Don’t Look Up … The Big EU Taxonomy Betrayal … ’Fink’enstein’s Letter … Transcending Incrementalism … Remembering Lost Giants
Edition 1 | January 2022
What a month this has been since we celebrated the start of the next solar cycle of Gaia! There was ‘Don’t Look Up’ just a month ago. Our collective shock by the European Commission’s plans to allow nuclear and gas to be called ‘green investments’ as per their Taxonomy (and became just ugly reality on 2/2/2022). Feeling flabbergasted by another yearly ‘come to Jesus’ CEO letter to #ESGLalaland by Blackrock CEO Larry Fink. And while Corona reaches all-time highs, with no idea about the Long Covid consequences of Omicron, governments in the Northern hemisphere allow the Old Normal aka ‘Deadly Procrastination’ back into our living rooms, no strings attached, as the pressure of the growth-demanding economic logic requires. They don’t have a single clue what regeneration really means.
And let’s not even start with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the sickness of Olympic Games in a country that actively applies cultural genocide to a part of its people, ghosts flights of airlines to keep their slots, etc… I book all of that as the continued stress in the ‘chaordic zone’ humanity is in, and potentially necessary drama to let the New Normal in, as I wrote in ‘The Corona Chronicles – Envisioning a New Normal for Regeneration and Thriving’, now going to a second edition, if the global shortage of the book paper market will allow it.
Let’s look at some of the essence and consequences of this ongoing turmoil on the above mentioned topics and then turn to the positive side, namely successes that we book in ‘Transcending Incrementalism’ towards what we at r3.0 call a System Value Economy. And that’s possibly a good start into this year, a year in which r3.0 will celebrate its 10th anniversary in its September 6/7 global conference (more details to be announced).
Don’t Look Up
Where did you look the film? We sat together as a family during our Christmas get-together, we giggled, and afterwards it was…quiet. Really quiet! I got some looks when I said ‘what a realistic film, seems to be a documentary of some kind’, obviously trying to get into a conversation that then… didn’t happen…come on it was Christmas. It then actually happened in pieces days after we watched the film, but I had to steer the discussion. Much more happened in our usual fora, like here on Linkedin. I got huge interest in two of my posts on Linkedin and an saw sharing of these at a level that I had not seen before:
What I saw was the painful outcry of scientists being misunderstood and not even heard, running against walls and closed doors, and being ridiculed when invited to talk shows that cover daily trivia, even when the loss of all human life is the issue at hand. The film uses a meteoroid ‘urgency booster’ and to make that urgency more visible in 120 minutes, but exactly the same happens with the climate/resource/biodiversity crises, just stretched over a couple more decades. Peter Kalmus in his article ‘I’m a climate scientist. Don’t Look Up captures the madness I see every day’ in the Guardian shares the pain. Also watch ‘Brian Cox Breaks Down The Science Behind Don’t Look Up’ on youtube – brilliant!
Nathan J. Robinson’s piece, ‘Critics of “Don’t Look Up” Are Missing the Entire Point’ in Current Affairs, is the best and most to-the-point piece I’ve read about the film, also chewing on and spitting out all the useless criticism of the film. He states: ‘In fact, the film depicts an idealistic, diverse group of Americans who try their best to protect the planet. Their lives are destroyed not because we are idiots but because those with power choose to delay, deny, and mislead, more interested in their own short-term gain than the future of humanity—in part because these people know that the catastrophe they have wrought will not have the same consequences for them personally.’ Even that last bit is a misperception.
Paul Mason’s article ‘Just look up? Are we still capable?The dangers facing democracy are even worse than those portrayed in Netflix satire’ goes even a step further and mentions: ‘The movie — because (not despite) of its simplicity and crossover appeal — is one of the most powerful artworks created in the face of democratic decay.’ More good stuff here and here.
The Big EU Taxonomy Betrayal
This Lighthouse Keeper was supposed to go out on 2/2/2022, but got delayed due to shocking news out of Brussel. The EU presented its ‘Complemented Delegated Act To Accelerate Decarbonization’, the formal language to allow nuclear energy and natural gas as ‘green technologies’ into the EU Taxonomy. Or call it even more drastically: it killed the Taxonomy, the ideals of the EU Green Deal and any trust into Europe’s ability to deliver on sustainability and regeneration, in one fell swoop. It showcased that the EU is unable to find transformative formats that would earn the reputation to sincerely put Europe into the driver’s seat of the ‘necessary’ political, societal, business and technological transformation that’s needed. The old Einstein saying comes to mind:
The article from Luca Bonaccorsi from December 17 last year was most touching, a plea and a last warning to the EU. In ‘That inedible dish called the EU Taxonomy – Greenwashing is not a problem for the green transition, it is THE problem’, he goes so far as to call the taxonomy approach fraudulent. He found that ‘the Commission had only just started adding their mix of unpalatable and intoxicating elements: gas, nuclear power, factory farming and more unlikely additions are now bound to make the Taxonomy unrecognisable.’The pandora’s box got opened. But not before, as I mentioned in various Lighthouse Keepers in 2021, the TEG (Technical Expert Group) of the EU supporting the development of the Taxonomy, itself had done a disastrous mistake, allowing a political interpretation of the term ’threshold’ to open up that tiny window for the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of science. The alarm bells were ringing everywhere as the Taxonomy has become the playball of national political interest. Others all over the world took note, as the Guardian, Bloomberg,Euractiv, Time Magazine, but two telling sources give an insider’s scoop on the massive lobbying that happened behind the scenes:
Prof. Andreas Hoeppner, himself member of the TEG, mentions in his recent Linkedin post:
‘Let me summarise how these politics evolved in six steps with relevant references for each step in the comments below:
“Macron’s push for gas and nuclear could derail [the] Green Deal … Macron has put pressure on the European Commission. He has threatened to vote down the commission’s proposal for the [original, decently green] taxonomy … Macron has decided on nuclear, and he is prepared to do anything to get it. That includes creating a dirty coalition with pro-gas countries”
3) Nov 9th 2021: Macron MEP Pascal Canfin, the former CEO of WWF-France, goes public in EURACTIV defending “his” proposal for #gas and #nuclear to be declared #green. He assumes Germany would agree, which turns out to be political miscalculation.
4) Dec 6th 2021: Macron fails to vote down the original, decently green taxonomy delegated act excluding #gas and #nuclear, as the Member States vote 14-13 in favour. This means the only one who can trigger a proposal to declare gas and nuclear “green by law” is Von der Leyen.
5) Dec 31st 2021, 10pm: For some reason possibly only known to her, Von der Leyen decides to trigger a proposal to declare gas and nuclear “green by law” 2 hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve. It is probably fair to assume that few of the MEPs, Member State Experts and Platform for Sustainable Finance Members like me particularly appreciated this particular timing. MEP Michael Bloss on whose website the draft is available even considers the timing technically incorrect.
6) Jan 10th / 12th 2022: Environmental Finance and subsequently Sueddeutsche Zeitung publish my analysis that Macron’s, Canfin’s and now also Von der Leyen’s leaked EU taxonomy proposal includes “up to 1.4 billion tonnes of ‘green’ CO2e emissions”, more than #France emitted in the last three reported years. This number is now widely quoted in media and emphasised by FFF activists to highlight the sheer size of what is probably the #biggest #greenwash #ever.’
A second, most disturbing report, got published by influencemap, titled ‘An analysis of the gas industry’s play book to promote fossil gas in Europe.’
‘What the report provides is ‘a detailed audit of EU fossil gas sector policy influencing, identifying a systematic attempt to weaken key elements of the EU Green Deal in 2020-21. It maps the sector’s efforts to insert fossil gas into Europe’s energy future, using coordinated narratives to disassociate the meaning of fossil gas from concerns regarding its GHG emission footprint, while also amplifying political concerns around security of energy supply as a bulwark against tougher regulatory action. The marked success of this policy influencing is a red flag for the progress of the EU’s Green Deal, suggesting a level of policy capture at a time when the climate crisis and geopolitical tensions are strengthening the case for phasing out fossil gas from the European energy mix.’ A recommended read.
So, here we are, and the situation as it stands is well summarised in this article by the Washington post, in which Prof. Hoeppner is again mentioned: ‘The E.U.’s 27 nations now have four months to discuss the plan. The European Parliament could ultimately veto the proposal, although that appears doubtful. Hoepner of University College Dublin said countries and investors will be following closely to see how the issue plays out. “Is [the E.U.] a green leader globally, or is it a global leader in greenwashing?” he asked.’
Not all is lost, but as I wrote in my Linkedin comment
‘What‘s now decided has nothing to do with sustainability and is in breach with intergenerational equity. The ugly grimace of this killing economic system added another nail into the coffin of humanity and politics had nothing to offer for regeneration. It hasn‘t even started to understand it. It‘s by the same token the end of the EU Green New Deal, as everything is a farce now’!
Groundhog Day for the Blackrock dicipleship: Larry Fink’s Annual Letter to CEOs, a high praise for capitalism and some wriggling around ESG & climate risk, as if it would change anything. No, Blackrock, says Larry, does it because they are capitalists, so need to hold up that glorious picture of a killing economic system logic, but hey, we have popcorn.
The criticism of course came in immediately, some of which you can read on the ‘Blackrocksbigproblem.com’ website, on Bloomberg, or by Tariq Fancy, who states on Linkedin: ‘Unfortunately, he [Larry Fink] doubled down on the idea of “stakeholder capitalism” – an originally well-intended idea that I saw in practice now amounts to little more than a marketing narrative whose effect is to preserve the status quo and delay the systemic reforms that our experts tell us must be led by government. Besides endangering the the planet by kicking the can down the road, his messaging is slowly chipping away at the political foundations of capitalism by convincing younger generations that the system cannot possibly address the climate crisis or serve the public interest. In continuing on with this “blah blah blah” he also does his own younger employees a disservice.’ The more nuanced reader may also enjoy a quite deep-going and diverse thread below Clara Miller’s Linkedin post.
I’d like to zoom in on one aspect of Fink’s wishful thinking. Fink writes: ‘It’s been two years since I wrote that climate risk is investment risk. And in that short period, we have seen a tectonic shift of capital. Sustainable investments have now reached $4 trillion. Actions and ambitions towards decarbonization have also increased. This is just the beginning – the tectonic shift towards sustainable investing is still accelerating. Whether it is capital being deployed into new ventures focused on energy innovation, or capital transferring from traditional indexes into more customized portfolios and products, we will see more money in motion.’
Now let’s look at reality, researched and published by Nadia Ameli, Sumit Kothari and Michael Grubb in their article in ‘Misplaced expectations from climate disclosure initiatives’ in Nature. They say in their introduction: ‘The financial sector’s response to pressures around climate change has emphasized the role of disclosure, notably through the recommendations of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. This Perspective examines two dimensions of the expectations behind transparency and disclosure initiatives: the belief that disinvestment is driven by disclosure; and that investment ‘switches’ from high- to low-carbon assets. We warn about the risk of disappointment from inflated expectations about what transparency can really deliver and suggest some areas that research and public policy should examine to mobilize the required capital to meet climate goals.’ Even more notable ‘More fundamental issues suggest that risk transparency may not be enough to trigger a step change in investment decision-making. A major challenge to investors is the timeframe over which climate risks will materialize compared with their traditional investment horizon (1–5 years). The typical turnover of investment portfolios is about 1–2 years, and the horizon of financial analysis does not usually exceed 3–5 years, whereas most asset managers’incentives are based on an annual performance. Moreover, at the employee level, portfolio managers are benchmarked on much shorter-term performance, such as quarterly or monthly. Most climate-related risks are thus way beyond these investment time horizons. In a comprehensive survey that collected 436 responses from institutional investors, climate risks were indeed ranked extremely low in comparison with other investment risks. Even when investors consider climate-related risks as potentially relevant on their time horizons, other factors could deter action. They might be sceptical about the political prospects for strong action; they may hope that negative emission technologies will enable their assets to emit as projected; or they may anticipate compensation to ensure a smooth transition and ameliorate political backlash. The main risk behind the disclosure narrative is thus the implicit exemption of the finance sector itself from the need for more radical actions beyond transparency leading to long-term systemic changes.’ The whole article of their in-depth study is a really recommended read!
Let all this sink in and then add these two resources to round up this painful yearly exercise (yes, I read these letters word by word).
1) Brink News Quick Takes had a statistic around ESG Stocks Contributions to Greenhouse Gases, sourced from a Quartz article called ‘The problem with ESG investing, in one chart’. They say that ‘popular ESG stocks often contribute toward greenhouse emissions, according to an analysis by Jordan Waldrep, chief investment officer of Illinois-based TrueMark Investments. Although ESG stocks exclude most oil and gas companies, emissions data from companies paint a different picture. According to Waldrep, many exchange traded funds include companies that emit more greenhouse gases than a hypothetical fund that excludes the five dirtiest companies per sector. The problem, according to Waldrep, is that the funds weigh other ESG priorities higher than environmental impact. Further complicating the scenario is the lack of visibility in supply chain emissions. An analysis of popular ESG stock Amazon, for instance, showed that its ocean shipments and third-party sellers cannot be tracked.’
2) Bloomberg discusses the problem that ‘The ESG Market Is Controlled by a Few Big Investors’: ‘The market for ESG-focused exchange-traded funds has been among the world’s hottest investment areas for more than two years now. […] About $120 billion flowed into these funds in 2021 as investors increase their bets on companies deemed to have the highest environmental, social and governance credentials. […] A closer look shows that it’s just a handful of institutional investors who control a large part of the market. […] The dominance of such a few key institutions points to the big challenge facing the sector: To reach the next level, ESG ETFs need a broader investor base.’
All this is in stark contradiction to Fink’s TCFD, ESG risk reduction and tectonic shift hooray-sheet. It’s also painful to see him talk about ‘sustainable investments’ when he’s clueless on the sustainability effects of these investments (hint: close to zero). So, one can deconstruct the whole letter and nothing remains but ‘blablahblah’.
Now, what becomes imminently clear from the above ill-motivated ‘tinkering around the edges’ is the need for a complete redesign for resilience and regeneration, actually what the name ‘r3.0’ stands for. And luckily, now that r3.0 will celebrate its 10th anniversary later this year, there is actually reason to believe that necessary change is possible.
- Our r3.0/UNRISD pilot project on the testing of thresholds and allocations-based (true) Sustainability Development Performance Indicators has been finished with the release of a Synthesis Report, so that UNRISD is now preparing the launch of these indicators by end of Q1/beginning of Q2/2022.
- IMP, the Impact Management Platform released an ‘authoritative basis’ website, including a subsite devoted specifically on the need for thresholds and allocations.
- We have seen the first true Sustainability Report by German GLS Bank (see a first English brochure here and watch out for a Case Study by r3.0 to be released in the next couple of weeks).
- Our work with the World Bank lead to a specific commitment in their just released Sustainability Review: ‘We are also working to enhance our sustainability reporting practices by taking a more context-based approach that considers the limits to the planet and its resources.’ And another just released report of the World Bank Group, called ‘SOVEREIGN CLIMATE AND NATURE REPORTING – Proposal for a Risks and Opportunities Disclosure Framework’ mentions specifically ‘…for information to be decision-useful, it will need to provide… Context, including limits or thresholds for climate and nature-related criteria aligned with ecological boundaries’, ‘Context-based performance accounting and reporting frameworks could offer a more holistic sustainability performance assessment’, and finally ‘A double materiality and context-based reporting approach that uses a dynamic materiality lens could be considered for a sovereign climate and nature reporting framework.’
- Even the WBCSD – World Business Council for Sustainable Development recognizes r3.0’s positions as ‘r3.0: brutally honest…’ in its latest report ‘An architecture for sustainable value transition within social and planetary boundaries’ (authored by Joss Tantram & Willem Schramade). At r3.0 we’d want this saying to be more ‘brutally deceitful? And hence something more like radically honest…’?, as my colleague Bill Baue pointed out.
- And speaking of Bill, I am super proud of his first two of four parts in which he takes forward his critique of ESG, and dismantles it as ‘Reverse Trojan horse’ and ‘Switch-and-bait’ tactics, with two more articles to come around ‘ESG as gaslighting’ and ‘ESG as Assimilationism.’ This series that r3.0 will also bundle into an Opinion Paper, was triggered by Bill’s excellent post ‘Dear ESG Folks’, building off of Bloomberg’s ‘ESG Mirage’ article.
Great stuff, now how to continue and build on these successes? r3.0 has just embarked on a 5-legged campaign called ‘Transcending Incrementalism – from ESG to System Value Creation’ and is currently starting various activities simultaneously. The above link gives an overview (also see the visual) and more detailed information on all 5 core activities under this heading, some of which take forth earlier work.
We are inviting all those that want to move beyond pure ESG Incrementalism to come forth and align around any of the five sets of activities, as many have already done. It is time to speak with one voice, while acknowledging different starting points and nuances in positioning.
And while we are starting the campaign, successes continue to come in. In ‘Enhanced Governance Mechanisms’ (#4 in the visual), where we aim to work constructively to address governance failures and hold organizations accountable for sustainability claims made, the Science-Based Target Initiative now announced to initiate changes to their governance, as asked for in a formal complaint and explained in a memorandum by my colleague Bill Baue. A Financial Times article lays out the details and mentions Bill and myself. Bill further explains his views in his related Linkedin post.
This piece describes a pattern that many global NGOs and their initiatives suffer from and need salvation for: a formal complaints mechanism to address willful and unconscious bias, ombudsman functions and proper due diligence. SBTI is just the beginning, others should take note! The ‚we are big, we are NGOs, so trust us‘ is a failing concept, as the world depends on some of these networks!
As I say in the article ‚You can‘t be judge and jury at the same time.‘ Some of their business models need adaptation to erase inherent conflicts of interest. Work ahead!
Remembering Lost Giants
In all this time of turmoil and (happily) positive action I’ll finish this newsletter by recognising the loss of initiators of our field, strong shoulders we all built on, and who will be deeply missed for their soothing voices: Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hahn, Thomas Lovejoy, E.O.Wilson.
As a weekend read (of course after having read this Lighthouse Keeper and arrived here at the end of it) I recommend one of the most beautiful resources: Thich Nhat Hahn’s ‘10 Love Letters To The Earth’, to the beloved Mother of all things!