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So far, 2022 has been a year of tremendous climate extremes. Humanity is learning the extent of the existential threats posed by climate change and ecological destruction the hard way. In a year of such tremendous transformation, leaders and innovators continuously come up with solutions and new ways of thinking that make us reflect and hope. In Earth.Org’s best climate change books, we see a world that is ambitious about humanity’s prospects, but humble about our place in nature. Extremely hopeful for our future, while realistic about what we might have to endure.

So far, 2022 has been a whirlwind of a year. From a global health crisis that is still going to stalling economies and dysfunctional international supply chains, this year has taken us to extremes few thought imaginable, and climate is no exception. Devastating floods in South Asia, record-breaking heatwaves in Europe and India, and unprecedented wildfires across the planet made it truly incontrovertible that climate is everything, and the changes within it will impact every person, every sector, and every country.

In 2022, we at Earth.Org revamped and significantly expanded our book review series to include regular talks with authors and more in-depth coverage of their books. Aside from the award-winning writers, world-leading climate scientists and thought leaders paving the way towards humanity’s brighter future, these are our pick of the best books on climate change. 

Best Climate Change Books To Read in 2022

1. The New Climate War, by Michael Mann

Michael Mann is arguably one of the closest things we have to a climate superhero. His story is certainly reminiscent of some cinematic superhero adventures. After hitting the climate science stage hard in 1999 when co-authoring the now-famous ‘hockey stick graph’ that demonstrates how human activity has contributed to average temperature rise, Michael Mann was lambasted, criticised and dismissed by a system perpetrated by our story’s villains, principally the fossil fuel industry and other actors with vested interests But our hero did not back down, and continued to push for the emerging field of climate science to be recognised.

In The New Climate War, Mann explains how the fossil fuel industry has adjusted its tactics, from outright climate denialism to obstruction and shifting the burden of responsibility to individuals, thereby delaying necessary action to push through systemic changes. The book is a fascinating untangling of the intricate web of misinformation, misdirection and deflection perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry since climate change became an incontrovertible reality. Cautiously optimistic, Mann argues that the fundamental challenges we still face today are not tied to a technological or intellectual inability to achieve systemic change, but in the lack of political will required to do so.

2. Post Growth: Life After Capitalism, by Tim Jackson

For the economics-inclined, Post Growth may be our pick for the most accessible and inspiring technical environmental books of 2021. Professor Tim Jackson, a highly influential ecological economist, first gained fame for his 2009 book, Prosperity Without Growth, a highly researched deep dive into the economics and models that can bring us into a more sustainable and prosperous future.

Jackson’s 2021 foray is a romantic, passionate and highly readable book that illuminates what a future after capitalism, competition and egregious self-interest really looks like, largely doing away with much of the jargon and economics’ parlance used in Prosperity. Grounded in a deep understanding of ecological economics, Post Growth presents one of the most compelling arguments yet that the economy is not at all separate from the natural world, but an intrinsically embedded subsidiary of it. Under this worldview, it becomes clear that constant economic growth is simply untenable.

Whether or not you agree with Jackson’s more fundamental assertions on the nature of capitalism and its role in a prosperous society, this is a book that sheds light on a version of the future where having outright winners does not necessarily translate to having outright losers, where prosperity is not only linked to material wealth but to wellbeing, health and safety for all members of society. Post Growth does not necessarily offer the solutions and technical means that Prosperity does, but it does provide a way of thinking about the future that is hopeful, bright and entirely achievable. 

3. The Good Ancestor, by Roman Krznaric

Possibly the most philosophical book on this list, Roman Krznaric’s The Good Ancestor delves into the ideas and merits behind long-termism, an ideology that is growing in support and popularity as it becomes clearer that our actions today will have long-lasting consequences on the generations of tomorrow.

“What does it mean to be a good ancestor?” Krznaric’s book largely revolves around this question, addressing the vastly interesting and under-explored topic of intergenerational ethics. Our governmental and economic frameworks incentivise short-term prizes over long-term rewards, but that does not mean that we have lost the ability to think long-term. In his immensely profound and impassioned book, Krznaric reminds us that our actions have long-lasting impacts on future generations and the planet. He provides readers with an empowering and eye-opening prescription for a new way to see the world and our place in it, one that recognises how small humans currently alive are relative to the immense breadth of our species’ past and, most importantly, our potentially limitless future.

4. Under A White Sky, by Elizabeth Kolbert

For the more scientifically and solutions-inclined, this is the book pick for you. On a world-hopping adventure from one solution to the next, journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert guides readers through the sheer madness of ‘fixes’ that humans have attempted to dominate the natural world. The bottom line is this: we like to think of ourselves as ingenious problem solvers, and we certainly can be, but more often than not, our actions have unforeseen and reverberating effects on ecosystems and human populations.

Under A White Sky immensely readable, vividly describing everything from the flooding marshlands of Louisiana to the mind-bogglingly exciting developments in genetic engineering. In each new location, Kolbert dives into the latest technological fix that is being attempted, often to cover up the unintended consequences of the last techno-fix humans tried out. This is a hugely entertaining book that accurately describes some of the most cutting-edge and complex solutions to the environmental crisis that humans have come up with. But it is also a cautionary tale that puts into perspective just how far we’ve gone, and what that has already done to the world.

5. On Time and Water, by Andri Snær Magnason 

Andri Snær Magnason’s On Time and Water is a lyrical and emotionally moving experience of a book. At its core, this book is a poetic exploration of what processes like climate change, environmental loss and ecological shocks really mean. The book makes the example of ocean acidification, a combination of words that could realistically glean half-interested stares and vacant expressions from most people, and yet inspire visceral fear and dread in the hearts of marine and climate scientists. The same applies to atmospheric carbon buildup. Sure, we know it’s bad, but why? 

On Time and Water is a pensive and beautifully written meditation on how to connect our past, present and future, offering a hopeful vision of a world where we feel closer to each other, to our families and to the natural world that surrounds us. It gives us the tools we need to think closely about this future, the language we can use to describe it and the anchors we can turn towards to connect ourselves with it.

6. Being the Change: Live Well and Start a Climate Revolution by Peter Kalmus

The first on our list of books about climate change, alarmed by drastic changes occurring in the Earth’s environment, climate scientist and suburban father Peter Kalmus embarked on a journey to change his life and the world. He began by ditching the car and bicycling instead, growing his own food and making other simple, fulfilling changes. Kalmus slashed his climate impact to one tenth of the US average and became happier in the process.

Being the Change (2017) inspires individuals who want take climate action, but are unsure of where to start.

7. This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs The Climate by Naomi Klein

Rob Nixon from The New York Times called it “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring”. Hard-hitting journalist Naomi Klein uncovers the myths clouding the climate debate, unearthing how powerful and well-financed right wing think tanks and lobby groups are at the source of the climate change denial.

This Changes Everything (2014) challenges the current “free market” ideology, which Klein argues is unable to solve the climate change crisis.

You might also like: Mapping the Future With Paul Niel

8. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams

From eucalyptus groves in California, forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into cutting-edge research, The Nature Fix (2017) exposes the powers of the natural world to improve health, strengthen our relationships and promote reflection and innovation.

9. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

Drawdown (2017) gathers the 100 most effective solutions to halt global warming from leading scientists and policymakers, which if adopted, could even reduce the overall greenhouse gasses currently present in the atmosphere . Already firmly anchored in the New York Times bestseller list, Hawken ranks optimal solutions – like moderating the use of air-conditioners and refrigerators, or adopting a plant-rich diet – by the amount of potential greenhouse gases they can avoid or remove.

10. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson

Half Earth (2016), written by one of the world’s greatest naturalists and a double Pulitzer Prize winner, proposes an realistic plan to save our imperilled biosphere: devote half the surface of the Earth to nature. In order to stave off the mass extinction of species including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet, Wilson urges in one of his most impassioned books about climate change to date. 

11. Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet by Dieter Helm

The first real attempt to calibrate, measure and value natural capital from an economic perspective, Natural Capital (2015) shifts the parameters of the current environmental debate. Dieter Helm, Fellow of Economics at the University of Oxford, claims that refusing to place an economic value on nature risks an environmental meltdown. He proceeds to outline a new framework to couple economic growth with respect for our natural endowment without sacrificing the former.

12. Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman

Given the recent buzz about the Green New Deal in American politics, we recommend this brilliant book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author who coined the term, Thomas L. Friedman. Hot, Flat and Crowded (2008) speaks to America’s urgent need to expand national renewables and how climate change presents a unique opportunity for the US – not only to transform its economy, but to lead the world in innovating toward cleaner energy.

13. Sustainable Nation: Urban Design Patterns for the Future by Douglas Farr

An essential resource for urban designers, planners and architects, Sustainable Nation (2018) is an urgent call to action and a guidebook for change. An architect and urban planner, Douglas Farr details how designing cities and buildings with sustainable criteria can mitigate the humanitarian, population and climate crises.

14. The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

If you need to quickly get up to speed with the sheer scale of the climate emergency, journalist David Wallace-Wells’s succinct but brutal portrait of our future lives on earth may be for you. In 200 pages, it unpacks the different dimensions of our forecast future, from heat death to unbreathable air. 

As Wallace-Wells puts it in the book’s first line, “it is worse, much worse, than you think.” Even for those who feel they are well-versed on the issue, the endless stream of disasters that have or could be caused by global warming effectively shakes the reader out of any complacency. 

While the book does not offer solutions, it does make it clear that we already have all the tools we need to avoid the worst effects. But ultimately The Uninhabitable Earth seeks to make clear the horror of the emergency of the consequences before us. Unless we accept the urgency, how can we expect to get ourselves out of this mess?

15. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

By 2050, the climate crisis will have driven the extinction of up to half the world’s species, according to this book that is written on the frontlines of environmental breakdown. We are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction event, which is set to be the fastest such event on record.

Kolbert outlines how humans have driven the extinction of biodiversity, or to the brink of extinction, from the Panamanian golden frog nearly completely wiped out in the wild by a fungal disease to the Maui, which is in peril due to deforestation. 

We are driving these species to extinction in many ways: some connected to the climate crisis through rising sea levels rising and deforestation, as well as by spreading disease-carrying species and poaching. By fundamentally altering earth’s delicately balanced ecosystems, we are risking our own future too. 

16. Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich

We have known about the perils of climate change for decades and yet very little to nothing was done about it. This book details the decade from 1979 to 1989 when we were starting to have a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Focussing mainly on the US’s response to the crisis, the book follows the scientists and activists who tried to sound the alarm, and the Reaganite politicians and businesses who worked to make sure that no meaningful action was taken.

Rich says that the world came close to signing binding international treaties to mitigate the acceleration of global warming. However, by the start of the 90s, what was once regarded as a bipartisan issue came to be seen as a partisan one after the oil industry “descended and bared its fangs.”

Since then, more carbon has been emitted into the atmosphere than in all the preceding years of history of civilisation. Losing Earth is an essential cautionary tale for facing the climate battles ahead.

17. Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change by Dieter Helm

Another entry by Helm, Net Zero addresses the action we all need to take, whether personal, local, national or global, if we really want to stop climate change.

This book is a measured, balanced view of how we stop causing climate change by adopting a net zero strategy of reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon absorption. It is a rational look at why the past 30 years’ efforts have failed and why and how the next 30 years can succeed. Like the other books on this list, it is a vital read for anyone who hears ecological activists fighting against climate change, but wonders what they can actually do.

You might also like: 10 Inspiring and Educational Environmental Books for Kids

18. Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency by Mark Lynas

This book delivers an account of the future of our earth, and our civilisation, if current rates of global warming persist.But how much worse could it get? Are we already past the point of no return? Cataloguing the very latest climate science, Lynas explores the course we have set for Earth over the next century and beyond. Degree by degree, he charts the likely impacts of global heating and the consequent climate catastrophe.  

At one degree – the world we are already living in – vast wildfires scorch California and Australia, while monster hurricanes devastate coastal cities. At two degrees the Arctic ice cap melts away, and coral reefs disappear from the tropics. At three, the world begins to run out of food, threatening millions with starvation. At four, large areas of the globe are too hot for human habitation, erasing entire nations and turning billions into climate refugees. At five, the planet is warmer than for 55 million years, while at six degrees a mass extinction of unparalleled proportions sweeps the planet, threatening to end all life on Earth. 

These escalating consequences can still be avoided, but time is running out. We must stop burning fossil fuels within a decade. If we fail, then we risk crossing tipping points that could push global climate chaos out of humanity’s control. 

19. On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein 

This book gathers more than a decade of Klein’s writing, pairing it with new material on the staggeringly high stakes of our immediate political and economic choices.

These long-form essays investigate the climate crisis not only as a political challenge but as a spiritual and imaginative one as well. With reports spanning from the ghostly Great Barrier Reef, the annual smoke-choked skies of the Pacific Northwest, post-hurricane Puerto Rico, to a Vatican attempting an unprecedented “ecological conversion,” Klein makes the case that we will rise to the existential challenge of climate change only if we are willing to transform the systems that produced this crisis.

An expansive, far-ranging exploration that sees the battle for a greener world as indistinguishable from the fight for our lives, On Fire captures the burning urgency of the climate crisis, as well as the fiery energy of a rising political movement demanding a catalytic Green New Deal.

20. Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet by Noam Chomsky & Robert Pollin

The last on our list of books about climate change, Noam Chomsky, the world’s leading public intellectual, and Robert Pollin, a renowned progressive economist, map out the catastrophic consequences of unchecked climate change and present a realistic blueprint for change: the Green New Deal.

Chomsky and Pollin show the forecasts for a hotter planet: vast stretches of the Earth will become uninhabitable, plagued by extreme weather, drought, rising seas, and crop failure. Arguing against the fear of economic disaster and unemployment arising from the transition to a green economy, they show how this unfounded concern encourages climate denialism.

The authors show how ceasing to burn fossil fuels within the next 30 years is entirely feasible. Climate change is an emergency that cannot be ignored. This book shows how it can be overcome both politically and economically.

21. Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea by Callum Roberts

Callum Roberts’ 2013 book, Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea, follows the fascinating relationship between man and water. A powerful warning to save our oceans before it is too late, this book does not hold back – it shows us just how much of an impact overfishing, pollution and climate change have had on marine life. 

Instead of speculating about what may happen in the future, Roberts sticks to proven facts and viable solutions. This makes his book stand out from other recent books on climate change and environmentalist works’ inability to offer solutions for the “doomsday scenarios” they present through their barrage of facts and statistics. The last quarter of Ocean of Life is packed with potential solutions that industries, companies, governments and ordinary people can adopt. 

22. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis” edited by Ayana Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson

This book is a collection of essays and poetry by 60 leading women climate activists. It shows the power that women have in creating the solutions that we need to mitigate the climate crisis. 

23. Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: How the Natural World is Adapting to Climate Change by Thor Hanson

While humans wrestle with net-zero targets and greenwashing, other species have had to adapt to the impacts of climate change.  According to American biologist Thor Hanson, plants and animals have “a great deal to teach us about what comes next, because for many of them, and also for many of us, that world is already here.”

These are just some of Earth.Org’s best climate change books in 2022 – we hope that you get some inspiration. As the issue of rising global temperatures imperils humanity further, it is crucial to consult a variety of impartial sources to get the most accurate information on the state of the planet. 

You might also like: 10 Must-Read Ecofeminism Books

As pushing climate action and creating environmental and social impact becomes mainstream thought, so is the awareness that the future of jobs, as well as skills, is turning a shade of green. The US Department of Labor defines green jobs as those that produce goods and services that benefit our environment and natural resources, and where the employee is involved to make the production and delivery processes more environment friendly, use fewer resources and promote a circular economy. More broadly, a green economy is not just one that replaces extractive activities with regenerative options, but is also one that pushes and sustains economic, gender and racial justice.

A transition to a green economy has the potential to create millions of sustainability jobs. A growing consciousness about sustainability, climate change and carbon footprint as an offshoot of unbridled consumption along with emerging contours of lifestyles in the post-COVID era will push the drive towards green jobs. This growth is likely to more than compensate for the job losses in traditional industries. According to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook report, adoption of sustainable practices in energy and energy efficiency could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030, while cutting 6 million jobs in fossil fuel industries. Degradation of the environment and ecosystem apart, heat stress and rising temperatures will impact our jobs and working hours, especially in the agriculture sector.

But this transition cannot occur smoothly unless our workforce, existing as well as new entrants, acquires the necessary green skills these green jobs would require. The green economy will not be a reality without integrating green skills into countries’ National Determined Contribution (NDC) targets. A 2019 article by ILO’s Senior Specialist Olga Strietska-Ilina highlights this disconnect as two-thirds of the NDC’s recognise the importance of capacity development, but less than 40% include skills training to support their implementation.

In terms of the sectors that would emerge as a hotbed for green jobs, the 2019 State of Jobs in India report by Grameen Foundation India analyses the potential of green jobs across water, housing, farming, clean energy, waste management, mobility, hospitality, health and other sectors. It identifies the potential of over 3 million green jobs to be created in the country by 2021, although this estimation was made before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of the types of enterprises where such opportunities may arise, it may include green-solutions focused companies (say Germany’s Bio-lutions setting up a plant in India to make cutlery from agri-residue), large companies implementing sustainability strategies into their business models (apart from conglomerates like Pepsi or Tatas, even mid-sized companies in India like Arvind Mills are recycling water to reduce freshwater consumption) or companies that provide niche, green support-services. Even traditional artisan segments are addressing the need for sustainability, which unlocks the scope for green jobs. For instance, a block-printing artisan enterprise in Rajasthan using eco-friendly colours enables the unused wastewater from its production process to be utilised for farming.

You might also like: Op-Ed: Locust Swarms in East Africa Show the Interaction Between the Climate Crisis and Armed Conflict

The Importance of Green Skills

The green transition will require sector-specific knowledge and technology to support decision-making, implementation and maintenance of the modified production processes, revamping of communication, analytical and management styles, and changes to how we invest. Mapping the occupational needs and then investing in the relevant green skills training are vital. It will also require legal recognition and protection; for instance, the informal sector working in waste picking/recycling are often bereft from identity cards, a basic need for social protection. While skills training programmes are being pushed, there is a need to reorient the investments into skills-training by both the public and private sector to ensure it closes the skills gap for the green economy. There is a need to build marketplaces for sustainable products, like a dedicated market for recycled plastic products or organic foods, which would incentivise the development and job creation in those sectors.

While funding may be a constraint given that many of the green sectors do not yet generate the cash-flow to capture the attention of fund managers, blended finance or outcome-based funding mechanisms may be an opportune way to start.

One must also note that the definition of what comprises a green job and skills is still evolving and not uniform or consistent. Even people working in this space give varying answers to the same question. This implies that the employees must develop a skill-set that is adaptable to different aspects of the field.

With the growing awareness about the environment and social issues amongst the world’s young millennials, interest in green jobs will undoubtedly accelerate as the youth seek to focus their education and careers on areas that they are more passionate about. This will add to the demand pull. At the same time, the supply push to green jobs and skills must be backed by steady regulations, government incentives and the mainstreaming of the green development agenda across employment and skills. It would also require the guidance and forecasting of green skill areas to facilitate relevant vocational and tertiary education programmes.

Ultimately, the potential size of the green economy is enormous, because each sector holds ample scope to become greener. A mind-shift change is visible in many companies and consumers, and this must accelerate. Innovations within existing green sectors are also heartening to see, like floating solar projects that overcome the constraint of onerous land acquisition rules for utility-scale solar projects. But while the sky is the limit, it would be prudent to focus on a few sectors as a low-hanging fruit and ramp up the initiatives towards skills-training for those sectors first. Without the necessary skills, any discourse on green jobs and its realisation in any sector of our economy will remain a pipedream!

Co-written by Prabhat Labh, CEO, Grameen Foundation India and Sourajit Aiyer, Consultant, South Asia Fast Track Sustainability Communications

ReThink Hong Kong is an ambitious two-day business conference taking place in Hong Kong this September that will explore and encourage meaningful partnerships, inspire organisational change and present solutions for a more sustainable economy, society and environment. Earth.Org spoke with ReThink founder, Chris Brown, about the event, the drive for sustainability in Hong Kong and how governments need to inspire consumer action.

The planet is facing unprecedented challenges due to unabated human activity. In order to give future generations a fighting chance of saving the planet, we need to prioritise collective change and shared responsibility through effective and meaningful collaboration. 

Earth.Org: How has COVID-19 Impacted the Organisation of the Event?

Chris Brown: Throughout February and March, things were very up in the air. We are very fortunate to have the partners that we do, who showed the commitment, support and flexibility that allowed us to find new dates in September. Of course, like everyone, we wish that COVID-19 hadn’t happened, but it’s opened up a new perspective for the event and we believe that we will have a more impactful event now; this pandemic shows that just as the effects of the virus are inescapable, so are those of the climate crisis. Unfortunately, there is a lack of comprehension of the severity of the climate crisis globally and in Hong Kong. A report by the Civic Exchange and World Resources Institute found that we need to cut emissions by 6.6% every year until 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement, which really puts a window on how bad the situation is. Their analysis highlights three key areas where Hong Kong has the greatest potential to reduce emissions, namely from improving electricity generation, making buildings more energy efficient and improving sustainability of transport. With the vast number of skyscrapers in Hong Kong and so much traffic on the road, it’s very clear that there is still a lot of work to do. 

However, despite these difficulties, we have still maintained our pledge of all delegate fees going to charity, as our commitment from the beginning has been to stage an impactful event while supporting our chosen NGOs (Feeding Hong Kong and Soap Cycling), which is all the more important in these difficult times. 

Regarding ReThink, we have one of the best speaker line-ups Hong Kong has seen, we have amazing support from our key stakeholders and all attendees are vetted and approved  so it will definitely be a purposeful event, with a delegate list that is authorised and empowered to drive change.

The virus has resulted in a different event to the one we designed 18 months ago – the perspectives will be vastly different because all these businesses have gone through an extremely challenging time and they all have different experiences as to how they have adapted to the pandemic. It’s not a big jump to apply these transformations as a result of COVID-19 to the environmental and social changes that we are asking them to adopt as well.

You might also like: Investments in Offshore Wind Energy Skyrocket Despite COVID-19 Shock

What Attracted You to the Environmental Sphere in Hong Kong?

I am a sustainability enthusiast and when I was living in the UK, I had a garden with a composting heap and vegetable garden. The council was also really good at recycling so it was relatively easy to live a sustainable lifestyle which changed a lot when I moved to Hong Kong. It’s not impossible to be sustainable, it’s just extremely difficult. 

I did extensive analysis of sustainability events in Hong Kong (as planning high-value business events is my area of expertise) and what impact they were having. After a lot of consultations and research, where I went out and spoke to businesses about what sustainability means to them, I realised that this is an area lacking credibility in the city. I then decided to create an event that could add value to the existing dialogues by curating a programme that focuses on the ‘how’ not the ‘why’ and bringing together corporate and enterprise stakeholders that want to make a difference. ReThink is not about bringing the who’s who in sustainability, but about bringing in new organisations and making driving sustainable development attractive within your organisation. There are different ways of getting people excited about sustainability: you can show them the risks of standing still or you can show them the opportunities of adapting – the opportunity to run a better business, to engage with your community or to have a more positive impact across your value chain. My hope is that organisations want to change the way they operate as consumer behaviour changes and they’ll rather spend their money with companies who are demonstrating there is another way to operate.

I also hope that the government implements more stringent, and globally proven, regulation so that businesses have to change the way they operate. 

Do You Think That it’s the Government’s Mandate to Encourage Sustainability?

Absolutely. The news that the municipal charging waste scheme has been withdrawn after a decade of debate and negotiations shows that something is wrong. I think I am confident in saying that governments believe that businesses wouldn’t want to pay, but there are proven models around the world that show that businesses will pay if the model is right and effective. 

We could turn the waste problem in Hong Kong into an opportunity for the city to become a regional leader in recycling- there is no reason why the government cannot make the necessary investment into this. There is a saying that “waste is just a resource in the wrong place;” if we put the infrastructure in and provide businesses with incentives to opt in to these services, we can create a whole new economy in Hong Kong, one that creates jobs and provides revenue. 

An example of this is a partnership between Baguio and Swire Beverages, where they’re establishing Hong Kong’s first dedicated PET and HDPE Recycling Facility. This is a great example of private businesses working to make a change but perhaps this should be the government’s responsibility instead of relying on the private sector. 

ReThink gives businesses a stage to talk about the challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve overcome them and the advice that they have for other stakeholders. 

Collaboration is open to everyone, and we hope that ReThink becomes the event in Hong Kong that enables effective solutions to be implemented and for this dialogue about the opportunities that becoming more sustainable will bring. It’s a shame that it’s taken something like COVID-19 to wake people up, but at least people are waking up.

ReThink will take place on September 2 & 3 at K11 Atelier King’s Road, Hong Kong. Sponsors of the event include HSBC, Cathay Pacific, SAP, CLP, Eaton, Impossible and InvestHK.

ReThink has been designed for professionals who are driven by, or challenged with, sustainability goals for their business or organisation and the event will answer a question that is vitally important for businesses in Hong Kong: how can we help businesses accelerate change towards a more sustainable future?

The event provides a platform for businesses, government and not-for-profit organisations to collaborate with each other to work towards a more sustainable world. Delegates can discuss how to implement actionable practices while meeting providers with deployable technology and real solutions. 

To see the program of the event, click here.

In 2007, Marc Collins Chen, minister of tourism of French Polynesia, said that a third of the French Polynesian islands would be submerged by either 2035 or 2050- “depending on which scientist you spoke to.” An estimated 2.4 billion people- 32% of the world’s population- live in a coastal region and will likely be impacted by rising sea levels as a result of the climate crisis. In late 2018, Chen pioneered the concept of off-shore urban infrastructure, or ‘sustainable floating cities’, in order to tackle the issue of rising sea levels, founding the company Oceanix to put his vision into action.

In a 2019 meeting with the UN, Chen and a group of specialists, including zero waste experts, proposed their idea of what sustainable floating cities would encompass. Their plan involves 4.5-acre hexagonal floating islands- about the size of three and a half football fields- that each house 300 people. These islands are the foundation upon which these settlements would be built. A village could be formed by combining six of these islands and connecting them via an open port. The idea is that as long as each island operates an essential service such as healthcare, education, spirituality and commercial services, they could be fully functional communities. Furthermore, outside these communities there could be uninhabited functional islands for energy collection and crop yielding.

Furthermore, Chen claims that marine life would not be threatened under his vision as ‘the technology exists for us to live on water, without killing marine ecosystems’. There have been several plans for floating homes and apartments but what makes Oceanix’s plan more viable is their plan for scalability, such that scaling up and looping six villages together would result in a city of 10 800 people. These floating islands are intended to be self-sustaining in terms of their energy, food and water production. Ideally, they would be efficient as well through their repurposing of waste materials produced, and fuelling all operations with energy produced by the islands themselves in a closed loop system. These efficiency goals are ambitious, and take inspiration from cities such as Stockholm, Amsterdam and Copenhagen (this city is planning to become the first carbon-neutral city by 2025) that are making efforts to steer away from their reliance on fossil fuels. 

The feasibility of the project hinders its implementation. Much of the technology to make this happen will need to be either invented from scratch or wholly adapted to fit the floating city. Further, Oceanix has yet to formulate a concrete business plan that would render them eligible to apply for green venture capital funds or government grants which aim to promote sustainable development. Furthermore, one of Chen’s main goals is to make these islands affordable but given the amount of investment and work that the first prototypes would need, this may be difficult to achieve. Moreover, the governance of such settlements has come into question, as it is unclear how these islands will be run, if inhabitants will have to commute to the mainland, and how they fit into more established economic systems. 

Despite the technicalities, the point of such a concept is to revolutionise the way that we live, and question the systems we have in place. In a world that is in need of change, it’s these crazy ideas that will breed the innovations and sustainable technologies that are needed to combat pressing environmental concerns.

Featured image: Oceanix’s rendering of its sustainable floating cities (Source: BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group). 

Our post-industrial civilisation was founded on over a hundred years of large-scale fossil fuel exploitation. The exploding human population, combined with improvements in quality of life, has led to resource depletion and environmental pollution. We have seen temporarily lower greenhouse gas emissions this year as a result of COVID-19, but it is likely that emissions will increase beyond pre-pandemic levels in the years to come under business-as-usual scenarios. The disruption caused by the coronavirus to the global economy is, however, an invaluable opportunity for change. Deep decarbonisation offers one such way to do this.

Decarbonisation: Definition

The term ‘deep decarbonisation’ refers to the phasing out of carbon-emitting fuels in favour of more sustainable alternatives. Deep decarbonisation is more than just a temporary measure to combat the climate crisis: it is a long-term strategy that could offer us a longer lease upon this Earth. 

In 2007, the European Union committed to their 20/20/20 targets: a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, a 20% increase in energy efficiency and a 20% increase in contribution to total energy from renewable sources by 2020. EU member states collectively increased their share of renewable energy from 8.5% to 17.5% between 2004 and 2017 and are set to attain their 2020 goal, aided by the drop in energy demand due to the coronavirus epidemic. Many states, such as Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Croatia, have already reached their 2020 target and many others are on track to reach theirs later this year.

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Meanwhile, the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project is an international collaboration of energy researchers that focuses on sharing practical solutions for reducing GHG emissions in line with a 2°C increase limit by 2050. It comprises research teams from 16 of the biggest GHG-emitting countries including USA, China, India, Brazil, Germany and Japan. The energy sector is the worst offender when it comes to carbon emissions, being responsible for 72% of global emissions. It therefore stands to reason that deep decarbonisation in the energy sector should be a key climate goal.

Production of energy from renewable sources is rising, continually increasing its cost-effectiveness, and is already out-competing coal in terms of profitability. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar photovoltaic- and onshore wind-generated power is often cheaper to produce, and cheaper for consumers, than using fossil fuels, even without government subsidies.

There is also a veritable treasure trove of untapped potential from geothermal energy. Unlike wind and solar, geothermal energy is always available. For heating especially, geothermal is ideal as it does not need to be converted into an intermediate form of energy such as electrical. Iceland has been diverting geothermally heated water to heat pavements for over a decade, keeping them clear of ice and snow and reducing the need for salt which harms the environment. 

Conscience alone, will not be enough to mobilise the large-scale change needed to reduce emissions sufficiently; deep decarbonisation would require the creation of incentives for major contributing countries and industries. The top 5 CO2 emitting countries are China (27%), USA (15%), EU-28 (10%), India (7%) and Russia (5%), with international industries such as shipping and aviation contributing a further 1.15 billion tonnes of CO2 annually, or the same as all of South America combined. 

Simple measures such as reducing cruising speed and varnishing hulls to reduce friction could have a huge impact on reducing GHG emissions. A tax on fuel consumption for members of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) would provide an incentive to reduce speeds and increase energy efficiency, thus decreasing GHG emissions and improving environmental conditions for marine life.

Large ships are also responsible for huge amounts of air pollution in docks throughout the Mediterranean region, causing health and environmental issues for passengers and locals alike.

Faig Abbasov, shipping policy manager for the non-profit Transport & Environment (T&E), says,T&E’s analysis of air pollution caused by luxury passenger cruise ships in European waters shows that the brands owned by Carnival Corporation emitted in 2017 in European seas alone 10 times more disease-causing sulphur dioxide than all of Europe’s 260+ million passenger vehicles.”

Dan Hubbell, shipping emissions campaign manager at Ocean Conservancy agreed, stating that “the IMO must follow the science and aim for full decarbonisation of the shipping sector by 2050 at the latest”.

Introducing a carbon tax would be an easy way to discourage and penalise the biggest emitters, regardless of whether they are net CO2 importers or exporters. Carbon tax encourages households and companies to seek lower-carbon alternatives such as green energy or biofuels, and to consume less energy in general. GHG emissions include CO2, but also methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, the latter of which is emitted by refrigerators and air-conditioning systems and trap heat 1 000 times more effectively than CO2. Some jurisdictions, such as the EU, already have legislations in place for the gradual phasing out of f-gases where possible, such as prohibiting its use in newly manufactured appliances, stricter checks and servicing procedures to prevent leakages, and restrictions on their sale within the EU.  

A barrier to the phasing out of carbon fuels is the concern that it would interfere with economic growth. However, a reduction in emissions does not necessarily coincide with economic loss; 2019 saw an increase in global GDP while maintaining the emissions levels of the previous year. According to BP statistics, 21 countries increased their GDP between 2000 and 2014, while reducing emissions. Among them, Ukraine and Slovakia decreased emissions by 29% and 22% respectively, while growing GDP by 49% and 75%.

Ways in which governments could stimulate their economies while transitioning to a cleaner and more responsible future include offering cash incentives to replace old vehicles and appliances for more energy-efficient models; expanding electricity networks to accommodate vehicles and infrastructure that run on electricity; and through government-investments in wind and solar power that would lead to the creation of new jobs down the supply chain.

The weeks following the declaration of a global state of emergency due the Covid-19 outbreak have already shown the positive potential that substantial reductions in fossil-fuel consumption could hold for the environment. Amid this humanitarian and economic crisis, the rest of life on Earth is flourishing: air pollution has cleared to reveal the Himalayas for the first time in decades; cormorants have been spotted fishing in the still waters of the Venice canals; and mountain goats are roaming the streets of Llandudno, Wales. Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding these events, perhaps this is a reminder that we can and do have an enormous impact on the quality of our environment. 

Featured image by: Daniel Parks

If the world is to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG13), which demands urgent action to tackle the climate crisis, companies in every sector must act. So-called ‘green business’ refers to a model in which companies have no negative impact on the environment, economy or community. However, is ‘green growth’ little more than a myth? 

Consumer perception is shifting with a green goal in mind. Products, foods and lifestyles with a high carbon footprint are seeing a decline in popularity as consumer awareness of environmental issues increases. A study from PwC found that over 60% of consumers believe that climate-related issues are the most important issues facing the world, with 75% saying that they have changed their consumption patterns towards a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle. 

With consumer demands changing, sustainability has become a buzz word for businesses. This is illustrated in a statement from the Governor of the Bank of England in early 2019, which says that companies that do not adjust to a net-zero world by 2050 ‘will fail to exist’. 

The Importance of Sustainability in Business

Sustainable business must go beyond the typical corporate social responsibility agenda and step up as leaders of a green revolution instead of waiting for the government to deliver solutions. As pointed out by Olivia Sibony, CEO at SeedTribe, “businesses are uniquely positioned to find innovative solutions to address SDG13 in a way that is financially attractive.” Businesses must therefore prioritise the planet in their bottom lines, following a ‘triple bottom line’ model where people, planet and profit are given equal weighting. 

Among the leaders of the rapidly-growing green growth push include The Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD), comprising of CEOs from 30 of the world’s biggest companies. The GISD includes global firms such as UBS, Santander and Aviva, who have promised to improve their investments in achieving the UN’s SDGs. They aim to do this through revisiting existing and new business models to align with the SDGs, creating portfolios for sustainable investments and addressing any obstacles to long-term investment in sustainable development. This is followed by the recent news that activist hedge fund TCI, which manages assets worth £22 billion, has pledged to target directors of large companies to disclose their carbon emissions. Sir Christopher Hohn, founder of TCI, says, “investing in a company that doesn’t disclose its pollution is like investing in a company that doesn’t disclose its balance sheet.” 

The IMF’s October 2019 report states that environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds are small in quantity but fast growing, representing $850 billion in assets (less than 2% of the total global investment fund assets under management). The IMF also points out that a lack of consistent definitions over what constitutes ESG investments means that global asset size estimates range from $3 trillion (J.P. Morgan, 2019) to $31 trillion (Global Sustainable Investment Alliance 2019). However, climate-concerned investors are on the rise: with over 1,715 signatories representing $81.7 trillion in assets under management, the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is an obvious example. This initiative helps to accelerate the integration of ESG into decision-making through guidance and investment analysis. The PRI recently forecasted that tighter government climate regulations by 2025 could wipe up to $2.3 trillion in company valuations in industries ranging from fossil fuel producers to car producers. The pressure on companies to increase their transparency and accountability in the face of a climate emergency is a sure sign that the dominant model of business-as-usual is becoming irrelevant. 

Green Growth or Greenwash? 

This ‘green gold rush’ poses a fundamental question of whether companies are advocating for sustainability because they have a genuine intrinsic care for the environment or if they’re exploiting the discourse surrounding sustainability in order to grow their bottom line. 

Debates and questions of such ‘greenwashing’ are increasingly rife. Greenwashing is the process of painting a false picture about the sustainability of a company’s products with an aim of capitalising on consumer trends. Common examples include oil companies featuring the importance of biodiversity on their websites whilst continuing to be the force behind its destruction. Futerra’s 2015 Selling Sustainability Report offers 10 basic rules for avoiding greenwashing, including being wary of ‘green’ products from a ‘dirty’ company, irrelevant claims, and ‘fluffy language’. 

The Sustainable Business Model

Helping consumers to distinguish between ‘green’ and ‘greenwash’ is the growth of ‘B Corporations’. So-called B Corps must go through rigorous externally-led analysis that measures their environmental and social impact, from supply-chain to community engagement, to gain a B Corp certification. Accountability must be legally built into the sustainable business model, balancing people, planet and profits as part of the global movement calling for business to be a force for good’. The B Corp Directory helps consumers navigate over 3000 B Corps in 150 industries. 

The corporate world is faced with increasing pressure to adapt to a more sustainable business landscape from both investors and consumers. With climate-consciousness and calls for corporate transparency on the rise, it won’t be long before businesses who have no regard for the environment will be left behind. Global Head of Sustainability at Capgemini, James Robey says, “We firmly believe that those organisations failing to grasp the sustainability agenda will cease to operate in the hard realities of the environment beyond 2030.” 

The increasing divestment of large hedge funds and financiers away from companies that do not disclose their carbon emissions or adapt their business model makes this proposition even more of a reality. 

Climate change presents an opportunity for transformational change in the business world; green growth can be a reality if greenwashing is left behind and transparency and real change are prioritised. Businesses must look to overcome the fundamental challenges of this transition and focus on balancing planet, people and profit.

Biofuels- fuels made from plants- have been touted as a solution for the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. These ‘energy crops’ include wheat, corn, soybeans and sugarcane. Biofuels are said to burn cleaner than fossil fuels, releasing fewer pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. However, they are not without their flaws. The answer to making biofuels greener could be in algal biofuel. 

Biofuel is an increasingly popular renewable fuel, owing to ever-increasing oil prices and the need to stave off the effects of the climate crisis. They are sustainable, and energy companies often mix biofuels with gasoline to reduce pollution and boost rural economies. Additionally, they are more energy efficient than conventional ethanol biofuel and biodiesel such as those extracted from corn, sugar cane, wheat etc.  

However, biofuel crops also create emissions through land clearance, fertiliser use and displacing other crops, affecting food security. Biofuels are also far more costly to use than promoting energy efficiency improvements. Worryingly, global biofuel output needs to triple by 2030 to meet the International Energy Agency’s targets for sustainable growth. While around 900 million people suffer from malnutrition globally (2018), what could be used for food is diverted to instead produce fuel for (mostly) wealthy, developed countries, including the US and China.   

The case for algal biofuel

Algal biofuel is an alternative to biofuel crops. It does not compete for space for arable land and only water and sunlight are required to produce the algae. According to the UN, more than 500 million people today live in areas affected by erosion linked to climate change, emphasising the need to prioritise sustainable land use. 

It was projected that capacity for algal biofuel would reach 1 billion gallons by 2014 (Biofuel Digest), however it is at less than 1 million gallons currently and the price is much higher than fossil fuels and other conventional biofuels. 

How to make algal biofuel?

To create algal biofuel, the first step is to grow algae using algaculture. Algae such as phytoplankton and microphytes are used, the most common species being Scenedesmus spp, a type of freshwater green algae that is able to produce high concentrations of lipids and carbohydrates- compounds that can be converted to biodiesel- with the ability to grow quickly in optimal conditions. 

A photobioreactor is a cost-effective way of growing algae. This is a closed system with a large surface area that facilitates photosynthesis. The water used in the bioreactor is recycled and the user is able to closely control the light intensity, nutrient levels, temperature and carbon dioxide inside the reactor. The biggest advantage of using this reactor is that it saves a vast amount of space, more so than traditional biofuel plantations such as those used for palm oil, wheat and soybeans, which cause small farmers to be displaced and food prices to be hiked.

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algal biofuel

A photobioreactor used to create algal biofuel (Source: IGV Biotech)

The oil from the algae is then extracted and goes through a transesterification process to convert it into biodiesel. The biggest challenge in algal biofuel production is extracting oil that is high in purity. Research shows that using supercritical fluids, whereby gases such as CO2 are heated to a state where they behave like liquids, could extract nearly 100% pure oil, because they act as a solvent to extract oil. The algae that is left over can be used as animal feed as it contains high concentrations of nutrients and carbohydrates. 

Problems with Algal Biofuel

Overall however, this process is expensive and is the bottleneck of algal biofuel development. 

According to the latest IPCC report, exceeding the 1.5°C temperature increase target by the end of the century (which we are primed to far exceed if current activities continue) will spell disaster for many developing countries. To stay within this target, negative emission technologies such as algal biofuel are needed.  

Algal biofuel has the potential to be a solution in the fight against food insecurity, but governments need to implement policies that require industries to invest in it for it to succeed. In a time where the climate crisis is eradicating arable land around the globe, solutions are needed that relieve the pressure put on conventional means of food production. 

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