UNEP now pushing nature onto business balance sheets

A few years ago, I wrote about the birth of a new kid on the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)’s alarmist block: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s younger “sibling”, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

They were singing their favourite tune (i.e. the money song) even then (all emphases in quoted text throughout this post are mine -hro):

Developing nations say more funding is needed from developed countries to share the effort in saving nature. Much of the world’s remaining biological diversity is in developing nations such as Brazil, Indonesia and in central Africa.

So I can’t say I was entirely at all surprised to read in the latest and greatest UNEP Press Release (complete with requisite picture of doom and gloom):

OMG, it must be worse than we thought

OMG, it must be worse than we thought

New Study Shows Multi-Trillion Dollar Natural Capital Risk Underlining Urgency of Green Economy Transition

Mon, Apr 15, 2013

The report shows that the scale and variation in impacts provide opportunities for companies and their investors to differentiate themselves by optimizing their supply chains and investment strategies

[…]

Dr. Dorothy Maxwell, Director of the TEEB for Business Coalition states, “Understanding natural capital risk and opportunities is essential for businesses to position themselves in an increasingly resource constrained world.”

The report shows that the scale and variation in impacts provide opportunities for companies and their investors to differentiate themselves by optimizing their supply chains and investment strategies. Some recommendations for companies include implementing processes to measure and manage natural capital used; strengthening business models to mitigate exposure to global risks such as water scarcity, volatile energy and agricultural prices, rising GHG emissions and climate change impacts.

Pavan Sukhdev, Chair of the Advisory Board of TEEB for Business Coalition states, “We need undoubtedly to change how we do business, but we cannot manage what we do not measure – and at present only a handful of businesses measure their externalities. Resolving this is at the heart of the green economy and sustainability itself.”

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) states, “Forward-looking companies are already recognizing that the key to competitiveness in an increasingly resource-constrained world will hinge in large part on escalating natural resource efficiencies and cutting pollution footprints-the numbers in this report underline the urgency but also the opportunities for of all economies in transitioning to a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.”

Now, according to Steiner, we need to add a “pollution footprint” to our “carbon footprint”; although I’m not sure if our “pollution footprint” supercedes or subsumes what Sukhdev had previously called our contributions to the “global ecological footprint”.

There are “opportunities” in this particular “urgency”. What’s not to like, eh?! Mind you I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard this line (or a facsimile thereof) before. Yes, I remember now! It was a quote from the IPCC’s Chair, Rajendra Pachauri when he was talking to the NZ Herald in 2008:

Business should be thinking about the response to climate change not as a threat but as an opportunity.

Never let it be said that the UN does not encourage “recycling” – at least of slogans and buzz-phrases!

TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, in case you were wondering what this acronym stands for; tagline, btw, is “making nature’s values visible”) is the “new testament” of the Climate Bible – and was evidently “inspired by” Nicholas Stern, a member of the TEEB advisory board, whose infamous and discredited Stern Review has contributed to landing the U.K. into the mess in which it now finds itself. But I digress …

Do you suppose there is any any difference between Sukhdev’s “green economy” and Steiner’s “Green Economy”? Or perhaps more to the point, I suppose, would be whether or not the powers that be at the UNEP have finally succeeded in defining what they actually mean by this slogan term.

They certainly didn’t seem to have a … hmmm … consensus … during the run-up to Rio+20. As the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) had observed during the course of a “High Level” meeting (the minutes of which UNEP’s Steiner had decided should not be for public consumption):

there was as yet no common agreement on a definition of the green economy.

This assertion did not come out of the blue, and could well have derived from another participant’s observation that:

reaching a common understanding on the meaning, scope and implications of the green economy had been generating considerable debate. Many agreed that the [Rio+20] Conference should first clarify what the green economy was not, in order to help define what it could be.

Sukhdev had coined his brilliant mantra (his word, not mine), “we cannot manage what we do not measure” some years ago. And no doubt he’s been flogging it far and wide – including, I suspect, during Stewart Elgie‘s so-called ‘charitable initiative’, Sustainable Prosperity (SP) generously hosted 2010 “three city speaking tour” by Sukhdev here in Canada.

SP’s Elgie showed remarkable forethought when he set up shop in Ottawa. As I had noted last June:

What kinds of changes does Sustainable Prosperity want?

We are seeking changes in policy – federally, provincially, and locally – to implement EPR across Canada. EPR means a change in the rules of the game, and a levelling of the playing field, so that cleaner goods and services become cheaper. EPR policies, also known as “market based instruments” (MBI) or “economic instruments,” include tax shifting, cap-and-trade emissions reductions, and developing markets for ecological services.

Fits right in with Sukhdev’s thinking, just like a dirty old shirt, eh?! And whatever SP wants, Elgie (as we have seen) mistakenly seems to think SP should get!

But wait … there’s more. I’m not sure what might have happened to IPBES – which is supposed to be assessing the “science” behind these new-fangled money-making-mechanisms opportunities. But according to the UNEP’s “Notes to Editors” in this Press Release of April 15 (here comes the scary stuff):

Background

Planetary boundaries are being approached at a reckless pace, and some argue that global biodiversity, nitrogen and climate thresholds have already been breached. Global economic direction and resource use is the underlying cause of this.

Corporations today account for two-thirds of our economy and resource use, and most of the global stressors of planetary boundaries (emissions, freshwater use, land-use change, chemical pollutants, etc) are in reality the negative externalities of “business as usual”.

These externalities have grown too large to ignore, and are estimated at close to US$2.1 trillion for the top-3,000 listed corporations (UN Principles for Responsible Investment, 2010).

To mainstream the measurement and management of externalities in business, the “TEEB for Business Coalition”, a global coalition of pioneering organizations on natural capital, was formed in 2012. It aims to create awareness of this issue amongst decision makers in business and support scaling ‘best-of-breed’ solutions from leading corporations to value, manage and report their externalities.

About the TEEB for Business Coalition – http://www.teebforbusiness.org

Launched in November 2012, The TEEB for Business Coalition is a global, multi stakeholder platform formed to develop and support the uptake of natural capital accounting in business decision-making. The vision of the TEEB for Business Coalition is to support a transformative shift in corporate behaviour to preserve and enhance rather than deplete natural capital.

Everything is just sooooooo “transformative” in UN-speak, these days! And isn’t it amazing that this group should have produced an 86 page report (pdf) in such a short period of time. Well … actually, this group did not produce the report. It was evidently contracted out to an organization called TruCost. When I did a brief scan of the report, my eye stopped at “Munich Re”:

Reinsurance company Munich Re reported that crop losses have been US$20 billion.11

So I followed the link to the reference:

Munich Re press release, Natural catastrophe statistics for 2012 dominated by weather extremes in the USA, 3 January 2013: http://www.munichre.com/en/media_relations/press_releases/2013/2013_01_03_press_release.aspx, accessed 13 March 2013

Now I wonder why this rings a bell … Sounds remarkably like an episode of “science” by press release that Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. recently deconstructed. His conclusion:

Misleading public claims. An over-hyped press release. A paper which neglects to include materially relevant and contradictory information central to its core argument. All in all, just a normal day in climate science!

I also found one reference to the “Stern Review” and two to the “Stern Report” – although I believe the “Report” and the “Review” [pls. see above] are one and the same. These findings do not augur well for the validity of TruCost’s report. My layperson’s “elevator speech” (well tweet, actually, to Dr. Richard Tol and Pielke both of whom know far more about this kind of stuff than I do) on TruCost’s report:

I saw apples, oranges. assumptions and bafflegab amidst lots of uncertainties. wd appreciate yr “translation”

Incidentally, my scan of the 90+ references strongly suggests that this report is far from being rife with citations from “peer-reviewed” literature.

But the important thing, I’m sure, is that this report is just in time for:

The 8th annual B4E Global Summit in Delhi, 15-16 April is co-organised with the Confederation of Indian Industry and The Club of Rome in partnership with CNN, The Climate Group, Carbon Disclosure Project, World Agroforestry Centre, and other partners.

According to the B4E (how catchy is that, eh?!) website:

Under the theme ‘Emerging Market Leadership for Global Green Growth’, the 7th annual B4E Global Summit in Delhi will look at the role of emerging markets in driving the world’s transition to a global green economy, one of the greatest economic opportunities of our time.

Leaders from business, government and the NGO community will gather to explore inclusive green business models, innovation in finance and technology and propose industry commitments to action.

Two ingredients one can invariably count on in any UNEP sponsored meeting: the presence of NGOs and calls for “innovation in finance”. And who knows, perhaps scheduled speaker Ashok Khosla, President Emeritus, The Club of Rome will be able to come up with a definition of “green economy” (or “Green Economy”).

Stay tuned, folks ;-)

UPDATE: The U.K. Guardian is (predictably) onside, via their “Sustainable Business” blog:

Putting environmental impact on the balance sheet

Until now, “environmental externalities” have never made it onto the balance sheet, doing so would reveal many industries are generating huge net losses
[…]
Until now, these so-called “environmental externalities” have never made it onto the balance sheet. But what if that were to change? That’s the question raised in a new report released today by the TEEB Coalition for Business. The answers make for alarming reading.

[…]

The calculations represent one of the most comprehensive and geographically wide-ranging attempts at monetising natural capital to date.

[…]

The results are illuminating. For one, the numbers are colossal

[…]

Sceptics will no doubt be quick to question the maths. Alastair MacGregor, chief operating officer of Trucost, admits that there are methodological and data shortfalls. […]

Yet MacGregor insists that the numbers are as robust as can be expected for what is still a very new accounting science. Trucost’s conclusions are based on 12 years’ of data on quantitative environmental disclosures from thousands of companies. “There’s still a need for more primary research around environmental valuations so that we can build up models that can be applied globally“, he concedes, expressing his hope that today’s report will act as a “catalyst” for just that.

Apart from the world’s nascent carbon markets, monetising non-financial externalities still remains a largely fictitious pursuit. Ecosystem services need to take on a fungible, tradable form if they are to have financial value in real, cash-in-hand monetary terms. Until then, it’s Monopoly money we’re talking about.

Just because natural capital costs are unpriced doesn’t mean they go away. The impacts of erratic weather provide a good example.

And of course, business has never had to deal with the “impacts of erratic weather” before, right?!

2 thoughts on “UNEP now pushing nature onto business balance sheets

  1. Here’s an interesting question: assuming all these green environmental resources and such have definable value, whose is it, and who collects for “exploitation” or levies fees for protection and “improvement”? You can be sure there is a fiat declaration of possession and right to make big money on the part of the conferences’ attendees and masters just trembling on the verge of announcement/enactment.

  2. “Just because natural capital costs are unpriced doesn’t mean they go away. The impacts of erratic weather provide a good example”
    Amazing. Capitalising the weather. Spend all your capital today, there’ll be more tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s