Top Stories

July 10, 2019

Sustainable Development

Environmental criticism mounts over EU-South America trade deal

The landmark EU-Mercosur trade deal between the European and South American blocs is facing new and vocal opposition from environmentalists over its potential to encourage deforestation, cattle ranching and production of cars. Environmentalists say that by slashing agricultural tariffs, the deal will trigger a surge in Brazilian cattle ranching, which many experts believe is responsible for both growing levels of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and global emissions. As the world’s largest rainforest, the region plays a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide emissions and stabilising global temperatures. The deal will also slash duties on cars and car parts. Yannick Jadot, the leader of the French Greens, said the deal was “for the German automotive industry and for the beef industry in Brazil”. However, European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have defended the trade deal, saying its implementation was contingent upon Brazil adhering to the Paris climate accord — a pact that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro previously mused about leaving. (Financial Times)*


E.ON UK to supply 3.3 million customers with 100 percent renewable electricity

More than 3 million homes are to automatically receive 100 percent renewable electricity from British energy company, E.ON UK, at no extra cost in one of the UK’s biggest green energy switches to date. The ‘big six’ supplier says the decision is in response to rising public concern over the climate crisis. E.ON is one of the UK’s largest renewable energy generators and plans to draw from its own windfarms, biomass plants and solar projects to power the switch. It will also need to top up its portfolio by buying renewable “guarantee certificates” sold by renewable energy developers. Michael Lewis, the chief executive of E.ON UK, said the supplier has secured enough renewable energy to confidently meet the demand of its customers, even as the company undergoes a major corporate overhaul. E.ON is preparing to hand over its renewable energy portfolio to RWE in exchange for its energy network assets and supply businesses in a mega deal that is expected to be concluded by the end of the year. (The Guardian)

Digital Ethics

Instagram introduces new features to prevent bullying

Social media site Instagram is introducing new features which will automatically challenge users before they post something which might be considered bullying and allow victims to secretly block bullies. The new feature notifies users when Instagram’s algorithms suspect that their comments might be considered offensive before they actually post. The measure is being introduced as the British government develops regulations to tackle social media platforms and make them responsible for harmful material which they allow users to share or discover. According to Instagram: “This intervention gives people a chance to reflect and undo their comment and prevents the recipient from receiving the harmful comment notification.” The other new feature, called ‘Restrict’, will allow users to secretly block bullies. Once someone is placed on Restrict, comments on victim’s posts from that person will only be visible to the bully. Restricted people will also be unable to see when the victim is active on Instagram or when their victims have read their direct messages. (Sky News)

Climate Change

Higher education institutions declare climate emergency

More than 7,000 higher and further education institutions worldwide have declared a climate emergency in a letter recognising “the need for a drastic societal shift to combat the growing threat of climate change.” They plan to increase the delivery of environmental and sustainability education in their courses and campus programmes, and go carbon-neutral by 2030, or 2050 at the latest. They also plan to mobilise more resources for “action-oriented climate change research” and skills development. The letter was organised by the UK’s Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education as well as United States-based climate action organisation Second Nature and UN Environment’s Youth and Education Alliance. So far, 25 networks and 56 institutions including King’s College London, France’s Grenoble Ecole de Management, Dubai’s Zayed University and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia have signed the letter. However, only three institutions in Asia feature among the 56 that have signed the climate emergency letter. (Eco Business)


Grant Thornton and PwC criticised for substandard audits

Accounting firms PwC and Grant Thornton have been singled out for criticism by their regulator after a third to a half of their largest audits fell below its expected standard. The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) warned of an “unsatisfactory” deterioration in inspection results for PwC’s audits of FTSE 350 clients over the past year, after only two out of three of the audits scrutinised met the watchdog’s standard of needing only limited improvement. However, sharper criticism was reserved for Grant Thornton whose audit quality was a “matter of deep concern”, according to the FRC. Grant Thornton now faces heightened scrutiny from the watchdog after only 50 percent of its audits were found to meet the FRC’s standard. The findings come as the UK audit industry is being subjected to intense scrutiny with some critics calling for the ‘Big Four’ auditors, which include PwC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte, to be broken up after accounting scandals at companies including Patisserie Valerie and Carillion. (Financial Times)*

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Image Source: Deforestation by crustmania on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.