Welcome to our first two weekly review for 2015 of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.

This early in the year is an appropriate time to think about what 2015 might hold for us in terms of sustainability. Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs gives us an overview of UN events coming in the year and states that governments are good at setting development goals but not at meeting them. He also comments that 2015 will be our generation’s greatest opportunity to move the world toward sustainable development and there may not be another chance to reorient development. World leaders meet first in July, again in September and finally at the COP in Paris, to adopt a global agreement for heading off human induced climate change.

As we gaze forward, we however need to be mindful of the track record of our political leaders. Barbara Unmuessig, president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation points out that the “UN is only as good as its members”. International fora are used as platforms for self-interest. She comments that multilateral frameworks offer limited hope for success, but that no government is truly willing to tackle the causes of inequality and hunger, which would require making fair taxation and comprehensive welfare a top priority.

Despite the poor record of political leaders the outlook is not all dismal. CERES President Mindy Lubber gives us nine good reasons why we should remain hopeful. Investors are taking action to improve their businesses. Actions range from sharing used water, financing energy technologies to demanding transparent reporting for listed companies.

Also on a positive note, we examine a list of ten green IT applications provided by Heather Clancy. Notable in these is the ability for the public to be able to take action and to monitor various environmental impacts. This is certainly a way for the public to put pressure for action on politicians and to generally create awareness on issues.

In reviewing 2014 we have to take note of the rise in investor awareness of environmental risk. Jessica Cheam gives us what she calls top 5 CSR stories, with investors now looking for material benefit and not just reports. More importantly responsible business is now seen as more profitable than corruption.

Earlier this month a new report from University of London, published in the journal Nature, was very specific in detailing where and how, much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves, must stay buried to prevent climate change of over 2oC. The bleakest outlook is for Coal – 82% of all reserves must be left in the ground, gas needs to retain 50% of current reserves in the ground, and one third of all oil reserves would need to be left alone. If all these reserves are to be kept in the ground, then it is imperative we find a suitable way of compensating the owners of the reserves, so they are encouraged to leave them alone. This is a real problem that needs a real solution.

Public pressure for investors to divest from Fossil Fuel companies is growing at an unprecedented rate, while the fossil fuel companies continue lobbying and making donations to prevent legislation for climate change minimisation. The oil industry is reporting that this divestment movement is not in touch with reality, and is a counterproductive diversion to finding a genuine solution to the climate targets. Even so, the divestment movement isn’t being taken in by this, and is growing, hoping not necessarily to financially bankrupt, but morally bankrupt these companies, and change the focus of governments to investing in renewables and climate aid, rather than subsidising fossil fuel extraction.

As investors are moving away from fossil fuels, what can or should they invest in? Sustainable investing is addressed in the next article, and assets devoted to this are rapidly increasing - up by 76% since 2012 to around $6.5 trillion, according to a recently published report.

A ‘hiccup’ for investors in renewable/clean energies is described by Richard Branson. As you have probably noted when you fill up your car, the price of petrol has fallen rapidly. OPEC appear to be purposefully reducing the cost of fossil fuels to reduce the investment in competing clean energy renewables and unconventional oil. Hopefully investors will see this for what it is, and continue to divest from those companies. Now may be the time for governments to introduce a carbon tax on fossil fuels, which may be more palatable, while the price of fuels is lower than it has been for some significant time.

As we discussed above, if Fossil Fuel owners are to be encouraged to keep these in the ground, they will need to be compensated for this. One possible way of approaching this might be to offset the value of Natural Capital against the damage extracting and burning these fossil fuels might cause. Natural Ecosystems provide businesses with trillions of dollars of services a year, but rarely has this been valued by society. A framework for compensating Fossil Fuel owners that agree to leave them in the ground needs to be established –maybe a job for the UN at the COP in Paris 2015? If some acceptable type of compensation is not available, then what incentive do these companies or countries have to ‘do the right thing’?

Our good neighbours, Australia are making the headlines for all the wrong reason again, in this case ‘No one sucks on climate change like Australia, mate’.

They have been named the worst performing industrial country in the world on climate change, ‘Strewth mate, throw another coal fired power station on the Barbie’. Joking aside, Tony Abbott and co. are clearly creating the wrong type of climate that most Australians want to live in!

The article also covers a wide range of industrial nations and from the graphic ‘Climate Change Performance Index’ you can see New Zealand is listed as a ‘poor’ performer.

A very real positive outcome out the issues created by the current Australian administration is religious leaders taking concerted action on ‘Big Coal’  including physically being involved in protests. There is hope then, when Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and a couple of Christian denominations can get together and agree on something like this. If only our political leaders showed similar leadership and conviction like this. But then, we live in a so called democracy with a free-market, where the dollar appears to rule supreme.

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.

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