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Sunday, 19 December 2021

Coal fires keep on burning + Asset managers are pushing for diversity in Wall Street

What green transition? Coal burning is set to reach an all-time high this year: Global power generation from coal is expected to jump 9% in 2021 to reach a record 10.4k terawatt-hours, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its latest annual coal report. While the use of renewable and low-carbon energy sources is growing rapidly, rising demand for electricity and spiraling natural gas prices meant that coal — which is cheaper and more readily available — was left to fill the gap in 2021.

A missed wake-up call: Coal use fell in the two years prior on the back of the pandemic-induced slowdown, leading some to hope that the crisis would spur “a Great Reset” on fossil fuels. But with demand for the cheaper fuel set to reach a fresh all-time high as soon as next year, that hope is receding, along with any chance of limiting global warming to the crucial 1.5°C mark, according to the IEA.

Action fails to match ambition: China and India, which together account for two-thirds of coal demand, successfully lobbied to water down a target to abolish coal use into one to reduce it in the final agreement signed off at November’s COP26 climate summit. Both countries are set to see record coal consumption in 2021, despite net-zero emissions targets and efforts to ramp up renewables. Plans to “phase down” coal from the two consumers may be too little, too late. “Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions — in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected — we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Wall Street’s biggest asset managers are pushing for more diversity in US boardrooms: private equity giant BlackRock wants US boards at its companies to aim for a minimum of two women and at least one person from an under-represented group, in its newly-released 2022 proxy voting guidelines (pdf), which also included changes in climate change reporting. Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs’ USD 2 tn manager also said that it expects all S&P 500 and FTSE 100 companies to have at least one director from an underrepresented ethnic minority group, starting March 2022.

More companies pushing for more inclusion: Many firms have been boosting diversity in their boardrooms recently as they face increased scrutiny from investors, employees and customers. The push for inclusion has extended to stock exchanges as well, with Nasdaq filing a proposal to include gender and ethnic requirements for listed companies last December. Currently, women make up 30% of all S&P 500 directors, while 21% of S&P 500 directors are either Black, Asian, or Hispanic, according to executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart. The UK is also focusing on the topic, with regulator Financial Conduct Authority announcing a consultation on diversity at board level in July.

Egypt has been pushing gender diversity in boardrooms, too: The Financial Regulatory Authority is trying to shake up the traditionally male-dominated hierarchies of Egyptian corporations. The regulator announced new listing rules in July that would require the boards of EGX-listed firms and non-banking financial services companies to be at least 25% women. According to recent figures given by FRA head Mohamed Omran, almost 85% of EGX companies now have at least one woman on their boards.

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