ESG Essentials: Earth’s safe boundaries crossed, Whitbread’s net zero transition plan and plastic pollution treaty

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Beyond safe: Earth pushed into worrying risk zones 

The earth is already soaring past safe limits for humans, according to research published by the Earth Commission. Temperature rises, water system disruptions and destruction of natural habitats have pushed boundaries into risk zones that threaten planetary and human health. 

The study is the most ambitious attempt yet to combine planetary health with indicators of human welfare. 

The aim of the new research is to provide scientific analysis that informs the next generation of sustainability targets and policies, extending beyond climate to include other indices as well as environmental justice. This comes as research found that the richest 1% of the world’s population was responsible for twice the carbon dioxide emissions of the poorest 50%.

Whitbread sparks energy change

Whitbread, owner of Premier Inn, announced its plans to swap mains gas for heat pumps and solar panels at more than 800 of their hotels. This is part of the company’s wider net-zero transition plan, aligned with the Science-Based Targets Initiative. 

The plan sets a target for net-zero emissions by 2040 for direct and power-related sources, and by 2050 for indirect emissions. With a comprehensive ‘net-zero audit,’ it aims to boost energy efficiency and low-carbon heating. 

The first all-electric Premier Inn in Swindon opens this year, with no connection to a natural gas supply.

This move towards renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency is likely to attract environmentally-conscious consumers. Investors should take note of Whitbreads’ commitment to sustainability as it provides an opportunity for enhanced reputation and potential financial gains over the longer term. 

Could 2023 be the year of carbon removal credits?

An unprecedented amount of corporate purchase agreements of carbon removal credits occurred this month, increasing the potential role of green technologies in climate action. This makes 2023 a fast-growing year for carbon removal credits. 

Carbon removal credits give the purchaser credit for withdrawing existing CO2 emissions from the atmosphere or ocean, rather than for avoiding new emissions as per traditional carbon offsets.

Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, Boeing and the Frontier collective, which represents Alphabet and Meta, all agreed to the purchase of large volumes of carbon removal credits. 

The carbon removal industry is at a turning point. However, until the price of the credits falls below $100 per ton, the market is limited to a small number of corporate buyers. Government support will be needed to increase the scale called for by the IPCC. 

New treaty proposed to bin plastic pollution

More than 165 nations have agreed to draw up and publish the first draft of a global treaty to end plastic pollution by this November, after a week of contentious discussions.

Following early discussions of the EU-backed treaty last year, the protocol would mean reducing the production of certain plastics, rather than just scaling up waste management systems. 

Predictably, the treaty was met with objections from nations such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia due to their vested interest in fossil fuel production. 

This is a crucial step in reducing and eliminating the production of harmful plastic products and materials and cutting global plastic pollution. 

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