This week’s Current Climate, which every Saturday brings you the latest news about the business of sustainability. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.
Stuart Kirk, HSBC Asset Management’s head of responsible investment, has been catching a lot of flak for comments he made yesterday expressing his view that the risk to financial markets from climate change is overstated. “Who cares if Miami is six meters underwater in 100 years?” he reportedly said. “Amsterdam has been six meters underwater for ages and that is a really nice place. We will cope with it.” Of course, one difference between Miami and Amsterdam is lead time–the dike system in the Netherlands that prevents flooding has its origins in the Iron Age and although the construction we see today really started moving in the 12th century, that’s still 900 years worth of engineering we’re talking about.
Kirk’s presentation, which you can watch for yourself here, was entitled “Why investors need not worry about climate risk.” And while Kirk acknowledged the risk of climate change he said he found the focus on climate “disproportionate” compared to more pressing concerns like inflation, noting that “at a big bank like ours, what do people think the average loan length is? It is six years. What happens to the planet in year seven is actually irrelevant to our loan book.”
But what truly caught my ear about his comments was something he said I was sympathetic to: “there’s always been some nutjob telling me about the end of the world.” I can relate. I get emails in my inbox all the time like that. But then he proceeded to reference the Y2K bug as a problem that never happened. But here’s the thing about the Y2K bug, if the folks reading this newsletter are old enough to remember it: one of the reasons why the crisis didn’t happen is because there were hundreds of billions of dollars spent by governments and industry for years to avoid the problem in the first place. In that case, the end of the world was averted thanks to more than a decade of preparation. The folks involved did their jobs so well that Y2K has become a punchline, which creates something of a paradox for crisis management, doesn’t it? If you foresee a problem well in advance and persuade people to help you prevent the problem from occurring, success means others will look back and claim there was never a problem in the first place.
The Big Read
‘Alarming’ Climate Records In 2021 Prompt UN Call To Triple Renewable Energy Investment To $4 Trillion
Four key indicators of climate change reached “alarming” record highs in 2021, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as it warned worsening climate change is poised to exact heavy financial losses, impose huge burdens of death and disease and threaten food and water security. U.N. Secretary-General Guterres proposed a five-point plan to kickstart the transition to renewable energies, including tripling private and public investment in the sector to at least $4 trillion a year, lifting intellectual property protections for renewable energy technologies—such as batteries—and transferring the technology freely around the world. Read more here.
Discoveries And Innovations
Pollution was responsible for more than 9 million deaths around the world in 2019, according to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health on Tuesday. Air pollution was the biggest culprit, accounting for nearly 75% of those deaths.
North Carolina-based company Biomason is working on concrete bricks that are grown using microbes. The bricks so far have similar properties to traditional concrete bricks, but are produced using zero carbon emissions.
Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory created a solar cell with a record 39.5% efficiency. “The new cell is more efficient and has a simpler design that may be useful for a variety of new applications, such as highly area-constrained applications or low-radiation space applications,” NREL scientist Myles Steiner said in a statement.
Researchers at the University of California Riverside have discovered a way to remove per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, AKA “forever chemicals” from water supplies at treatment centers. It only takes a few hours to rid water supplies of over 90% of the chemicals, which have been linked to potential health impacts though the matter is still under study.
Sustainability Deals Of The Week
A consortium led by H2GO Power has secured $5.3 million from the U.K. Government to roll-out a smart hydrogen storage system in the Orkney Islands.
Berkeley, CA-based UrbanFootprint announced Wednesday that it has raised a $25 million series B round led by Citi. The funds will be used to expand the company’s ability to provide intelligence to its real estate, government, energy and finance customers about infrastructure vulnerabilities to climate risks.
German solar power company Zolar has raised a $105 million series C round, led by Energy Impact Partners and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund. The company offers solar power installations for homeowners that can be purchased or leased.
On The Horizon
As wildfire season starts, one thing that has weather watchers worried are unusually high winds seen around the United States this spring. These persistent winds may be locked in for months, which could pose more supply chain issues and fuel the spread of wildfires.
What Else We’re Reading This Week
Green Transportation Update
Another week brings yet more Elon Musk news–and stock market pain for Tesla’s CEO. As the clean-tech billionaire’s pursuit of Twitter takes new twists he elaborated on the evolution of his political thinking. Since Musk began his gambit to acquire Twitter, he’s grown comfortable voicing partisan political views—usually on the social media platform he covets—including insults aimed at California, President Joe Biden and “the libs.” Musk says he’s now a Republican—joining a party that derided him in the past as a “crony capitalist” because he benefited from Democratic policies. Musk’s hostility toward California is especially surprising as it’s Tesla’s best market in the U.S., is home to its first plant and is the source of billions of dollars of free revenue from selling ZEV credits to other automakers. “Nobody ever accused Elon Musk of gratitude—or even a sense of proportion,” says Mary Nichols, former chair of California’s powerful Air Resources Board.
The Big Transportation Story
Elon Musk Goes On The Attack After Tesla Cut From S&P ESG Index
S&P Global’s explanation of why it cut the world’s leading electric vehicle maker from its ESG Index for sustainability-minded investors infuriated Elon Musk this week. The move was triggered by Tesla’s corporate behavior, including discrimination allegations from Black employees and federal investigations of its Autopilot feature in connection with fatal crashes, but an irate Musk took to Twitter to declare “ESG is a scam.” Read more here.