Climate March Dublin

Over a million people worldwide marched yesterday to call for political action on climate change. About 5,000 people attended the march in Dublin, which culminated in a rally outside Leinster House. Speakers here included broadcaster Duncan Stewart, Chairman of Friends of the Earth Ireland Oisin Coughlan and Lorna Gold of Trocaire.

Some pictures of the Dublin march below, and some great pictures from elsewhere around the world from the Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2015/nov/29/global-climate-march-2015-in-pictures

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Irish Green Party leader Eamonn Ryan with the party’s banner

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Concerned snowman

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Some climate marchers were inspired by Father Ted

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Protesters gather for the rally

 

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Climate March Sunday 29th November

https://www.trocaire.org/sites/trocaire/files/peoplesclimate-900.jpg

This Sunday a Global Climate March will take place in advance of the COP21 negotiations, which begin in Paris on Monday. The march aims to send a public message to world leaders ahead of the crucial talks, where it is hoped to draw up an international framework to limit global warming to below 2 degrees celsius. Marches are taking place in a number of cities around the world.

http://globalclimatemarch.org/en/

The Irish march is in Dublin, starting from Custom House Quay at 2pm and marching to Leinster House (Goverment buildings).

https://www.facebook.com/events/432542056954797/

Stop Climate Chaos are organising the Dublin march, and their website is a good source of news on Irish climate change activism in general:

http://www.stopclimatechaos.ie/

 

Kilkenomics 2015

A couple of weeks ago Ireland’s annual “Economics and Comedy” festival took place in Kilkenny. But despite its tagline, Kilkenomics is very much an economics festival, with the comedy provided by the MCs of the in-depth panel discussions. The festival was the brainchild of economist David McWilliams and in this, its sixth year, it ran over four days.

Kilkenomics hosted some leading economic thinkers from around Europe, including former Greek finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and UK academic Richard Murphy, economic advisor to recently-elected UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The latter featured in a debate on Friday night of the festival on “The Economics of Radical Politics”, with fellow participants Stephanie Kelton, a US academic, FT journalist Liam Halligan and consultant and entrepreneur Vikas Nath. The panel was divided roughly into “right” and “left” (ideologically, not sides of the stage..) with Murphy and Kelton on the left and Halligan and Nath broadly on the right.

Kelton and Murphy were both speaking in their capacities as political advisors; Kelton is an advisor to US senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Murphy began by pointing out that Sanders and Corbyn are not actually “radical” politicians. He argued that their views (and his own), now considered left-wing, would have been “centre-right”, when he first became politicised in the early 1970s. He spoke of “absurd reactions to sensible suggestions” in the political arena and stressed the need for higher taxation for large companies. At the very end of the session, Murphy highlighted this point in an Irish context, saying that “the 12.5% [corporation tax] has to go”.

Murphy’s prescription for the economy revolves around “people’s quantitative easing”, which would basically require the central bank to “print money” and invest it in infrastructure. These links offer a more eloquent explanation:

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/14/is-jeremy-corbyns-policy-of-quantitative-easing-for-people-feasible

On the right of the panel, Liam Halligan suggested a seperation between investment and commercial banking, while Vikas Nath was keen on tax breaks for entrepreneurs. Based on their combative interaction, he probably wouldn’t like Murphy’s recent book:

http://www.transworldbooks.co.uk/editions/the-joy-of-tax/9780593075173

Moving on, a debate on “Capitalism v. Climate Change” was held on Saturday, again featuring Kelton, along with Constantin Gurdgiev of TCD, business journalist and consultant George Cooper and Larry Elliot from the Guardian. After briefly incurring the wrath of the audience with a protracted debate on the definition and very existence of climate change, the panel concentrated on the role of technology in adaptation and mitigation. Gurdgiev stressed that the conversation in Kilkenny was “taking place among the filthy rich” and that inequality is the key issue. He identified paying for renewable energy in developing countries as a crucial problem.

The session closed with a discussion on overconsumption, with the panel agreeing that this was an issue in the developed world. Perhaps with a desire to end on a positive note, Gurdgiev and Cooper suggested that younger people have a different attitude to consumption, fuelled by the internet, with Gurdgiev referring to people who want more from their job than money, and Cooper citing children’s requests for Christmas presents with an ostensibly smaller carbon footprint, such as smartphones or tablets, rather than bulky toys. Not sure that the latter argument holds, however, when a new device is purchased twice a year…

Ultimately, the message was that we must consume differently, less but of a higher quality, spend less on goods and more on experiences. While not revolutionary (e.g. see Natural Capitalism – Hawken et al), this was at least a slight step away from “growth is good”.

 

UNEP “Keeping track of our changing environment” Report

http://www.unep.org/geo/images/keeping_track.jpg

http://www.unep.org/geo/pdfs/keeping_track.pdf

I recently came across this excellent and fascinating report from UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) which looks at changes in environmental and social indicators over the 20 years since the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. It contains lots of great statistics e.g.

  • The human population has increased by 26%, or 1.45bn, since 1992
  • 33% of the urban population live in slums
  • Global use of natural resource materials has increased by 41% since 1992
  • Global CO2 emissions increased by 36% between 1992 and 2008
  • Consumption of ozone-depleting substances has decreased by 93% since 1992 and the size of the ozone-hole over Antarctica has now stabilised
  • Global mean temperature has increased by 0.4 degrees C since 1992
  • Sea level is rising at an average rate of 2.5mm per year
  • Sanitation coverage has improved from 54% globally in 1992 to 61% in 2010, but remains well short of the 2015 MDG target of 75%
  • The Living Planet Index (which measures the health of the Earth’s ecosystems) has decreased by 12% since 1992
  • Plastics production has increased by 130%. The average use of plastics in developed countries is 100kg per year per capita, and 30kg in developing countries
  • Food production has risen by 45%, although population has only increased by 26%
  • 52% of global fish stocks are fully exploited and 33% are overexploited, depleted or recovering
  • Energy consumption in developed countries is nearly 12 times higher than in developing countries
  • Renewable energy accounts for 13% of global energy supply, with 10% of this being biomass e.g. wood, waste (largely used domestically in developing countries)
  • Investment in renewable energy increased by 540% between 2004 and 2010
  • Passenger air travel has doubled since 1992

Finally, on page 89, UNEP generate a “wordcloud” (which I unfortunately couldn’t copy here), where the size of the words represent the popularity of a number of buzzwords in a Google search. Not unexpectedly, “recycling” is the most popular word, but it is interesting to see that “sustainability” is also large, while “solar energy” and “energy efficiency” are very small. It would be interesting to see a similar exercise done with more words…

 

 

DaysE social enterprise

An enterprising Irish non-profit has set up with the aim of “recycling waste energy”. Businesses or individuals sign up with DaysE and the organisation helps them to save energy and reduce their energy costs. The cost savings (what DaysE calls “energy credits”) are then donated to a local non-profit, which uses the funds for energy upgrades and then passes its savings onto another non-profit. Thus an energy saving “DaysE chain” is created. Participants can also choose to donate their cost savings to renewable energy projects in the developing world.

Further information and how businesses and individuals can sign up can be found at http://dayse.org/

National Sustainability Summit November 2015

On the 3rd of November, an event called the National Sustainability Summit was held in Dublin (http://www.sustainabilitysummit.ie/). The aim of the event, attended by people from academia, NGOs, the public sector, and primarily, business, was to “create a forum where business leaders, innovators, regulators and government can examine both the commercial opportunities in the emerging green economy as well as the challenges in achieving sustainability goals”.

The conference incorporated a main stage and several workshop zones, all of which hosted up to 16 speakers each. In all there was a mind-boggling 80 speakers during the day, grouped under the broad headings of Food & Agriculture, Energy, Data, Construction, Water, Wastewater & Water Efficiency. Transport Supply Chain & Logistics, CSR & Stakeholder Engagement and Environmental Stewardship.

The main stage was chaired by Paul Cunningham, editor of RTE’s The Week in Politics, who stated in his introductory remarks his intention to be “unashamedly positive and upbeat” about the “sustainability agenda”. He was followed by the French Ambassador to Ireland, who demonstrated an impressive line in business-speak, urging people to “exploit this new economy” which offered “invaluable benefits” for business.

Also on the main stage in the morning was Michael Rea, COO of the UK-based NGO the Carbon Trust, who gave a fascinating talk on the organisation’s new report on business and climate change, Titans or Titanic  (http://www.carbontrust.com/resources/reports/advice/titans-or-titanics/). The report is based on in-depth interviews with businesspeople and business experts around the world and reveals some interesting statistics. For example, half of the respondents believe that their business models will require “fundamental change” as a result of climate change, but many US respondents in particular do not feel that climate change represents a significant risk to their business. Rea’s conclusion was that business is effective at managing within its planning horizon but not at planning for an “uncertain future”. He suggested that Boards do not have SD on their agenda as there is “no clear framework” for measurement. In this vein, Carbon Trust have developed a “Value at Stake” framework, for more see http://www.carbontrust.com/media/84952/ctc602-climate-change-and-shareholder-value.pdf.

The main event of the day was a panel discussion entitled “Creating a Sustainable Ireland: the Main Challenges and Opportunities”, chaired by Paul Cunningham and featuring Micheal Rea, Eamonn Ryan of the Green Party, Frank McGovern of the EPA and David Fitzpatrick of Dairygold. The discussion centered around policy for a “sustainable” Ireland, and Eamonn Ryan was the most vocal of the panelists. He urged long-term thinking, criticised the government’s Climate Bill as “not ambitious enough” and stressed that we cannot “keep burning peat”. He also mentioned the advocacy organisation E3G, which has done some interesting work (http://www.e3g.org/) and the EU’s “Energy Union” project (http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/energy-union/index_en.htm).

Agriculture featured often in the panel discussion, and Padraig Brennan of Bord Bia gave a very interesting talk on the organisation’s work on farm “Sustainability Assessments” (http://www.origingreen.ie/farms/measuring-sustainability-on-our-farms/). He stressed the need to make the issues”tangible” to farmers to get them to engage. While the work is admirable, however, Brennan was clear that the key aim is to “win business for the industry” and suggested that “sustainable equals efficient”, so it is not clear if the assessments go much beyond eco-efficiency and the the business case.

Other snippets from the day:

Robert Moss from An Taisce highlighted the National Biodiversity Data Centre, the aim of which is to create a “biodiversity map” of Ireland. People can use the website to record biodiversity in their area and also link to a global biodiversity database which can be searched by species and country – http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/.

Jennifer Casey of Business in the Community Ireland spoke of the “circular economy” and the Irish Government’s 2014 National Action Plan on CSR (https://www.djei.ie/en/News-And-Events/Department-News/2014/April/Minister-Bruton-launches-National-Plan-on-Corporate-Social-Responsibility.html). She also discussed their Business Working Responsibly Mark, which is based on ISO26000 (http://www.iso.org/iso/home/standards/iso26000.htm).

Michael Kelly of social enterprise GIY (Grow It Yourself) talked about their Grow at Work program (https://www.giyinternational.org/pages/giy_at_work) and also mentioned Michael Pollan’s interesting work on food (http://michaelpollan.com/books/).

Declan White of Enterprise Ireland highlighted the organisation’s “GreenStart” programme which offers funds to SMEs to implement “environmental best practice” (http://www.enterprise-ireland.com/EI_Corporate/en/funding-supports/Company/Esetablish-SME-Funding/GreenStart.html)

Alan Hendry, Head of Sustainability at Jacobs Engineering (http://www.jacobs.com/workforus/about/index.aspx#Sustainability) spoke of developing low-carbon infrastructure (LCI) in Scotland. Ten LCI projects have been selected based on the Scottish emissions breakdown, such as district heating schemes, retrofit of public buildings and upgrading the rail network. Summaries of the projects, which make interesting reading, are available here: https://scotlandswayahead.org.uk/.

Victor Branagan of consultancy SustainEd (http://www.sustained.ie/) talked about “new” business models for sustainability. Along with the Natural Step, he mentioned Holacracy (http://www.holacracy.org/) and Frederic Laloux’ Reinventing Organisations (http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/).

Rebecca Maughan, a lecturer in the Business School at University College Dublin, presented her research on internal legitimacy for sustainability reporting. She noted that her case study company stopped reporting as their external stakeholders were “not interested”, and the organisation’s sustainability policies were driven by legitimacy with internal stakeholders.

Another UCD Academic, this time from the School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Policy, Craig Bullock, spoke of the benefits of “ecosystem services” to the private sector. He stressed that the concept of ecosystem services is an anthropogenic one, and not a proxy for the intrinsic value of nature. Bullock referenced the “cascade model” of ecosystem services and recommended this work by Haines-Young and Potschin (2010) – https://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/public-events/archiv/alter-net/former-ss/2009/10.09.2009/10.9.-haines-young/literature/haines-young-potschin_2009_bes_2.pdf. He also drew attention to the work of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which has some great case studies on its impact assessments here: http://catalog.ipbes.net/

As a final word, the overall sense of the summit from a participant perspective was that it was difficult to get a sense of it. The mix of academic and business presenters was a plus, but heavily weighted in favour of business, with no academic speakers on the main stage. It was also unclear who initiated and organised the event – government, business? The best guess from participants was a private events management company.

The Summit was a “big picture” event, proclaiming to “secure Ireland’s future”. The dominant sense, though, was of a country throwing itself headfirst into the “sustainability industry” without really thinking about what, if anything, that might mean.

RepTrak and CSR Reputation

A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar organised by a global PR firm, the Reputations Institute, to present their 2015 findings for “RepTrak”, an annual survey of corporate reputation. Essentially, companies pay the Institute a fat fee (from €9.5k) for data on where they stand with the general public. The participating organisations are ranked based on a global survey which asks members of the public what they think of the company.

As part of the survey, respondents are asked to rate companies on their CSR “performance”, along with other categories like “products/services”, “innovation” and “leadership”. For RepTrak, CSR includes three dimensions: Citizenship, Governance and Workplace, which they suggest adds up to 43% of “people’s willingness to trust the organisation”.

The seminar focused on the results of the Irish survey, which had 5,000 respondents. Top of the rankings was Bord Bia, followed in order by Kelloggs, Irish League of Credit Unions, Google and, unfortunately and hilariously, Volkswagen. While the Reputations Institute stressed that the survey took place before emissions-gate, the result highlights the considerable gap between what people think companies are doing and what they are actually doing. For the record, the top 5 companies worldwide are Google, BMW, Walt Disney, Microsoft and Daimler, as we can see on the RepTrak website – https://www.reputationinstitute.com/research/Global-RepTrak-100.

The really interesting thing about the survey results was what the Reputation Institute called the “unsureness” among the general public as to what companies are doing around CSR; 49% – 69% of the survey respondents were unsure about what companies are doing, particularly on CSR. The majority did not mention anything specific the companies did, with any specific comments related to funding community projects and being “environmentally-friendly”. The latter comment was applied to Coillte and, more prosaically, Ryanair… and VW…

Ultimately, this raises interesting questions around the value and content of Sustainability/CSR Reports. Who is reading these reports, if anyone, and does anyone want to read them; whatever about the content of the reports? Maybe the public only react to large scale, highly publicised news stories? We’ll have to wait until next years RepTrak survey to find out.