Global environmental damage from human activity cost the world US$6.6 trillion last year, according to a new UN study.
That amounts to 11 percent of global GDP and amounts to 20 percent more than the US$5.4 trillion decline in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007/8.
The study, by UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and UNEP Finance Initiative, estimates that the world’s top 3,000 public companies were responsible for one-third of the damage, or US$2.15 trillion.
Other takeaways from the study:
- Environmental harm could affect significantly the value of capital markets and global economic growth
- Global environmental damage is estimated to cost $28 trillion by 2050
Why should investors care? The study warns that as environmental damage and resource depletion increases, governments will start applying a more vigorous“polluter pays” principle.
That means the value of large portfolios will be affected through higher insurance premiums on companies, taxes, inflated input prices and the price tags for clean-ups.
As a result, workers and retirees could see lower pension payments from funds invested in companies exposed to environmental costs, says the study, conducted by Trucost, the global environmental research company.
Sectors most responsible for the damage, including air and water pollution, general waste, resource depletion and greenhouse emissions, included: Utilities; oil and gas producers; and industrial metals and mining. Those three accounted for almost a trillion dollars’ worth of environmental harm in 2008.
Why are investors still not providing leadership on this? Clearly, environmental externalities generated by one company have the potential to affect their portfolio. There is every incentive.
Already in China, low estimates are that Water scarcity and pollution alone represent 2.3 percent of that country’s GDP, according to the Asia Water Project. And China has said that, overall, environmental pollution costs the country 10 percent of GDP annually.
A sustainable global economy means we MUST stop drawing down our natural capital.