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Comic Relief gets serious about tackling the climate emergency

Comic Relief gets serious about tackling the climate emergency

Comic Relief, which banned fossil fuel investments last year, has joined more than 30 charities that have signed the Funder Commitment on Climate Change

A trio of charities have joined a fast-growing initiative encouraging charitable trusts and foundations to incorporate awareness of the climate emergency into their investment strategies, the bodies announced this morning.

Comic Relief, Power to Change, and Guy's and St Thomas' Charity have all joined the Funder Commitment on Climate Change, which was launched in November at the Association of Charitable Foundations annual conference.

Signatories to the Commitment publicly recognise that the climate emergency poses a serious threat to the pursuit of their charitable goals. As such they commit to taking action across six areas: educating stakeholders about causes and solutions of climate change; committing resources to work that seeks to address its causes and impacts; supporting a just transition; recognising climate change as a high-level risk to investments; taking action to minimise the carbon footprint of their own operations; and finally, reporting annually on progress against each of these five goals.

"As a funder dedicated to supporting community business, it's essential we play our part in tackling climate change," said Vidhya Alakeson, chief executive of Power to Change. "We're investing in finding new energy solutions through our Next Generation Fund, supporting communities to directly own local solar farms through our CORE programme, and we will be using our Community Business Weekend in May to highlight the ways that community businesses are addressing the climate crisis."

The addition of Comic Relief means that four of the top 20 largest foundations by giving in the UK are now pledged to the Funder Commitment, including the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Arcadia, and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

The commitment builds on Comic Relief's ban on fossil fuel investments, which was adopted last year. "Trustees of Comic Relief will not sanction an investment in companies whose primary business is the extraction or manufacture of fossil fuels without reason that is aligned with the organisation's charitable purpose," the charity said in its 2018-19 strategic report.

Comic Relief faced a storm of criticism in 2013 when it emerged it was investing in arms and tobacco companies. Since then it has prioritised ethical investment, stating in last year's report that the organisation recognises "the importance of investing responsibly and sustainably". "To make sure that our investments do not conflict with our Social Change strategy, our investment policy prohibits investing in companies which manufacture armaments or tobacco products," it added.

Comic Relief Interim Chief Executive Ruth Davison said: "It is vitally important that charities work together to address the climate crisis. As part of our climate commitment Comic Relief has now stopped investing in fossil fuels and we have adopted a strong ethical investments policy. As we continue to move towards greater sustainability, I am proud we have signed up to this important charter."

In total, 33 funders have signed the Funder Commitment since its launch last year.

SDG14: How to develop a cleaner ocean strategy

SDG14: How to develop a cleaner ocean strategy

From nurturing ocean carbon sinks to encouraging marine clean tech, there are steps all businesses can take to accelerate progress towards SDG14

Billions of people depend on the oceans for their food and livelihoods, but progress towards SDG14 remains stubbornly stuck in the slow lane. As the UN reflected in its most recent progress report, "increased efforts and interventions are needed to conserve and sustainably use ocean resources at all levels." Critics would argue that with coral reefs in rapid decline, over-fishing widespread, and oceans warming and acidifying at an unprecedented rate the UN's downbeat assessment is putting it mildly.

The transboundary nature of the seas can make effective government action difficult, as policy initiatives inevitably get bogged down in interminable negotiations and geopolitical power-plays. As such businesses have a key role to play in driving change so as to enhance and protect the marine environment. After all, it is the private sector that is both the primary cause of many of the pollution pressures placed on life under water and one of the main beneficiaries of the many economic benefits that flow from marine resources.

But what then can businesses do to advance SDG14 and get the world back on track for meeting this most critical of development goals. BusinessGreen takes a look at what businesses in a range of industries - from fishing to financial services - can do to develop an effective SDG14 strategy and better support the health of the world's marine ecosystems.


Shift perspective on the seas

As fish stocks have plummeted, so has the profitability of the commercial fishing industry. But rather than work with scientists to restore healthy populations, in Europe, the powerful commercial fishing lobby has pushed for catch limits far beyond scientifically recommended levels - even using press passes to gain access to critical ministerial negotiations.

For their part, officials have often been more than happy to accede to industry representatives demands for higher quotas, according to Professor Callum Roberts from York University.

"In Europe, fisheries ministers get together to agree quotas for fish stocks, but instead of accepting the size of the cake and dividing it up, they start by saying let's make a bigger cake," Roberts argues.

A key starting point, then, is for businesses to treat the oceans not as an alien wilderness, but rather as a key asset base for their profits.

"If you establish a hatchery, you don't just use what's there at the start and then let it go to rot - you invest in maintaining it," says Essam Y Mohammed, head of blue economy at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). "The same mentality is needed for marine resources."

Harness ocean-based solutions

While most people are aware of the role forests play in soaking up carbon dioxide, fewer know that oceans do the same. Both coastal habitats, such as mangrove and seagrass, and plankton on the open oceans, can act as highly effective carbon sinks.

Experts suggest that businesses should look for ways to harness this capacity to make their operations carbon neutral - or even carbon negative. A land-focused 'nature based solutions' sector is fast emerging as carbon intensive industries look to fund forest and peatland programmes that can help soak more emissions out of the atmosphere, but the oceans crucial role as a carbon sink risks being overlooked.

One sector with scope to deliver ocean-based offsets is aquaculture, an industry that is expanding at a rapid rate, but which has faced criticism over its environmental footprint.

Professor Sverre Steen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology suggests that aquaculture firms should cultivate seaweed to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

"Prognosis has shown that seaweed can absorb really large amounts of carbon dioxide when grown in large-scale farms," he says. "This can then be used simply as a deposit, or as a raw material for marking different types of food stuff or energy."

Aquaculture and other avenues for enhancing the ocean's capacity as a carbon sink come with inevitable risks and challenges, especially when it comes to ensuring promised long term emissions savings are delivered. But if these issues could be overcome then a potentially massive new green industry could quickly emerge, playing a critical role in tackling escalating global temperatures.

Prepare for and support regulatory change

Dealing with the crisis afflicting the world's oceans is going to require deep-reaching regulatory change. This will affect many industries, but shipping firms in particular need to make sure they are prepared, argues Erik Giercksky from the UN Global Compact.

"If you build a ship today it will last 30 years, and the only thing we know for sure is that emissions regulations will be much stricter 10 years down the line," he says. "Companies need to listen to experts and make sure they're aligned."

Firms can do more than just passively accept new regulations, however. Private companies have a big influence on policy, and they can use that influence to support industry-wide regulations to tackle environmental degradation. Some progressive shipping companies are already doing this with wide-ranging calls on the International Maritime Organisation to strengthen its climate plans. But these progressive trail-blazers could use with vocal support from more of their peers.

Marine scientist Marcus Eriksen says such an attitude is also urgently needed in the context of plastic pollution. "There needs to be much tougher regulation," he says. He points to revelations last year that a front group for the Plastics Industry Association was lobbying for bills that would make it impossible to ban single-use plastics in US state legislatures. At the time, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and SC Johnson were all Association members, although all have since quit following a public outcry.

"Industry has fought intensively against any semblance of responsibility to design products and packaging to be truly recyclable," Eriksen says. "This really needs to change."

Again, changes are already afoot with a growing band of green trade bodies calling for a more progressive approach, but if governments are to have the confidence to introduce robust new regulations then such groups need to keep growing in size and influence.

Support ocean-related clean tech

The oceans are set to provide a critical crucible for the global clean tech revolution. The offshore wind industry is already transforming the economics of clean power in northern Europe and has the potential to rapidly emerge as a globally significant source of energy, while developers retain high hopes that wave and tidal energy could yet follow suit. At the same time the global shipping industry will only be able to decarbonise if new clean technologies that enable battery, fuel cell, wind, and biofuel propulsion are commercialised fast. Similarly, the fledgling 'fake meat' alternative protein sector - as well as the fast expandingf aquaculture industry - could yet play a crucial role in curbing over-fishing.

Not all companies are in a position to invest directly in crucial R&D efforts to advance these three ocean-based clean tech industries, but virtually every company is a customer, directly or indirectly, of the energy, shipping, and food sectors. As such, all businesses can help apply pressure by calling on their suppliers and supply chains to demonstrate how they are planning to decarbonise and deliver on the SDGs over the next decade.      

Consider the risk and insurance implications of changing seas

Finally, rising seas and changing weather patterns will put trillions of dollars of coastal infrastructure at risk over the next few decades. These escalating risks have huge implications for everyone, but two industries in particular are right in the climate impact firing line: insurance and investment.

Investors need to quickly recognise that rising sea levels could trigger massive stranded asset risks, especially if some of the worst case scenarios come to pass. It is entirely plausible that some of the world's largest economic hubs and most expensive seafront properties could succumb to worsening storms over the course of the century.

Similarly, insurers face some tough choices as they weigh up the risks posed by the changing seas. However, there are opportunities here too if industry's as influential as investment and insurance crank up pressure on companies to embrace more sustainable practices.

As Giercksky concludes: "if firms are finding it difficult to get insurance or to finance shipping vessels, they'll soon be out of the game. It's an effective way to apply pressure."

£30bn pension partnership promises to align holdings with Paris Agreement goals

£30bn pension partnership promises to align holdings with Paris Agreement goals

Brunel Pension Partnership also promises to ditch asset managers who fail to act on climate

Brunel Pension Partnership, one of the UK's eight local government pension fund pools which holds around £30bn of assets, will today set out an aggressive new climate policy promising to align its holdings with the goals of the Paris Agreement and lean heavily on asset managers to do the same.

Brunel, which manages the investments of ten local government pension schemes, promised today to challenge the "not fit for purpose" asset management industry to deliver more climate-friendly investments.

The body's new climate strategy includes a promise that between now and 2022 Brunel will demand that its holdings move towards alignment with a sub-2C warming trajectory, with those that fail to take action risking divestment as part of a 2022 stocktake exercise.

In addition, Brunel promised to challenge investment managers to demonstrate they have reduced exposure to climate risk and effectively engaged with corporates on climate change. Managers who fail to comply risk having their mandates removed, Brunel warned.

The Partnership said it had adopted the new stance because it believes the finance sector is "part of the problem" when it comes to the climate crisis. It accused the sector of focusing too much on short term performance rather than long-term value, of failing to invest enough in the low-carbon economy, and not accurately analysing and responding to climate risk.

"Our clients have high ambitions on climate change, but the finance sector does not currently offer a sufficient range or quality of climate-aware products and expertise across all asset classes to meet their needs," said CEO Laura Chappell. "We want to enable our clients to integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation across their investment strategies in a substantive way."

Brunel also said it would do more to push policymakers to deliver a low-carbon financial system, by lobbying for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and the introduction of "meaningful" carbon prices. It said it had consulted extensively with stakeholders before committing to the new strategy, including the pension funds it manages.

"This groundbreaking policy sets out ambitious expectations for our investment managers and assets, which will enable us to protect our beneficiaries' pensions well into the future," said Tony Bartlett, head of business finance and pensions at Avon Fund, one of Brunel's clients. "And it demonstrates the power of partnership - within the Brunel pool and beyond - that will be required to respond effectively to the financial risks posed by climate change."

Can you nudge people away from single use plastic?

Can you nudge people away from single use plastic?

Hubbub's Trewin Restorick asks the burning question on plastic waste

Every year, three billion hot drink cups are used in the UK and it's estimated that less than five per cent are sold to people bringing a reusable cup.  This relatively low percentage is despite the fact that many coffee chains provide a 25p discount for coffee bought in a reusable.  For all the chatter inspired by the BBC's Blue Planet, it seems people are reluctant to make even a fairly simple change away from disposable products.

Hubbub undertook research to discover why the change is not happening.  There seems to be a desire to make the shif,t with public polling revealing that over two-thirds of people have their own reusable coffee cup. But tellingly only one in six say they remember to use them every time they buy a hot drink. 

The most common reason for this gap in reusable cup usage is consumers forgetting to take their cup with them when they leave home in the morning.  The number of people using reusable cups drops off during the day as people feel uncomfortable asking retail outlets to wash their cups and refill them.   People also felt awkward asking coffee chain staff to fill reusable cups - particularly if that cup was from a competitive brand.

Based on this insight, Hubbub decided to run an experimental campaign in Manchester to see if nudge communications could change behaviour.  The campaign was funded by the 5p voluntary charge that Starbucks has added to the cost of coffee bought in disposable cups.

Our first challenge was how to remind people to take their disposable coffee cups with them during their busy morning routines when a mass of other things, such as how to get children to school on time, fight for attention. 

Our solution was to create a short ‘earworm' radio jingle encouraging people to grab their cup before heading out.  The jingle was devised by Huey Morgan of Fun Lovin Criminals and 6 Music fame.  It must be the first time a radio jingle has been used to encourage reusable cups.  The animated video and audio track by Huey Morgan can be downloaded from here

The second challenge was how to make people feel more comfortable about taking a reusable cup into coffee stores.  To deliver this objective Hubbub persuaded Caffe Nero, Costa, Greggs, McDonald's, Starbucks and independent stores across Manchester to share the same ‘Bring your Cup' branded messaging in outlets.  This provided city-wide communication illustrating the collaborative nature of the campaign.

The final challenge was how to demonstrate to people that it should become the social norm to drink from a reusable cup.  Theoretically this would nudge people who were wavering to change their behaviour.   To deliver on this objective digital advertising was bought through-out the city centre reinforcing the reuse message.

The behaviour change campaign was built around consumer insight with specific interventions created to address each barrier to action.  The campaign is being independently monitored and Hubbub will be openly sharing results.  This will be the first of a number of campaigns that Hubbub will deliver over the coming year with the objective of doubling the take-up of reusable cups.

Trewin Restorick is co-founder and CEO of Hubbub.

Rolls-Royce targeting mini nuclear power stations by 2029

Rolls-Royce targeting mini nuclear power stations by 2029

Firm tells BBC it wants small modular reactors up and running across the country before the end of the decade

Rolls-Royce is aiming to have mini nuclear power stations up and running across the UK from 2029, claiming its smaller reactors can produce energy at a cost comparable to renewables projects.  

The engineering giant is leading a consortium bid to build Small Modular Reactors (SMR) at old nuclear sites in Cumbria and Wales. The SMRs, which can be built in factories, are about one acre in size, with a 10 acre total plot required - one sixteenth of the size of a full size nuclear plant.

The government believes nuclear power will be an essential zero carbon baseload energy source for the UK as it heads towards net zero emissions, and that SMRs can prove a morecost effective way of rolling out new nuclear capacity than traditional larger stations. But some experts warn smaller reactors could push costs up, citing the nuclear industry's long history of cost-overruns with new reactor designs. Meanwhile, many environmentalists remain concerned about the nuclear industry's waste legacy and believe the UK should abandon nuclear entirely. As such any attempt to secure planning consent for new reactors is likely to face fierce opposition from some quarters.

However, Paul Stein, chief scientific officer at Rolls-Royce, insisted SMRs will be a cheaper and more attractive option than full size reactors. "We think we can get the cost of a power station producing 440MW - that powers a town about the size of Leeds - to about £1.75bn," he told BBC Radio 4. "If you go through the maths of the cost of capital, it means we are selling electricity below £60 per MWh, which puts it into the territory of many of the renewables."

The most recent offshore wind projects to secure clean energy contracts through government-backed auctions tabled bids of just under £40/MWh, although the sector is optimistic it can continue to deliver further cost reductions in the future. However, nuclear advocates argue nuclear is worthy of government support given its promise of long term zero emission power and relatively reliable baseload supplies.

"Our plan is to get energy on grid in 2029," Stein added, with 10 to 15 SMRs eventually rolled out across the UK.

This article was amended on 27/01/20 to correct the results of the most recent wind auction, which contracted offshore wind at under £40 per MWh, not £60 per MWh as previously stated. 

NHS England aims to chart course towards net zero emissions

NHS England aims to chart course towards net zero emissions

Three major new initiatives launched in support of NHS's decarbonisation vision

NHS England is to launch a trio of initiatives aimed at reducing the health service's contribution to climate change and air pollution, as it strives to become the first major health service in the world to reach net zero emissions, chief executive Simon Stevens announced on Saturday.

Health and care systems are responsible for an estimated 5.4 per cent of the UK's carbon footprint, according to a recent report, making decarbonising healthcare critical if the UK is to reach its overarching 2050 net zero goal.

In support of the new goal NHS England confirmed it is establishing an expert panel to set out how the health service can reach net zero ahead of the national 2050 deadline. Chaired by Dr Nick Watts, an expert on links between climate change and health, the NHS Net Zero Expert Panel will examine the health service's energy use and how it can source more renewable energy. It will also look at where changes to the service's medical equipment and pharmaceutical supplies could cut emissions, and explore how technology could be used to reduce the number of outpatient appointments, which result in associated transport emissions.

Watts is also executive director of the Lancet Countdown, an initiative from the influential journal to the how climate change is affecting health outcomes.

"The impact of climate change on our health is there for all to see and at the Lancet Countdown, we have amassed the evidence to encourage health systems across the world to take action," said Watts. "The NHS in England leads the world in taking action on climate change and improving public health along the way, so I am delighted to have been asked by Sir Simon Stevens to help chart a route to a net zero health service."

The panel will submit an interim report to NHS England in the summer with the final report expected in the autumn, ahead of the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in November.

Alongside developing an overarching plan to reach net zero emissions, the NHS also confirmed this weekend that it is planning to take immediate action in 2020 to reduce emissions. A proposed new NHS Standard Contract calls on hospitals to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and estates, while also switching to less polluting anaesthetic gases and better asthma inhalers. In addition, managers are putting forward a range of suggestions for ways that NHS staff can shrink their carbon footprint, encouraging active travel to work such as walking or cycling, the use of reusable cups and bottles instead of single-use plastic, and turning off monitors and photocopiers instead of leaving them on standby.

The plans will be supported by a new campaign, ‘For a Greener NHS', which will encourage staff to reduce their impact on people's health and the environment.

"With almost 700 people dying potentially avoidable deaths due to air pollution every week, we are facing a health emergency as well as a climate emergency,"said NHS head Sir Simon Stevens. "While the NHS is already a world leader in sustainability, as the biggest employer in this country comprising nearly a tenth of the UK economy, we're both part of the problem and part of the solution. That's why today we are mobilising our 1.3 million staff to take action for a greener NHS, and it's why we'll be working with the world's leading experts to help set a practical, evidence-based and ambitious date for the NHS to reach net zero."

The changing climate is increasing pressure on the NHS through more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flooding, as well as the potential spread of infectious diseases to the UK. Almost 900 people were killed by last summer's heatwave, according to analysis by Public Health England. A third of new asthma cases might be avoided by cutting emissions, while Lyme Disease and encephalitis are among conditions expected to become more common as temperatures rise, NHS England said.

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