Climate Change

  • CCSI’s 11th Annual Columbia International Investment Conference on “Climate Change and Sustainable Investment in Natural Resources: From Consensus to Action”: On November 2-3, 2016, CCSI hosted a number of distinguished panelists, to discuss how to anticipate and implement the changing role of hydrocarbons in the global energy system, including planning for and managing hydrocarbon reserves and correlated infrastructure that will be “stranded” in the process of decarbonization; how low-carbon strategies can and should be adapted to the development needs of low-income countries; how to manage land use to mitigate climate and environmental impacts and to maximize benefits for development, including for local communities; the role of private sector finance, including opportunities for institutional investors; and the development of new international legal frameworks and improved global governance to support national-level actions on climate change and sustainable development. An outcome document of the conference was presented for discussion at COP22, and a longer conference report was published in March 2017. CCSI also developed a blog series in the lead up to the conference, raising important questions that were discussed at the conference.
  • Researching the levers of influence of institutional investors in fossil fuels projects: CCSI has been researching how institutional investors can effectively engage fossil fuel companies in order to move towards a decarbonized economy more quickly. CCSI mapped out the key shareholders’ resolutions on an interactive timeline. Users can also find a non-exhaustive list of articles and news reports capturing activities that the largest non-state oil and gas companies (ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell and Total) have undertaken with respect to climate change and renewable energy investments since the 1970s. Apart from allowing users to compare actions among the selected oil & gas majors, it also provides an overview of how these activities fit within the public debate around climate change. CCSI is now partnering with a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge to understand institutional investors’ levers of influence on the car-manufacturing sector. The car-making sector is both one of the most polluting demand sectors of fossil fuels and one where investors have shown little engagement. Successfully engaging with the car making industry by requiring greener energy consumption patterns should have a knock on effect on the development of fossil fuel reserves.
  • Researching how fossil fuel assets could be “stranded” equitably: In order to stay below the 2-degree C temperature increase target agreed upon in Paris, approximately two thirds of fossil fuels reserves will need to be left underground or be stranded. This raises the critical global challenge of how such stranding could be managed. While McGlade and Ekins (2015) have assessed this question by stranding more costly assets, the equity dimension has not been taken into account. Given the resource dependence both for revenues and expanding electrification, the equity dimension is particularly important for developing countries. These issues were explored in the following blogs, and we continue to explore the topic with Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Development, in order to propose stranding scenarios that comply with the Paris Agreement and are equitable at the same time.
  • Researching the role fossil fuel companies can and should play in the energy transition: More than one third of the energy demand growth is projected to come from power generation, particularly from countries with high population growth rates and lack of adequate electricity access. Some projections forecast that fossil fuels will remain the dominant energy form, but these projections are inconsistent with the IPCC’s recommendations. Against this backdrop, CCSI and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) have published a briefing note summarizing the ways in which international oil and gas companies can help expand access to affordable and clean energy and take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. The briefing note outlines steps the oil and gas industry can take to prepare their businesses for the future, to strengthen efficiency and impact of current operations, and to leverage resources for broader partnerships and collaboration.
  • Advisory work for a major oil company: CCSI has been approached by a major oil company to devise its SDG strategy, looking at how current activities and key performance indicators align with SDG targets and indicators and identifying room for synergies and improvement.
  • Critical minerals for green technologies: The U.S. Department of Energy has designated several minerals such as lithium and rare earth metals as “critical materials” crucial to develop green technology (solar, wind and associated battery storage for microgrids) but whose supply is at risk of disruption for various geopolitical and economic reasons. These critical minerals are also crucial to enable more efficient energy use and the roll out of renewable technologies, helping to increase access to clean, affordable electricity for over one fifth of the world population. CCSI has initiated new research seeking to map out the critical minerals needed for green technologies, looking at the producing countries, the key players, and assessing how the development of green technology could impact the demand for minerals, particularly in resource-dependent low-income countries.
  • Renewable energy, carbon projects, and land rights: Building on discussions on the climate impacts of land use shifts, CCSI has commenced research into the land use and land rights impacts of renewable energy projects and carbon finance/emission reduction projects. This presents an opportunity to apply CCSI’s existing land rights expertise to emerging challenges, and to ensure that the growing renewable energy sector builds strong standards and best practices into their operations from the beginning to avoid the types of land disputes and rights violations that have plagued extractive, agricultural, and forestry projects. CCSI has authored a blog post on renewable projects and land rights, and has presented preliminary thoughts on this topic at a Columbia Law School event titled “What Now? Land Rights Lawyers on How to Champion Human Rights and Promote Responsible Investment in the Era of Climate Change and Trump.”
  • Climate policy and international law: In order for public and private sector actors to take the necessary steps to address climate change, legal frameworks have to send them the right signals and permit them the appropriate room to maneuver. One key question, therefore, is whether international legal frameworks such as trade and investment treaties satisfy those criteria; and, if not, what changes are necessary to those agreements. CCSI is engaged in trying to tackle this issue through research, analysis, writing, and policy dialogue. CCSI staff wrote a chapter titled “International Investment Agreements: Impacts on Climate Change Policies in India, China, and Beyond” in a book on “Trade in the Balance: Reconciling Trade and Climate Policy.” CCSI also organized an expert workshop on what a climate-friendly trade and investment agreement would/should look like, and will be producing a discussion paper on the same topic. More broadly, CCSI is engaged in a multi-year effort to rethink international economic governance, trying to find answers to the question of how such governance would be shaped if it were designed from the perspective of advancing the SDGs including, in particular, SDG 13.