Monday, 18 May 2015

Climate change: Jonathan Porritt, the Forum for the Future and 'The World We Made'

The environmentalist and writer Jonathan Porritt will be the guest speaker at the Sidmouth Arboretum's Tree Day later this month:
Sidmouth Arboretum - News

As a founder and chair of the Ecology (later, Green) Party and director of Friends of the Earth, he has been at the centre of the UK's environmental and sustainability issues.

He currently heads "an independent non-profit working globally with business, government and other organisations to solve complex sustainability challenges":
Forum for the Future

This is from the home page of his blog:

I’ve been in the world of sustainability for a very long time – but it’s hard to recall a time when things have felt quite so urgent.
Top of my mind right now is my new book, The World We Made (AlexMckay's Story from 2050), which launched in late 2013.
The World We Made presents a credible vision of the world in 2050 - a world that is connected, collaborative and genuinely sustainable. This is the biggest thing I’m working on at the moment. We simply have to change the ‘mood music’ in terms of the way people feel about sustainability, and that means that everything we do in Forum for the Future is about positive solutions to today’s converging sustainability challenges.
Jonathon Porritt

Jonathon Porritt : Welcome to my blog

In fact, Jonathon will be talking about his new book at Sidmouth's Tree Day:
The World We Made | General Non-fiction | Phaidon Store

He has been very critical of the oil companies which he has worked with over the years:

It is 'impossible' for today’s big oil companies to adapt to climate change

Leading UK environmentalist Jonathon Porritt calls his years working on green energy projects with Shell and BP a ‘painful journey’ that have led him to believe no major fossil fuel company will commit to renewables in the near future

Models and layouts displayed at the exhibition stand during the 21st World Petroleum Congress (WPC) in Moscow, Russia, 16 June 2014. The 21st World Petroleum Congress is scheduled for 15 to 19 June 2014, in Moscow.

We came to the conclusion that it was impossible for today’s oil and gas majors to adapt in a timely and intelligent way to the imperative of radical decarbonisation.’ Photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

Thursday 15 January 2015 

Solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett wagered this week that one of the major oil companies would renounce its hydrocarbon fantasies in the near future, and commit to the world of renewable energy. In the near future? I doubt that. But it will happen eventually. Where else is there to go, after all?
Ever since Forum for the Future was established in 1996, we’ve spent a lot of time asking ourselves when that exit moment for an oil major might happen. One of our very first projects was with BP Solar, investigating the future market for solar power in the UK. We were predictably upbeat, as were our immediate colleagues in BP Solar. But the rest of the company paid not the slightest attention to our report.
There have always been good, far-sighted people in the big oil and gas companies. From time to time, they’ve succeeded in getting sufficient traction amongst their senior colleagues to make the prospect of becoming ‘genuinely integrated energy companies’ – investing as much in renewables, storage and energy efficiency as in hydrocarbons – more or less realistic.
That’s what provided the Forum with the rationale to continue working in partnership with BP and Shell. Our corporate guidelines mean we can only partner with companies that are at least capable of conducting their business ‘on a truly sustainable basis’.
But with BP that moment came and went under the leadership of John Browne; and with Shell, that ‘integrated agenda’ pretty much died after Mark Moody-Stuart moved on. In both companies, the hydrocarbon supremacists rapidly regained the ground they’d lost; doing renewables as Corporate Social Responsibility was fine, but anything that threatened to go seriously ‘beyond petroleum’ was deemed to be deviant heresy.
But the truth of it is that we continued working with them anyway for some time. Maybe things would turn again, we told ourselves. Surely one of them would be sufficiently convinced by the grim science of accelerating climate change as to proactively plan an exit strategy rather than wait for that inevitable ‘too late’ reckoning coming down the track at them?
It didn’t happen. Worse yet, the lengths they went to to justify their continuing investments in new hydrocarbons (to the tune of billions of dollars every year) have become more and more extreme. Even the emergence of the ‘unburnable carbon’ analysis (with the headline that very significant percentages of already proven, extractable reserves of coal, oil and gas will need to stay in the ground to give us any chance at all of avoiding the spectre of runaway – and potentially irreversible – climate change) left them entirely unmoved.
Please remember that these are companies that employ some of the best scientists in the world, and who have explored in commendable detail various scenarios regarding the impact of climate-induced change. One of Shell’s scenarios is appropriately titled ‘Chaos’, but apparently without the remotest trace of irony.
And these are companies whose senior managers know, as an irrefutable fact, that their current business model threatens both the stability of the global economy and the longer-term prospects of humankind as a whole. Once knowledge of that kind has been internalised, for any individual, however well-meaning and ‘sincere’ they may be, it must get harder and harder to look oneself in the mirror every morning and feel anything other than moral regret.
It’s certainly got harder and harder for me to look them in the face knowing what they knew, and witnessing at first hand the intricate patterns of denial and self-deception that they were forced to adopt.
Without some kind of truly traumatic shock to the system (‘Macondo x 10’, as one of my erstwhile and most trusted colleagues in BP once described it), we came to the conclusion that it was impossible for today’s oil and gas majors to adapt in a timely and intelligent way to the imperative of radical decarbonisation. Although a small proportion of our total funding comes from oil and gas majors (for specific projects we believe have the potential to transform part of their value chain) and from companies that are involved in the offshore energy supply chain, we felt we had no option but to end our long-standing partnerships with both Shell and BP.
All oil majors are trapped by a short-term mandate that leaves little room for manoeuvre. Shareholder expectations still dominate, and are still largely untouched by any kind of ‘unburnable carbon’ analysis of the staggering amount of economic value now at risk. Plus, most people’s pension funds would take a massive hit if any of these companies proved me wrong and Jeremy Leggett right.
But there are all sorts of ways of mitigating that unforgiving short-term mandate – for instance, by dramatically scaling down investment in further exploration and development of new hydrocarbon assets, and by dramatically ramping up investment in cost-effective renewable energy and storage technologies. Knowing what we now know about man-made climate change, is that such an unreasonable demand?

This has been quite a painful journey for me personally. I so badly wanted to believe that the combination of reason, rigorous science and good people would enable elegant transition strategies to emerge in those companies. But we learn as we go. And go those companies surely will, if not in the near future.

It is 'impossible' for today’s big oil companies to adapt to climate change | Jonathan Porritt | Environment | The Guardian

Investing in fossil fuels goes against health charities' aims, says Jonathon Porritt

Wellcome Trust and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation investing in coal, oil and gas companies is ‘out of kilter’ with their work on climate change, according to leading environmentalist

Johnathan Porritt at the Sustainable Development Commission

Jonathon Porritt spent years working on green energy projects with BP and Shell but has since said engagement is pointless. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
Charities that work on solving problems connected to climate change should not invest in fossil fuel companies that are “out of kilter” with their charitable aims, according to top environmentalist Jonathon Porritt .
He spent years working on green energy projects with BP and Shell but now believes that engagement with fossil fuel companies is pointless.
Porritt, who is the founding director of the sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future (FFF), said fossil fuel companies had passed by “limitless opportunities to put their houses in order” and transition to a more sustainable economy.

“[They’re] all smart, are paid god knows how much money to steer through these complex areas, are betraying shareholders in terms of securing long-term value creation and risking the destruction of massive value inside the company.There comes a point when you say this isn’t going anywhere and we have to try something else.”
In March, the Guardian launched its Keep it in the Ground campaign calling on the world’s largest charitable foundations – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust – to divest their endowments from fossil fuels companies. 
More than 220 institutions – including pension funds, universities and faith organisations – around the world have now made the commitment to divest from fossil fuels in a fast-growing campaign started by the environmental organisation350.org.
According to a series of scientific analyses, between two-thirds and four-fifths of the world’s proven fossil fuels must be left in the ground if global warming is to avoid surpassing the 2C limit for dangerous climate change agreed at international negotiations.
The Wellcome Trust, which funds medical research including ground-breaking work on malaria and ebola, has refused to divest, arguing that their holdings allow them to actively engage with fossil fuel companies, which they say is a more effective strategy for environmental progress.

Writing in the Guardian, director Jeremy Farrar said: “We understand the attraction of the grand gesture for which the Guardian is calling, but such a gesture can be made only once. By maintaining our positions, we meet boards again and again, supporting their best environmental initiatives and challenging their worst.”
He added: “when we are not satisfied that a company is engaging with our concerns, we are perfectly prepared to sell.”
Porritt described the medical charity’s position as “probably tosh”, arguing: “both [the Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation] are in a seriously hard place: both pursue public good objectives and have been extremely outspoken about the impact of climate change. You cannot persist with a set of investment principles that are totally out of kilter with the mission of your charity.”
He continued: “if you’re sitting in Wellcome you’ve got a choice – you either go along with the [fossil fuel] company’s reassurances or you say ‘that’s not good enough: give us some evidence that you’ve done the hard work – show us what your company is going to do in a 2C world. Show us how you’re going to diversify your portfolio and protect shareholder value over the next 15 years, not over the next two years. Do all of that work in the public domain and maybe then we will think about maintaining our holding in your company.’”

The foundations should pursue a “progressive” divestment strategy said Porritt, by first removing their endowments from exclusive to integrated coal companies, followed by gas then oil corporations.
Founded in 1996, FFF previously had sustainability partnerships working with four of the big six energy companies; one of their founding projects was working with BP Solar to investigate the upcoming solar market. However, Porritt said he ended the partnerships when it became clear that: “us and others had not succeeded in persuading enough people inside the company to begin to reduce the degree to which the extraction of fossil fuels contributes to their profits.”
Porritt was prominent in the early rise of the Green Party – then called the Ecology Party – in the 1970s and was its chair for several years. He went on to become director of Friends of the Earth in the UK. He has advised the Prince of Wales, Marks & Spencer and government, leading the Sustainable Development Commission.
Porritt said that fossil fuel companies had made “a genuine attempt” to work through the issues of climate change:
“We persevered working with Shell and BP for a long period of time. There was a genuine opportunity to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and ramp up the annual investments in everything else – efficiency, renewables, better understanding of how energy is used in society, and possibly even carbon capture and storage. They looked at it hard and moved away.”
Porritt said it is “difficult” to know if shareholders could make more of an impact by divesting from or engaging with fossil fuel companies but said he would be “hard put” to find an example of where shareholder engagement on its own had led to change.
He said: “It depends very much on the nature of the organisation looking to divest and the degree to which their investment strategy is judged to be compatible with their core mission.”
Investing in fossil fuels goes against health charities' aims, says Jonathon Porritt | Environment | The Guardian
Oil company employees should consider quitting their jobs | Jonathon Porritt | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

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