“The secret IRS files” is a trove of never-seen-before tax records showing how the 0.01%, billionaires like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Zuckerberg, actually get away with paying nearly no taxes. Just obtained from the US tax authorities by ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom that investigates the abuses of power, it is the first result of an ongoing investigation with assuredly more revelations to come. For the first time, we have indisputable evidence that the ultra-rich do not pay taxes that could be remotely considered as commensurate with their wealth or fair to the rest of the taxpayers.
This is all the more shocking if you confront the ProPublica finding with a report from Oxfam, published in September last year, that showed how the lifestyle of the rich destroys the environment: The One Percent – just 63 million people out of the planet’s total 7.9 billion – are responsible for 15% of the carbon emissions.
The next G20 Summit Meeting of heads of state will be held in Rome on Oct. 30 and 31, 2021, under the Italian G20 Presidency. The agenda, with the title “People, Planet, Prosperity”, addresses major obstacles to achieving a sustainable world; a series of lower-level “working” meetings prepares the Summit, including, most recently: G20 Empower to identify measures to accelerate women’s empowerment; the Youth 20 Inception Meeting to open a two-month (virtual) dialogue for young delegates (between 20 and 30 years of age) to discuss global challenges; the G20 TechSprint Initiative under the sponsorship of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub and the Bank of Italy focusing on the most pressing challenges in green and sustainable finance.
With “People, Planet, and Prosperity” focused on achieving a sustainable world, the G-20 agenda is fully in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that covers the whole gamut of sustainability issues from environment/climate change to social justice issues and economic development. The hope is that this G20 meeting will be powerful enough to move us toward a more sustainable world as defined by the SDGs – something we all seek, including advanced industrialized countries, according to the latest OECD paper calling for a “Green Transition”.
But how to get there? The time has come to decide not what should be done – the UN 2030 Agenda tells us that – but how to do it.
No doubt, there are many possible solutions, but here, I offer a (non) modest proposal. Not modest because it is very ambitious. But it has the advantage of being practical. And it is addressed to the G20 and everyone involved in the run-up to the upcoming Summit.
Why the G20? Because today this is the one international organism most representative of the world’s geopolitical composition, as it includes both the most important leaders and the largest economies.
The idea is simple and could be summarized in five points:
The goal of a sustainable world has been clearly spelled out in the UN 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs but the implementation – how to get there – has been left in the hands of national governments:
No international organization as presently organized is equipped to carry through the necessary coordination to achieve the 17 SDGs; the UN cannot deliver, it has no coercive authority over its member states and in the hands of geopolitical powers;
A new governance system needs to be set up to achieve the 17 SDGs, an international institution able to coordinate national governments in a way that the United Nations system cannot: Strong, independent, and innovative, it could be modeled after a successful government agency such as NASA was after it was tasked by President Kennedy to take a man to the moon ;
Call it the Commission for a Sustainable World (CSW); while it could follow the NASA model, it would be mandated to achieve a far bigger task – namely, to make the world sustainable for eight billion people – and therefore require adequate funding and regulatory powers;
The CSW must be independent like the European Commission is in its relations with EU member states; it would report on progress to the UN General Assembly and the G20,subject to review, say every 3-5 years, and limited in duration by a “sunset clause” to ensure that once the SDGs are achieved, the CSW would be terminated.
The key idea here is that the CSW is a hybrid institution, modeled after the European Commission but anchored in the UN system, yet much stronger than the UN.
But it should not become a permanent new international organization or replace the UN.
Also, the CSW would pose no threat to national sovereignty as it would only operate in the areas agreed to by the UN General Assembly: UN 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. That means only two broad areas: The environment (which includes Climate Change) and social justice. And the CSW would regularly report to the UN and the G20 (should the G20 take it upon itself to promote and fund it) and be subject to review to ensure that management flexibility does not cause it to sink into corruption and that it remains within its mandate.
A note of caution: Some flexibility will be needed as the SDGs’ general timeframe is 2030 except for SDG13 (Climate Action) that includes the Paris Climate Agreement’s target to achieve zero-net emissions set at 2050. Also, problems evolve and unexpected events occur – for example, the COVID pandemic was barely mentioned under SDG#3. It would seem wise therefore to have the Commission established for at least 10-15 years. By going for even 10 years you have it running beyond the 2030 Agenda’s current life.
The goal is to give the new governance system a chance to show its worth and, if need be, adapt it to new circumstances. Here is what it would take to create such an institution. And it starts with our changing view of the role of government.
Sounds like a good idea? Interested in finding out more about the Sustainable World Commission? Click here to read the rest.
We keep hearing about wonderful new goals for fighting climate change, but will they be enough to save us from the worst effects of global warming? The numbers, by themselves, mean little. What matters is what is behind them: Investment in “green” innovative projects and a government’s environmental regulatory framework. I explored the issue in the following article for Impakter, here is the opening:
Can the New US and EU Climate Goals Save the World?
Last week in April was marked by the announcement of new, more ambitious climate goals from two of the world’s largest polluters, the United States and Europe. Could they be a turning point in the fight against climate change? The question really is: Are the new climate goals going to be game-changers? Or are they just so much powder in the eyes of the beholders?
On 21 April, the European Parliament and Council reached an informal agreement to raise the EU’s 2030 emissions reduction target to at least 55% below 1990 levels, compared with the previous 40% goal. And on 22-23 April, the U.S. announced its own ambitious goal of cutting its 2030 emissions by half. This announcement, given at the Leaders Summit on Climate convened by President Biden, was viewed by everyone as a major attempt by the U.S. to reclaim climate leadership.
For the 2020 Top 100 Global Brands, a list derived from Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands, the goal of sustainability continues to be out of reach, despite their many claims to the contrary. This is what the findings of a three-month analysis carried out by the Impakter Index team has just revealed (results published on 18 December 2020).
The conclusion is clear: Most companies have a long way to go before they achieve full sustainability in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and targets pertaining to their area of activity – if ever.
A high level of “greenwashing” is still prevalent among major household names. Some of them haven’t even started on the road to sustainability, others can never make it because of the very nature of their activities (based on/using fossil fuels or dangerous chemicals). Most are doing an average job though they claim otherwise, and none is one-hundred-percent sustainable. Not one.
I know that many of my readers who’ve read my article when the Index was launched this summer (31 July), or saw Common Place editor, Quincy Childs’ endorsement, will want to go directly to the Impakter Index and check out their favorite brand (go to the Impakter home page or click here to see). You may well be surprised (or perhaps not) to find that in most cases, there is a stunning gap between what companies claim and what they actually deliver in terms of sustainability and social responsibility.
Look at the findings, the table provides a summary view of the ratings obtained by the top 100 brands:
To find out how they are rated by the Impakter Index, go to my article, click here.
I promise you, you’ll be surprised (I know I was)!
Last week I reviewed two amazing books that propose a new world after COVID, doing away with capitalism as we know it but using radically different means to achieve this goal. Both my reviews were published on Impakter. Here’s the opening of my article:
Post-COVID: Blueprints to End Capitalism As We Know It
Capitalism as we know it is morphing into an “awful kind of techno feudalism” that only deserves to die, says Yanis Varoufakis. A radical statement but coming from the former finance minister of Greece who famously battled the European Troika for the Greek cause at the height of the debt crisis in 2015, it is no surprise.
Can activists in their battle against shareholder capitalism use financial engineering to bring Wall Street to its knees? That is the scenario Varoufakis proposes in his latest book Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present (published in September 2020 by Vintage), arguing that finance is the Achilles heel of capitalism. And here’s the other must-read book I reviewed:
How To Reform Capitalism – Mariana Mazzucato’s Moonshots
The Trojan horse comes from another economist, an Italo-American, a woman, Mariana Mazzucato who has already shaken up the academic world of economics with her bestselling The Entrepreneurial State, published in 2015 with the subtitle: “Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths”.
Her solution for post-Covid reconstruction? Work from inside the system.
Give back to the state the role it played back in the 1960s when America, engaged in a space race with the Soviet Union, unleashed the power of the Federal Government.
Mazzucato is Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL) where she is also Founder and Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. And her ideas have already been adopted both by the European Commission and the Scottish government.
Both are highly recommended reads! Curious? Take a look at my article, click here.
Just published my latest article on Impakter magazine, here’s the opening:
SUSTAINABLE FINANCE: HOW TO ADDRESS NATURE RISKS AND CLIMATE CHANGE
As our environment is undergoing ever faster collapse, with the rainforest burning in the Amazon, the ice melting in the Arctic and now California ravaged by fires, the goal of achieving sustainable finance appears ever more elusive. It is obvious that nature risks directly translate into financial risks. And with climate change accelerating, it is equally obvious that growing natural risks is the cause of equally growing financial instability.
While the relation between nature, climate and sustainable finance is obvious, the exact impact is not so clear. Natural disasters, from floods to air pollution events to wildlife species extinction, can impact businesses and whole economic sectors in variable ways, some more than others. And a small further rise in global warming, as small as a half degree centigrade, can make a stunningly huge difference:
To illustrate with the famous case of a highly valuable wildlife species threatened by extinction, i.e. bees whose pollination activities are fundamental for agricultural production. A prosperous European pharmaceutical company suddenly faced catastrophic financial losses after it had acquired in 2018 an agrochemical company accused of causing adverse impacts on bee populations that led to a series of health-related trials. Suddenly, it lost almost 40% of its market capitalization in less than one year, causing shareholders billions in losses.
To put a name on these firms: the pharmaceutical company is Bayer, the agrochemical is Monsanto and the cause of the bee-killing is, of course, a pesticide, the infamous “Roundup”. In short, Bayer is worth less today than the $63 billion it paid for Monsanto about a year ago.
As a first step to ascertain what the effects of nature risks are on the finance industry, a number of academics at the University of Hamburg have formed a Research Group on Sustainable Finance and analysed for the first time the existing academic literature which highlighted the relationship between nature risks and financial risks. The study has been financed by WWF Switzerland and will be uploaded to their website this month.
They identified 154 peer-reviewed articles published between 1966 and 2019. These articles covered four areas: banking, insurance, real estate, and stock markets; and nine nature risks: disease, drought, erosion, flooding, invasive species, oil spills, pollution/environmental contamination – of air, groundwater, soil/land and surface water -, solid waste, and bushfires.
“Destruction of ecosystems results in financial risks”
Overall, the articles confirmed that the destruction of ecosystems results in financial risks. They also found that nature risks are not adequately reflected in current risk models of financial institutions and therefore not priced correctly.
Incorrect pricing is a major concern. It means that financial institutions urgently need to identify how the activities they finance impact the natural world. Developing a framework for investors to analyse nature risks and integrating these systematically in their valuation models is crucial. It would be the first indispensable step to achieve sustainable finance.
What is interesting is how the literature reviewed by the Research Group on Sustainable Finance identified variable impacts depending on the sector and the kind of nature risk. The sector that tends to suffer the most from nature risks is real estate. The greatest threats to valuation in the real estate sector include flooding followed by air pollution (and environmental contamination in general) and bushfires.
That of course, is a massive financial problem – but it is a problem for individual property owners too. The house you just bought, or that you inherited from your parents, could be worth next to nothing in just a few short years.
Sorry for the silence, my friends, I’ve been working on a new book – a book for young children told in the voice of my dog Pepy (woof!) – but I didn’t stop working as Senior Editor at Impakter magazine, also contributing articles (yeah, I confess, there’s been a break of several weeks, but I was wrapped up in writing the first draft of my Pepy book …). Now a new article is out, so, as usual, here’s the opening:
The climate emergency makes the comparison between humans and dinosaurs inescapable: Both face extinction from a climate crisis. But with a difference. The dinosaurs didn’t bring it on themselves. An asteroid hitting Earth and a giant volcano did it for them. By contrast, humans are doing it to themselves. The scientific evidence is incontrovertible, the climate emergency results from the industrial revolution.
And the climate emergency is much more than rising temperatures and sea levels. It’s choking pollution, it’s a calamitous drop in biodiversity, with more than half the world’s species gone over the last 30 years. In short, it’s the 6th mass extinction. And it’s happening now. The Artic melted this summer like never before. The question is: Can we survive as a species?
The question is urgent. We can no longer afford to waste time discussing scientific facts with climate deniers. We need to consider what to do concretely to avert disaster – anything less is irresponsible.
That is the point made by a mild-mannered professor at a British university, Dr. Rupert Read who teaches at the University of East Anglia (UK) and self-describes as a committed climate and environmental campaigner. Most recently, he has been a frequent spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion and a member of their political liaison team. For anyone who hasn’t heard yet about the Extinction Rebellion, here is a quick video that sums it up:
Extinction Rebellion is a people’s movement that was launched in May 2018 with protests in the UK and is now active around the globe. Starting 7 October, and for two weeks, protests are planned in London (you can sign up here) and other major cities (to join, check this site). The movement has become truly worldwide:
It has already achieved one of its goals: It got the UK Parliament to declare on May 1st 2019 a state of “climate emergency”. Through the summer, the parliaments of other countries joined with similar declarations: Ireland, the Holy See, Canada, France, Argentina, Spain, Austria, in that order. Local administrations joined too, including New York and San Francisco in the US; Sidney and Melbourne in Australia; Paris and Mulhouse in France; most towns in Canada and Germany. The list is endless and growing.
At the moment of writing, Extinction Rebellion protesters are defying the London city ban on protests and nursing mothers target Google. Why Google?
To find out why Google has excited the ire of Extinction Rebellion (and much more), read the rest on Impakter, click here.
If you’re curious about my other articles published on Impakter magazine (I started in 2014), here’s a list, click here.
Soon after Notre Dame in Paris went up in flames, teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, in a speech to the European Parliament, said she did not want to diminish the Notre-Dame fire, but wished there was an equal outpouring of funding support to combat issues such as climate change.
The outpouring of funding to rebuild Notre Dame was indeed impressive. Within 24 hours of the blaze, French luxury tycoons had pledged donations in the hundreds of million Euros: François-Henri Pinault (Kering) came through with €100 million; his crosstown rival Bernard Arnault (LVMH) with €200 million; the Meyer Bettencourt family (Oreal) with €200 million.
Add to that the €100 million announced by Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné
Is Greta Thunberg right? Is there not enough to fight climate change? I thought I’d investigate the question and if you’re curious and want to get the answer, read the rest of my article on Impakter, click here.
I don’t know about you but I’m suffering from Trump fatigue. He’s just too much – and tweeting too much. So this week I looked at another issue (which Trump is no doubt making worse): climate change. Just published on Impakter, here’s the beginning:
Will climate change and global warming eradicate humans? This summer, the worst scorcher to date, has become a season for panic: wildfires across the Western United States, Greece and Sweden, record temperatures in China, unprecedented floods in India and Japan, a surge in heat waves in urban areas that are predicted to get worse by 2080, killing up to four times as many people as they do today.
With Trump’s America leading the charge, pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and pulling down every environmental protection rule, it looks like the battle for Earth and our survival is lost.
After all, America is still the largest industrial country in the world and a major polluter, on par with China. And while China “got the message” and is at least trying (though not always successfully) to curb its climate-destructive ways, America is not.
True, single American states, like California and a few others, as well as big cities like New York and San Francisco that have joined a world alliance of big C-40 cities, are trying their best to counter climate armageddon.
But that’s not enough. The problem is Washington and Trump. American climate deniers are having a field day, and they are winning.
Earth lovers and tree huggers are fighting back. The New York Times this week came up with an extraordinary piece of long journalism. In a single-theme issue of its Magazine, focused on climate change, it published an authoritative article with the striking title: Losing the Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.
The article is both a mesmerizing and heart-breaking read. It helps dispel the cultural amnesia we suffer from too often, the idea that the climate change fight is something recent. Or that the fuel industry wasn’t aware of the dangers of fuel emissions – it was well aware of them, as far back as the 1950s. And at first, it had even tried to play along and prepare for an alternative green energy future: Exxon financed honest, independent research…until it didn’t.
The article was put together over 18 months with support from the Pulitzer Center on crisis reporting. It was written by author Nathaniel Rich, whose apocalyptic novel Odds Against Tomorrow was an instant bestseller when it came out in 2013.
That book made Rich one of the young and rising stars of climate fiction, a new genre that went viral with the new century. This is a novel I read with great pleasure when it came out, a not-to-be-missed thriller with unexpected twists and turns that will bring home what it feels like when your town is flooded (in this case, New York).
The article is illustrated with stunning video and photo work from award-winning photographer George Steinmetz who specializes in aerial imagery.
The online version starts off with a long video shot of melting snow and the stark words:
“30 years ago we had a chance to save the planet.”
I must apologize for the long silence: I have been so busy writing for Impakter that I never got around to updating you, my friends, on my blog. My latest in-depth article (out on 17 May) is about something that really worries me: The threat of pandemics and our general lack of readiness.
WHO’s quick reaction to the Ebola outbreak in D.R.Congo should not delude us into thinking we’re safe. We’re not. We really need to do something about this. Here is the start of the article:
GLOBAL HEALTH SYSTEMS: READY FOR THE NEXT PANDEMIC?
In a world traumatized by Trump’s America First agenda, many worry that nuclear conflict is around the corner. As a result, global health tends to be down at the bottom of the list of things to worry about. Yet, as we learned when Ebola struck in 2014, our lead institution, the World Health Organization (WHO), was shockingly slow on the uptake. Our global health governance was just not up to the task.
Now, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has just sent a letter to WHO Director-General – a letter also signed by the heads of Norway and Ghana – asking his organization to help draft a “Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All” to be discussed at the 10th World Health Summit in Berlin in October 2018.
Saving Chinese JobsOn Sunday, Trump tweeted his concern for Chinese jobs, vowing that he was working with the Chinese leader to “save…
Beautiful, Clean Coal!Coal, historically, is the dirtiest source of energy ever used. Yet, once again, this week-end, Trump tweeted that it was…
Wow, that’s eight Trump Watch articles in one month, and they all zero in on one of the many character traits of the man – it wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t the most powerful man on earth. But the closer you get to him (as I do, reading his tweets and his pronouncements every day), the scarier it gets…
Incidentally, when I look back, I see that over the last month I also added another article to my series on Bitcoin, reporting on a new development which is (in my view) deeply puzzling:
Sorry for not posting all those updates here, but you can see that I have been overwhelmed with work this month, with 10 articles published on Impakter. Not to mention the work I usually do as Senior Editor…