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NEW SHOREHAM, RI - SEPTEMBER 22: The GE-Alstom Block Island Wind Farm stands 3 miles off of Block Island on September 22, 2016 New Shoreham, Rhode Island. The five 6-megawatt wind turbines are expected to produce more energy than Block Island needs. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

The US Excels in Cleantech, but Is It Innovative Enough to Meet Global Emissions Goals?

The United States continues to progress in clean energy innovation — even after announcing its intent to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The U.S. ranks fourth among all countries (behind Norway, Finland and Japan) in terms of its contributions to the global clean energy innovation system on a per-capita GDP basis according to the ITIF Global Energy Innovation Index. Still, “without more and faster clean energy innovation, it will be virtually impossible to meet global climate emission goals,” write the index’s authors.

Among other trends, the index considers the growth of high-impact startups, which can help incubate emerging clean technologies. On that front, “the global system is dependent on a few countries, led by the United States in absolute terms, to perform this function.” Still, a lack of public funding for demonstration of capital-intensive technologies “appears to be a major weakness in the global energy innovation system.”

US Boards Are Not Diversifying Fast Enough

Source: New York Times; Institutional Shareholder Services’ ESG division

Despite a lot of activist pressure, representation of minority ethnic and racial groups on U.S. boards has increased by only 2.5% over the last five years. None of the industries surveyed fill even 20% of their board seats with members of minority groups, according to the Institutional Shareholder Services. 

IT company boards reflect the most diversity — at just 17% — up 3.9 percentage points from 2015, followed by utility companies at 16.5%. Both the energy and real estate industries suffer the lowest levels of diversity, at 9% and 10%, respectively. Many big companies are taking the The Board Challenge — a pledge to add at least one Black director to their boards. But ISS found that Black women represent only 1.5% of more than 20,000 directors analyzed. 

The U.S. is lagging behind other countries in workplace diversity, despite the majority of the American public wanting to see change. “A diverse and inclusive workforce ensures that the innovations created are reflective of the organization’s diverse customer base,” according to Marsh and McLennan Insights. 

US Active Oil Rig Count Collapses From COVID-19

Source: Baker Hughes, North America Rig Count

The U.S. active oil and gas rig count hit a record low of 251 in July due to the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — the year started with the rig count at 796. Prior to COVID-19, the lowest rig count was 404 during the oil crash of 2014. 

Texas, the largest oil-producing state in the U.S., lost 336 land rigs this year. Each of these rigs creates an estimated 31 jobs immediately and more than 300 in the long term. 

The pandemic first majorly impacted the oil industry at the beginning of March 2020 when oil prices plummeted. By August, the oil industry had lost more than 100,000 jobs. Although the U.S. administration implemented measures to bail out big oil companies, thousands of workers are still struggling financially. Devashree Saha of The World Resources Institute states that government responses need to prioritize workers and communities to ensure they “are not collateral damage in the pandemic-fed downturn or during the longer-term energy transition.”

COVID-19 Threatens a Decade of Progress Against Poverty for Low-Income Countries

Source: International Monetary Fund

As the percentage of those living in poverty grows, household consumption declines, prompting concern over “the permanent loss of productive capacity,” in low-income developing countries (LIDC) says the IMF. Rising levels of poverty also threaten progress in health, education and gender equality, with implications for lifetime earnings and savings.

LIDCs experienced 5% growth just last year, and they even contributed a larger portion of COVID-19 financial support toward health compared to advanced or emerging economies. But they aren’t able to provide the same level of fiscal support as a public safety net or to stimulate economic activity.   

More vulnerable countries may look to their international community for support, for example, in the provision of health supplies, supply chain protection and financial assistance, including debt payment deferrals. The virus is only the first challenge to overcome, says the IMF, as “the COVID-19 pandemic will be defeated only when it and its socioeconomic consequences are overcome everywhere.” 

Northern Europe Maintains a Positive View of Its Economy, Even Amid the Pandemic

Source: Pew Research Center

Nearly 75% of those in Denmark believe their country’s economic situation is good — a surprising outlook considering the restrictions COVID-19 has placed on economic activity across the world. These views were reported between June and August, 2020, and collected in a survey from the Pew Research Center.

A similar percentage of respondents from Sweden and the Netherlands share positive views about their countries’ economies. But these northern European countries are outliers, as most adults surveyed across 14 countries report a negative economic situation in their country.

Denmark and Sweden — the two countries with the highest percentage of positive assessments of their respective economies — have had relatively low COVID-19 infection and death rates. They were also two of the first countries in Europe to lift lockdown restrictions. There is a correlation between how respondents perceive their country’s response to COVID-19 and how they view the economic status of their country, according to the research: “Those who view their country’s coronavirus response negatively are more likely to describe their country’s current economic situation as bad.” 

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