Responding to a court decision that came into force today to indefinitely confine Siberian shaman, Aleksandr Gabyshev, to a psychiatric ward for vowing in 2019 “to purge” President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said:
“Aleksandr Gabyshev has become a symbol of grassroots resistance to the increasingly repressive government of Vladimir Putin, so it is not surprising that the authorities went to such extreme lengths to silence him and smear his name. Once again, the authorities are using ‘psychiatric care’ as a punishment – a method tried and tested during Soviet times.
“It is genuinely shocking to see how easily the life of someone who dares to peacefully express their views and criticize the authorities is destroyed by the powerful and repressive tools of the state.
“Compulsory psychiatric treatment is a form of torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities must refrain from any involuntary therapy and release Aleksandr Gabyshev immediately and unconditionally, as he has been sentenced to indefinite compulsory psychiatric treatment solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. The use of punitive psychiatry as a method to silence dissent must stop now.”
Today, an appeal by Aleksandr Gabyshev was unsuccessful and the decision on indefinite forced hospitalisation has been upheld.
On 26 July, the Yakutsk City Court ruled that Aleksandr Gabyshev must be confined indefinitely to a psychiatric hospital for compulsory “intensive” treatment. Today the court decision came into force after his defence team lost their appeal. The court declared Aleksandr Gabyshev “insane” and lacking legal capacity, and was found guilty of “using violence against police officers” and “calling for extremism”.
In 2019, Aleksandr Gabyshev became widely known after he walked hundreds of kilometres from Yakutsk to Moscow, promising to use his self-proclaimed magic powers to “purge” President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin. In September 2019, after travelling around 3,000 km – over a third of the way to Moscow – he was abducted by police and accused of suspected “public calls for extremism”, then briefly placed in a psychiatric hospital for examination. He was released two days after, only to be forcibly hospitalized again in May 2020 – this time purportedly because he refused to be tested for Covid-19. He was released two months later after public outcry, and an international campaign of solidarity, which Amnesty International took part in.
In January 2021, two weeks after Aleksandr Gabyshev announced another march on the Kremlin, 50 police officers broke into his house, arrested him and took him to a psychiatric hospital. This time he was officially charged with making “calls for extremism” and “using violence against police officers”. During his arrest, Gabyshev allegedly tore a riot officer’s uniform and superficially wounded him with a batas, a ceremonial Yakut sword.
With the Biden administration seeking to slash U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions and support a rapid move to electric vehicles and renewable-energy technology,1 many investors are looking closely at the metals needed in new energy technologies. Copper is one key metal, and its demand may rise as much as 350% by 2050, according to one estimate.2 For investors looking through an ESG lens, however, not all metal mines are created equal or pose the same risks. Some mining projects, while providing metals key to addressing the global challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels, may face strong and increasing opposition from Native Americans for threatening sacred areas or traditional ways of life.3
Not only could local cultures be at risk, but investors too. Local opposition increases risks that a mining asset could lose its license to operate and its value to investors. The risks may be even greater since the new administration, in its election materials, has indicated that protection of Native American culture is a priority.4 COVID-19’s devastating impact on Native Americans5 was a sad reminder of the disparities faced by many Native American communities.
We analyzed 5,336 U.S. mining properties in the S&P Global Market Intelligence database (as of March 15, 2021) and found the majority of U.S. reserves of cobalt, copper, lithium and nickel are located within 35 miles of Native American reservations. The same is true for the total count of U.S. mines with primary commodities of copper, lithium and nickel.
Most of these mines are not located on Native American reservations. But for people with a history of being forced onto settlements, many of which have been compressed over time, culturally significant areas are not limited to reserved lands. We looked at all mines located within 35 miles of a reservation, noting that two prominent mining projects facing strong opposition from Native American groups – Lundin Mining’s Eagle mine in Michigan and the Resolution copper mine in Arizona – are both less than 35 miles away from the nearest reservation.
The Resolution mine, owned jointly by Rio Tinto (55%) and BHP Billiton (45%), has already spent over USD 2 billion on development and permitting.6 It could eventually supply up to a quarter of the country’s copper demand.7 However, Native American communities such as the San Carlos Apache have opposed the alleged threat it poses to the Chich’il Bildagoteel, otherwise known as Oak Flat, a place with spiritual significance to the Apache for generations.8
Rio Tinto already experienced a stakeholder uproar and harsh repercussions after a failure to protect places of indigenous significance in May 2020, albeit on the other side of the world. Three executives, including the CEO at the time, were forced to leave the company, among other leadership changes, after the company bulldozed the ancient Juukan Gorge rock shelters, a site of both indigenous and archaeological value in Australia.9
There, as at the Resolution mine, the company obtained government approval to move on the areas of concern, putting sacred areas at risk. Nonetheless, civil-rights activism, social-media scrutiny and the momentum for social justice have amplified calls to defend indigenous cultures. Scenarios where mines obtained permits — only to have them later taken away, after much investment, due to alleged failures to address indigenous issues — have played out around the globe in recent years. A stronger focus on local concerns may be warranted.
1“Fact Sheet: President Biden Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Target Aimed at Creating Good-Paying Union Jobs and Securing U.S. Leadership on Clean Energy Technologies.” White House, April 22, 2021.
2Elshkaki, A., Graedel, T.E., Ciacci, L., and Reck, B. “Copper demand, supply, and associated energy use to 2050.” Global Environmental Change, June 22, 2016.
3Davidse, A. And Guzek, J. “Trend 10: Meeting demand for green and critical minerals.” Deloitte Insights, Feb. 1, 2021.
4“Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations.” JoeBiden.com.
5An estimated 1 in 475 Native Americans died from the disease. “COVID’s Assault on Native Americans.” The Week. March 7, 2021
6“History.” ResolutionCopper.com. Accessed March 22, 2021.
7“Land Exchange.” ResolutionCopper.com. Accessed March 23, 2021.
8“San Carlos Apache Tribe Sues US Forest Service to Stop Resolution Copper Mine.” San Carlos Apache Tribe, Jan. 15, 2021.
9Butler, B. and Wahlquist, C. “Rio Tinto investors welcome chair’s decision to step down after Juukan Gorge scandal.” Guardian, March 2, 2021.
In a shining gold dress adorned with a family friend’s turquoise earrings, necklaces and bracelets made by Native artists, 19-year-old Quannah Chasinghorse turned heads at her first Met Gala — thestar-studded annual fundraiser and haute couture spectacle held Monday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
The Indigenous activist and model from the Native Village of Eagle wore a dress by designer Peter Dundas for this year’s theme, “American Independence.” Chasinghorse, who is Han Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota, was photographed on Monday alongside celebrities throughout the night including Mary J. Blige, Megan Fox and Kris Jenner.
Chasinghorse has had a busy year, attracting the attention of some of the highest names in fashion. Vogue magazine recently featured her in an article titled “Thrilling Ascent of Model Quannah Chasinghorse,” which called her “one of modeling’s freshest new faces” and said she “is breaking barriers in an industry that has long overlooked Indigenous talent.”
By late Monday, social media was buzzing about Chasinghorse.
“WHY ISNT ANYONE TALKING ABOUT THIS INDIGENOUS QUEEN WHO SERVED AT THE MET GALA,” Twitter user @takahashiputa said in a post, which garnered more than 300,000 likes. “HER NAME IS QUANNAH CHASINGHORSE AND SHE ATE.”
“Indigenous Model Quannah Chasinghorse Is The Met Gala Queen & No, We Won’t Be Taking Questions,” entertainment website Pedestrian wrote about Chasinghorse’s look. Another website, Refinery29, called her the “breakout star” of the event.
Twitter user @WambliEagleman wrote, “Quannah ChasingHorse (is) representing all Natives at the #MetGala tonight!”
In one of her first posts to Twitter — she already had more than 30,000 followers on that platform as of Tuesday afternoon, and more than 100,000 on Instagram — Chasinghorse said she wanted to “represent Indigenous art and fashion” for this year’s theme.
“I felt very alone there but some people were very sweet to me,” Chasinghorse said. “The Met Gala was a dream.”
Jody Potts, Chasinghorse’s mother, said her college best friend, Jocelyn Billy Upshaw — who was Miss Navajo Nation in 2006 and has known Chasinghorse since she was born — was flown out to New York with her personal jewelry collection.
Upshaw, Potts and Chasinghorse Facetimed with the designer and stylist to help dress Chasinghorse for the gala, Potts said.
The model also walked for brand Gabriela Hearst, opening and closing the runway show.
In May, Chasinghorse was featured in a 20-page Vogue Mexico spread, which showcased her activism and need for accurate representation in modeling. She was also recognized in Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 list highlighting young girls and femmes, and in The Chanel Book’s 2021 issue.
She is known for her advocacy surrounding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and was influential in pushing the Alaska Federation of Natives to declare a climate change emergency at its annual convention in 2019.
Tesla opened its first facility in New Mexico this week in partnership with the Nambé Pueblo.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla opened up its first sales and service center in New Mexico this week thanks to a first-of-its-kind partnership with a tribal nation.
New Mexico has laws on the books that prohibit car makers from selling directly to customers without going through third-party dealerships. The law has prevented Tesla from establishing an official presence in the state over the years.
But now Tesla has found a way around that. The electric car maker partnered with the first nation of Nambé Pueblo to open its first facility inside a defunct casino on tribal land north of Santa Fe, where the state law does not apply.
The facility opened Thursday with tribal leaders and state lawmakers in attendance who praised the deal.
“This location will not only create permanent jobs, it is also part of a longterm relationship with Tesla. As the company is working with pueblo nambe to provide education and training opportunities for tribal members, as well as economic development,” Nambé Pueblo Gov. Phillip Perez said during the opening, according to KRQE.
Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) said it was a step toward decarbonizing the country’s transportation infrastructure and expanding access to electric vehicles.
“We need to double down on this progress and expand uncapped consumer incentives for electric vehicles, make it easier to manufacture electric vehicles in the United States, and fund the rapid electrification of the federal fleet of vehicles,” Heinrich said in a statement.
What exactly does the oil industry have in store for charging companies?
It sounds like the perfect plot for a conspiracy thriller: the giant oil companies are buying up electric vehicle charging companies as fast as they can. Do they mean to shut ‘em all down, or just to make sure that the price of charging is high enough that driving an EV won’t deliver any savings over driving a fossil-fueled vehicle? (Shell is one of the world’s largest providers of hydrogen, made from natural gas.)
Or, could there be a surprise ending? Perhaps the oil execs have the good of mankind at heart—they realize that the Oil Age is ending, and want to be in position to profit from the next energy era.
We’ll have to wait for the next episode to find out about that—what we do know is that three Europe-based oil multinationals (Shell, Total and bp) started getting into the charging game back in 2017, and now own companies at every stage of the charging value chain.
Shell is rapidly becoming a major player in the UK charging market—the company now offers charging at numerous petrol stations (aka forecourts), and will soon be rolling out charging at some 100 supermarkets.
The latest news is that Shell aims to install 50,000 on-street public charging points in the UK over the next four years (as reported by The Guardian). Earlier this year, the oil giant acquired ubitricity, which specializes in integrating charging into existing street infrastructure such as lamp posts and bollards, a solution that could make EV ownership more attractive to city dwellers who don’t have private driveways or assigned parking spaces.
This is a big deal—according to the UK’s National Audit Office, over 60% of urban households in England do not have off-street parking, meaning that there’s no practical way for them to install a home charger. A similar situation prevails in many regions, including China and parts of the US.
In the UK, local councils have emerged as something of a bottleneck for installing public charging. Shell has a plan to get around this by offering to pay the upfront costs of installation not covered by government grants. The UK government’s Office for Zero Emission Vehicles currently pays up to 75% of the installation cost for public chargers.
“It’s vital to speed up the pace of EV charger installation across the UK and this aim and financing offer is designed to help achieve that,” Shell UK Chair David Bunch told The Guardian. “We want to give drivers across the UK accessible EV charging options, so that more drivers can switch to electric.”
UK Transport Minister Rachel Maclean called Shell’s plan “a great example of how private investment is being used alongside government support to ensure that our EV infrastructure is fit for the future.”
Shell continues to invest in clean-energy businesses, and has pledged to make its operations net-zero-emissions by 2050. However, it has shown no intention of scaling back its oil and gas production, and some environmental activists are not convinced. Recently, members of the group Extinction Rebellion activists chained and/or glued themselves to railings at London’s Science Museum to protest Shell’s sponsorship of an exhibition about greenhouse gases.
“We find it unacceptable that a scientific institution, a great cultural institution such as the Science Museum, should be taking money, dirty money, from an oil company,” said Dr Charlie Gardner, a member of Scientists for Extinction Rebellion. “The fact that Shell are able to sponsor this exhibition allows them to paint themselves as part of the solution to climate change, whereas they are, of course, at the heart of the problem.”
Native American leaders in Albuquerque are shaping the response and reconciliation from the city for a park built over a mass grave site of children who died at the Albuquerque Indian School during the earliest period of the United States federal boarding school policies.
The school housed thousands of students from tribes across the country, mostly from New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, from 1882 up until 1989.
For more than 50 years, the site northwest of the main campus, now known as 4-H Park, was used as a burial ground for students that attended Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) between 1882 and 1933. It made news this summer when a plaque denoting the gravesite was noticed missing from the park. That plaque indicated there were the remains of 110 children buried there, but the records are incomplete, and the number could be greater.
Now, a coalition of Native American leaders in the city have some ideas about moving forward. A report released this week shows suggestions from local stakeholders about the next steps for city government to address the matters at the 4-H Park grave site.
They want an apology from the City of Albuquerque and a clear investigation into how many remains are on site. If any are identified, the group would like input from tribes to return remains back to their home communities.
They want to see the site honored with protection — a marker and fencing off the southeast corner of the park.
Spiritual healing through ceremony is also considered an urgent matter.
“Our vision for the future of this site is one where voices of our community are heard, one where we invite the families of children buried at the site into the conversation,” said Jolene Holgate (Diné), a panelist in the stakeholders report.
They should be able to have a say about what happens to their family members and how they should be laid to rest.– Jolene Holgate
Holgate also supports closing the park and limiting access.
“There are plenty of other parks in close proximity and other recreation areas that people can continue to utilize,” she pointed out, and there’s no shortage of recreation areas in that part of town.
The report was presented to Mayor Tim Keller’s office and is available for anyone to read on the city’s website. The Office of Native American Affairs is leading the discussion along with the Parks Department and is seeking more public input via email.
Dave Simon is the parks director for the city. “I apologize that it wasn’t right by my predecessors and that we didn’t make it better sooner,” he said during a session with stakeholders on Aug. 17. “The city is committed to continue working with tribes, pueblos, and community leaders such as yourselves to determine the right path forward.”
The school was established by the Presbyterian Church. In 1884, the federal government assumed control over the school and made New Mexico a prominent hub, enacting federal Indian Boarding School policies set to assimilate Native children into white anglo society.
It’s unclear how many children died at the boarding school and how many are buried at the city park.
We do know the communities where some of these students came from — but never returned.
Through its investigation determining the next steps for the gravesite at 4-H Park, city officials are reaching out to tribal leaders from New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.
Terry Sloan (Diné/Hopi) is a tribal liaison with the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion. He’s leading the effort to reach out to the different tribes that are connected to the remains at the gravesite. To date, he’s in contact with leaders from the Pueblo of Zuni, Apache tribes, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain, Hopi, Pima Salt River, Navajo Nation and the Pueblo Council of Governors.
“We’re waiting for the tribes to provide guidance on what they would like us to do with the site. We’re hoping to get an idea soon, and we will begin to look at solutions,” he said. “We’re aware of the cultural and spiritual aspects of the site that we know we must address.”
The suggestions from these tribes will guide the city’s efforts, Sloan said. Any decision-making should be led by tribal consultation and the stakeholders, the report agrees.
Research into the park’s history has led city employees to dive into city archives. In 2017, a report published by local researcher Joe Sabatini along with the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center lays out how the location transitioned from a gravesite operated by the Indian School into a city park. Sabatini’s report also notes that the site could have more than just AIS students.
The city started developing plans for the plot in the ’60s. According to Sabatini’s report, “The city’s landscape architect stated that the city had made an agreement with AIS to seed the land with grass and to plant trees.”
When the remains were unearthed in 1973, Ed Tayitee, a former caretaker for the cemetery told the Albuquerque Journal that the gravesite could also include AIS staff and young children who died at the local Indian Hospital.
“Because there was no way to take them home (to rural areas) in those days,” Tayitee, who maintained the site until 1964, told the newspaper, which splashed on the front page a picture of a baby’s skull found while digging irrigation holes. Tayitee also said the area was fenced off.
Even after the remains had been discovered, the city moved forward with its plans and created a park on top of the gravesite.
In 1995, a public art installation was moved onto the 4-H Park, and a plaque was added underneath with an inscription written by historian Joe Sando (Jemez Pueblo). It reads: “In honor of former Albuquerque Indian School students interred in the burial ground nearby. ‘Few are recalled after going to rest as these resting here. Indeed, they are in peace.’ ”
In 1999, the city commissioned a study on unmarked grave sites across Albuquerque. Another plaque was put at 4-H Park identifying the location as a mass grave site. That plaque was stolen, likely sometime in 2019, but it made news when it was noticed missing in June 2021 around the time gravesites in Canada were in headlines. The missing plaque prompted these discussions about how the city can reconcile with the past while respecting the dead and using this as a teaching moment.
“This is a sacred site, and it needs our best thoughts and best efforts,” said Simon, the parks director. “It’s not a formal apology, but I would like to apologize to the Native American community for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Guidance on how to handle a site like this should come from the most directly affected tribes and pueblos, and at the same time, had I walked into this situation sooner, this is not how I would have preferred to see a sacred place cared for.”
The city’s Office of Native American Affairs conducted a stakeholders meeting with Indigenous leaders in the city asking them to address two questions. Here are the responses:
“What is your vision for the site for future generations?”
“What actions/next steps should the City of Albuquerque take in the next 12 months to move this effort forward?”
Thousands of scientists and conservation experts gather in Marseille for the world’s biggest biodiversity summit since the pandemic
The world’s biggest biodiversity summit since the start of the pandemic has opened in the French port city of Marseille with a warning from Emmanuel Macron that “there is no vaccine for a sick planet”.
Speaking at the opening of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the president echoed warnings from leading scientists that humanity must solve ongoing crises with climate and nature together or solve neither, urging the world to catch up on preventing the loss of biodiversity.
“There is no vaccine for a sick planet,” Macron said, detailing the urgent tasks of phasing out pesticide use, ending plastic pollution and eradicating raw materials linked to deforestation of rainforests from supply chains around the world.
In a lengthy speech, he said the world must agree goals and make financial commitments for nature equivalent to those for the climate, and said he would push for Earth’s polar regions to be recognised as common global assets at the launch of the congress.
Thousands of scientists, conservation experts and officials have travelled to the Mediterranean city for the summit, which will host events both in person and online, to discuss and share ideas relating to the protection of nature.
It comes after the pandemic forced a year-long delay to the meeting in Marseille and a UN biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, where it is hoped countries will agree a “Paris-agreement for nature”.
In a recorded message, the Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang said countries must work together to create a “clean and beautiful world”, highlighting the enormous journey of a herd of Asian elephants in Yunnan as an example of China’s growing success with conservation efforts.
“Many places have been hit by rare storms and floods. The weather events pose a severe threat to the survival and development of humanity, and make protecting nature and global not-traditional security issues more prescient,” Li said.
The Hollywood actor and environmentalist Harrison Ford, speaking on behalf of Conservation International, paid tribute to the role of young environmentalists in protecting nature and battling the climate crisis.
“Reinforcements are on the way,” Ford said. “They’re sitting in lecture halls now, venturing into the field for the very first time, writing their thesis, they’re leading marches, organising communities, are learning to turn passionate into progress and potential into power. But they’re not here yet. In a few years, they will be here.”
Ford, a passionate campaigner for the protection of the Amazon, highlighted the role of indigenous communities in protecting nature.
In a parallel event, indigenous groups, academics and campaigners from 18 countries gathered in the port city for a “counter conference” called Our Land Our Nature.
Delegates want to highlight the way in which indigenous people are negatively impacted in the name of international ambitions to create space for wildlife.
A key challenge is the policy target of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030, which campaigners say could violate many indigenous people’s rights.
“I think we need to rethink the definition of protected areas, those that exist, and we need to look for a more sophisticated model of biodiversity and conservation,” said Dr Mordecai Ogada, director of Conservation Solutions Afrika. “We need to break down the narrative into much smaller and more complex pieces.”
Hundreds of protesters, including representatives from Survival International, Extinction Rebellion, Rainforest Foundation and Minority Rights Group gathered at the Porte d’Aix, which marks the old entry point to Marseille, and marched to the city’s harbour in the pouring rain. The demonstration concluded with speeches, small theatrical displays and chants.
Today, August 29th, 2021 in the city of Monchegorsk (Murmansk region), during the Imandra Viking Fest organized by the Monchegorsk Development Agency with the support of “NorNickel” and the town administration, police officers detained Andrey Danilov, a well-known Saami politician and director of the Saami Heritage and Development Fund.
Andrei was requested to have his bag searched, which he, fearing for his safety, refused to permit to be searched without witnesses. As a result, the police officers forced Danilov out of the festival area and summoned a police squad to detain him. In order to ensure his safety, Andrey Danilov filmed the incident with his cell phone, to which police officers reacted negatively, warning him that he had no right to post this video to the Internet and could use it in a court only.
The police officers did not specify which court they were talking about. At the moment, Andrey Danilov is charged with a violation of Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation, “Disobedience to a lawful order of a police officer,” and was taken to the police station.
Last summer Andrey Danilov was one of the organizers of the international campaign “#AnswerUsElonMusk”, whose participants wrote a letter to Tesla CEO Elon Musk asking him not to buy products from Norilsk Nickel because the company violates the rights of indigenous peoples in the Taimyr and Murmansk regions.
This summer, Andrey Danilov appealed to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation in connection with a violation of his right to traditional hunting, which he enjoys by virtue of being a member of the Saami people. The Constitutional Court sided with Andrei Danilov and issued a special ruling in which it obliged Russian federal authorities to “clarify the legal basis for implementing the right to hunt in pursuance of the traditional way of life and traditional economic activities of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East of Russia who do not permanently reside in areas of their traditional residence and traditional economic activities”.
The Indigenous Russia editorial board is in touch with the politician and will report on developments.
Climate change is rattling the world’s central bankers. With unprecedented heat and wildfires in the American West and southern Europe, and record floods racing through German towns and Chinese megacities in recent weeks, fears are growing among regulators of a coming cascade of climate-induced economic blows potentially more far-reaching and intractable than the financial crash just over a decade ago.
In the past two months, the central banks of the world’s five largest economies — the United States, China, the European Union, Japan, and the United Kingdom — have all raised the stakes in their demands for the commercial banks they regulate to make public the looming risks they face as wild weather takes hold.
Their calls show that central bankers are already responding to concerns about their past passivity on climate — concerns reflected at a G7 meeting in June, where Western industrial leaders issued a final communique that declared, “We emphasize the need to green the global finance system … We support moving towards mandatory climate-related financial disclosures.” That means requiring commercial banks to reveal the risks to their balance sheets — and those of their clients — of both a changing climate and any rapid collapse of markets for fossil fuels as governments try to head off disaster by weaning off fossil fuels.
The world’s major central banks, which control the production and distribution of money on behalf of national governments, have traditionally sought to remain “market neutral” when carrying out their responsibilities. That means they avoid favoring one part of the economy over others. But now the biggest central banks appear to be concluding that carbon neutrality is more important than market neutrality.
In June, the Bank of England launched mandatory disclosure of climate risks by big British banks, with the U.S. Federal Reserve indicating that it intends to follow suit. Meanwhile, the People’s Bank of China said it was making green loans in line with its government’s policy on climate change. In July, the Bank of Japan began offering no-interest loans to commercial banks funding green projects, and the European Central Bank announced that it was looking to gauge the carbon footprint of financial institutions and their vulnerability to climate change.
In addition, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak recently updated the Bank of England’s responsibility “to reflect the government’s economic strategy for … the transition to a net-zero economy.” Since then, said economist Yannis Dafermos of SOAS University of London, the bank has changed its approach, “going beyond market neutrality to being much more interventionist in the fight against climate change.” In May, it published a discussion paper on options for greening its bond buying, which included setting targets for emissions from its corporate bonds.
Not to be outdone, in July the European Central Bank announced that it intends to “adjust the framework guiding the allocation of corporate bond purchases to incorporate climate change criteria.” Those criteria include European Union legislation to cut EU emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, its target under the Paris Agreement.
The debate among central bankers about how to address climate change was kicked off in 2015 by Mark Carney, then governor of the Bank of England and chair of the Financial Stability Board, an international body that coordinates central banks and financial regulators. At the Paris climate conference that year he warned that climate change was a “systemic risk” to the world financial system.
Carney called for central bankers to chart a course for a net-zero world that would not crash capitalism, instead making it part of the solution, and announced that the Financial Stability Board was setting up a task force to develop a carbon-disclosure system — essentially carbon footprinting for financiers.
In a speech to Lloyd’s of London earlier that year, Carney identified two kinds of risks to bankers: “physical risks” to their investments from raging storms, wildfires, flooding river valleys, eroding coastlines, heat waves, and droughts; and “transition risks” arising from the falling value of coal mines, oil wells, pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure plummeting as the world cuts carbon emissions. These could become “stranded assets,” he said.
Carney warned that losses from weather-related natural disasters had risen threefold in the past 30 years. In one particularly stark example of the impact of climate change, a largely unnoticed 8-inch rise in sea levels around Manhattan had increased the losses from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 by 30 percent. His researchers also flagged financial disruption caused by crop failures during droughts in 2007 and 2010. Since his warnings about transition risks, falling demand for coal has forced several major coal companies — including Peabody, the world’s largest — to file for bankruptcy.
Even so, central bankers have generally been slow to smell the coffee. Traditionally, Carney said, bankers simply don’t look far enough ahead or widely enough to see the significance of climate change, noting that the horizon for monetary policy is only two to three years. “In other words, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late,” he said.
Since he raised the warning flags, Bank of England researchers have emphasized the growing threats. “A weather-related natural disaster could trigger financial and macroeconomic instability if it severely damages the balance sheets of households, corporates, banks and insurers,” Sandra Batten and colleagues concluded in a 2016 internal paper.
The flight of capital could become a stampede, said Sarah Dougherty, a former staffer at the Federal Reserve who now works on green finance for the Natural Resources Defense Council: “The crash of 2008 is seen as the model for what could happen with climate change.”
If one coastal town is washed away by rising tides, or one mountain resort is consumed by wildfires, it could stunt investor interest in hundreds of others. When the value of assets held by a bank falls, it becomes unable to invest elsewhere in the economy. And if one bank rocks, then others look vulnerable too. Additionally, if climate disasters bankrupt insurance companies or lead them to pull out of high-risk areas, it could further inhibit lending.
A modeling study on the interactions between ecosystems and financial systems, co-authored by Dafermos, shows that economic and financial conditions are likely to deteriorate badly at warming above 2.5 degrees C (4.5 degrees F). Since 1900, the world has warmed around 1.1 degrees C. “Declining economic growth and the destruction of capital” will cause corporate defaults and credit rationing, “giving rise to a vicious financial cycle” that will end up stifling green investment along with the rest, “disrupting the transition to a low-carbon economy,” the study found.
So what do central bankers say should be done? Their first step has been to gain information through requiring big financial houses to investigate and disclose the risks that climate change poses to their solvency. The Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures developed best practices, and many central banks are now adopting its proposals.
In its June announcement on climate change, the Bank of England, under its new governor Andrew Bailey, said climate disclosures would be mandatory across the U.K. economy. In the U.S., disclosure is the province of the Securities and Exchange Commission. But Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, suggested in July that the U.S. will probably end up requiring banks to disclose data to allow the running of climate stress scenarios, as carried out in Europe. “My guess is that’s the direction we’ll go in, but we’re not ready to do yet,” he told the Senate Banking Committee.
Former Fed staffer Dougherty has no doubts: “They plan to do it. It will be announced almost certainly this fall.”
As disclosure becomes de rigueur, a new cottage industry of advisors is emerging to help corporations and financial houses alike through the minutiae of assessing climate risks to their assets, whether flooding of a coastal industrial facility, drought threatening crops, or wildfires ripping through forests. Insurance companies may be at greatest risk, and their collapse would pose systemic risks to the wider financial system, management consultants McKinsey concluded last year.
Beyond disclosure of risk lies stress testing to see if a company or bank stays afloat under different scenarios, ranging from extreme weather to fossil fuel bans, from carbon pricing to litigation based around responsibility for climate damage. Banks are already required by regulators to carry out stress tests for a range of financial risks. They are usually also required to have enough capital to survive a crisis scenario, and if not, to set aside more. There are now strong moves to add climate risk.
Several major U.S. commercial banks declined to comment on their approach to climate risk for this article. But in a blog post for American Banker last year, Greg Baer, the CEO of the lobbying group Bank Policy Institute, whose members include Bank of America and Citibank, said they were “fully engaged on assessing and disclosing climate risks.” However, he said, formal stress testing of their operations by central banks “is one idea that does not appear ready for prime time.”
The Bank of England, which has generally been ahead of the curve on the issue, announced in June that it was undertaking the first comprehensive stress test of climate risks to Britain’s biggest banks and insurers, to be published in May 2022. It would test their viability under three scenarios: early global action to cut carbon dioxide emissions, delayed action, and no action beyond what is already committed, which Carney, now a UN special envoy on climate action and finance, recently termed the “catastrophic business–as-usual scenario.”
The European Central Bank is also aiming to undertake stress tests starting in 2022, while the People’s Bank of China has already conducted stress tests, though it has yet to publish the results. Leading central banks could, as with other stress tests, use the results to impose new requirements on commercial banks to hold more capital if their existing investments are considered high risk, but it’s not clear if or when they will do so. The Bank of England has said that its stress tests are for the moment “exploratory” and would not be used in this way, drawing ire from critics.
The bank is “stalling,” said David Barmes of the London-based advocacy group Positive Money. “Every day the Bank delays the implementation of climate capital rules, it further undermines its remit to protect financial stability and support a net-zero transition.”
The presumption behind disclosure and stress testing is that if they reveal potentially scary outcomes, this will change investment behavior and allow what economists see as a more efficient allocation of capital in a world in which climate change increasingly dominates economies.
But is efficient allocation of capital the same as an efficient response to climate risk? Dafermos says no. “When finance institutions start protecting themselves from risk, they will start selling government bonds and ending investments in climate-vulnerable countries — those that need more support, especially for adaptation,” he said. “That will make matters worse.”
Rather than protecting the financial system from climate change, “what we need is to protect climate from the finance system,” he said. That will require a much more interventionist approach from central banks.
The possibilities here are huge. Most central banks are big investors. As part of their core responsibilities to maintain economic growth, they routinely buy bonds and other financial products. The Bank of England, for instance, currently holds more than $20 billion in corporate bonds. Central banks usually claim they make these investments in a “market-neutral” way. But critics say this is disingenuous. It reinforces the status quo. Market neutrality “hardwires a carbon bias,” Dafermos said.
A 2017 study by Emanuele Campiglio, then at the London School of Economics but now at the University of Bologna, and others found that more than half the Bank of England’s bond purchases were in carbon-intensive sectors of industry. It had not invested in renewable energy at all. The Bank itself in 2020 revealed that its asset holdings were “consistent with” a more than 3.5-degree C temperature rise by 2100. Most other central banks will probably have a similar record.
“This is highly problematic,” Dafermos said. “We have governments trying to get to net zero while central banks are undermining them. Central banks should target carbon neutrality, not market neutrality.” He said the holders of national purse strings should be buying climate-friendly bonds and shunning those inconsistent with the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold temperature increases to below 2 degrees C.
Nick Robins of the London School of Economics, who was formerly in charge of sustainable finance at the UN Environment Programme, agrees. “At a minimum, central bank actions should not be working against net-zero plans,” he said.
But Campiglio said that “there are good reasons behind keeping central banks independent [of government policies]. Moving towards a system with stronger government control — as in China — might help with supporting a low-carbon transition but could be a risky path for institutional legitimacy and credibility.”
Across the Atlantic, Powell remains much more cautious about such market interventions. He insisted in June that climate change remains a matter for the government rather than the Fed’s monetary policy. But that could change. As Dougherty wrote in a blog post in March, the Fed’s self-described goal “to promote the effective operation of the U.S. economy and, more generally, the public interest” means that it “has the authority — and the duty — to use all the tools at its disposal for climate change work.”
It is now 14 years since the former chief economist at the World Bank, Nicholas Stern, wrote an influential report for the British government which concluded that, as he told the London Times, climate change was “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.” Central bankers are still grappling with the implications. But Dougherty believes change is coming. “In five years, I would be very surprised if climate change wasn’t a major consideration in all Fed regulation,” she said.
For decades, First Nations people in British Columbia knew their ancestral homes—villages forcibly emptied in the late 1800s—were great places to forage for traditional foods like hazelnuts, crabapples, cranberries, and hawthorn. A new study reveals that isolated patches of fruit trees and berry bushes in the region’s hemlock and cedar forests were deliberately planted by Indigenous peoples in and around their settlements more than 150 years ago. It’s one of the first times such “forest gardens” have been identified outside the tropics, and it shows that people were capable of changing forests in long-lasting, productive ways.
“It’s very creative and sort of unique work,” says University of Kansas, Lawrence, plant ecologist Kelly Kindscher, who was not involved in the research. “Many of us know there are historical imprints on the land, but tend to dismiss Native Americans and Aboriginal people globally in terms of their impact.”
Because these wild-looking forest gardens don’t fit conventional Western notions of agriculture, it took a long time for researchers to recognize them as a human-created landscape at all. Many ecologists argued until recently that such islands of biodiversity, seen also in Central and South America’s tropical rainforests, were an accidental and fleeting byproduct of fire, floods, or land clearing. Without constant maintenance, ecologists assumed, the “natural” forest would quickly take over.
To show that the forest gardens were the result of human activity, Simon Fraser University historical ecologist Chelsey Geralda Armstrong first identified village sites near the city of Vancouver, Canada, and two closer to Alaska that local tribes were forced to abandon in the late 1800s.
Counting and identifying the species growing on and around the former settlement sites, she found they harbored a far more diverse mix of plants than the surrounding conifer forests. The plant species also filled a wider range of ecological niches. “It’s striking to see how different forest gardens were from the surrounding forest, even after more than a century,” says Jesse Miller, a Stanford University biologist and co-author on the study.
Meanwhile, nearby patches of land logged decades ago and left to regrow on their own were covered with just a few species of conifers and didn’t have the same colorful, edible catalog of species. “The forest gardens bucked the trend,” Armstrong says.
That suggests the forest gardens were not only deliberately cultivated by Indigenous gardeners, but also remained resilient in the face of dominant local flora long after people left the scene, the researchers report today in Ecology and Society. The mix of different species was probably key to their persistence, Miller says: “There’s less open niche space, so it’s harder for new species to come in.”
The forest gardens were filled with plants that benefited humans, but they also continue to provide food for birds, bears, and insect pollinators, even after 150 years of neglect. It’s evidence that human impact on the environment can have long-lasting positive effects. “A lot of functional diversity studies have a ‘humans are bad for the environment’ approach,” Armstrong says. “This shows humans have the ability to not just allow biodiversity to flourish, but to be a part of it.”
Other researchers say the findings could help boost the case that Indigenous knowledge has an important place in conservation efforts. “Anthropologists and archaeologists have been arguing in favor of this, but there’s been a lot of resistance from ecologists over the past 20 years,” says Patrick Roberts, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History who was not involved in the research. This study, he says, is an important piece of evidence showing human modification can add value to ecosystems.
It also helps explain a mystery that puzzled many European anthropologists when they first visited the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s. Despite the absence of what the Europeans considered “agriculture”—cultivated fields and annual cycles of planting and harvesting—the tribes they encountered were socially complex, with large, sedentary populations and hierarchical societies. “That stumped a lot of anthropologists,” who thought Western forms of agriculture were necessary for complex societies, Armstrong says. “Now we know it wasn’t just salmon.”