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Finland: Where business begs government to go climate neutral

Haavisto first served as Finland environment minister in the 1990s, and the veteran green leader says a business revolution has occurred over the past two years in Europe’s north. “For the first time in my life, I see industry is lobbying to be more ambitious. They say we benefit in a world where the environmental standards are higher,” he said. “Both small and large Finnish companies see climate change as a huge opportunity,” said Matti Kahra, chief policy adviser at EK, a confederation that represents Finnish industries.

Elsewhere in Europe, the EU’s 27 environment ministers this week adopted the bloc’s long-term emissions strategy to become climate neutral by 2050. That makes the EU — the world’s third biggest polluter — the first major industrial bloc to commit to climate neutrality under the Paris climate accords. They’re in limited company: just 10 non-EU countries have submitted long-term strategies.

The strategy is the easy part. A new draft climate law published by the EU executive this week dodged calls to lift the EU’s 2030 target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels. Experts agree that the EU will need to cut deeper than they had planned to get on track for climate neutrality in 2050. The European Commission gave itself until September to review and “explore options for a new 2030 target of 50 to 55 percent emission reductions compared to 1990.”

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT TAXONOMY OF SUSTAINABLE FINANCE: That’s not a sentence anyone wakes up hoping to read. But here we are because investors and activists are confused and annoyed about the unverifiable claims of many financial products claiming to be green.

A recent IIF-EBF Global Climate Finance Survey found that two-thirds of financial institutions believe that green regulatory market fragmentation is “a big source of concern and would have a material impact on the market for sustainable finance.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering rules against money managers false advertising around ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) funds. The European Union is close to finalizing its classifications of investments according to their climate impact, a system that will make it much harder to mask environmentally damaging investments.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) urges policymakers “to consider setting up specific and dedicated mechanisms for greater international alignment.” The IIF’s biggest areas of concern are “prudential regulation and supervision, market and conduct regulation, taxonomy and disclosure.” Likely venues for achieving alignment are the Basel Committee Task Force on Climate-related Financial Risks and G20.

By the numbers: Globally there are more than 5,000 funds that focus on sustainable investment. Across the U.S. and Europe, they had more than $250 billion of assets under management at the end of 2019, according to data compiled by Morningstar. That’s still only around $1 out of every $100 invested.

SCALABLE SOLUTION OF THE WEEK — GREEN INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: Global Translations spoke to Richard Adams — “Chief dot joiner” (Director) — at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab’s (NREL) Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center. His mission: use 200 market analysts and researchers to “direct the right people, to the right place, at the right time, to speed up green innovation.” Why? “A lot of good stuff was not getting to market” in fields like solar, energy storage, energy efficiency and agriculture technologies.

To fix that clean tech start-ups get state-of-the-art lab access and are paired with “Pipeline Partners”: businesses, government entities, utilities and investors that help them pilot ideas like Yotta Solar’s micro-storage solar systems (batteries attached to the solar panels) on California State University campuses and WhiskerLabs’ peel and stick energy monitoring system.

Why it matters: It’s hard for most companies to do all their innovation in-house in 2020, and more importantly “hard tech is hard,” Adams stressed. “It’s not a 20-year-old kid coding on his laptop who can send a patch if there’s a bug in his app. This is mission critical infrastructure, sometimes life and death stuff. It’s a regulated environment. It’s one of the reasons investors shy away.”

NREL has supported 65 companies since 2014 with a “leverage rate of $28 for every dollar that Wells Fargo put in (to this Innovation Incubator — IN2).” Find out more about the Game Changers (GCxN) accelerator program.

What’s next: Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) — a technology that integrates solar elements directly into building materials to generate electricity. Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of industry lobby group Solarpower Europe, confirmed to POLITICO that BIPVs are one of 2020’s green energy trends.

12,000 CHEMICALS IN FOOD PACKAGING, SCIENTISTS WARN: A 33-strong international group of 33 scientists warned Tuesday that almost 12,000 chemicals are used in food packaging globally. Most of the reported substances lack data on their toxicity and the extent to which people are exposed to them, including alternatives to plastic packaging such as cardboard. In response, 160 civil society groups from Europe, the U.S. and Asia published a declaration of concern.

GLOBAL GREEN GLANCES

The German government has presented an “environmental digital agenda” with more than 70 measures to make the tech sector is more sustainable, including green criteria for search algorithms, and a “digital product passport” that would provide information on the product’s environmental impact, on its “repairability” and how to recycle it.

Dirty air is deadlier than war, AIDS, and smoking combined, writes Ben Webster.

Corporate Responsibility Facade is Starting to Crumble, writes Alison Taylor.

The New Orleans nuns creating America’s biggest urban wetland, writes Kristin Toussaint.

— Petri Burtsov contributed reporting to this article

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