Charity investments, emissions trading for smog clearance in China and women on boards

Shanghai in November became the second Chinese city to launch a pilot emissions trading system, which will cover 191 heavy industrial and power-generating companies within the municipal area. Shanghai follows the southern city of Shenzhen, which began emissions trading in June 2013. In Shanghai, three years’ worth of emissions allowances have been given for free to participating companies, which must buy any top-ups that they need on the city’s emissions exchange. Starting carbon prices are not far off the current European price. Pilot schemes will also start in five other Chinese cities. Each city is designing its own scheme so that the Chinese government has a range of tested ideas to choose from when rolling out a national emissions trading system later in the decade.

Not so funny

The UK-based charity juggernaut Comic Relief found itself in hot water following a BBC Panorama programme exposé into how the agency invests its massive £150m reserves. The 28-year-old organisation raises funds for charities working to alleviate suffering in the UK and abroad. But Panorama has uncovered investments, made through managed funds, in big tobacco, arms manufacturers and alcohol – seemingly contradicting the charity’s efforts to relieve suffering caused by tuberculosis, armed conflict and alcohol addiction. Comic Relief met the allegations with claims that the UK charity regulator requires them to invest purely to maximise returns, and that to avoid such investments would breach their fiduciary duty. In fact, ethical investing is quite acceptable for UK charities, and can generate equal or better returns for investors. The charity has announced a full review of its investment policy, following fierce criticism in the mainstream press and on social media.

Capital idea

The Teeb for Business Coalition (with Teeb standing for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) has teamed up with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to draft a standard for valuing natural capital in business decision-making. The standard, according to Teeb, will harmonise a number of efforts that are already under way to value environmental inputs into business – such as minerals or water – and to account for costs imposed on the environment, such as pollution or depletion of resources. Part of the draft standard will be sector guides on resources that feed into food, such as soy or beef, and into clothing, such as cotton and leather. Teeb for Business Coalition director Dorothy Maxwell says the standard would redress the “economic invisibility [that] has been a major reason for the neglect of natural capital”. The standard should be ready by the end of 2015.

United we stand

Saddam Hussein might be dead and gone, but many Iraqi workers continue to labour under laws that his regime brought in more than 25 years ago forbidding trade unions in the public sector. Four-fifths of Iraqi industry, including the dominant oil industry, is state-owned, and so the restrictions continue to have a wide impact. The IndustriAll Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation say the laws are still being used to curtail union activity in Iraq. They have started a campaign calling on the country to replace Saddam’s law with legislation that will implement International Labour Organisation standards.

A petition directed at Iraqi parliamentarians can be signed online.

Tax dispute

Barclays bank is crossing the ethical line by increasing its promotion of the use of offshore tax havens to companies operating in Africa, according to analysis from ActionAid. The charity says that, despite promising to clean up in the post-Bob Diamond era, the UK-based bank has in fact increased the number of tax havens it endorses by promoting their “tax-planning” benefits to firms that invest or operate in Africa. It is especially keen on Mauritius as the “offshore financial centre of choice for India and the sub-Saharan region”, according to Barclays literature. ActionAid says Barclays should instead concentrate on helping companies to invest directly in African countries – and to pay their taxes there. Barclays says: “We do not believe that [ActionAid’s] interpretation of some of the facts is correct.”

Fair shares

Women could take 40% of boardrooms seats in European Union listed companies by 2020 if a vote of the European parliament is anything to go by. The parliament in November backed the plan by 459-148 with 81 abstentions. Under the law, companies would have to ensure that at least four in 10 of their non-executive directors are women, or put in place transparent selection procedures to show that they are not denying women positions because of their gender. Companies that do neither could be sanctioned. However, the law is not final. EU member state governments must agree to it, and they have not yet made up their minds.

Moving in the right direction

Soaps and detergents giant Procter & Gamble has secured absolute reductions in its “major manufacturing footprints” – carbon dioxide, energy consumption, water use and waste. The multinational has targets for 2020 of a 20% reduction per unit of production in energy and CO2, and a reduction of waste sent to landfill to 0.5% of input materials. According to the P&G 2013 sustainability report, the cuts achieved so far are 8% for energy and 11% for CO2, while waste-to-landfill stands at 0.65%. Absolute cuts are 2.8% for energy and 8% for CO2, compared with 2011. On water, the absolute cut is 7.4%. The company also claims to have helped boost the rate of laundry washing in cold water from 38% in 2010-11 to 50% now. Cold washing for P&G means water at or below 30 degrees Celsius.

Ripple effect

Greenhouse gas emissions are not the only factor that might make the world’s fossil-fuel reserves unexploitable, according to a report from consultants Wood Mackenzie and the World Resources Institute. Key reserves might also be at risk because of water shortages. The report found that half of US shale gas reserves are in areas of “medium to extremely high baseline water stress”, with coal mining in China and oil production in the Middle East facing similar shortages. Energy industries consume about 15% of global freshwater reserves. Wood Mackenzie’s Sondra Scott says: “With the United Nations predicting a 40% shortfall in global freshwater by 2030, the energy industry is under increasing scrutiny from the government and public on how it uses freshwater supplies.”

Charity investment  China  disaster relief  emissions  Sustainability news 

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