Bank of England’s Carney: Business must come clean quickly on climate

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, believes that major companies need to p
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Updated 15 February 2020

Bank of England’s Carney: Business must come clean quickly on climate

LONDON: Bank of England Governor Mark Carney called on the world’s businesses to publish strategies for cutting carbon emissions and adopting cleaner power sources by November, when world leaders meet in Scotland for UN-led climate talks.

“It’s not just green assets and divestment campaigns or certain things are so brown or black. Every company ultimately has to have a plan for a transition and what the opportunities are and where the risks are,” Carney said.

“For Glasgow that must be well on the path. That that is the norm. That the question doesn’t even have to be asked because companies are answering that question as part of their strategy.

“And the answer is, it’s the transition, stupid,” he said, referencing a phrase coined by former US President Bill Clinton’s election strategist in reference to the US economy.

Carney was speaking to Reuters a month before he leaves his nearly seven-year posting at the helm of the UK’s central bank to take a new role as the UN envoy for climate.

The Canadian banker, who disarmed the British insurance industry in 2015 when, in a speech called “Tragedy of the Horizon,” he warned of their exposure to climate-related events, has been one of the most vocal public figures to push for better supervision and disclosure of climate risk.

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which he launched in 2015, has become a global standard that more than 1,000 companies, financial firms, governments and other organizations have adhered to.

But it remains voluntary, and it can be hard to compare and verify the claims of disclosures.

Hammering out a common set of global reference points on climate-related disclosures is seen by many as a crucial step to helping investors allocate capital more effectively.

Money would flow to those companies managing the risks — and therefore likely to perform better in the transition to a low-carbon economy — and away from those in danger of being impacted more severely.

Carney said November’s COP26 climate talks would also be a good deadline for regulators to map out how to make the TCFD framework compulsory.

“One of the things we will look at ahead at for the COP26 is ‘should we have pathways to make the TCFD mandatory?’ Not overnight, but through listing requirements or securities regulation disclosure standards,” he said.

Such an effort needs to be global, Carney added, encompassing regions laying out their own plans for cutting emissions. The EU recently announced a 1 trillion euro ($1.08 trillion) effort become carbon neutral by 2050, a strategy that includes introducing a new climate law by next month.

“It would be productive if other jurisdictions that potentially will have mandatory disclosure standards ... used more conventional routes than legislation, such as securities regulations or listing standards. Let’s have that conversation,” Carney said.

Carney could play an outsized role at November’s summit, especially in view of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government reshuffle on Thursday, which saw Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid resign.

Those who lost their job included energy minister Claire O’Neill, who had been named to lead the November talks in Glasgow. Alok Sharma was appointed to the position as her replacement.

Efforts by businesses, investors and financial institutions to disclose climate risk are gathering pace.

BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager with nearly $7 trillion in assets under management, said this month that it would take a tougher view of companies that were not properly disclosing their climate risk.

This week, BP set out one of the oil sector’s most ambitious targets for curbing carbon emissions, saying it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The fossil fuel giant plans to give more details about the plan later this year.

“Last week, very few people would have said BP was Paris-aligned,” said Carney, referring to the 2015 global climate agreement, signed in the French capital. “They’ve jumped from toward back of the queue to the front of the queue.”


Man vs. machine in bid to beat virus

Updated 20 February 2020

Man vs. machine in bid to beat virus

  • Human and artificial intelligence are racing ahead to detect and control outbreaks of infectious disease

BOSTON: Did an artificial-intelligence system beat human doctors in warning the world of a severe coronavirus outbreak in China?

In a narrow sense, yes. But what the humans lacked in sheer speed, they more than made up in finesse.

Early warnings of disease outbreaks can help people and governments to save lives. In the final days of 2019, an AI system in Boston sent out the first global alert about a new viral outbreak in China. But it took human intelligence to recognize the significance of the outbreak and then awaken response from the public health community.

What’s more, the mere mortals produced a similar alert only a half-hour behind the AI systems.

For now, AI-powered disease-alert systems can still resemble car alarms — easily triggered and sometimes ignored. A network of medical experts and sleuths must still do the hard work of sifting through rumors to piece together the fuller picture. It is difficult to say what future AI systems, powered by ever larger datasets on outbreaks, may be able to accomplish.

The first public alert outside China about the novel coronavirus came on Dec. 30 from the automated HealthMap system at Boston Children’s Hospital. At 11:12 p.m. local time, HealthMap sent an alert about unidentified pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The system, which scans online news and social media reports, ranked the alert’s seriousness as only 3 out of 5. It took days for HealthMap researchers to recognize its importance.

Four hours before the HealthMap notice, New York epidemiologist Marjorie Pollack had already started working on her own public alert, spurred by a growing sense of dread after reading a personal email she received that evening.

“This is being passed around the internet here,” wrote her contact, who linked to a post on the Chinese social media forum Pincong. The post discussed a Wuhan health agency notice and read in part: “Unexplained pneumonia???”

Pollack, deputy editor of the volunteer-led Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, known as ProMed, quickly mobilized a team to look into it. ProMed’s more detailed report went out about 30 minutes after the terse HealthMap alert.

Early warning systems that scansocial media, online news articles and government reports for signs of infectious disease outbreaks help inform global agencies such as the World Health Organization — giving international experts a head start when local bureaucratic hurdles and language barriers might otherwise get in the way.

Some systems, including ProMed, rely on human expertise. Others are partly or completely automated.

“These tools can help hold feet to the fire for government agencies,” said John Brownstein, who runs the HealthMap system as chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It forces people to be more open.”

The last 48 hours of 2019 were a critical time for understanding the new virus and its significance. Earlier on Dec. 30, Wuhan Central Hospital doctor Li Wenliang warned his former classmates about the virus in a social media group — a move that led local authorities to summon him for questioning several hours later.

Li, who died Feb. 7 after contracting the virus, told The New York Times that it would have been better if officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier. “There should be more openness and transparency,” he said.

ProMed reports are often incorporated into other outbreak warning systems. including those run by the World Health Organization, the Canadian government and the Toronto startup BlueDot. WHO also pools data from HealthMap and other sources.

Computer systems that scan online reports for information about disease outbreaks rely on natural language processing, the same branch of artificial intelligence that helps answer questions posed to a search engine or digital voice assistant.

But the algorithms can only be as effective as the data they are scouring, said Nita Madhav, CEO of San Francisco-based disease monitoring firm Metabiota, which first
notified its clients about the outbreak in early January.

Madhav said that inconsistency in how different agencies report medical data can stymie algorithms. The text-scanning programs extract keywords from online text, but may fumble when organizations variously report new virus cases, cumulative virus cases, or new cases in a given time interval. The potential for confusion means there is almost always still a person involved in reviewing the data.

“There’s still a bit of human in the loop,” Madhav said.

Andrew Beam, a Harvard University epidemiologist, said that scanning online reports for key words can help reveal trends, but the accuracy depends on the quality of the data. He also notes that these techniques are not so novel.

“There is an art to intelligently scraping web sites,” Beam said. “But it’s also Google’s core technology since the 1990s.”

Google itself started its own Flu Trends service to detect outbreaks in 2008 by looking for patterns in search queries about flu symptoms. Experts criticized it for overestimating flu prevalence. Google shut down the website in 2015 and handed its technology to nonprofit organizations such as HealthMap to use Google data to build their own models.

Google is now working with Brownstein’s team on a similar web-based approach for tracking the geographical spread of the tick-borne Lyme disease.

Scientists are also using big data to model possible routes of early disease transmission.