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April 12, 2024

Editor’s note: fury, fast fashion and ‘forever chemicals’

Disposable coffee cups
Scope 3 emissions, which can result from upstream paper clips and coffee or downstream transport, are causing some consternation following the SBTi’s plans to recognise carbon credits as a way to abate these emissions (Photo: Sarah Chai/Pexels)

The latest edition of our Sustainable Views newsletter

Dear reader,

Scope 3 emissions may mean nothing to the general public, but these emissions, which can result from upstream paper clips and coffee or from downstream transport or energy production, are causing choppy waves after the non-profit Science Based Targets initiative published plans to recognise carbon credits as a way to abate Scope 3 emissions. Staff are calling for the resignation of its chief executive Luiz Amaral, along with the board of trustees, reports Alex.

One of the big problems seems to be the way the announcement was made — presented as an SBTi decision when it was made by the board, according to one letter from staff, and “issued prematurely and without rigorous scientific analysis or appropriate consultation with relevant stakeholders”, says a second letter. 

Not everyone is unhappy. Sebastien Cross, co-founder and chief innovation officer at BeZero Carbon, argues that the SBTi’s decision is “welcome progress towards creating an environment that stimulates climate action”.

Reading between the lines, after speaking to people close to the SBTi, one of the main issues appears to be communication. Any organisation wanting to communicate on complicated and controversial issues needs to make sure it has discussed and briefed everyone inside its walls before its talks to those outside them. 

If emissions are to be reduced in line with climate science, difficult decisions will have to be made across the economy and society as a whole, and discussions and headlines should be about how thorny issues like Scope 3 emissions can actually be dealt with, based on reasoned arguments and facts, not internal politics.  

A report by non-profit Finance Watch focuses on the Scope 3 emissions of insurers and urges them to account for all of their upstream and downstream emissions. It highlights how insurers support fossil fuel companies’ exploration and production activities either by investing in them or underwriting their activities. US insurers held $536bn in assets linked to fossil fuels in 2019, shows analysis by consultancies ERM, Persefoni and Ceres.

Yet an increase in the rate of natural catastrophes carries with it greater damages, the costs of which are shifted on to consumers when insurers are no longer willing or able to cover them, in a phenomenon known as the “protection gap”, Finance Watch says. “Paradoxically, insurance companies are making a profit on activities that are actively undermining the future viability of the financial sector while simultaneously shifting the already apparent costs to the consumer,” it says.

While regulatory, media and public focus is on deforestation in the Amazon, the Brazilian Cerrado region, a tropical savannah, is also a biodiversity hotspot. Yet, in 2023, deforestation in the region increased by 43 per cent compared with the previous year, says UK non-profit Earthsight. Its latest investigation shows cotton being used to produce clothing for European fast-fashion retailers H&M and Zara was grown on illegally deforested land in the Cerrado. 

Another controversial subject hitting the headlines around the world are so-called “forever chemicals”, found in a plethora of household objects including non-stick pans, and linked to a range of health issues, not least certain types of cancer. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency has this week issued a first-ever drinking water standard, which will establish legally binding levels for several of these chemicals, with US public water systems having three years to complete initial monitoring before having to inform the public about levels of these substances. You can read all about this decision in our weekly news round-up

Have a good weekend,


Philippa Nuttall is the editor of Sustainable Views 


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