The planet and our progress in 2019

In the sustainability world we are not light on research and findings. It’s often hard to keep up and harder still to find time to read them all. So, we have summarised some of the most significant reports on the state of climate and sustainability to provide a snapshot of developments in the industry in ...

Lucy Haines

25 Jun 2019 8 mins read time

In the sustainability world we are not light on research and findings. It’s often hard to keep up and harder still to find time to read them all. So, we have summarised some of the most significant reports on the state of climate and sustainability to provide a snapshot of developments in the industry in the first half of 2019.

March 2019: UN Global Environmental Outlook

The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) brings together hundreds of scientists, peer reviewers and collaborating institutions annually to provide information to guide societies to a sustainable world by 2050.

This year’s report is an urgent call for governments to take immediate action to address climate change and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. It states that:

  • Achieving a ‘Healthy planet, Healthy people’ will require a transformation in human lifestyles and productive activities
  • Ultimately an unhealthy planet leads to unhealthy people
  • We must address the drivers that lead to this problem. Most significant is the failure to internalise environmental and health impacts into economic growth processes, technology and development. We are too dependent on a wasteful use of resources
  • There has been progress on some issues such as global hunger, access to clean water, sanitation and clean energy
  • A healthy people, planet and economy can be mutually supportive

April 2019: Global Forest Watch

In April the Global Forest Watch announced that the world lost a Belgium-sized area of primary forest in 2018 alongside the following observations from their latest data :

  • Brazil and Indonesia continue to have the largest deforestation rates, but their combined contribution is down again this year (in 2002 they made up 71% of tropical primary forest loss, in 2018 46%), while countries like Ghana, Colombia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and DRC saw loss rates rise considerably.
  • Indonesia’s drop, most noticeable in protected forests, is a signal that government policies are beginning to work as are financial incentives – Norway has previously pledged to compensate Indonesia for reducing its deforestation.
  • Hundreds of countries and companies have made commitments to reduce or eliminate deforestation by 2020. The deadline is fast approaching and there is some progress, but many countries are unfortunately trending in the wrong direction.

May 2019: UN Global Assessment Report

This report compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a body of 400 experts from 50 countries, paints a damning picture of our natural resources. It states that nature’s dangerous decline is unprecedented and “the world is on notice”.

It examines five main drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem change over the past 50 years: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species and concludes that:

  • Species extinction rates are already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.
  • Without measures there will be further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction.
  • One in four species are at risk
  • Many crops’ wild relatives are not being protected. The reduction in the diversity of crops means that they are less likely to be resilient to climate change, pests and pathogens.
  • Although more food, energy and materials are being supplied to more people all over the world than ever before, it is at huge cost to nature.
  • Marine pollution has increased tenfold since 1980.

May 2019 UK Government Climate Change Committee Report

Just as Extinction Rebellion and other climate groups were shutting down the city of London and bringing the climate and ecological crises very dramatically to the fore front of public debate, the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee report landed in May.

Commissioned by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in response to the Paris Agreement and IPCC report, the findings concluded that the UK could end its contribution to global warming in 30 years. It advises the UK Government that:

  • This goal is achievable with known technologies, the foundations are already in place, but current UK policy is not enough even for existing targets
  • It is possible within the economic cost that has already been committed to under the climate change Act passed in 2008. However, policies will have to ramp up significantly
  • Country by country advised targets were outlined as:
    • Scotland Net Zero by 2045
    • UK Net Zero by 2050
    • Wales -95% by 2050 (accounting for a large agricultural sector)
  • Key goals that will need to be achieved, such as tree planting, transitioning to electric vehicles by 2035 or earlier
  • There are many co-benefits of reducing emissions such as improved air quality and health

It appeals to the UK’s position of leadership as a world leader that once led the rest of the globe into the industrial revolution and must now step up for the low carbon one. The report was welcomed by most in the sustainability world, but not without caution from some groups: those questioning the feasibility or cost of reaching the target; and climate groups stating that the target is simply not ambitious enough to put the brakes on the climate and ecological disaster.

(Since the release of the report, the UK Government has now committed to a target of net zero by 2050, one of the first major nations to do so).

May 2019 TCFD Progress Report

One of the most significant recent developments in corporate climate reporting has been the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), published in 2017. The objective of the TCFD is to guide companies to better account for the risks and opportunities of climate change and adequately disclose them to investors and other stakeholders. Two years on, the TCFD has published its latest progress report, which shows:

  • Some promising early signs of uptake but concludes that this is isolated to those companies already engaged on climate-related issues.
  • For many businesses incorporating the recommendations is a challenge or merely a future ambition.
  • The companies that are acting provide proof that disclosing against the recommendations is possible.

The TCFD continues to stress that this is a journey of continual improvement and to applaud any companies willing to begin. It voices its concern that not enough companies are taking up the journey yet and is emphatic that ‘now is the time’.

June 2019 CDP: Are companies ready for climate change?

In 2018, the CDP Questionnaires were overhauled to incorporate the recommendations of the TCFD. How did companies cope with the first year of TCFD-aligned disclosures and what does it tell us? CDP have now published their analysis. The report entitled ‘Major Risk or Rosy Opportunity: Are companies ready for climate change?’ finds that:

  • Many of the world’s largest organisations now realise that the risks of climate change are significant to their bottom line and could impact as soon as the next five years.
  • 225 of the world’s 500 biggest companies say that climate change could generate more than $2.1trillion of potential news business.
  • In almost all industries the cost of realising the opportunities is significantly smaller than the value of the opportunities – nearly 7 times smaller.
  • US companies make up the largest group in the sample yet only represent 10% of the financial risk reported to CDP.
  • The majority of financial implications reported are from the financial sector itself.
  • Companies are neglecting supply risks and focusing on direct operations.
  • Although there is good progress, action needs to happen a lot faster than the current trajectory

June 2019 IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review

In their new annual review, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) announced that there are now 11 million people world wide employed in renewable energy. This is up from 10.3 million in 2017. This rise is despite slower growth in large renewable energy markets like China. It also finds that:

  • There were now emerging markets in smaller economies like Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam where previously renewable energy industries have remained concentrated in a small number of larger markets such as China, the United States and the European Union.
  • Consequently, Asia retains a 60% share in renewable energy jobs.
  • Solar PV retains the top spot in terms of employee share, with a third of the total renewable energy workforce.


Summary of our planet and progress to date

The state of the planet and our climate makes for gloomy reading, but the recurrent theme across many of the reports in the industry this year is that action is not just imperative and urgent. It is not even just doable. It is also beneficial for our economies, our communities, and the health of humanity and the natural world. Although slow, progress is happening, and momentum is starting to pick up pace.

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