Top Stories

September 04, 2020

Sustainable Investment

Biggest banks sustain coal financing despite defunding drive

UK bank Barclays is one of Europe’s biggest financiers of coal-consuming utilities, extending £1.5bn in loans and underwriting since November 2018, according to environmental lobby group Europe Beyond Coal. Under mounting pressure from customers and shareholders for action on climate change, a string of banks have announced they will withdraw credit to the most carbon-intensive natural resources projects. But critics say the sector has been too slow to act, has barely scratched the surface and continues to exploit loopholes to finance the biggest corporate polluters. The world’s 35 biggest banks have lent and underwritten $2.7tn to oil, gas and coal companies since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, according to the Rainforest Action Network. Banks that have made carbon pledges have targeted low-hanging fruit such as thermal coal and oil sands projects, the dirtiest and often smallest parts of their lending. European banks including SocGen, Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas were among the first to make strong commitments to cut exposure to the most carbon-intensive parts of the natural resources sector. (Financial Times)*

Human Rights

Apple commits to freedom of speech after criticism of China censorship

Tech giant Apple has for the first time published a human rights policy that commits to respecting “freedom of information and expression”, following years of criticism that it bows to demands from Beijing and carries out censorship in mainland China, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The four-page document, tries to walk a fine line between upholding human rights while conceding that Apple is “required to comply with local laws” in authoritarian countries. The $2.2tn company has long been dogged by alleged human rights abuses, including working conditions in factories that assemble the iPhone or its components and the censorship it enables in foreign countries. According to the Ranking Digital Rights 2019 Corporate Accountability Index, Apple is “less transparent about external requests to restrict content or accounts than most of its US peers, except for Facebook”. (Financial Times)*

Corporate Reputation

German parliament launches inquiry into fraud scandal at Wirecard, with government in crosshairs

The German Bundestag has decided to launch a full inquiry into the downfall of payment company Wirecard, which filed for insolvency in June after €1.9 billion in cash were found to be missing from its accounts. Wirecard’s former chief executive Markus Braun is in custody on accusations of running a criminal enterprise that defrauded creditors of €3.2 billion. Braun and other Wirecard executives deny any wrongdoing. The company’s former chief operating officer, Jan Marsalek, has fled Germany and his whereabouts is unknown. Lawmakers want to probe possible government failures to uncover the scandal even as evidence accumulated over the last year. Most notably questions have been raised over why Chancellor Angela Merkel lobbied for Wirecard during a trip to China in September, 2019, even as allegations of dubious accounting had already surfaced. (Marketwatch)

Technology & Innovation

HS2 rail project work begins with pledge of 22,000 jobs

Construction work on the UK’s controversial High Speed Two (HS2) rail project has officially begun, with companies behind the project expecting to create 22,000 jobs in the next few years, but potentially at the displacement of 19,000 jobs. HS2 is set to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. It is hoped the 20-year project will reduce passenger overcrowding and help rebalance the UK’s economy through investment in transport links outside London. HS2’s main works contractor for the West Midlands, the Balfour Beatty Vinci Joint Venture, has said it expects to be one of the biggest recruiters in the West Midlands over the next two years. Some critics of HS2 describe it as a “vanity project” and say the money would be better spent on better connections between different parts of northern England. Others, such as the Stop HS2 pressure group, say it will cause considerable environmental damage. (BBC)


‘War on plastic’ could strand oil industry’s £300bn investment

Major oil companies, including Saudi Aramco and Royal Dutch Shell, plan to spend about $400bn (£300bn) to help grow the supply of virgin plastics by a quarter over the next five years, to compensate for the impact of electric vehicles and clean energy technologies on demand for fossil fuels. Industry data has predicted that plastics will be the largest driver of oil demand growth in the coming years, but new figures suggest these investments may be left stranded as global governments push through plans to cut single-use plastics and increase recycling to help tackle plastic pollution. The report by thinktank Carbon Tracker and consultancy Systemiq found that demand for virgin plastics may peak in 2027, as its growth slows from 4% a year to 1%, strengthening the theory that global oil demand may already have reached its peak in 2019. (The Guardian)

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