Climate change – quantifying the impact of global temperature rises

It’s hard not to think of climate change when we see the flooding happening in Ireland (and the UK) in recent weeks. It brought to mind a really interesting piece in the Guardian a few weeks ago, published during the climate talks, which charts the likely effects of each degree by which the temperature increases. For example, it is predicted that a two degree rise will lead to 30m people being affected by flooding, a number that would double with a 3 degree rise. See the article and the accompanying graphics, which I think are particularly useful, here:

Santa’s Christmas message

For the night that’s in it. Who knew Santa was a Guardian reader!

Also, some practical advice on a more environmentally-friendly Christmas:

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

SustainAbility climate change survey

Last month UK-based business consultancy SustainAbility published the results of its 2015 “Globescan” survey of “qualified sustainability experts”. 624 respondents from around the world, although with a bias towards Europe and North America, completed an online survey on their expectations for COP21. Respondents included people working in business, academia, media, NGOs and government.

Some interesting findings from the report:

Scientists, NGOs and UN are seen as making the largest contributions to “advancing solutions to climate change”, with the private sector, religious communities and (worryingly) national governments at the bottom of the list. Conversely, respondents felt that national governments and the private sector should be doing the most to advance climate change solutions, suggesting a large expectations gap.

Respondents were asked to name the companies they felt had made the biggest contribution to climate change solutions, and Unilever topped the list, followed by Tesla, IKEA, Google and GE. Can’t help thinking it’s a pity they didn’t do a parallell list of the top ten companies contributing to climate change – full stop.

As to the reasons why these companies are seen as leaders, the top reasons are “leader in alternative energy” and “new technologies/innovation”. It seems clear that ecological modernisation is an admired strategy.

Finally, people were asked for their preferred “climate change action strategies”. They cited renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions and suggested the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and tax on GHG emissions. Perhaps most interestingly, respondents in Europe see regulatory approaches as the most effective strategy to combating climate change, while North American respondents prefer economic instruments and those in “emerging markets” stress the need for public education.

The full report is available to download here, as are lots of other useful, highly readable SustainAbility publications:


Paris Climate Change Agreement

After two weeks of negotiations, some going on well into the night (my sympathy’s with the caterers), the COP21 summit in Paris has led to a legally-binding agreement which aims to keep global warming to below 2C.

This feels like a victory for democracy; representatives of 196 countries agreeing to work together and actually compromise for the good of all. A good day for humanity.

First, a roundup of media reaction to the deal. The Guardian hails the agreement as the “world’s greatest diplomatic success” and calls it an “extraordinary event”, but cautions that “the caps on emissions are still too loose, likely to lead to warming of 2.7 to 3C above pre-industrial levels”. The BBC observes that the deal is “without parallel” and has a good article on the key points of the text.

The BBC website also gives us a run down of the global media reaction. It highlights the New York Times’ remarks that the agreement is “a healing step, if not a cure”, while Indian newspaper The Hindustan Times argues that the agreement is a “mixed bag” for India. The BBC also give us this nifty collage of front pages around the world:

Newspaper front pages reporting about the climate deal


The Independent, meanwhile has an interesting opinion piece on the weak points of the deal:

As does George Monbiot in his blog for the Guardian. He begins his argument with characteristic strident eloquence: “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster”:

And here’s a good, brief article from the Irish Times on what the agreement will mean for Ireland, sector by sector. Not unexpectedly, agriculture is identified as the main issue, with Irish companies warned to expect “hetfy carbon levies” in the future:

What about the agreement itself? Well it can be downloaded from here in all it’s 32 page, un-user-friendly glory. Note that the agreement itself  and its articles doesn’t start until page 22:

Looking beyond all the legal jargon, there are several key points to the agreement:

  • To hold the global average temperature rise to “well below” 2C and “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C”. This reference to 1.5C was the subject of much negotiation and environmental groups are pleased at its inclusion, although cautioning that the pledge must be backed up by action.
  • Developed countries agree to provide $100bn per year until 2020 to help developing countries with “mitigation and adaptation”, although this is not legally binding, primarily as a result of US opposition.
  • There will be a “global stocktake” every five years reviewing each country’s emissions and asking them, if neccessary, to reduce their emissions further.
  • A “loss and damage” paragraph is included, recognising the impact of climate change on more vulnerable and poorer countries. Although richer countries are not asked to offer compensation, some commentators see this paragraph as a step in this direction.

No doubt we’ll be talking about the Paris agreement a lot more in the months ahead as countries come to grips with the idea of “net-zero emissions”. Hopefully policy-makers will take this opportunity to bring about real economic and societal changes and COP21 will be remembered as a watershed moment in climate change policy.

Finally, this, just because:

People dressed as polar bears demonstrate near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, during COP21.

Bringing a whole new meaning to hair shirts. Activists demonstrate in Paris during COP21

McKinsey Resource Productivity Report

Here’s a really interesting report from consulting firm McKinsey’s Sustainability wing on resource productivity. There’s some good statistics on current global use of energy, materials, food and water, and some interesting predictions, such as almost $3 trillion in savings if “resource productivity potential” can be captured. Last year a book was produced as a follow-up to this report, which seems to focus more on business, link below also.

Renewable Energy in Uruguay

Really interesting article in today’s Guardian about how 95% of Uruguay’s electricity comes from renewable energy. According to the country’s “director of energy”, this success is down to three things:

  • A stable democracy that has never defaulted on its debts, making it attractive to investors
  • Natural conditions that allow for a diversified energy mix
  • Strong public companies

In the article the importance of strong public-private partnerships is highlighted, which could be an important lesson for other countries.

Top marks to the first commentor at the end of the article though: “And they gave us Luis Suarez”.

Affordable Biotechnology Drugs

Embedded image permalink

Last month the Smurfit Business School in UCD hosted a fascinating seminar on “making highly effective biotechnology drugs affordable”, featuring speakers Thomas Pogge of Yale University, Jan Rosier of UCD and Thomas Donaldson of Wharton Business School.

Jan Rosier spoke first, providing an introduction to the issue of drug pricing. He stressed that medicines are not a standard product, they carry a “moral weight that transcends cost-benefit analysis”. He suggested that the “status quo is unsustainable” and offered two questions which set the tone for the remainder of the seminar:

  • How can drug firms be rewarded for innovation?
  • What is the business of biotech for?

Thomas Pogge took on the first question with his presentation on the Health Impact Fund (HIF), a fund which will offer annual rewards to companies that register their new medicines with it. In exchange, the manufacturers must sell the drug at the lowest feasible cost. Companies are rewarded according to the “social value” of their efforts. The aim of the HIF is encourage the production of drugs for the poor, to counteract the current incentives to manufacture drugs for the rich.

Currently, funding is being sought for a “mini-HIF”, to demonstrate the viability of the project. When the mini-HIF is underway, innovators will be invited to send in their proposals for new drugs, outlining the projected health impact for poor countries. Details are all on the HIF website:

Pogge’s website also offers links to his voluminous back catalogue of work on global justice and moral philosophy:

Thomas Donaldson, a Professor of Business Ethics at Wharton Business School, then spoke on the ethics of the pharmaceutical business. He began by highlighting the case of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, guilty of racheting up it’s drug prices earlier this year:

Drawing from the business ethics literature, Donaldson suggested that a “theory of the firm” does not equal a “theory of business” and that a new theory of business is required. His proposition, the subject of his latest paper, is that business responsibilities be linked to “intrinsic values” e.g. human rights. The business thus has two purposes, as Prof. Donaldson explained:

“A firm holds two interrelated purposes – one a focal purpose, a purpose that reflects its work in society and two, a contextual purpose, a purpose that reflects its work for society”
If that all sounds a bit complex (which it does to me), here’s a link to the article, which no doubt explains it better:

Finally, for those very interested in access to medicines, here’s a detailed report from the World Health Organisations on drug pricing in Europe, which gives an insight into how it all works and offers ideas for future research:


Multinational corporations at COP21

Shameless piece of self-promotion alert…

Article on the role of business in sustainable development in the Opinion section of the Irish Times today:

Organisations such as Marks & Spencer have implemented initiatives which go beyond efficiency gains  to “eco-effectiveness”, reducing total ecological impact.Organisations such as Marks & Spencer have implemented initiatives which go beyond efficiency gains to “eco-effectiveness”, reducing total ecological impact. (courtesy Irish Times, 02 December 2015)


Keeping up with COP21

The climate talks got underway in Paris yesterday and there are a few good media sources to keep us up to date what happens over the next couple of weeks.

First of all, the Irish Times has been running a “Path to Paris” series over the past few weeks, and also has regular news and opinion from its correspondents at the summit:

The Guardian as always has lots of good stuff, but this article in particular on business caught my eye. It also explains what business really means by “net zero emissions”:

BBC has some interesting videos here. There are also some useful articles, like “A Beginners Guide” to COP21:

This is a fascinating article from GreenBiz on a whos who of the business coalitions at Paris:

Finally, here’s an upbeat blog from Jonathon Porrit on COP21 and “selling” the narrative of a Third Industrial Revolution: