Top Stories

November 17, 2015


Responsible Investment

Investment giant TIAA-CREF accused of land grabs in Brazil

US investment giant TIAA-CREF manages the retirement savings of millions of university administrators, public school teachers and others. The group prides itself on upholding socially responsible values, and last year played a role in drafting the UN PRI’s Guidance for Responsible Investment in Farmland. But public documents outlined in a new report show that the American financial giant and its Brazilian partners have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on farmland deals in the cerrado, a huge region on the edge of the Amazon rainforest where there are concerns over land grabbing and razing of woodland. TIAA-CREF and its partners amassed vast new holdings of farmland, despite a move by Brazil’s government in 2010 to effectively ban such large-scale deals by foreigners. Despite claims that they acquired farms from a speculator accused of employing gunmen to seize land by force, TIAA-CREF and its investors maintain that they are in full compliance with the UN Principles. (NY Times)

Climate Change

New Zealand companies make Paris climate commitments

Major companies representing 36 percent of New Zealand’s private sector GDP will prioritise the development of low carbon precincts and increasing energy efficiency as part of post-Paris actions to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change. They have also called on the central government to ensure cross-party support for a business-led transition to a low carbon-economy. BusinessNZ’s Major Companies Group and Sustainable Business Council issued the call as part of a Business Brief on Climate Change released this week. The brief sets out the groups’ agenda for leading the transition to a low-carbon economy. It also calls for the government to negotiate “an ambitious, inclusive post-2020 global climate agreement” at COP21 in Paris next month. BusinessNZ also simultaneously released the results of its Climate Survey, which showed that two-thirds of its member companies already have emissions reduction targets in place. (Eco-Business)


Report: Clean energy in refugee camps could save millions of dollars

A group of NGOs, think tanks and donors has written the first report looking into the energy use in refugee camps around the world. In refugee camps, 90 percent of families have no access to electricity. There is also often no street lighting, putting women and girls at greater risk of sexual attack. “These displaced people and refugees are part of the 2.9 billion living in energy poverty around the world, but the sustainable development goals and the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative didn’t mention them. They are a grey area,” said one of the report’s authors, Chatham House senior research fellow Glada Lahn. With the introduction of efficient cook stoves and basic solar lanterns, humanitarian agencies could save $323 million a year in fuel costs, the report calculates. The report authors suggest the creation of a fund for energy infrastructure that could be accessed by humanitarian agencies. (Guardian)

Sustainable Consumption

Move over meat: how the UK can diversify its protein consumption

A new report from the Carbon Trust on protein diversity has found that while awareness of the environmental impacts of livestock production is increasing, it remains “surprisingly low” compared to other environmental issues. The report calls on governments, consumers and food businesses to take more effective actions to scale up protein diversity, and move the UK towards more varied and sustainable diets. Campaigns can help increase awareness of food sustainability, according to the report, but studies have shown that awareness alone does not change behaviour. One of the main challenges to diversifying diets in the UK is a lack of knowledge of how to prepare meals without meat, according to the report. A lack of available meat-free options from food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants is another key barrier. “We have limited our food choices without even knowing it. We don’t need to eat as much [meat] as we are,” says Duncan Williamson, food policy manager at WWF. “The footprint of producing this much white meat is unsustainable.” (Guardian)


Cambodia approves draft union law amid criticism

Cambodia’s government is moving forward in adopting a new controversial trade union law, despite the opposition from labour rights groups and garment manufacturers. The draft law was approved by the Council of Ministers, and is believed to be approved by the National Assembly this week. The bill would establish new rules for forming and dissolving unions, and there are concerns that it has not been made public or provided opportunities for the employees, unions or public for feedback. A draft obtained last year by Human Right Watch was criticised for failing to meet international standards. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) government to consider changes to the law. GMAC’s main concern is related to a provision that states a minimum of 10 people is required to form a union. This raises the possibility of dozens of different unions in a single factory with different agendas and significantly weakened collective bargain power, GMAC said.  (Just-style)


Image source: Aerial view of Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan by Rogdel / Public domain