October 24, 2014

Source: UBCC350

UBC faculty urge fossil fuel divestment

Last year students at the University of British Columbia voted 4-to-1 in favour of having their school divest from fossil fuels. Now, nearly 200 university faculty have thrown their support behind the students by signing a petition calling for divestment. “Some are concerned divestment might hurt the income UBC receives from the endowment, but this need not to be the case,” states an open letter. “There are many opportunities in the market for an endowment to make equivalent or better returns, and studies designed to measure the impact of divestment have found little or no impact on returns.” The university’s faculty association is expected to decide on Monday if it will hold a referendum on the matter. Specifically, the open letters calls for immediate suspension of future fossil-fuel investments and divestment of existing holdings within five years.


We need a market for water: Brookings paper

The Brookings Institution has released a discussion paper that argues for more use of market forces to reduce water shortages in the U.S. west, a problem that is worse than most originally thought. Indeed, NASA research recently reported that the Colorado River Basin – which supplies 40 million people in seven states – is getting sucked dry. Population and economic growth and water overuse are all contributing to a problem exacerbated by dry, low-rainfall conditions brought about by climate change. Resilience needs to be brought into the water systems, argues the paper. “Western states can take an immediate step to enable more-flexible use of water resources by allowing simple, short-term water transactions,” it states. “Water policy should allow someone who needs water to pay someone else to forgo her use of water or to invest in water conservation and, in return, to obtain access to the saved water.” It also argues that state and local governments have a responsibility to establish essential market institutions, such as water banks, “that can serve as brokers, clearinghouses, and facilitators of trade.”


Is “pharming” sustainable?

Corporate Knights editor Tyler Hamilton has a feature today on the risks and rewards of genetically modifying plants to produce vaccines and a range of other drugs, such as a recent treatment for Ebola-infected U.S. aid workers that was derived from tobacco plants. The approach is proving simpler and less expensive than traditional methods, which rely on complicated bioreactor vessels that grow bacteria and animal cell cultures. Using plants also speeds up the drug discovery and production process, and products created can be designed to be edible and stored without refrigeration – a big benefit for developing countries. But the long-term risks, such as cross-crop contamination and pollen exposure to humans, animals and insects, remains a big sticking point for environmentalists and food industry groups who urge caution. What do you think?


Europe does it: tightens noose on GHG emissions

The European Union has historically led the world on efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but that didn’t stop member country leaders from raising the bar on Friday. The EU did, in the end, agree to a climate change pact that obligates members to collectively cut GHG emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. As of 2012, the EU cut its emissions by about 18 per cent. This means it will have to make similar progress over the next 15 years. It’s an ambitious goal, but some environmental groups were disappointed that specific national targets are not binding. Other targets include renewable energy having 27 per cent market share on a EU-wide basis and energy-efficiency improvements of 27 per cent – the latter optional. Germany and some others were lobbying for a 30 per cent target for both, but countries such as the U.K. and Poland resisted that push.


Beware fake awards

As a public service to Corporate Knights’ readers, many of them representatives of corporations and startups in the social innovation space, we would like to alert you to an e-mail going around promoting an event called the “2015 Social Innovation Awards.” The e-mail, sent by a person named Sarah Khara, who is identified as a director of the awards organization, outlines nine categories to which organizations can submit applications – with each submission costing $450. Corporate Knights does not know for sure if this award or organization is legitimate, but what we can say is that a Google search reveals no background information about the awards or Sarah Khara. The website supplied in the e-mail – www.socinnovationawards.com – looks well designed, but lacks crucial information about the contest, its history, Khara and other staff, who the judges are, and the judging process. Furthermore, the URL for the website was only created on October 20, and the New York City address given at the bottom of the promotional e-mail appears to not exist. For this reason, we urge all readers who receive this e-mail to proceed with caution. We e-mailed Khara requesting an explanation. We have not yet received a reply.

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