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What We Don’t Know About Water Can Hurt Us

This story is part of the “Aqueduct Sneak Peek” series. Aqueduct Sneak Peek provides an early look at the Aqueduct team’s updated global water risk maps, which will be released in January 2013.

The days leading up to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall were a testament to the power of global data systems in helping to understand and manage risks that natural phenomena can create. A vast, worldwide network of weather monitoring stations and sophisticated remote sensing allowed meteorologists to track and predict Sandy’s progress—and give ample warning to those of us in the hurricane’s path.

The map below is one way to visualize the global data network that makes such analysis possible. It shows Integrated Surface Database (ISD) stations, a widely distributed network of weather stations that all report regularly to a centralized hub.

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4 Key Issues Surrounding Climate Policies, Carbon Markets, and Competitiveness

Even in the absence of an international framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, several countries, states, and provinces are developing and implementing climate policies. A growing number of these policies include market-based programs, some of which aim to link to each other through regional and global carbon markets. Countries like the United States can learn a lot from the economic and political experiences of these climate policy “first movers.”

Earlier this week, I sat on a panel at Carbon Forum North America entitled “International Trade and Carbon: It’s a Competitive World.” At this session, we considered current issues and concerns involved with implementing climate policies, especially how pricing carbon pollution can impact economic competitiveness.

4 Key Issues that Came Up During Our Discussion:

  1. Carbon markets are on the rise. According to Jeff Hopkins, a fellow panelist and principal adviser for international energy and climate policy at Rio Tinto, by 2014, roughly 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions will be covered under market-based emissions-reduction programs. Hopkins also estimates that by 2014, 75 percent of emissions from Rio Tinto’s operations will occur in jurisdictions that have enacted market-based emissions-reduction policies.

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Pavan Sukhdev Discusses 4 Ways to Create More Sustainable Corporations

“To tell the story of the corporation is to tell the story of a grand bargain gone awry,” says Pavan Sukhdev in his new book, Corporation 2020: Transforming Business for Tomorrow’s World. It’s a bold statement, but he backs up his claim persuasively. While many companies are reaching record profits, they’ve oftentimes come at the expense of ecological degradation, rising greenhouse gas emissions, unemployment, spikes in food and fuel costs, and social inequalities.

But Sukhdev has developed what he believes is a framework for shifting the private sector towards a greener, more equitable economy. WRI recently hosted Sukhdev at our Washington, D.C. office to discuss his new book and his vision for the future. The founder of GIST Advisory and former head of UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative joined a panel discussion with WRI’s Managing Director, Manish Bapna, and Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environment Facility.

“Pavan has written a remarkable new book,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, who opened Wednesday’s event. “It not just a book, but really a campaign to change corporations in four viable ways.”

The 4 “Planks” for Corporate Sustainability

Sukhdev’s framework for shifting the private sector towards greater social and environmental sustainability includes what he calls the “four planks of change:”

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Collaboration Trumps Competition for Developers of Water Risk and Stewardship Tools

This post is part of a series on World Water Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to and discuss global water issues. Read more posts in this series.

This piece was co-authored by Anne-Leonore Boffi, Program Officer with the WBCSD, and Ruth Mathews, Executive Director of the Water Footprint Network.

The unsustainable use of water and the risks it creates is on the minds of many of the thousands of water experts from the corporate, NGO, and government worlds who convened in Stockholm this week for World Water Week. As companies increasingly view water as not just an environmental issue, but a complex driver of very real risks to their businesses, the appetite for better information on how to manage these risks and become good water stewards has grown substantially. In fact, many organizations have put tremendous effort into developing tools and methodologies and compiling the best publicly available water information so that companies can manage their water use in sustainable, efficient, and equitable ways.

This week in Stockholm, teams from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), World Resources Institute (WRI), and Water Footprint Network (WFN) convened a seminar called “Towards Sustainability: Harmonising Water Tools for Better Water Governance”. The event focused on providing an overview of each tool and highlighting areas requiring better harmonization and coordination efforts to help drive companies towards better management and stewardship of water resources. The seminar also included Ceres, DEG (a German development finance institution), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the UN CEO Water Mandate. The goal of the seminar was to explain how our organizations are striving to provide companies with a clear, easy-to- understand, and compatible set of water management tools—not a variety of competing efforts, but rather an organized and coordinated front.

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Water Management Requires Global Perspective, Local Solutions

This post is part of a series on World Water Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to and discuss global water issues. Read more posts in this series.

This piece was co-authored by Stuart Orr, Freshwater Manager, WWF. It also appears on the WWF Freshwater Programme blog.

There is no shortage of troubling statistics to prove that water management is a global challenge. About 1.2 billion people currently face water scarcity, and a population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 will put increased strain on already pressured water supplies worldwide.

But while the water challenge is truly global, it also demands solutions that are tailored to local conditions. Availability, use, and quality of water vary dramatically from place to place.

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AU Optronics Uses Aqueduct Maps to Assess Water Risk

This post is part of a series on World Water Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to and discuss global water issues. Read more posts in this series.

This piece was co-authored by Keith Liao, Senior Engineer with the AU Optronics Corporate Sustainability and Environment Department

Companies are increasingly feeling the financial impacts of water risks like shortages and pollution. Ceres’ most recent report, Clearing the Waters, highlights the fact that companies are falling short on identifying key areas where their operations are exposed to physical water risks. Mitigating these threats, then, requires doing more to assess, disclose, and address them.

In an effort to learn more about how companies can better understand and manage water risks, the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct program recently partnered with AU Optronics (AUO) to assess water risks faced by the company’s fabrication plants around the world. Headquartered in Hsinchu, Taiwan, AUO is a leading manufacturer of electronic screens, otherwise known as thin-film transistor liquid crystal displays (TFT-LCDs). AUO makes up 17 percent of the world’s market share of TFT-LCDs and generated $12.5 billion in annual sales revenue in 2011.

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U.S. Drought Demonstrates Complexity, Severity of Water Risk

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

As much of the United States continues to suffer through what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has called the country’s most extensive drought in more than 50 years, there is growing concern over how broad and severe the impacts may be. Events like this drought—which are projected to become increasingly common should climate change continue unabated—provide a sharp reminder of how heavily communities and global economies rely on water.

They also teach another lesson: Natural resource challenges like water scarcity cannot simply be viewed as environmental issues. They are real, material drivers of risk that governments, businesses, and investors must carefully consider in the context of the global economy.

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Private-Public Partnerships Reduce Water Risk in South Africa

With its high reliance on manufacturing, mining, and agriculture, South Africa’s economy runs on fresh water. Recent projections estimate a startling 17 percent gap between water demand and supply in the country by 2030. Even more concerning, the areas most affected, the Gauteng and Vaal River regions, are also the most economically significant: According to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, these two areas produce more than 50 percent of South Africa's wealth and supply more than 80 percent of the country's electricity requirements (more than 50 percent of all the electricity generated in Africa).

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Aqueduct Launches New Framework to Evaluate Global Water Risks

For many companies, water issues have recently migrated from corporations’ social responsibility departments to finance and risk management departments. Companies have been reporting a growing exposure to water-related risks like flooding and pollution, and many have already started to experience water-related business impacts.

This trend prompted WRI’s Markets and Enterprise Program to build a tool to help companies and investors identify water-related risks across their operations or portfolios. The tool, named the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, is based on an indicator framework that quantifies and maps different drivers of water risk, otherwise known as the Water Risk Framework. After testing this framework in various regions, WRI recently released its revised version. This updated framework will eventually be used to assess water risks in every part of the world.

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Mapping Potential Water Risks in China's Wei River

The Wei River in west-central China is not just the largest tributary of the Yellow River, but it has also been a critical water source for communities for thousands of years. To manage this important resource, water authorities in China just announced that they plan to invest 6 billion yuan - more than US$950 million - this year to fight floods and pollution in the Wei.

This investment in water management comes after flooding on the Wei killed dozens of people and forced tens of thousands from their homes in the fall of 2011. On top of these terrible human costs come severe economic impacts. According to some estimates, the 2011 flooding cost China more than 6 billion U.S. dollars.

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