A new report has highlighted the global insurance industry’s continued failure to recognise the existential threats posed by climate change.

The Asset Owners Disclosure Project, an independent, non-profit analysed the performance of the world’s top 80 insurance companies in adapting to a low-carbon economy.

They looked at whether insurer’s had a climate strategy, targets and any risk management policies in place using both publicly available information and private surveying.

It shows that progress is being made in Europe and Japan, but that the United States seriously lags behind.

And taken as a whole, nine out of ten investment strategies in the sector weren’t aligned to the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

Analysts also found that less than 0.5 percent of the group’s estimated $15 trillion assets were placed in low-carbon investments.

Zelda Bentham, Group Head of Sustainability at Aviva, said: “It is clear from the report that there is much more to do. Increased action on addressing climate risk is needed throughout the insurance sector value chain, on both the asset and liability side, if we are to continue in our role as society’s risk manager.”

Some of the world’s largest insurers did perform well in the rankings; AXA and Aviva both topped the chart, receiving an AAA rating.

German insurance giant Allianz came in third and UK’s Legal & General climbed an impressive eight places to claim forth. The insurer received a D rating last year, but is now at AA, highlighting the progress that can be made in a short amount of time.

Japan’s Tokio Marine was the only non-European company in the top ten, having moved up six places in the past year. Overall Japanese companies showed significant improvement on climate transparency, possibly led by recent action from the government’s huge pension fund.

However, US insurers performed particularly badly with only 3 of the 24 companies assessed receiving a rating above D or X, the lowest rankings.

Katharina Latif, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Allianz, commented: “As an institutional investor and insurer we are supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy with both our insurance solutions and investments. Climate action is a strategic priority for us and we, therefore, engage investee companies as well as international policy-makers to walk the talk.”

Photo Credit: Michele Ursino/Flickr

Read more: Global insurance industry making slow progress...

A government survey of the top pension funds in the UK has found mixed results on the group’s approach to climate change.

The Environmental Audit Committee requested information from the leading 25 funds on how they are responding to climate risk and whether it is changing investment decisions.

The Committee split the responses into three categories. It identified a ‘more engaged’ group of 11 funds, which supported climate-related financial disclosures and most were committed towards doing so. This included 7 of the largest funds in the country.

A second group of 8 remained engaged but were more cautious and less committed to reporting on climate change. While there was some evidence of responsible investment, it was less embedded within its work.

A quarter of pension funds surveyed were seen as less engaged and had not even considered climate change as a risk. This group displayed “little reported evidence of strategic input or oversight from the pension scheme’s governing body”, according to the Committee. 10 of the funds also had no plans to report on climate risk.

The encouraging news from the poll showed that 20 of the funds were able to list at least one action taken on climate risk, and almost half had discussed the issue at Board level.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, commented: "It is encouraging that a majority of the UK’s largest pension funds say they are taking steps to manage the risks that climate change poses to UK pension investments. But a minority of funds appear worryingly complacent. Pension funds should at least assess the exposure of their assets to the physical, transition and liability risks from climate change that will materialise during savers’ lifetimes.”

The survey is part of the Committee’s ongoing inquiry into green finance in the UK, and the government’s stated aim to develop ‘world-leading’ capabilities in the sector.

Read more: UK pension funds are ‘worryingly complacent’ on...

The European Commission has released fresh proposals to ensure the financial sector contributes towards combating climate change.

New rules and guidance have been created to make it easier for investors to understand and act on sustainability and climate risk concerns. The creation of a ‘taxonomy’ will help define and clarify what investments are, and aren’t, green.

The regulations also propose forcing asset managers and institutional investors to disclose how they are factoring in environmental risk into their investment decisions.

“All financial entities that manage investments on behalf of their clients or beneficiaries will now have to inform them about how their activities are impacting the planet or their local environment,” said the Commission in a written statement. This is intended to create more choice for investors “who wish to invest in the future of the planet while earning a return.”

The proposals build on the Commission’s ongoing work to accelerate sustainable finance within Europe. Its recent Action Plan set out an initial strategy on the issue, which aimed to ensure finance benefitted the planet and society.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice President for financial affairs said the actions “show that the European Union is committed to ensuring that our investments go in the right direction.”

“They are about harnessing the vast power of capital markets in the fight against climate change and promoting sustainability."

Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President responsible for jobs and investment commented that an estimated €180 billion a year is needed to meet the EU’s 2030 climate targets.

“Today’s proposals will increase transparency of sustainable finance and the investment opportunities it offers, so that investors have reliable information available to enable the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient and circular economy."

The rules will next go to the European Parliament and Council for approval before being made law before 2022.

Credit: Photo YourSpace

Read more: New EU rules will make investors report on...

Technology giant Intel is making strong progress towards sustainability.

The company’s annual report on its corporate responsibilities, released last week, highlights the array of measures it is taking towards meet its environmental goals.

Intel has a target to reduce its direct greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent a year by 2020. Its latest analysis shows the company is on track to achieve this, having decreased the carbon intensity of its operations by 20 percent in 2017.

The company’s commitment to climate action is significant given its global presence; it operates multiple offices in over 70 countries and employs 106,000 people.

In the past five years it has ramped up its investments in energy conservation, spending 185 million on 2,000 projects, which have helped save an estimated 3 million megawatt hours. 2017 alone saw savings of 142,000 megawatt hours thanks to 189 conservation projects across its global business.

100 percent of its power use in the United States and European Union is now sourced from renewables, and globally this totals 73 percent of energy usage.

Focussing on energy efficiency has also proved to be good business sense as it has led to economic savings of more than $400 million, according to the company.

In addition to energy measures, in 2017 it set a new goal of ensuring 100 percent of its global water usage is restored to local communities by 2025, up from the current rate of 18 percent.

“We continue to explore new opportunities to apply our technology to help solve major societal challenges, from protecting endangered species and understanding the impacts of climate change, to treating cancer and respecting human rights,” commented Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich.

The company has also made progress in improving the environmental performance of its buildings. 25 percent of its building space has achieved the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. This equates to over 15 million square feet across 46 buildings.

“We also continued to advance the application of digital efficiency technologies that empower others to reduce their own environmental footprints,” he added.

Source: Intel

Read more: Intel makes sure sustainability is inside its...

Hilton Hotels has made a major step towards supporting efforts to tackle climate change and support sustainable development.

New targets have been set across the business to reduce carbon emissions, heavily cut consumption and promote sustainability.

It now has a goal to cut carbon emissions by 61 percent by 2030, creating in line with the Science Based Targets initiative. The campaign exists to help major corporates how to cut emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement.

The global brand operates over 570 hotels worldwide and the move could spur the industry to make similar strong commitments to tackle climate change.

A recent study found that the tourism industry’s carbon footprint is, in fact, four times higher than first thought, contributing 8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Along with its carbon target, water consumption and waste will now be reduced by 50 percent; all plastic straws will be removed from its managed properties, and all soap will now be recycled.

The company has also pledged to ensure it sustainably sources its meat, poultry, seafood and cotton.

“For nearly 100 years, Hilton has been driven by our mission to have a positive impact on the communities surrounding our hotels,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, President and CEO, Hilton, “In this Golden Age of Travel, we are taking a leadership role to ensure that the destinations where travelers work, relax, learn and explore are vibrant and resilient for generations of adventurers yet to come.”

Hilton has been working on sustainability issues for the past ten years. In that time it has managed to reduce both its carbon emissions and waste by 30 percent. In addition, it has reduce its energy and water consumption by 20 percent. These efficiency improvements have made sound business sense, saving the company an estimate $1 billion.

“Companies play an integral role in solving our climate crisis,” said Sheila Bonini, Senior Vice President, Private Sector Engagement, WWF. “By committing to significant intensity emissions reductions based on science, Hilton is setting in motion a plan that will have ripple effects across the hospitality industry while providing more sustainable options for travelers.”

Read more: Hilton makes new commitment to slash emissions...

Hamburg has become the first German city to restrict the use of diesel vehicles in response to a court ruling earlier this year.

Germany’s second largest city has started to unveil signs preventing older diesel vehicles, which do not meet EU emissions standards, from entering two major thoroughfares. The ban will take force on 31 May, according to the local government, and police will issue fines of up to 75 euros to offending vehicles.

The move follows a ruling from Germany’s Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig that regions could legally restrict diesel cars to tackle high levels of air pollution.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze reportedly told a German national newspaper that “driving bans like those in Hamburg show how serious the situation is.” She implored manufacturers to retrofit existing diesel cars to lower emissions, adding “it’s up to the car industry now.”

The ban will affect a stretch of road one mile long in the city centre, impacting only commercial diesel vehicles, and a separate road around 580 metres long, covering all diesel vehicles.

The Reuters news agency reports that out of the 330,000 diesel cars on Hamburg’s roads, only 116,000 are fitted with the more efficient Euro-6 technology, introduced in 2014.  The older, more polluting models are associated with a range of cardiovascular diseases, and directly contribute to thousands of premature deaths.

Germany is one of six countries, including the UK and France, being taken to court by the European Commission for its failure to meet the EU’s air quality standards. The Commission identified 26 areas in Germany, including Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, which were in violation of nitrogen dioxide levels.

Julia Poliscanova at the think tank Transport & Environment said the decision to take them to court showed governments “cannot go on allowing citizens to be poisoned by toxic air”.

“Now it’s time to get tough on the main cause of the breach: the manufacturers of the 40 million dirty diesel cars and vans still on Europe’s roads.”

Read more: Hamburg applies the brakes on diesel vehicles

New research has found a clear correlation between the phasing out of fossil fuel power plants and improved public health.

Academics from the University of California at Berkeley delved into public health records to assess what impact local power plant closures may have had on early birth rates.

Eight coal and oil plants closed in California between 2001 and 2011. The researchers found that those babies who were born too early dropped from 7 to 5.1 percent one year after these closures.

Preterm births, defined as between 32 and 37 weeks, are caused by health problems often linked to external factors.

The researchers expressed surprise that birth rates within 5km of the plants dropped by so much, but that the data remained consistent with similar research on the matter

The rates for African-American and Asian women fell further, from 14.4 to 11.3 percent.

“We were excited to do a good news story in environmental health,” said lead author Joan Casey. “Most people look at air pollution and adverse health outcomes, but this is the flip side: We said, let’s look at what happens when we have this external shock that removes air pollution from a community and see if we can see any improvements in health.”

The research highlights another benefit of making the transition to low-carbon and renewable forms of energy.

Pauline Mendola of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development applauded the work, while pointing out that preterm births was “one of our most intractable health disparities.”

“Perhaps it’s time for the health of our children to be the impetus behind reducing the common sources of ambient air pollution. Their lives depend on it,” she added.

The paper was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Fossil fuel closures in California between 2001 and 2011

Source: UC Berkeley

Read more: Closure of fossil fuel plants in California...

A wind farm developed by a housing association has exceeded expectations in its first year of operation.

Since its construction last year, the Fisherman Three wind farm has generated 24 million units of clean electricity, helping to provide £37,500 in community benefits.

The project consists of three wind turbines located on the Scottish coast, near to a nuclear power station.

It was developed by the Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA) as an innovative way of funding new, affordable housing in the area. The non-profit organisation teamed up with Community Energy Scotland in a unique partnership which also funds local initiatives and lowers carbon emissions.

It’s expected that over the project’s 25-year lifespan it will generate £20 million in revenue, and support the construction of 500 new homes in the area.

The strong performance of the wind farm in its first year has powered the equivalent of 7,700 homes, more than BHA’s entire housing stock.

BHA’s Chief Executive Helen Forsyth said: “This has been a very good first year for us. It has been fascinating learning about the running of the wind farm and we are very upbeat about the future and the income we will be able to put back into the communities.”

The first payment will be spent on local community priorities and good causes, such as a new village hall.

Nicholas Gubbins, Chief Executive of CES, added: “We are delighted with the performance of The Fishermen Three, which has exceeded the forecast for its first year. The wind farm is on course to make an important financial contribution to our work helping Scottish communities address their energy issues.”

A second housing association in Scotland has since announced plans to develop a similar project to fund a range of community needs.

Read more: Unique renewables project is funding social...

England is facing increased water pressures due to the combined challenges of a growing population, climate change, and unsustainable land use.

These are the key findings from a new report from the government’s Environment Agency, which looked at the state of the country’s water resources.

An astonishing 3 billion litres of water are also lost every day simply from leaks, equivalent to the amount used by 20 million people.

In 2016, 9.5 trillion litres of freshwater was extracted from the country’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, among others. However, both groundwater and surface water usage was seen to be at levels which weren’t sustainable in the long run.

Population in England alone (not including the rest of the UK) is expected to hit 58.5 million people by 2026, creating new pressures in areas where water availability is already under strain.

“Projections suggest that if no action is taken to reduce demand and increase supply of water, most areas will not meet demand by the 2050s,” warns the report.

“Even low population growth and modest climate change scenarios suggest significant water supply deficits by the 2050s, particularly in the south-east.”

Climate change is also impacting the timing and nature of rainfall in England, causing hotter summers and warmer, wetter winters. Rainfall during summer could also come in the form of shorter, bigger downpours, a situation where flooding and drought could exist at the same time.

The increased likelihood of drought and increased temperatures could also lead to the spread of diseases, such as dengue fever, carried by mosquitoes.

Unsustainable practices in the use of available land are also compounding water pressures:  increased urbanisation, draining wetlands, mining and agricultural practices all need to be managed more carefully and sustainably.

“It is not yet clear what the exact extent of some of the impacts will be. However there is strong evidence that action must continue to reduce demand, increase supply and minimise wasting of water to prevent future shortages and limit environmental damage,” the report concludes.

Earlier this year, the Environment Agency also launched a public campaign to raise awareness about the risks of flooding.

Read more: England facing water shortages due to...

An energy start-up has secured investment to build what will be world’s largest battery network.

UK-based Pivot Power has unveiled plans to construct the 2 gigawatt project, which will see new grid-scale batteries and rapid charging stations installed across the country.

This is designed to support the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and help the National Grid work more flexibly in response to renewable energy.

The UK Government announced plans last year to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Pivot Power’s £1.6 billion programme will see 50 megawatt batteries constructed at 45 sites, located near major towns and roads to also help supply new rapid EV charging stations.

The ambitious plan represents a major leap forward in the transition to clean energy, and dwarfs existing battery projects in the UK. The network will be able to store roughly two thirds the energy of the planned Hinkley C nuclear power plant.

If successful, it will also be the world’s largest, meeting the energy needs of 235,000 homes for a day.

Graeme Cooper at National Grid said: “We expect the use of electric vehicles to grow rapidly. This innovative solution will help accelerate adoption by providing a network of rapid charging stations across the country enabling cars to charge quickly, efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.

“It will also give the system operator more choice and flexibility for managing the demands in the day to day running of the network, and also help mass EV charging”.

The company aims to have batteries up and running at 10 sites within the next 18 months. A site in Southampton on England’s south coast could be built by 2019 if it secures planning permission.

Pivot Power’s CEO Matt Allen said: “We want to future-proof the UK’s energy system and accelerate the electric vehicle revolution, helping the UK to clean up its air and meet climate targets. Big problems require big solutions, and we are moving fast to put in place a unique network to support a clean, affordable, secure energy system and embrace the low-carbon economy.”

Energy entrepreneur Michael Liebreich, an early investor in the project, said: “Pivot Power were quick to understand the scale and nature of the opportunity and have positioned themselves brilliantly.”

Photo Credit: Nick Birse/Wikimedia Commons

Read more: Pivot Power to build ‘world first’ battery network

A draft bill put before the Scottish Parliament has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions to almost zero by 2050.

The 90 percent reduction target is an increase on the current 80 percent level set by the UK-wide Climate Change Act in 2008.

The Scottish Government also added that a 100 percent, or net zero, target will be reviewed and implemented as soon as possible.

Its interim targets are also set to change by the new bill, which the government described as the most ambitious in the world. Its existing targets see a 42 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, which now increase to 56 percent within two years, and 66 percent by 2030.

Latest analysis has shown that as of 2015 Scotland had managed to reduce its carbon emissions by 38 percent below 1990 levels. The new target means much stronger action will be required from all sections of society.

Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the bill will become legally binding and cover all aspects of the economy.

“The fight against climate change is a moral responsibility but Scotland’s academic and engineering expertise, coupled with our outstanding natural resources, mean it is also an economic opportunity.”

“Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our age and Scotland’s international leadership means our plans must be ambitious, credible and affordable – which is exactly what the new Climate Change Bill delivers,” she added.

Despite these strong words, some environmentalists expressed disappointment that the bill didn’t go further. Tom Ballantine, Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland said the Scottish Government “has failed to live up to its own rhetoric on global climate change leadership, by failing to set a net zero emissions target in the Climate Change Bill published today.”

“As it stands, this Bill does not deliver on the Paris Agreement, and it does not deliver climate justice to those who are already feeling the devastating impacts of climate change.”

Earlier this year, WWF Scotland published analysis which showed the carbon footprint of Scottish households had fallen by 25 percent since 2009.

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Photo Credit: Colin/Wikimedia Commons

Read more: Scotland sets a new 90% carbon reduction target

The world’s largest public oil producer is planning to reduce its methane emissions by 15 percent by 2020.

ExxonMobil made the announcement today along with plans to reduce flaring at gas sites by 25 percent and increase energy efficiency measures.

The oil giant will achieve this through making operational improvements such as ‘leak detection and repair’ efforts, which have led to a 2 percent drop in the past year.

“We have a longstanding commitment to improve efficiency and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions,” said Darren W. Woods, chairman and chief executive officer. “Today’s announcement builds on that commitment and will help further drive improvements in our business.”

The company will seek to improve energy efficiency across its refining and chemicals manufacturing business, although it did not provide details.

Exxon claims to have spent $9 billion on technologies to lower emissions since 2000, including carbon capture, biofuels, and flare reduction.  It expects to make the most ground on meeting its new goal on flaring by targeting its West Africa operations.

Flaring is used to ease the pressure on equipment by burning gas, which is then released into the atmosphere. Widespread use of the technique is a major source of carbon emissions.

Exxon’s news comes at a time of increased pressure on oil and gas companies to make stronger commitments on climate change. A group of sixty major investors called on the sector to “take responsibility” for its carbon emissions in a letter to the Financial Times last week.

Royal Dutch Shell also defeated a motion to set targets in line with the Paris Agreement at its annual general meeting this week. The meeting was dominated by discussions on the company’s actions to lower its carbon emissions.

BP has tried to stave off shareholder revolts by placing a cap on future carbon emissions out to 2025.

Read more: ExxonMobil sets new targets to reduce greenhouse...

Sales of new electric vehicles (EVs) will reach 11 million within the next eight years, according to new analysis.

Last year saw a record 1.1 million of new sales, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Its latest market forecast shows EVs going from strength-to-strength and will increasingly become a dominant force in the automobile industry. By 2030, sales are expected to reach 30 million, accounting for 28 percent of the global market.

China will drive this growth with 39 percent of all EV sales taking place within the country by end of the next decade. Electric buses are also the star performer in the new modelling, with China again making up the majority of demand, to which other countries will follow.

Last year, the country contributed an astonishing 99 percent of global sales in e-buses, and there are now a total of 300,000 such vehicles on its roads.

Looking further out to 2040, BNEF predicts 80 percent of the world’s municipal bus fleet to be an electric. An important development given the sector’s significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

The EV market is also expected to displace 7.3 million barrels a day of transport fuel within the next 20 years, but will inevitably contribute to higher demand of electricity, adding 6 percent to the global need.

In addition, sourcing the materials needed for batteries, such as lithium and cobalt, could provide a challenge to continued growth.

Salim Morsy, senior transportation analyst, said: “While we’re optimistic on EV demand over the coming years, we see two important hurdles emerging. In the short term, we see a risk of cobalt shortages in the early 2020s that could slow down some of the rapid battery cost declines we have seen recently. Looking further out, charging infrastructure is still a challenge.”

Climate Action has previously reported on whether charging points can keep up with the increased demand for cleaner forms of transport.

Read more: Electric vehicle sales will top 10 million by 2025

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