GZERO Summit on sustainability: COVID-19’s promise on ESG

The forced slowdown of global economic activity due to the coronavirus pandemic has slashed carbon emissions around the world, opening a unique opportunity to make real progress in the fight against climate change. But there is fear that it won't be enough, and the world will go back to its old ways when we get rid of COVID-19. However, even before the public health crisis, some major emitters had already taken ambitious steps to rethink how to make their own policies more sustainable.

In Canada, the prominence of oil in the economy doesn't mean that it should hide from the existential challenge of climate change. Fossil fuel profits make Canada not only more responsible but gives the nation the resources to commit to a bold climate policy, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O'Regan said during a panel discussion on sustainability at the 2020 GZERO Summit in Japan.


Dawn Farrell, president and CEO of Transalta, Canada's largest clean electrical company, noted that we can apply many of the lessons learned from battling COVID-19 to the global struggle against climate change. The same way governments and the public sector have worked together successful vaccines, there must be equal collaboration on carbon prices, which must be set by governments and not the market alone.

Indeed, the pandemic is an opportunity to entirely transform the economy of countries like Japan, which recently committed to producing net zero carbon emissions by 2050 under new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Other nations with less muscle, though, may struggle to phase out highly polluting fossil fuels such as coal, which still powers dozens of countries across Asia. That's why rich countries should engage and help them, said Tadashi Maeda, governor of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Meanwhile, countries with both the energy and financial resources to aspire to net zero in the near term should deliver on their Paris Accord climate commitments — and support businesses that are doing the right thing for their bottom line and the planet at the same time. For instance, O'Regan argued that Canada understands where the environmental, societal, and corporate governance (ESG) market is moving, for instance on liquefied natural gas.

ESG lately has become code for simply curbing emissions, but Farrell said that ESG investors want to know you can put your money where your mouth is, and show progress… without big disruption like calls for divestment. Indeed, for Maeda pulling back from all fossil fuels is only one aspect of ESG, and not even the most important right now in most emerging economies.

Beyond ESG investing, companies are also learning how to operate in more responsible way. One of them is Sony, a Japanese conglomerate which the Wall Street Journal recently ranked as the world's most sustainable managed corporation.

So, what's the key to Sony's success on sustainability? Dialogue with investors is crucial, explained Kenichiro Yoshida, the company's chairman and CEO.

With elected governments it's a bit different, but even then the way forward is changing our mindset. Farrell said that they are thinking less about who will be in power to set regulations, and more about the values of the people that put the politicians in power to come up with sustainability policies. If you know the people, you can predict how the governments they elect will act in the future.

Watch the above video to learn more insights from our panelists on COVID-19's impact on global sustainability efforts.

For more than 15 years, Walmart has been collaborating with others to drive change across global supply chains. The company's sustainability efforts prioritize people and the planet by aiming to source responsibly, sell sustainable products, protect natural resources and reduce waste and emissions.

  • Walmart powers around 29% of its operations with renewable energy.
  • The company diverts about 80% of waste from its landfills and incineration globally.
  • Walmart is working with suppliers through its Project Gigaton initiative to avoid a gigaton of greenhouse gas emission by 2030.

Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Andean aftermath: Two big weekend elections in South America produced two stunning results. In Ecuador's presidential runoff, the center-right former banker Guillermo Lasso upset early frontrunner Andrés Arauz, a leftist handpicked by former president Rafael Correa. Lasso will take power amid the social and economic devastation of the pandemic and will have to reckon with the rising political power of Ecuador's indigenous population: the Pachakutik party, which focuses on environmental issues and indigenous rights, is now the second-largest party in parliament. Meanwhile, in a big surprise next door in Perú, far-left union leader Pedro Castillo tallied up the most votes in the first round of that country's highly fragmented presidential election. As of Monday evening it's not clear whom he'll face in the June runoff, but three figures are in the running as votes are counted: prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, rightwing businessman Rafael López Aliaga, and conservative Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Meanwhile, in the congressional ballot, at least 10 parties reached the threshold to win seats, but there is no clear majority or obvious coalition in sight.

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