,  GreenBuzz , and listen to  GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote It’s such an exciting time in green finance, with significant news and developments happening at a whirlwind clip. Topics Finance & Investing Leadership GreenFin 21 ESG Banking GreenFin 21 Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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5 themes for a capital week

Award-winning school and community complex achieves Net Zero Emissions

March 19, 2021 by  
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Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex recently won a coveted honor in the sustainable design category from the 2020 Boston Society for Architecture Design Awards. The complex is the first in the state to gain both  Net Zero Emissions  and  LEED v4 Platinum  designations, and it uses 43% less energy than the average local school and 70% less than the average United States school. Composed of multiple green and open spaces as well as five  playgrounds  to accommodate K-5 and 6-8 students, the $159 million complex spans 270,000 square feet. Headed by William Rawn Associates and Architecture with Arrowstreet, the project includes facilities for an elementary school, middle school, administration, preschool, afterschool, library, pool, human services programs and a parking garage. Related: Modular Tree-House School concept connects kids with nature “The project successfully leverages many sustainable tools and strategies: geothermal wells, great expanses of photovoltaic on all of the roof real estate; the smart use of an urban site,” said the award jury for the Sustainable Design Awards . “In addition to the design team’s masterful design, the City of Cambridge deserves recognition for its investment in an ambitious project that sets the bar for future schools and libraries.” The project is 100% electric and welcomes both  students  and the public to help promote community fellowship. The buildings themselves are characterized by colorful ombre tones and large glass windows, while rooftops and facades are covered in 3,600 PV  solar panels . The library is composed almost entirely of floor-to-ceiling windows and wood, and there is over an acre of open outdoor space. Apart from the solar panels, exterior sustainability features include sunshades, bioswale bridges and a hand-pumped rain garden. Inside, an exposed water reuse system is on display for student educational purposes, as well as daylight controls and heating/cooling elements. + William Rawn Associates + Arrowstreet Photography by Robert Benson

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Virginia bans cosmetic testing on animals

March 17, 2021 by  
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Starting January 1, 2022, the state of Virginia will no longer allow animal testing or the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. Thanks to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam — and other kind and dedicated Virginians — the Virginia Humane Cosmetics Act became law this month. Senator Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Kaye Kory introduced the bill. Its passage makes Virginia the fourth state in the U.S. to make a law prohibiting cosmetic animal testing . Related: EPA promises an end to animal testing “This fantastic news illustrates a growing momentum in efforts to end unnecessary testing on animals in the United States and around the world for products like shampoos, mascara and lipstick,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF). “Consumers are scanning labels and demanding products free of animal testing, cosmetics companies are listening to them and changing their practices, and lawmakers are solidifying these changes into permanent policy.” For vegans and anybody else who cares about animal suffering, this act makes shopping much easier. Instead of trying to read the tiny print on a tube of eyeliner, consumers will be able to get straight in line with their purchases, saving both time and eyestrain. In 2018, California became the first state to pass a law banning animal testing for cosmetics. The California law makes exceptions for cosmetic ingredients that the USDA requires testing for because of health concerns, or if regulatory compliance is called for by a foreign authority. Nevada passed a cruelty-free cosmetics act in June 2019, and Illinois followed in August 2019. Six other states are considering their own cruelty-free cosmetic acts: Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island. The movement is picking up steam all over the world as more and more consumers start asking exactly what’s in that lipstick and if animal suffering is really necessary for human beauty. “Cosmetics animal testing is simply not needed to ensure the safety of cosmetics for human use,” Amundson said. “In the case of new ingredients, many non-animal test methods have been, and continue to be, developed that are as effective — or even more effective — than animal tests have been.” Via VegNews Image via Anna Sulencka

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What you should know about new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

March 17, 2021 by  
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What you should know about new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Shaandiin Cedar Wed, 03/17/2021 – 02:00 According to a Wilderness Society analysis of U.S. Geological Survey data, life-cycle emissions from oil, gas and coal pulled from public lands and waters were equivalent to more than 20 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. If those emissions were attributed to a single country, it would rank fifth in life-cycle emissions, a sobering fact that exposes the need for bold leadership at the helm of historically slow-moving federal agencies. Early in his presidency, President Joe Biden made it a priority to select a diverse team proficient in climate work, and his cabinet appointment of Deb Haaland as Secretary for the Department of the Interior is no exception.  Born in Winslow, Arizona, Haaland spent summers with her grandmother in the Laguna Pueblo in Northwestern New Mexico and identifies as 35th generation Indigenous New Mexican with ties to the region dating back to the 13th century. Haaland was one of the first Native women elected to Congress, representing New Mexico’s 1st congressional district, and her appointment to the Interior makes her the first Native person to lead a U.S. cabinet agency. This breaks a 245-year record of non-Native leadership in a department directly responsible for managing the relationship with the nation’s 574 tribes and the 50 million acres of Native land held in trust by Interior bureaus. Haaland will oversee nearly 500 million acres of land — that’s one-fifth the land area of the U.S. and 70% of all public lands — and almost 700 million acres of natural resources that lay beneath it and its coasts. As Interior Secretary, Haaland will oversee nearly 500 million acres of land — that’s one-fifth the land area of the U.S. and 70 percent of all public lands — and almost 700 million acres of natural resources that lay beneath it and its coasts. The department is responsible for 422 national parks, 129 national monuments and 567 wildlife refuges, stewarding biodiversity conservation projects and protecting more than 1,000 endangered species. “It was in the cornfields with my grandfather where I learned the importance of water and protecting our resources and where I gained a deep respect for the earth,” Haaland said in her confirmation hearings, emphasizing that her experiences make her uniquely qualified to lead the Interior Department.  Climate advocates believe this is a significant turning point for the Interior, creating a pathway for private sector collaboration in the agency’s efforts to decarbonize and bolster federal production of renewable energy.  The Interior’s dirty fuel challenge  Given the sheer size of land and water under management, the Interior represents a valued powerhouse of domestic output and natural resource development. During Haaland’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) pointed out that the agency “generates $12 billion for treasury, $315 billion to the U.S. economy and nearly 2 million jobs,” a statement made to underline the importance of the department’s current and future operations. In terms of resource development, Haaland inherits a department that produces the resources for 20 percent of U.S. energy , including 12 percent of its natural gas, 24 percent of its oil and 43 percent of its coal. Leases managed by the Interior hit a record 1 billion barrels in 2020 — a 23 percent increase from 2016 levels. By contrast, sites primarily consisting of Bureau of Land Management projects — an Interior-managed department — produce only 1 percent of the country’s wind and virtually none of its solar power. Fossil fuels development on public lands and waters is responsible for almost one-quarter of the country’s emissions, according to a 2018 U.S. Geological Survey report , making public lands a net emitter of greenhouse gas and the subject of priority review by the Interior’s new leadership. Public land-based solutions As a valuable carbon sink, America’s public lands and waters are an essential part of a successful federal climate strategy, writes Alison Kelly, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. U.S. federal forests and grasslands are a major carbon pool and a significant component of the national greenhouse gas inventory, encompassing 248 million acres estimated to contain more than 12 billion tons of carbon .  Currently, the country’s 154 national forests absorb about 10 percent of the nation’s total carbon emissions each year, and a U.S. House of Representatives Special Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report states that there’s potential for capacity increases if deforestation is prevented, new forests are planted and agencies bring new lands into federal ownership. There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed. According to the committee report, protecting and expanding federal “blue carbon systems” — those that include ocean and wetland ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrasses and marshes — are essential to offset department emissions since they store carbon at a faster rate than terrestrial forests, a finding likely to inform the Interior department’s emission reduction strategies. The Interior’s bold to-do list  Historically, the agency has adhered to traditional notions of energy development, and Haaland has been an outspoken critic of that strategy. She was an early sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution in the House and has said she’s “wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands.”  As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland acknowledges that the role primarily consists of following the law and directives from the White House, not making them. “I understand that [my] role, it’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico,” said Haaland in her confirmation hearings. To that point, while climate change has become a political tension point, Haaland has emerged as someone who can work effectively with colleagues across the aisle. During her first term in the House, she was named the most bipartisan freshman congresswoman, a trait seen as an asset in aiding efforts to transform the Interior department into a climate-positive entity and potential ally for private sector contractors in the renewable energy space. During her confirmation hearings, Haaland was diplomatic and realistic. “There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” she told the committee. “But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”  As Haaland settles into her new role, federal and private sector companies should look to the following key priorities for early indications on how business can expect to plug into achieving the administration’s ambitious goals.  1. Pausing new oil fossil fuel development As directed in the recent Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad executive order , the Interior has put a pause on new oil and natural gas leases pending the completion of a “comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices.” This is seen as a bold step to systematically quantify climate impact, using it to inform future leasing processes. 2. Doubling offshore wind by 2030 As Secretary of the Interior, Haaland said she is committed to finding the right balance between economic growth and investing in a clean energy future.  “As part of this balance, the Department has a role in harnessing the clean energy potential of our public lands to create jobs and new economic opportunities,” she said. “The president’s agenda demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production.”  To this end, Haaland will be responsible for reviewing opportunities to increase renewable energy production on Interior lands and waters, with the goal to double offshore wind by 2030. Currently, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management — an Interior managed department — has 15 active commercial leases in various, early stages of development in the Atlantic which, if developed fully, have the potential to support more than 21 GW of energy generating capacity — enough to power almost 7.5 million homes On a national scale, offshore wind for the contiguous United States and Hawaii has a potential capacity of 2,058 gigawatts, or 7,203 terawatt-hours per year, nearly double the electricity consumption of the U.S., according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s 2016 Offshore Wind Resource Assessment for the United States report . 3. Creating jobs with the Civilian Climate Corps Within 90 days, the Interior will submit “a strategy creating a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, to mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs,” as directed by the executive order, and Haaland is fully onboard.  The creation of a Civilian Climate Corps “demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production” and “has the potential to spur job creation,” Haaland said during her confirmation hearings. 4. Centering equity and environmental justice “Communities of color, low-income families, and rural and Indigenous communities have long suffered disproportionate and cumulative harm from air pollution, water pollution, and toxic sites,” states the Interior’s recently updated priorities list .  As a Congresswoman, and through her lived experiences with Indigenous communities, Haaland says she understands that negative environmental and social impacts are not evenly distributed in our society. As leader of the Interior, and a new member of the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, she will be held accountable for addressing environmental injustice in accordance with Biden’s executive order directing the Interior to provide a comprehensive justice strategy and performance metrics. A fierce new climate ally   With the confirmation of Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, government leaders, activists and businesses expect to see major disruptions to business-as-usual public lands management. Haaland will be tasked with preserving natural spaces for generations to come, reducing the department’s sizable environmental impact and reorienting a team of 70,000 employees. While her supporters expect her to be strong on climate action, her skeptics expect her to listen and work with them, something that she says she’s willing and able to do.  In an open letter to Senate leaders during Haaland’s confirmation hearings — signed by nearly 500 national and regional organizations representing Native communities, environmental justice groups and private sector businesses — Haaland was described as “a proven leader and the right person to lead the charge against the existential threats of our time: tackling the climate, biodiversity, extinction and COVID-19 crises and racial justice inequities on our federal public lands and waters.”  At the helm of the Interior, Haaland will play a central role in realizing the federal government’s promises to combat climate change, deploy clean energy and address environmental racism.  Pull Quote Haaland will oversee nearly 500 million acres of land — that’s one-fifth the land area of the U.S. and 70% of all public lands — and almost 700 million acres of natural resources that lay beneath it and its coasts. There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed. Topics Policy & Politics Social Justice Environmental Responsibility Equity & Inclusion Indigenous People Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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What you should know about new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

COVID-19: A 20/20-vision crystal ball into our climate future

March 15, 2021 by  
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COVID-19: A 20/20-vision crystal ball into our climate future Esteban Guerrero Mon, 03/15/2021 – 12:00 When the coronavirus pandemic can be claimed to be under control, it is likely to have made some economies retreat a decade and left millions of families in pain for the loss of loved ones, with many more millions enduring health and other consequences for some time to come. But all this self-inflicted pain is nothing compared to all the damage climate change can cause. So, perhaps the single silver lining of the pandemic might be that it can be used as the crystal ball that lends its 20/20 vision for us to see how we can avoid the worst of climate change. Using this crystal ball, we shall: take a look at why the failures that led to the pandemic are the same as the failures leading to a climate catastrophe understand the root causes of these kinds of dynamics envision what some of the solutions might be The failures Unlike with COVID, no vaccine can kill climate change. Once triggered — and many believe we already live in the realm of climate changed — there is no way back. Unlike with COVID, no vaccine can kill climate change. So far, we are failing miserably as a species because we have been forewarned, yet we are not acting timely and swiftly. In looking at these failures, we can see history about to repeat itself: Government action has been soft and late at best; many governments feel they face a terrible choice: save lives or save the economy. Millions have failed to understand the dynamics of the crisis, how it is likely to unfold and the role we all play; this implies that education is terrible everywhere for the most part and even government officials are not immune to the long tentacles of ignorance. But even experts have failed to be more effective at educating people at all levels, because they have failed to be creative enough to depict and convey data in a way that could effectively wake up and activate more people at all levels; or fully explore and publicly display scenarios that likely will materialize if their warnings are not heeded. In other words, simply conveying that average temperatures will go up and sea level will rise is not enough to open people’s eyes to what can come. And going back to the economy and “our way of life,” if we fail to act in time, once a major climate crisis hits and no amount of money can fix it, we will have shown once more that our system easily breaks down and is ill-equipped to deliver higher levels of prosperity on the dimensions that truly count. The root causes Interestingly, the causes underlying the above failures are the same: Humans do not easily grasp complexity. Humans cannot easily evaluate — let alone creatively communicate — risks and opportunities associated with future events that are not yet apparent. Our ability to effectively build a global, collective response requires effective coordination, which in turn requires skilled, informed, critically thinking individuals at all levels of society. The good news is that, if we overcome No. 1, we can then overcome No. 2, which in turn puts us in a good position to begin to tackle No. 3. A lesson in exponential complexity Missile Command is a 1980 video game that shows why a chain-reactive situation, like climate change, needs to be nipped in the bud — swiftly, without hesitation, because it is exponential in nature: If you fail to destroy the missiles dropping from the top of your screen right away, in a few seconds they will start splitting into multiple, independently targeted projectiles; soon, you will be overpowered, ammunition will run out and the cities below will be destroyed. Game over. Sound familiar? If you liken the number of falling projectiles to the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, you can see that by not addressing their increasing concentration in time, trying to stop GHG’s from reacting with the atmosphere, the ocean and other earth systems and eventually, indirectly, our lives and our livelihoods gets exponentially harder every few periods. These third-, fourth- and higher-order consequences are not just “possibilities”; they are as real as the fact that, for instance, large-company bankruptcies were up 244 percent in July and August year over year due to the pandemic lockdown, according to investment bank Jefferies. And if this dynamic (bankruptcies overshoot above drastic unemployment increases) is highly probable, then every time a new climate crisis takes place we should expect to see many more over the next several years: Therefore, the solution to the first root cause is to paint a broad picture of all relevant risks to help everyone “see” complexity. In other words, being able to depict and evaluate potential future climate scenarios is the best thing we can do to keep any potential catastrophic situation from becoming real in the first place. Evaluating future scenarios Even though we have been slow to initially take firm steps towards avoiding an involuntary calamity, we still have the opportunity to make better decisions today than we can tomorrow. That is, the worst-case scenario if we were to start today is better than the worst-case scenario if we were to start tomorrow: That is the value of having options: Paying the cost today so that we can have better alternatives tomorrow is worth it. Delaying that cost one more day reduces our alternatives to get the future we would want — and potentially gives away any control left we might have had in the outcome. What about enabling global, collective action? As to our ability to effectively harness a global, coordinated, collective response, putting together a thorough analysis is beyond the scope of these words. But beginning to paint a tangible picture to wake up citizens and government officials will help; for instance: Can the world take 20 more years like 2020? The year 2020 has been marred with remarkable climate events: record heat; over 16 meteorological disasters in the United States, with $1 billion-plus losses each; the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record; California fires consuming over 4 million acres, double the 2018 record. It could take at least 20 years to bring emissions down by 20 percent, which means that these types of events can only get worse. Can the world take 20 more years like 2020? So, why don’t we use the repulsion this thought makes us feel and put it into action to start pushing our representatives and each other to start defeating climate change now? Potential solutions Any tiptoeing around aggressively mitigating climate risks, any lack of a clear political signal that there will be a well-defined plan will only compound the problems for a far longer time horizon than most people can envision. The good news: We can all help chip away at the root causes by doing the following: Paint clear pictures of all likely risks within the context of a few key scenarios, exploring as far as all plausible third-, fourth- and fifth-order consequences. At least qualitatively, begin to assess the cost and probability of each extreme risk (the cost of inaction) for every scenario. Identify the critical path to avoid a catastrophe in each scenario and calculate the cost of action today. Start publishing and tracking these costs to constantly show that action today is cheaper than action tomorrow. Finally, let’s all start educating people in our spheres of influence, especially if we hold a public- or private-sector leadership position. This last point is particularly important: given how poorly people in key positions have been handling the pandemic, and how slow they have been at committing to climate change measures, it seems that we ought to start demanding high-level decision-makers successfully complete specialized training before they can be trusted with running large organizations or jurisdictions whose decisions literally can make the difference between life and death. So, the rest of us, regular citizens, also have a role to play. The deaths and other consequences likely to be caused by future climate disasters are still preventable, so we owe it to everyone likely to be affected to see to it that a climate crisis many times worse than what we have experienced this past year does not occur. Pull Quote Unlike with COVID, no vaccine can kill climate change. Can the world take 20 more years like 2020? Topics COVID-19 Climate Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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Are Recyclable Wind Turbine Blades on the Horizon?

March 11, 2021 by  
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Are Recyclable Wind Turbine Blades on the Horizon?

Wildfire smoke is more harmful than car exhaust emissions

March 8, 2021 by  
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New research published in the journal Nature Communications has revealed that pollution caused by wildfires is more harmful to humans than than poor air quality caused by car exhaust. The study, conducted by researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, was achieved through an analysis of health records. The study follows increasing wildfire events in the United States. Last year, many western states experienced fires, with heavy smoke clouding major cities. In some areas, residents were warned against stepping outside their homes to avoid possible health risks. Related: Wildfires have burned 2.3M acres across California this year The researchers looked at health records over the past 14 years and determined that there was a 10% spike in hospital admissions in Southern California during wildfire breakouts. According to Tom Corringham, one of the authors of the study, the economic impacts of wildfires are typically highlighted, with little focus on health impacts that are usually of the same magnitude. “We’re pretty aware of the physical costs of wildfire, in terms of firefighting costs and damage to property,” Corringham said. “But there’s been a lot of work that has shown that the health impacts due to wildfire smoke are on the same order of magnitude, or possibly even greater than the direct physical cost.” In the study, researchers focused on PM2.5, which are very common in wildfire smoke. These microscopic particles are very small and can bypass the human body’s security systems. When this happens, they make their way into the lungs and the bloodstream. There are various health risks that have been associated with these particles, including increased risk of respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes. “We’ve seen it getting much worse in the last decade,” Corringham said of the wildfires. “Anything we can do today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the global climate system will have significant benefits.” A separate study on air quality on the West Coast found that one in every seven residents experienced at least one day in unhealthy air conditions last year due to wildfires. + Nature Communications Via NPR Image via Peter Buschmann / USDA

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Devastating gold rush in Peruvian Amazon rainforest as seen from space

March 8, 2021 by  
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The Peruvian Amazon is the world’s fourth largest tropical rainforest and an important biodiversity hotspot. But as usual, people are putting financial gain over preserving endemic and endangered species. As the price of gold has passed $1,700 an ounce, gold miners have swarmed the Amazon rainforest. Some are poor, desperate to feed and clothe their families. Some are downright greedy. Either way, digging up gold is speeding deforestation and other environmental travesties. New photos from the International Space Station show just how bad the rainforest looks. Illegal mining in Madre de Dios Peru is the world’s sixth or seventh largest gold producer, depending on which list you consult. The U.S. alone imports about $2 billion worth of gold from Peru annually. An estimated 20% of that gold is illegally mined in places like Peru’s eastern state of Madre de Dios, which borders Bolivia and Brazil. While mining is illegal in much of the area, it’s not easy to catch the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 small-scale miners prospecting the rich ground of Madre de Dios. The sparsely inhabited state is about the size of Indiana. While mining is legal in some parts of the state, it’s illegal in national reserves and the surrounding buffer zones. But these human-made borders don’t stop people from mining . Related: Amazon rainforest is becoming a carbon source due to deforestation “Who is going to stop a poor man from Cuzco or Juliaca or Puno who earns $30 a month from going to Madre de Dios and starting to dig?” asked Antonio Brack Egg, Peru’s former minister of the environment , as reported in Smithsonian Magazine . If a prospector finds two grams of gold a day, he’s made more than he’s used to earning in a month. The 2008 economic crisis accelerated the price of gold and sparked the gold rush. In 2011, a study in the journal PLOS One already identified gold mining as the leading cause of deforestation . Then things got worse. The building of the Southern Interoceanic Highway became the only road connection between Peru and Brazil. It was designed to promote tourism and trade. Additionally, it cut right through Madre de Dios, making it easy for Peruvians from all corners of the country to access previously uninhabited, gold-rich areas. Lack of local governance made it all the easier for gold mining to take over. Now entire settlements that serve miners and their families have appeared in what used to be rainforest . And these settlements have become dangerous places full of illicit activity. Illegal mining is just the beginning. Other hazards of Madre de Dios include human trafficking, corruption, hitmen and money laundering. Mass graves have been found in the area. Environmental toll Peruvian gold mining poses many risks to both the environment and human health. The most obvious — especially if you’re looking at the decimated area from space — is the thousands of acres of rainforest that are now a wasteland. Photos taken by the International Space Station show enormous pits of muddy water. These are gold-prospecting pits that have become more common than trees in some parts of the Amazon, a place where you used to find trees that were 1,200 years old. “Each pit is surrounded by de-vegetated areas of muddy soil ,” Justin Wilkinson, a grant specialist at Texas State University, wrote for NASA’s Earth Observatory . “These deforested tracts follow the courses of ancient rivers that deposited sediments, including gold.” Then you have rampant use of mercury. To separate gold from other minerals, miners boil mercury and add sediments. When they’re done with this toxic concoction, up to 50 metric tons of mercury are released into rivers or the atmosphere annually, some leaching into the watershed. The mercury makes its way into fish and, ultimately, into the humans who eat them. According to a 2012 PLOS One study, locals who ate a lot of fish from the mercury-soaked rivers were more than three times as likely to develop mercury poisoning as locals who didn’t eat fish. While no one knows the exact acreage destroyed by mining, ranching, logging and other invasive industries in Peru , some estimates put it at 64,000 acres. The number might be much higher. Not only is the surface of the planet being stripped away, but the damage goes perhaps 50 feet deep. Habitat loss is further threatening already endangered species, like the maned wolf and marsh deer, and impinging on bird life, such as toucans and red macaws. The Amazon River basin contains about one-quarter of Earth’s terrestrial species. Many insects and plants that live there haven’t even been scientifically identified. Crackdown on gold mining In February 2019, the Peruvian government launched Operation Mercury. It declared a state of emergency and sent 1,800 army troops and police to try to stop the illegal gold mining. They set up both fixed bases and field sites, flying over jungle canopy to try to scope out mining operations and coaxing tips from locals. The approach was often heavy-handed, with tactics like setting fire to miners’ huts and possessions. A conviction of illegal mining in protected areas could reap a prison sentence of up to eight years. This kind of intense environmental crackdown was new to Peru, whose government has been better known for corruption than eco-friendliness. After five months, the government reported that deforestation from gold mining was down 90% from the year before. But the recent International Space Station images show that the issue is far from solved. + NASA Via Live Science , PBS and Smithsonian Magazine Images via International Space Station

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5 opportunities of a circular economy

March 5, 2021 by  
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5 opportunities of a circular economy David McGinty Fri, 03/05/2021 – 00:12 More than 100 billion tons of resources enter the economy every year — everything from metals, minerals and fossil fuels to organic materials from plants and animals. Just 8.6 percent gets recycled and used again. Use of resources has tripled (automatic PDF download) since 1970 and could double again by 2050 if business continues as usual. We would need 1.5 Earths to sustainably support our current resource use. This rampant consumption has devastating effects for humans, wildlife and the planet. It is more urgent than ever to shift from linear, use-it-up-and-throw-it-away models to a circular economy: where waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use for longer, and natural systems can regenerate. A circular economy isn’t just about fixing environmental wrongs, though: Evidence shows it can bring big opportunities and positive impacts across industries, sectors and lives. A growing number of businesses, governments and civil society organizations are coming together to drive the change through the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) . More than 200 experts from 100 organizations helped develop the Circular Economy Action Agenda , a set of publications that analyze the potential impact and call for action across five key sectors: plastics, textiles, electronics, food and capital equipment (machinery and large tools such as medical scanners, agricultural equipment and manufacturing infrastructure). The Action Agenda demonstrates five opportunities associated with the shift to a circular economy: 1. Make better use of finite resources The circular economy concept is all about making better use of natural resources such as forests, soil, water, air, metals and minerals. Take the textiles industry. Each year, huge quantities of fossil fuels are used to produce clothes from synthetic fibers each year. Textile production (including cotton farming) uses almost 100 billion cubic meters of water per year, about 4 percent of global freshwater withdrawal. At the same time, people throw away still-wearable clothes worth an estimated $460 billion each year. Creating a circular economy for textiles means shifting to recycled and recyclable materials in order to reduce the amount of land, water and fossil fuels used to produce new clothes. It means changing consumption patterns to reduce new purchases and keep clothes in use for longer, for instance by developing the second-hand and rental markets as well as changing the culture of fast fashion. Research suggests that the purchase of 100 second-hand garments can displace the production of 85 new garments. And finally, it means ensuring that clothes at the end of their life are collected and recycled or repurposed into new clothes, further reducing resource use. 2. Reduce emissions About 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from product use and manufacturing, as well as food production. Circular economy strategies that reduce our use of resources can cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent (22.8 billion tons) and play a crucial role in averting the dangerous impacts of climate change. For example, shifting towards recycled materials would alleviate the need to produce virgin plastics and synthetic fibers, which would significantly reduce fossil fuel use and associated emissions. Changing consumption patterns is also crucial: For example, if the average number of times a garment is worn were doubled, greenhouse gas emissions from the textiles industry would be 44 percent lower. The world produces around 300 million tons of plastic waste every year, nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Creating a circular economy for food by reducing loss and waste is particularly crucial to lowering emissions: If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter after the United States and China. 3. Protect human health and biodiversity Every year, more than 9 million deaths occur due to air, water and soil pollution. This pollution also threatens biodiversity . Working towards a circular economy helps protect human health and biodiversity in many ways, including by making better use of natural resources (protecting water and land), and by mitigating the climate crisis. One of the clearest and most direct impacts of the shift to a circular economy will come from how we deal with products at the end of their life. The world produces around 300 million tons of plastic waste every year, nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. This is on top of 54 million tons of electronic waste (e-waste), of which just 17.4 percent gets collected and recycled. This waste becomes hazardous for human health and for biodiversity when it is mismanaged, either leaking into the natural environment or disposed of through open burning, landfills or substandard recycling. Designing products to be kept in use for longer reduces the amount of waste produced. Creating proper collection and processing systems protects workers and the environment from hazardous materials. For instance, using existing solutions such as replacing plastic other materials, designing plastics so that they can be more easily recycled and scaling up collection and recycling could reduce the flow of plastic waste into the ocean by 80 percent in 20 years — a shift that would be enormously beneficial for human health and biodiversity. 4. Boost economies Research shows that the circular economy offers a $4.5 trillion economic opportunity by reducing waste, stimulating innovation and creating employment. New business models focused on reuse, repair, remanufacturing and sharing models offer significant innovation opportunities. For example, a circular economy for plastics offers considerable economic benefits. Less plastic waste in the ocean would benefit industries such as fishing and tourism, as plastic pollution leads to $13 billion in costs and economic losses per year. Reducing the pollution and toxic emissions that come from the open burning of plastic waste would lower healthcare costs, while reducing fossil fuel use for plastic production would help mitigate climate change and its associated costs. Many of these economic benefits and opportunities are long-term, indirect and require significant investment; a long-term view is key, as are short-term incentives to drive the change. This can include policies that create more immediate financial incentives for businesses to develop innovative new business models and enable the efficient flow of reused and recycled materials across global value chains. 5. Create more and better jobs Transitioning to a circular economy could create a net increase of 6 million jobs by 2030 . Making the most of this opportunity will require a clear focus on social and environmental justice. Jobs may be lost in more linear businesses; however, new jobs will be created in fields such as recycling, services such as repair and rental, or in new enterprises that spring up to make innovative use of secondary materials. These new jobs cannot be considered direct replacements, as they may be in different locations and require different skills. For instance, we must consider the millions of garment workers — mostly women — whose employment depends on the continuation of the fast fashion industry. Investing in a just transition via social dialogue, social protection and reskilling programs is key. While a net increase in jobs is important, another value-add of circularity is the opportunity to provide formal work and improved working conditions for informal laborers. Around 15 million people worldwide work as “waste pickers,” salvaging reusable or recyclable materials from garbage. Bringing these informal waste pickers into formal work in collection or recycling is a major opportunity to offer safer, more secure employment. Maximizing the impact of the circular economy Of course, there are always trade-offs to be considered and managed when working towards large-scale, systemic change. For example, shifting to bio-based plastics and natural, recyclable textiles such as cotton will use less fossil fuels than traditional plastics or synthetic fibers, but may increase demands for land and water to grow such materials. Shifting to natural materials is a crucial part of the solution, but only if those materials are produced in a sustainable way — and only if consumption habits change, too. A long-term view is key, as are short-term incentives to drive the change. It’s also important to recognize the interconnected nature of the global economy. Many minerals and metals used in electronics are byproducts from the mining of aluminum, copper, lead and zinc, which are used across industries. Going circular in the electronics industry alone would not do much to reduce dependence on these resources. Multiple industries must shift to create systemic change. Finally, it will be crucial to keep social well-being and equity top-of-mind. For example, moving to a circular economy can shift investment and employment away from production and manufacturing (which tends to happen in lower-income countries) and towards later stages of the value chain, such as repair, resale, sorting and recycling (often concentrated in wealthier countries). We’ll need to ensure that economic benefits are equitably distributed to maximize the opportunity of a circular economy. A role for everyone The above five impact areas exhibit some of the social, environmental and economic benefits of a circular economy, but realizing these benefits will require ambitious action. Governments, businesses, civil society, finance institutions, research organizations — everyone has a role to play. The new Circular Economy Action Agenda is a good place to start. Pull Quote The world produces around 300 million tons of plastic waste every year, nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. A long-term view is key, as are short-term incentives to drive the change. Topics Circular Economy WRI Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Treating finite resources wisely is part of the picture. Shutterstock Hyper Story Close Authorship

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