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Daily News Blog

24
Mar

As Global Warming Accelerates to Catastrophic Levels, President Biden Vetoes Bill that Would Exacerbate Crisis

(Beyond Pesticides. March 24, 2023) The news on March 20 yielded a telling juxtaposition as the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report asserting that the world is on the “brink of catastrophic warming” — even while Congressional Republicans passed a measure to allow corporate profiteers to make that warming worse. Fortunately, President Biden vetoed that “ESG” bill, which sought to overturn a Labor Department rule that eased the ability of pension and 401(k) fund managers to consider environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) impacts of investments and shareholder rights decisions. (On March 23, House Republicans tried, but failed, to override the veto.) The IPCC‘s definitive report finds that humanity is very close to a dangerous climate threshold, but that “it does not mean we are doomed” if humans rapidly transition off of burning fossil fuels. Beyond Pesticides endorses both investment rules that advance protection of the climate, people, and the environment, and dramatic action on climate — including the cessation of use of fossil-fuel-derived synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and the transition to organic agriculture and land management.

The IPCC report, says The Washington Post (WaPo), asserts that the world is very likely to blow by the 1.5°C (2.7°F) Paris Agreement goal (of global average temperature increase above preindustrial temperatures) by the early 2030s. WaPo reports that, “Beyond that 1.5°C threshold, scientists have found, climate disasters will become so extreme that people will not be able to adapt. Basic components of the Earth system will be fundamentally, irrevocably altered. Heat waves, famines and infectious diseases could claim millions of additional lives by century’s end.”

The report prompted U.N. Secretary General António Guterres “to demand that developed countries such as the United States eliminate carbon emissions by 2040 — a decade earlier than the rest of the world. With few nations on track to fulfill their climate commitments and with the developing world already suffering disproportionately from climate disasters, he said, rich countries have a responsibility to act faster than their low-income counterparts.”

WaPo continues: “Calling the report a ‘how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb,’ Guterres announced on Monday an ‘acceleration agenda’ that would speed up global actions on climate. Emerging economies including China and India — which plan to reach net zero in 2060 and 2070, respectively — must hasten their emissions-cutting efforts alongside developed nations, Guterres said.” Both the Secretary General and the IPCC report call for humans to phase out — rapidly — use of gas, oil, and coal, which generate more than 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The February 28 House vote on the Republican-led ESG measure passed, 216–204, passed, with all Republicans voting “yea,” and one Democrat — Representative Golden (ME) — crossing over party lines to vote for it. Democrats Castro (TX), Cleaver (MO), Davis (IL), Garcia (IL), Lofgren (CA), Sarbanes (MD), and Wild (PA) did not vote. On March 1, Republicans prevailed in the Senate vote, 50–46, in which they all voted for the measure, along with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Jon Tester (MT); both are up for re-election in 2024 in conservative-leaning states. Democratic Senators Merkley (OR), Feinstein (CA), and Fetterman (PA) did not vote.

The Biden Labor Department rule on ESG, which now prevails because of the President’s veto, aims to protect the interests of people who have assets in pension and 401(k) accounts by allowing plan managers to choose stocks, bonds, funds (and other instruments) with the risks of investment choices as part of the calculus. The ESG rule applies to plans that invest $12 trillion, in the aggregate, on behalf of more than 150 million people.

There are demonstrable financial risks that come with investing in companies involved in worsening the climate crisis, polluting environments, endangering the health of workers and the public, and engaging in non-transparent, inequitable, and insufficiently accountable corporate practices. Companies that disregard (or, as via the Trump rule, could not consider) ESG criteria expose themselves to risks of consumer boycotts, environmental disasters, and/or reputation scandal, among others.

And, according to coverage by The Globe and Mail, “[T]he majority of ESG-focused investments outperform the broader market,” in part because they enjoy lower capital costs and have better access to debt due to their reduced risk. In 2022, ESG funds lagged non-ESG funds for the first time because of the Russian war on Ukraine, which caused upheaval in energy market dynamics. (See more on sustainable investing from McKinsey&Company here.)

Many companies now incorporate ESG into their operations; according to McKinsey Sustainability, more than 90% of S&P 500 companies and 70% of Russell 1000 companies generate ESG reports of some sort. Bankrate reports that roughly two-thirds of privately owned companies have put ESG initiatives in place, and 89% of investors weigh ESG issues in making investment decisions. Abrdn, a UK-based investment company, concludes that “ESG factors bring lower volatility and therefore lower risk, and consequently higher risk-adjusted returns.”

Research out of the London School of Economics has found that, as of 2018, the global economy had suffered losses of $24 trillion USD due to climate change; researchers concluded that ESG is an effective tool in countering climate change because it guides investment toward companies whose operations reduce greenhouse gas emissions. ADEC Innovations’ coverage of the research identifies multiple examples of climate progress traceable to ESG.

The upswell in ESG activity — some of which is likely greenwashing by companies — has propelled the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to take a look at the ESG landscape. JDSupra notes that in 2022, the FTC “published a Notice soliciting public comment on proposed updates to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, colloquially known as the ‘Green Guides.’” The Green Guides were created to help companies avoid making “unfair or deceptive” environmental marketing claims.

Much has changed since the guides were last updated in 2012, with many more companies (in part because of the influence of ESG) now touting their products or services as “environmentally friendly” or “environmentally conscious.” The FTC is reviewing the guides with an eye to these developments. In addition, and potentially importantly, “While the Green Guides are currently just that — non–legally binding guidelines — one of the FTC’s comment requests asks whether the Green Guides should be codified as federal regulations, carrying the force of law.”

On March 20, WaPo covered the Presidential veto and wrote, “In his letter informing Congress of the veto, Biden said the Labor Department rule ‘protects the hard-earned life savings and pensions of tens of millions of workers and retirees across the country’ and allows retirement plan fiduciaries to make ‘fully informed investment decisions by considering all relevant factors. The Republican-led bill would force retirement managers to ignore these relevant risk factors, disregarding the principles of free markets and jeopardizing the life savings of working families and retirees.’ The Republican bill, he said, would stop plan fiduciaries from ‘taking into account factors like the physical risks of climate change and poor corporate governance, that could affect investment returns.’”

In addition, ESG policies attract investors who want to advance environmental/climate, good governance, and/or social responsibility. The Republican measure to kneecap the new rule is another use of the Congressional Review Act to attempt to nullify a rule of a Biden administration agency in what many pundits are calling the latest in the Republican war against “wokeness” — broadly and in this case, in business practices.

With the raging climate crisis ongoing, the conservative Right (which at this juncture harbors most Republicans) appears hell-bent on countering progress on emissions reductions. Indeed, in January 2023, WaPo reported on a group, Consumers’ Research, that has been working largely behind the scenes to prevent financial institutions from dealing with the reality of climate change. WaPo wrote, “Bankrolled by mysterious donors, a little-known group named Consumers’ Research has emerged as a key player in the conservative crusade to prevent Wall Street from factoring climate change into its investment decisions.”

Among the organization’s recent activities was joining a late-2022 pressure campaign brought by 13 state attorneys general to “investigate” Vanguard for its “meddling with [the] energy industry to achieve progressive political goals at the expense of market efficiency. . . . Within days, Vanguard announced it was quitting a coalition called the Net Zero Asset Managers Alliance and shelved its own modest pledges to cut the amount of greenhouse gas emissions linked to companies in which it invests. Leaders of Consumers’ Research were surprised — and elated.”

In May 2022, The New York Times reported on the (at least parallel) organized Republican effort to punish companies for climate (and other “woke”) actions. This is done sometimes through laws pushed through by Republican-dominated state legislatures; it also comes via direct pressure from Republicans on state agency leaders who have the power to make regulations in their states; and/or pressure on “independent” organizations that rate or accredit companies. The NYT wrote, “Across the country, Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in what they see as activist companies trying to reduce the greenhouse gases that are dangerously heating the planet.”

The Republican Congressional attempt to derail President Biden’s rule on ESG was clearly another salvo in attempts to beat back action on the climate crisis, which many conservatives promote as another flash point in their “culture wars,” and to prop up their beloved fossil fuel industry. As WaPo says so well: “If you took Republicans’ feigned outrage at what they call ‘woke Wall Street’ seriously, you might think they were undergoing a dramatic ideological repositioning. Though conservatives have long declared their commitment to limited government and laissez faire economics, today’s Republicans are eager for government to make more economic decisions for market actors, at least on issues that fit in with their larger culture war. But look more closely and you’ll also see another version of an old story: The GOP helping out its favored industries while claiming it’s good for everyone.”

Much more attention and response are needed on the part of the public to demand robust and immediate action on the climate crisis, and to let legislators and other officials at all levels know how critically important this issue is. Beyond Pesticides asks you to take action: join organizations working on climate change; call/write/pester your federal and state legislators to support action; write letters to the editor for the largest newspaper near you; organize locally with other climate activists; and support organizations that are doing effective climate work.

Remember that the future is not yet written, and although humanity is in a tough spot — which is made worse by powerful people who care only for power and profit — as IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said, “Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits. This [report] underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable, sustainable future for all.”

Sources: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/03/20/climate-change-ipcc-report-15/ and https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/03/20/biden-veto-investment-rule-republicans/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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One Response to “As Global Warming Accelerates to Catastrophic Levels, President Biden Vetoes Bill that Would Exacerbate Crisis”

  1. 1
    Alice Jena Says:

    Please refuse all pesticides

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