This week’s Current Climate, which every Saturday brings you a balanced view of sustainability news. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.
Two new reports published this week highlight the discouraging state of corporate greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and actions. The Berlin-based New Climate Institute published an assessment of the transparency and integrity of the climate pledges of 25 of the world’s largest companies, finding that their commitments, on average, account for only a 40% reduction in emissions, not 100% as suggested by their “net zero” and “carbon neutral” claims. One major weakness in these targets is the lack of consideration for supply chain emissions, also known as Scope 3 emissions, with a majority of the companies examined still lacking detailed plans to address them The result doesn’t come as a surprise to CDP, an independent body that collects and scores global environmental disclosures. It estimated a majority of the major companies’ suppliers failed to set any climate targets at all in 2021, setting back climate action by a decade. While both studies noted an uptick in corporate requests for suppliers’ emissions target settings, progress must happen at a much faster pace.
Other stories I’m highlighting this week discuss the need for the mining industry to make a more positive contribution to the green transition, President Joe Biden’s $5 billion boost to build a electric vehicle charging network across the U.S. and new findings on how much paint contributes to microplastics water pollution.
In Climate Talks, as Valentine’s Day marks one of the most important holidays for florists, I talk to Dr. David Bek, who co-leads the Sustainable Cut-Flowers Project along with Dr. Jill Timms, about the progress made in growing and selling sustainable flowers.
How Mining Can Clean Up Its Act
Few industries illustrate the complexity of the climate debate as mining does. The industry has a reputation for pollution and poor working practices, yet it’s a critical part of the clean energy transition.
As part of an aggressive strategy to build a coast-to-coast network of 500,000 high-volume, rapid chargers to encourage more Americans to buy electric vehicles, the Biden Administration is opening up access to at least $5 billion in new federal funds for which states can apply.
Minnesota cyclists now get updates on road and cycling paths from their local public radio, all thanks to Travis Norvell, pastor of the South Minneapolis’ Judson Memorial Baptist Church, who took it upon himself to regularly supply the latest news to normalize bicycle use.
A new study estimated particles of paint account for more than half (58%) of all the microplastics that end up in the world’s oceans and waterways every year. third of the paint results from waste mismanagement, and almost a fifth is due to wear and tear or the maintenance of commercial ships and offshore rigs, the researchers found.
Koalas are under threat of extinction. Australia listed the marsupial animals as an endangered species in an effort to better protect them following a dramatic decline in numbers due to wildfires, drought and disease.
How Extreme Weather Could Boost Support For Green Politics
Personal experience of extreme weather events and heatwaves could play a major role in influencing people to vote for “green” parties and policies, new research has found.
Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest times of year for florists and, by extension, for the whole global flower supply chain. In the past few years, initiatives have sprung up to tackle various issues plaguing the industry, such as poor working conditions, but increasingly, the focus is turning to reducing carbon emissions.
Coventry University’s Dr. Dave Bek, who along with his colleague Dr. Jill Timms (now at the University of Surrey) launched the Sustainable Cut-Flowers Project to promote sustainable practices in the industry, tells us all about it.
The issues that come to mind when we think about the supply chain for flowers are the poor working conditions, the low wages and seasonal instability. But what is the impact that climate change has on the industry, the workers and the supply chain overall?
Every country is experiencing climate change differently, but there is increasing evidence that climate change is affecting areas that are either becoming drier or experiencing heavier rain at times of year when they didn’t before, and it puts pressure on livelihoods, too.
The other way they’re affected is by retailers or importers who are looking at increasing amounts of climate change management and mitigation within their supply chain operations. In the last three years, maybe even two years, climate change has rocketed up the agenda with greater understanding of the problems and attempts to deal with it.
What kind of changes have you witnessed?
One of the significant shifts has been greater penetration of certifications and standards across the industry. There’s been a move in the Netherlands through something called the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative, which most of the major companies have signed up to, that includes a so-called basket of standards which certify that actions in supply chains are acceptable—that will include maybe social auditing on a farm in Kenya and so forth. A wholesaler that’s part of our project changed the settings for their online shop so that it showed what certifications any particular consignment of flowers had received, and that shows growing awareness.At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we worked with a British government initiative to fund some vulnerable supply chain facility projects, one of which was actually at sea freight for transporting flowers, which could actually survive a month out, after having been picked, in the right conditions. Initially it was a response to the problems of securing air freight during the pandemic and transporting flowers, but it ended up having an impact of carbon emissions and that’s a really good thing.
Do the certifications you mention reflect the carbon emissions of the certified supplier?
At the moment, to my knowledge, none of the standards require carbon footprinting reporting. But there are initiatives through the European Commission, with the support of the Dutch industry, to develop and implement environmental footprinting tools. What they’re doing is working out where the hotspots in the supply chain are—where the energy, carbon emissions, and other environmental issues occur—so that efforts can be focused on those areas to get the most beneficial impact.
Heating, for instance, is a big problem. It may sound counterintuitive, but growing flowers locally in a greenhouse can be worse, carbon-wise, than flying them from Kenya, because obviously in Kenya, they just grow with the sun. There’s pressure to reduce both of those footprints.
Once these flowers are bought and enjoyed, what’s the best way to dispose of them?
Recycling in a green compost is definitely a good route, but some flowers—unless you bought them from an organic producer—could present chemical residues, and that can be an issue.
These are issues the industry could work on in terms of educating consumers and also the horticultural sector, lobbying governments to make sure that everybody has access to—or actually, I’d say, is expected to—compost compostable materials.
Do you feel optimistic about the future of the industry?
The next five years are going to be fascinating, in terms of seeing how initiatives that are getting started now will play out. Specifically within the U.K., there’s concerted efforts to focus on particular issues in the supply chain, like a living wage. One retailer is actually going to be running a pilot in stores with a living-wage bouquet. Obviously we’ve got to keep our eyes on them to make sure that [these initiatives] are genuine and not just greenwash.
But the thing, of course, is consumers should always have their eyes open and asking questions, because what will drive real changes is consumer behavior.
Dr. David Bek’s answers were condensed and edited for brevity and clarity.
On The Horizon
The disappointments of the COP26 climate summit led many to wonder if the format is fit for purpose. Kenyan communications expert Ng’Endo Machua argues that COP27 should center not on high-level politics, but on climate action by regular people and communities.