TBLI Weekly - September 5th


TBLI Weekly - September 5th, 2023

Your weekly guide to Sustainable Investment

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Climate crisis could contribute to a global food shortage by 2050, US special envoy on food security warns

By: Gabrielle Chan - The Guardian

Cary Fowler says world needs to produce 50-60% more food by middle of the century but global heating is expected to reduce yield rates

The world could fall short of food by 2050 due to falling crop yields, insufficient investment in agricultural research and trade shocks, according to Joe Biden’s special envoy for food security, Dr Cary Fowler.

Fowler, who is also known as the “father” of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a global store of seeds for the most significant crops, said studies by agricultural economists showed the world needed to produce 50-60% more food by 2050 in order to feed its growing population. But crop yields rates were projected to decline by between 3-12% as a result of global heating.

“We’re going to fall fairly short of being able to provide that kind of increase in food production by mid-century,” Fowler said.

Asked by Guardian Australia whether he described the situation as an “existential crisis”, Fowler replied: “It’s pretty close to it, isn’t it?”

Fowler was in Canberra on Tuesday to give the keynote address at the Crawford Fund’s annual conference. The title for the conference is Global Food Security in a Riskier World.

He was appointed to the role of special envoy by Biden in 2022. His previous roles include with the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development.

Fowler said Australian agriculture had much to offer globally in research and development around food security in a warming, drying climate, having built a world-leading industry despite poor soils and a challenging climate. The growing industry around Indigenous crops had also attracted global interest.

But he warned that many countries had become lax about the challenge ahead off the back of huge gains in productivity that saw a massive increase in food production in the past century.

“We are in the midst of a global food crisis,” he said. “More than 700 million people were undernourished in 2022 compared to 613 million in 2019. It’s an incomprehensibly large number and a human tragedy. Every country is affected, including countries like Australia, but especially the most vulnerable around the world.”

The crisis has been exacerbated by supply chain disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, high fertiliser prices and low grain supplies on hand. Given 131 of 196 countries in the world were net food importers, Fowler said, any shocks to a global system would immediately impact trade.

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New tech boosts Dutch drive for sustainable farming

By: By Suzanne Bearne - BBC

I'm at the Wageningen University's Farm of the Future, where I had been expecting to see robots and perhaps, drones flying overhead.

But on a bright blue day project manager Wijnand Sukkel stands in the expansive fields across from the university building with bare trees and of course, windmills in the background, and points at the strips of crops in the fields.

He says usually in the Netherlands these would just be filled by a monocrop such as maize or wheat.

Here in Lelystad, however, they're experimenting with different agricultural methods including crop diversity, with eight different crops sown here at any one time including wheat, onions, potatoes, and broad beans.

"We know that crop diversity works," says Mr Sukkel, who adds that they also use cover crops to help improve the soil and biodiversity. "It's a more efficient use of water, it has lower risk of pest disease, it has a higher biodiversity, it's better for the soil, and it gives higher yields."

The world population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people in 2050, according to the UN. Mr Sukkel and his colleagues are developing sustainable farming systems to ensure there's enough food for a growing global population, while also working to reduce carbon emissions.

The university started Farm of the Future four years ago after seeing biodiversity decline due to climate change. "We wondered if it was possible to design a high food production farm system with zero fossil fuel energy use, with no damage from pesticides and [that] was resilient to heavy rainfall or very long dry periods."

The Netherlands is the second biggest exporter of agricultural goods worldwide.

Including animal products, those exports are estimated to have increased by 9.4% to a record €104.7bn (£90bn; $114bn) in 2021, according to Wageningen Economic Research (WUR) and Statistics Netherlands (CBS).

However, producing for such a large export market puts a lot of pressure on the nation's environment.

So Mr Sukkel and his team are focused on sustainable production. "We need to regenerate soils and regenerate biodiversity. Right now all over the world is large-scale and uniform agricultural production which is very intensive and is killing the soil."

One of their solutions to combat dry weather has been to create a drainage system which gathers excess water and pumps it underground. "In the winter we have too much water. Now all the water drips into the soil and is caught in the drainage system. We have a big water bubble underground."

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ESG changed my mind on… mitigation vs adaptation

By: ESG Clarity -

EQ Investors' Victoria Hasler asks, as extreme weather events become more frequent, should we be focusing more on adaptation and resilience?

In this summer series for ESG Clarity, members of the sustainable investment industry tell us how their thinking on this fast-moving industry has adapted over the years and what changes that has led to.

Here Victoria Hasler, head of fund research at EQ Investors, discusses how the heatwaves and floods seen around the world recently has caused her to think differently about her work and personal life.

What has ESG or sustainable investing changed your mind about over the past couple of years?

I’m a big believer in climate change mitigation. The science on climate change is irrefutable and, whilst we all know that weather patterns may show low correlation to climate change in the short term, the visible evidence of climate change is mounting. This summer has been a classic example with scorching heatwaves across much of Europe and the US, and devastating wildfires which have caused huge economic losses and, in many cases, tragic losses of life. I think there are few who would now argue that climate change isn’t real.

So then we enter an interesting debate about how best to slow, stop and perhaps even eventually start to reverse the catastrophic consequences of human-induced climate change, as well as a fascinating (albeit often fairly demoralising) discussion about whether we have now reached a tipping point where limiting post-industrial global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees is even possible any more, or whether we should abandon that goal and aim for 2 degrees.

Either way, many of the funds in which we invest at EQ seek to address climate change migration goals by investing in both environmental solutions and companies leading the way in reducing emissions in their own operations.

Lately, however, I have been thinking about something else. If we are well on our way to a world where temperatures are, at best, 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial averages, it seems certain that our planet is set to change. Hotter summers, wetter winters, higher wind speeds (to name but a few) will be natural consequences of the changes we have inflicted upon the world. In which case, whilst it is still vital to invest in climate mitigation to limit any further temperature rises, should we also be focusing more on investing in climate change adaptation and resilience?

There is no doubt in my mind that, to preserve anything like the way of life that we are used to, many things will have to change. Some of these might be easy, and relatively cheap. For example, painting buildings and, particularly, roofs in light colours reflects heat and keeps buildings cooler. This is already commonplace in warmer parts of the world, and something that could offer a sensible solution in previously cooler locations too.

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Utility’s ‘arbitrary’ cap is squeezing solar in southwest Michigan

By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network

Installing residential solar could be extremely difficult for southwest Michigan residents, as the utility serving the area drastically changes the terms for new connections after reaching a cap outlined in a 2016 state law.

The law, which eliminated net metering broadly, created a program for small arrays that required utilities to compensate customers based on a set of calculations. Utilities can end that program, as Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) did for residential solar, when adoption reaches a cap of roughly .5% of the total load for that category.

Now, I&M customers who want solar will need to participate in the utility’s COGEN program, which provides much lower wholesale rates for the electricity they send back to the grid, while also promising to continue the arrangement for at least five years.

Solar developers and advocates say this will mean solar is not economically viable for many customers, just as the desire for solar was ramping up in the region.

State Sen. Jeff Irwin introduced a bill this spring that would lift the cap and restore net metering.

“That’s right, there is an arbitrary cap in Michigan law that allowed the utility to simply stop allowing residents into their DG program,” Irwin said at an Aug. 24 press conference pushing for the bill.

“If they want to plug in, they have to sign a 5-year contract, and have to accept rates that are nowhere near fair,” Irwin said. “What this means is, in practical reality, there is no access to rooftop solar. Not only are customers denied that opportunity — those installers that would have had those jobs are sidelined as well.”

Mike Westcott, development manager for the company Harvest Solar, said his team was not given any warning about the approaching cap and policy change.

“We just logged in one day [to the utility’s portal] and it said they were not accepting any more applications,” he said. “We had to let customers know, ‘Hey, you won’t be getting as much for your production as expected.’ If it stays in effect, we’ll continue to prioritize other regions that have more favorable” conditions for solar.

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US clean energy drive fuels shortage of engineers in Australia


By: Peter Hannam - Economics correspondent - The Guardian

Australia has to make the case it is an attractive place to live with a solid commitment to renewable energy to counter America’s Inflation Reduction Act, experts say

Australia’s rush to build renewable energy fast enough to replace ageing coal-fired power stations is being fettered by the US’s own clean energy push that is luring key talent, particularly engineers, industry officials say.

America’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), passed just over a year ago, will pour at least US$370bn (A$570bn) into clean energy programs. Groups such as the Clean Energy Council warn the program “has the potential to permanently tilt the scales toward the US and hamper our progress in Australia”.

“In the global energy transition, the best talent will be mobile,” the council’s chief executive, Kane Thornton, said. “The success of our own energy transition relies on making the case that Australia is an attractive place to call home and our commitment to renewable energy is solid.”
Jane MacMaster, the chief engineer at Engineers Australia, said the looming skills shortage was raised by many speakers at an energy transition summit in Sydney last week.

“It’s a fantastic time to be an engineer but it’s also a very busy time,” MacMaster said. “There’s definitely a challenge in the supply of the engineering workforce at the moment, and it’s pretty much across all sectors and almost all disciplines of the profession.”

MacMaster said the IRA was drawing US engineers home as well as those from elsewhere. Several nations were considering launching countermeasures that could further challenge the appeal of working in Australia.

“Australia is competing with other countries [and] our states are competing with each other,” she said. A confluence of national priorities – from transitioning to net zero emissions, to building up sovereign manufacturing capability including for nuclear submarines – was stoking the need for engineers and other technology workers.

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