SDG funding, toxic waste and SMEs: Key research findings from Climate Week NYC

A round-up of the research and new initiatives announced at Climate Week in New York

Many in the sustainable investing world gathered last week for Climate Week NYC, “the biggest climate event on Earth,” holding talks and sharing reports on the state the planet’s health.

Some groups used the occasion to publish research findings or announce new initiatives.

Here are a few that popped up last week:

UN SDGs have a funding problem

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are underfunded to the tune of an estimated $135trn, according to a recent report from the Force for Good Initiative, a group that engages with financial services companies.

That is up by 35% from a report from the organization last year. The biggest factor in that increase is Russia’s war on Ukraine, it noted.

“The total cost of achieving the SDGs has also increased by up to 25% in the last year from $116trn-$142trn to $134-$176trn,” an announcement of the report stated. “The rise has been driven by historic underfunding, requirements for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions (aka net zero), a shortening window for achieving the goals, and high inflation that has spiked following Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

The SDGs focus on environment, education, health and governance, with a deadline for meeting them set for 2030.

Since 2019, about 100 million more people live in extreme poverty, with 210 million facing short-term food insecurity, according to the report.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also increased the spending necessary for global security to $59trn through 2030, which raises the total funding necessary for reaching sustainability under the UN goals to $235trn.

“The UN SDGs are not on track to be funded and will not be as long as they are seen as causes rather than investment opportunities,” Force for Good chair Ketan Patel said in the announcement. “Global events risk drawing focus and funding from sustainability in the name of security, in the mistaken belief that these are competing rather than inextricably linked priorities.”

Toxic waste not curbed by EPA rules, group claims

Fossil fuel companies have been able to avoid disclosing the pollutants they send into the environment by qualifying some chemicals they use as trade secrets, according to a report last week from nonprofit think tank Planet Tracker. Oil companies also avoid having to disclose waste data that come from acute events, like accidents, the organization stated.

The unknowns identified in the report “create an operating environment that allows businesses to avoid scrutiny of their chemical releases,” Planet Tracker Director of Research John Willis said in an announcement. “Financial institutions can put a stop to this fogginess. By fully understanding the toxic footprint of their investments and their effect on both the environment and human health, they can undertake a fully informed and accurate risk/reward assessment for themselves and for their clients.”

In some cases where waste data are disclosed generally, there is a lack of specificity that would otherwise inform the public, according to the report. For example, geographic data for the end destination of waste isn’t always required for certain types of disclosures, nor are alerts showing that a company has exceeded its limit for pollutants.

Emission levels changing

Total greenhouse gas emissions from publicly-traded companies increased between 2014 and 2020, though that started to trend down in 2019, a report last week from FTSE Russell found.

Part of the reason for the rise in overall emissions during that time was an increase in the number of public companies globally, however. Conversely, a big factor in the decline in carbon emissions between 2019 and 2020 was the pandemic, the authors noted.

The report covers Scope 1 and 2 emissions for more than 4,000 large and mid-cap companies that make up the FTSE All-World Index.

On average, companies put out smaller volumes of greenhouse gases between 2014 and 2020, with weighted average carbon intensity and a calculated carbon footprint declining by 2% and 5%, respectively, according to the report. From 2019 to 2020, about half of companies saw reduced carbon emission levels.

Emission levels declined in utilities but rose in the technology sector.

However, “churn in the energy industry was a significant contributor to portfolio intensity reductions. This raises some concerns around potential carbon leakage, with the removal of 40 firms contributing to an almost 2% [weighted average carbon intensity] reduction during 2017-2020,” the report stated.

“Emissions data is difficult to predict; however, FTSE Russell expects a meaningful rebound as the impact of the Covid contraction abates,” the report stated. “Impacts on the other components of carbon intensity – namely, index constituents and weights, as well as company value and revenues – are more straightforward to anticipate.”

Small business potential

An international group is hoping that US small- and mid-size companies want to improve their environmental profiles. Last week, SME Climate Hub launched an initiative in the country to help smaller businesses reduce their carbon emissions.

That group “provides free resources to cut costs and increase profits through taking climate action to reduce carbon emissions,” it said in an announcement. It has backing from major US companies as well as local governments and aims to “allow smaller businesses to profit from the low-carbon transition, offset rising inflation and help safeguard the millions of US private-sector jobs they provide.”

It is a joint effort from the We Mean Business Coalition, the Exponential Roadmap Initiative and the United Nations Race to Zero campaign. SME Climate Hub is working with companies such as Walmart, Siemens, JLL, HSBC, Ericsson and Mastercard, which includes efforts to promote the initiative along supply chains.

The initiative provides a climate education course, a carbon footprint calculator and carbon reporting tools for businesses, the group said.

“We’re providing a valuable first stop for businesses as they search for ways to cut costs and improve their business in the face of inflation and increasing global emissions goals,” We Mean Business CEO María Mendiluce said in the announcement. “By committing to the SME Climate Hub, small businesses can better navigate the shifting expectations of consumers, large corporations and governments and play their part in stabilizing the economy and the climate.”