News briefs: 2020's top climate stories

Plus, climate funding in stimulus bill, and diversity and sustainability metrics for investors in 2021

Top 5 climate stories of 2020

This year was bookmarked by wildfires in eastern Australia, and a close race to determine whether 2020 will have been the hottest year on record, Andrea Thompson writes for Scientific American. In her report on the top five climate stories of the year, Thompson says: “Though the coronavirus pandemic has been a defining story of 2020, the year has been a notable one on the climate front as well. Developments have ranged from an agonizing array of warming-fueled disasters that impacted the lives and livelihoods of millions around the world, to signs that some countries (including China and members of the European Union) are making efforts to move forward on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving this warming.” Read more on wildfires, hurricanes and more heat.

Climate action in latest stimulus bill

Tucked into the massive $900 billion stimulus bill passed overnight, Congress has approved about $35 billion to support wind, solar and other clean power sources. The New York Times reports the actions effectively create the first significant climate change law since at least 2009. Coral Davenport writes, “amount to a rare party rebuke to Mr. Trump on the issue of global warming, after he spent the past four years mocking and systematically rolling back every major climate change rule. The comity may also signal that while President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to secure his full climate plan, he may be able to make some progress in curbing global warming.” A significant part of the legislation involves new limits on refrigerants. According to the report, the coolant phase-down would be one of the most significant federal policies ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions, citing research and consulting firm Rhodium Group.

The Rockefeller Foundation turns away from fossil fuels

The century-old philanthropic foundation established by John D. Rockefeller is pledging to eliminate its fossil fuel holdings and make no new investments in the sector. A report from CNN Business notes the $5 billion endowment is the largest U.S. foundation to embrace the rapidly growing divestment movement. Matt Egan writes that the move is “especially symbolic because the Rockefeller Foundation was founded by oil money. The endowment was largely built from the proceeds of Standard Oil, a company that at its peak controlled more than 90% of petroleum products in the United States.” Exxon Mobil (XOM) traces its roots to Standard Oil. 

Diversity, sustainability in the 2021 spotlight for investors

Linda-Eling Lee, global head of research for MSCI’s ESG Research group, told CNBC’s ETF Edge that the Nasdaq’s recent proposal to require more diversity on boards of companies listed on the exchange is an example of a sustained push showing that diversity and inequality issues will be a significant metric for investors in the coming year. A report quotes Lee as saying “Oddly, the progress actually has been extremely slow even though we’ve already seen this kind of push for several years. … “If you take this kind of trend of progress over the past four years and you project it forward, it’s going to take until, like, 2029 for women to comprise 30% of corporate boards,” she said. Lee added that these changes could spur growth in new forms of financing such as social impact bonds, sustainability bonds or share issuances tied to companies’ sustainability goals.