'Most businesses wouldn't know carbon if they fell over it' -- our COP26 preview event

Welcome to Callaway Climate Insights. A recording of our successful 'Countdown to COP26' event this morning will be available in a day or two for those who missed.

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David Callaway, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Callaway Climate Insights, talks about expectations for COP26 and the journey to net zero with, clockwise from top center, Valerie Smith, Chief Sustainability Officer at Citi; Julie Linn Teigland, EMEIA Managing Partner for EY; Danny McCoy, CEO of IBEC, Ireland’s largest business lobby; and Stephen Rae, CCI European bureau chief, at our special event today.

An international A-list of sustainability executives, investors and CEOs weighed in on their expectations for the UN’s climate summit next month at an exclusive Callaway Climate Insights event Thursday, and set the bar high for any meaningful breakthrough of global cooperation at COP26 in Glasgow.

A growing list of global leaders who either have said they won’t come or not yet responded has contributed to an unusual amount of pessimism going into the summit meeting, despite hopes for deals to reduce coal and methane emissions, establish a common carbon price, and booming investments in electric vehicles.

“I think what we’ll see is a series of quick wins,” said Val Smith, chief sustainability officer at Citi, in her keynote remarks to kick off the event. “These will be needed to keep the momentum going.”

“Less conversation and more action,” added Julie Linn Teigland, EMEIA managing partner for EY in Europe.

Fund managers and CEOs who spoke at the event, such as Sarah Bratton Hughes from Schroders and Jeff Eckel, CEO of Hannon Armstrong, were pessimistic about any market-moving developments, with Eckel saying an infrastructure deal out of Washington is the most important thing for the U.S. at this moment.

Danny McCoy, CEO of IBEC, Ireland’s largest business organization, said the business community is still well behind in its efforts to lead a transition to a renewable energy future by cutting carbon emissions.

“Most businesses wouldn’t know carbon if they fell over it,” he said in a panel discussion.

But Iggy Bassi, CEO of Cervest — which is using AI to develop climate intelligence for measuring risk — said he is optimistic technology gains will drive a transformation in businesses toward sustainability.

The event, which was sponsored by EY and by IBEC, with media partner The Straits Times in Singapore, comes four weeks before leaders meet in Glasgow in hopes of resetting the climate agenda six years after everyone signed up for emissions reductions in the famous Paris Agreement of 2015.

Usually these events start with overinflated expectations and then inevitably disappoint. My own sense is that if CEOs and investors are setting expectations low this time, we may see some surprises to the upside.

We’ll be writing more about the event in the coming days and our panelists’ predictions, so watch this space.

More insights below. . . .

Don’t forget to contact me directly if you have suggestions or ideas at dcallaway@callawayclimateinsights.com.

Insights from our COP26 event: Looking for ‘quick wins’

. . . . With so much at stake at COP26, negotiators should look for low-hanging fruit to score some quick wins. Our experts weigh their chances, and wonder if Scotland’s famed pubs will help, uh, irrigate the process. Read more here. . . .

Callaway Climate Insights would like to thank our sponsors, EY and IBEC, and media partner The Straits Times of Singapore. And a special thanks to our panelists:

Val Smith, Chief Sustainability Officer, Citibank; Julie Linn Teigland, EMEIA Managing Partner for EY; Jeff Eckel, Chief Executive Officer, Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital; Danny McCoy, CEO of IBEC — Ireland’s largest business lobby; Jackie King, Executive Director, International Business, IBEC; Jeff Gitterman, Founder and CEO of Gitterman Asset Management; Tim Dunn, Founder and CEO of Terra Alpha Investments; Sarah Bratton Hughes, Head of Sustainability, North America, Schroders; Marsha Vande Berg, President’s Leadership Council, The Asia Foundation; Iggy Bassi, CEO of Cervest; Bill Sternberg, Former Editorial Page Editor, USA Today; John Jeffcock, CEO of Winmark, the largest executive network group in Europe; Matthew Bell, EU, UK and Ireland Climate Change and Sustainability Services leader; and David Fogarty, Climate Change Editor for The Straits Times.

ZEUS: COP26 - a Covid-threatened carnival of climate chaos

. . . . With Queen Elizabeth and Pope Francis attending along with 100 world leaders, amid daily Covid tests and Scottish November rain, next month’s UN climate summit promises to be as dramatic and colorful as it is important. David Callaway predicts where the successes lie and where the failures will come from. . . .

Read the full ZEUS column

Thursday’s subscriber insights: Engine No. 1 revs up GM's prospects; Midwestern states plan EV charging network

. . . . Activist investor group Engine No. 1 seems to be getting revved up about General Motors’ prospects. Engine No. 1 founder Chris James says GM’s “goal to go 100% electric by 2035 signals one of the largest transformations in the history of the auto industry and creates an opportunity to recenter the battery supply chain in America.” Read more here. . . .

. . . . The governors of five Midwestern states have come together to build a network for charging EVs. The plan is to make potential EV buyers feel they are going to find a charging location just as easily as a gas station, but could it also have something to do with their hopes for EV manufacturing in the region? Read more here. . . .

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Editor’s picks: Nobel Prize for predicting global warming; fossil fuel firms may face ad ban

Nobel Prize awarded for scientists’ work on global warming

The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists whose work over the past six decades has predicted climate change and helped to further the understanding of complex physical systems. Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi were honored for “the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Manabe, a meteorologist at Princeton University, and Hasselmann, a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, were awarded half the prize for laying “the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it,” the academy said. Parisi, from the Sapienza University of Rome, received the other half of the award for his contributions to the theory of disordered materials and random processes. The winners will share the $1.1 million award.

Fossil fuel firms face possible ad ban

A campaign for a Europe-wide ban on advertising by fossil-fuel companies has been launched by environmental groups including Greenpeace. A report from the Thomson Reuters Foundation says the effort is “the boldest salvo yet in a campaign by environmentalists who accuse oil firms of greenwashing and a history of undermining climate change science.” The movement recalls publicity bans for the tobacco industry. The report quotes Bas Eickhout, the Dutch Green MEP and vice-chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, as saying, “the fossil fuel firms also copied the smoking companies’ strategies when they fed into climate denial.” The European Business Aviation Association's Secretary-General Athar Husain Khan said the industry ought to be exempt from any ban because it was committed to biofuels and carbon-offsetting, and provided a “clear benefit to society.”

Data driven: Our global appetite for materials

. . . . According to Circle Economy, the world consumes 100.6 billion metric tons of materials annually. Of this total, 3.2 billion metric tons of metals produced in 2019 would account for just 3% of our overall material consumption. In fact, the world’s annual production of cement alone is around 4.1 billion tonnes, dwarfing total metal production. Visual Capitalist, in a new graphic titled All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization, notes “the world’s appetite for materials is growing with its population. As resource-intensive megatrends such as urbanization and electrification pick up the pace, our material pie will only get larger.”. . .

Latest findings: New research, studies and projects

Fixing the business of food

The world food system is in crisis, which is why UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres convened a UN World Food System Summit at UN Headquarters on Sept. 23, 2021. The crisis is really a complex set of crises, including the following five main categories: unhealthy diets, food losses and waste, unsustainable food production, poverty in farm communities, and the vulnerability of food systems to future shocks. The authors note that in addition to these crises, no part of the world is immune to the intensifying floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, forest fires, and pest outbreaks resulting from human-induced climate change. To help companies accomplish this historic change of direction — as part of broader social and policy changes — the authors have identified an approach to help companies understand their particular roles in the global transformation, to adjust their internal policies and practices, and then to report on their actions. The management and employees of the food companies need as well to be informed and engaged in the major transformations ahead. Read more in Fixing the Business of Food: Aligning food company practices with the Sustainable Development Goals.

More of the latest research:

Words to live by. . . .

“We are currently at a moment of opportunity and truth. We pray that our human family may unite to save our common home before it is too late. Future generations will never forgive us if we squander this precious opportunity.”  — Joint statement this week from religious figures, among them Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu leaders outlining the expectations of the world’s major religions — representing about half the global population — for the COP26 U.N. climate conference.