What’s Next

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  • Image by Geoff Lye

    Having arrived in Paris last Friday for COP 21, Geoff Lye reports on highlights of a whirlwind of weekend events. This is the latest in his blog series on COP 21. For more, read his earlier posts.

    COPs can be very frustrating. Not simply in terms of the pace and direction of the UN negotiations, but also on account of the multiplicity of competing events at any time of any day – from breakfast through dinner . In practice, choosing which events to go to is a bit of a gamble; and I knew before I came that attending a COP is like panning for gold. You have to sit through and sift through a torrent of PowerPoints and panel sessions for the elusive sparkles. A few nuggets have emerged from the pan (as it were) and I have highlighted them in this blog.

    But first, my assessment of where the negotiations had gotten to by Monday evening. It is, of course, a fast changing picture, but there is a real spirit of optimism – in spite of some critical sticking points. The consensus seems to be that there is now agreement on where we don’t want to go (above 2 degrees), but not on how we won’t get there! [You may want to read that twice]. The text released on Saturday has reduced the overarching goal to a choice between 1.5°C and ‘well below 2°C’ as the warming threshold to be avoided. The tough part – still to be agreed – is setting the timelines for decarbonisation and agreeing how the burden of delivery is shared. Those issues will, no doubt, go to the wire on Friday (or, more likely into Saturday).

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  • Flickr photo by Alisdare Hickson

    As COP 21 gets underway, Geoff Lye considers the role of business to help deliver the decarbonisation needed to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold – the ultimate goal of the Paris climate talks.

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  • Will Geoff Lye's latest grandchild, Leo, wonder why it took us so long to avert the huge impacts of climate change?

    This is the second in a series of blogs Geoff Lye will produce in the run up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. His blogs from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007 can be found here .

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  • Flickr image by digitalpimp

    This is the first in a series of blogs I will produce in the fortnight running up to COP 21 and through the conference itself. As a regular attendee and reporter from most COPs since the Bali conference in 2007, I must admit to a feeling of déjà vu. The world’s leaders will be coming together in yet another of the UN’s last chance climate saloons to try to deliver a global agreement to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold.

    After COP 17 in Durban I decided, in frustration at the lack of progress, not to attend future events. Yet here I am – travel and hotels booked – excited once again in anticipation of joining the biggest ever assembly1 of climate professionals, activists, politicians, technologists, scientists and economists. For the first time, however, I have failed to get accreditation to the UN’s Blue Zone – and I know that my blogs will be weaker for that. But at this COP, most of the most interesting events and networking venues are outside the formal conference. This will create a far more open environment for most attendees and I can guarantee that there will be no shortage of surprising, inspiring and, in equal measure, depressing stories over the coming weeks.

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  • Image © CC Paul Lowry

    For over 25 years, companies have valued our ability to serve as their early warning system—to interpret emerging issues and trends in the sustainable development agenda and help them anticipate, understand, and respond to shifts in the business landscape. Our Ten Trends for 2015 series distills SustainAbility’s thinking over the past year and forecasts the issues that will shape the sustainable development agenda in 2015. This is the fourth in our series of blogs expanding upon these trends.

    One of the biggest stories of 2014 was uncertainty across the energy sector, which is set to continue throughout 2015, a seminal year in the transition towards a sustainable global energy future due to the Paris climate negotiations in December 2015. Price volatility coupled with record gains in renewable energy provision, the rise of divestment from fossil fuel companies, and growing momentum for real emissions reductions is placing pressure on society to act quickly in the fight against climate change. No actor is more impacted by these changes than fossil fuel companies. The time has arrived for them to engage constructively around the provision of energy under emissions constraints and recognize their new role in society. …

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  • Image © Libelul: Flickr

    An abbreviated version of this piece was originally published in the summer issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 04: Better, Connected.

    While the looming threat (and the perception of) climate change becomes more pronounced and immediate, we are seeing responses diverge in expected and unexpected ways. Recent efforts to broaden engagement on climate change, from the IPCC and US National Climate Assessment, focus on making climate risk relevant and tangible to people’s everyday lives. In the investment community, shareholder activism continues to be an influential front, with 12 US companies asked in 2014 to explain carbon asset risks via shareholder resolutions. A resolution on stranded assets at Anadarko Petroleum Corp. garnered the highest support ever for a carbon asset risk resolution (30% of the vote). …

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  • The main driver for the decline in coal usage has been hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), a process more frequently utilized through advancements in technology. Flickr image of Long Eaton coal plant by lewismd13.

    This is post 9 of 10. See next or previous.

    For over 25 years, companies have valued our ability to serve as their early warning system—to interpret emerging issues and trends in the sustainable development agenda and help them anticipate, understand and respond to shifts in the business landscape. In 2013, SustainAbility re-launched a dedicated function to regularly track and interpret “what’s next”—our Ten Trends of 2013 series is the distillation and public output of our thinking over the year.

    Every year, a number of organizations publish long-term energy forecasts. The two most recent ones were the World Energy Outlook 2013 from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040 from ExxonMobil. These reports paint a future that is more or less the same when it comes to how fossil fuels contribute to our energy future – the IEA predicts that 75% of global energy demand will come from fossil fuels by 2035 (vs. 82% today) while ExxonMobil forecasts a similar figure for 2040.

    While these robust research pieces are must reads for anyone working in the energy space, a variety of technical, environmental and societal factors make their predictions about the future of energy more uncertain than ever. …

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  • “The current economic system, built on the idea of perpetual growth, sits uneasily within an ecological system that is bound by biophysical limits.” So states the fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5), published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 2012.

    Renowned economist Kenneth Boulding reflected the same sentiment more pointedly many years ago when he said: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

    Infinite growth is the operating principle, reinforced by our current economic and political systems, on which many of the world’s business leaders, policy-makers and investors make decisions every day. As a result, the gap between our current burn rate and what the planet’s environmental systems can support on a sustained basis continues to grow. This gap represents a significant risk – and an opportunity – for the business community.

    This is the context of the most recent collaboration between UNEP and SustainAbility, along with Green Light Group: a just-released report titled GEO-5 for Business. Using GEO-5 (a 500+ page compilation of environmental data, policy options and scenarios) as its foundation, GEO-5 for Business serves as a translation and primer written specifically for business leaders. While much analysis has been conducted on the impacts of business on the environment, this report looks in the other direction – at the impacts of environmental trends on business….

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  • Earlier this month, the Obama administration decided to delay the decision on approval of the XL pipeline until 2013, ostensibly to further study the pipeline’s potential environmental impacts.

    The fight over the pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada to US refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region, has become a symbol of a broader argument.

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  • Energy efficiency is not a sexy topic, so when the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ad Council teamed up in July for a national consumer education campaign that includes messaging like “Save Money, Save Date Night” and viral-bound videos of a couple throwing all their worldly possessions down a cliff to cement the point that wasting energy is like wasting (in spectacular fashion) money, it was at least a refreshing take on an historically dull issue.

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  • A compilation of SustainAbility's current and past thinking on the future of energy.

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  • Image:

    Oceana, the NGO which, according to its website, is the largest organization focused soley on ocean conservation, has been running a new ad campaign in Washington, DC since about the first anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon accident (mid-April). I see the posters frequently on my ride to and from work on the DC Metro. The campaign is titled What If It Happened Here?, and depicts a DH-like drilling platform fire and the consequences – oil slicks, deployed booms, oiled birds – adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument…

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  • The second in a series of blogs about what's on our radar: Germany moves away from nuclear.

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  • Three Gorges Dam, Photo: Flickr user hughrocks

    The choices government and business leaders make to resolve the tightening choke point between rising energy demand and declining freshwater reserves will form the central strategic focus of the next era of China’s unfolding development.

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  • As unrest in North Africa and the Middle East enters a fifth month since the first sparks of the Tunisian Revolution last December, oil prices are starting to dominate the political discourse. In the UK, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne warned of a 1970s-style oil shock that could cost the UK economy £45 billion over two years. Closer to home, last week’s Financial Mail cover story on oil – the three letters that threaten economic growth – argued that a sustained high oil price threatens to completely stall the global recovery.

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  • Mark Lee reports from day one of Fortune Brainstorm Green.

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  • BP's 2010 sustainability report tries to take the spill head-on, but stakeholders have even bigger questions in mind.

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  • Kentucky on My Mind

    28 Feb 2011Mark Lee

    Externalities abound, but perhaps nowhere more so than with coal. Let's hope decision-makers are poised to act.

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  • Why energy rationing, not seen in the UK since WWII, may be exactly what's needed to jumpstart climate action.

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  • The oil industry should, instead of isolating one culprit, commit to addressing systemic failures that led to the spill.

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