Saturday, October 30, 2021

More Good News -7 Towards Net Zero - EU, North America and Australia

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

 

Once again this has taken a long time to post. This is partly because the landscape is changing so rapidly as more and more countries commit to net zero. However, I am also a bit confused about how emissions are allocated and calculated. Looking at the high per capita emissions for very small countries such as Luxembourg, Trinidad and Tobago and Brunei, for example, makes me wonder if small populations skew the data.

I also wonder what happens when a large multinational such as US – based Peabody, closes its mines at home, thereby reducing US emissions, but opens mines in Australia and repatriates the profits. Whose emissions are these? The same goes for India’s Adani.  Are emissions related to Russian gas consumed in Europe counted towards Russia only? Biomass and transport emissions still aren’t being counted, and several countries such as Japan, South Korea and Switzerland, simply outsource their emissions while making little effort to reduce theirs at home, thereby not reducing the global total. 

Then there's the fact that China continues to manufacture 60% of the world's goods and is still building new coal fired power stations to do so. Nor does it intend to reach net zero until 2060. Whose do these emissions belong to - the countries or companies that sell the coal, those who profit from this arrangement, the consumers of those goods, or all of the above? And how will emissions ever go down? Let's hope Glasgow answers some of those questions. Here's why emissions must go down sooner rather than later..

Mind the gap

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere had reached a new high of 410.5 parts per million in 2019 and, despite a slight dip due to the pandemic they are also expected to keep rising. This is is because though coal may be in decline, other fossil fuels such as gas and oil are still rising, so it’s no surprise that instead of going down, the world will produce 120% more emissions from fossil fuels by 2030  because of inbuilt momentum unless we bring them down by 50% now if we want to keep global warming below 1.5ᴼ C. If you are thinking that 1.5ᴼC  doesn't sound like much, then you haven't spent enough days at 45ᴼC watching bushfires coming over the hill.

 


Despite this gloomy forecast, there are also many positive signs. These are just some of the highlights. For a quick overview of each country’s emission status click here or if you would like  more detail on what specific countries are doing and how their emissions are trending, click here .

Global Success Stories

France was the first country to do so in 2017, pledging to reduce emissions to 70% below 1990 by 2030 and banning the extraction of fossil fuels in all its territories by 2040. It has also banned fracking since 2011.

In 2018, Belize fearing damage to its Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world after Australia’s, has banned all exploration and drilling for fossil fuels. The move will also protect  endangered species such as Hawksbill turtles, dolphins, spotted eagle rays and six threatened species of shark  as well as ensuring that its tourism industry which supports half the population will continue to have a future.

In 2020 Denmark -one of the largest oil producers in Europe, became the second EU country with legislation to phase out exploration and production of fossil fuels by 2050. It also plans to reduce its emissions by 70% below 1990 levels by 2030.

In February 2021, Ireland  which has had a ban on fracking since 2017, also legislated to immediately ban new oil and gas exploration and extraction and put it on the path to net zero by 2050. 

In May 2021, Spain approved legislation which eliminates fossil fuels by 2042. It will also phase out fossil fuel cars by 2040 and have 74% of its energy coming from renewables by 2030.

THE POWERING PAST COAL ALLIANCE

In 2017 Canada and the UK launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance which now boasts 137 members including 41 national governments, 41 subnational governments and 55 organisations. Its members commit to phasing out coal fired power generation by 2030 in Europe and OECD countries and by 2050 in others. Coal -fired power generation has been singled out because the International Energy Agency (IEA)  found that it was the single biggest contributor to global warming.

  • Members commit to allowing no new coal -fired powered plants
  • Phasing out existing ones by 2030 in OECD countries and the EU or by 2050 in others
  • Shifting investment towards renewable energy [This does require Governments to be proactive, rather than sitting idly by until market forces or sanctions kick in - see for example, the comments by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minster, Ali Allawi in the Middle East in the next post].
  • and making sure that in closing coal facilities, both workers and their communities are supported so that no one is economically disadvantaged.
  • Financial institutions which become members must agree not to underwrite new coal projects.

Membership is however open to national governments which have not yet committed, but need help and support to do so.

BEYOND OIL AND GAS (BOGA)

While there has been a lot of focus on coal – perhaps because abatement is easiest and because renewable alternatives are now cheaper, coal represents only one third of global emissions. Coal, oil and gas together account for 86% of the total, leaving only those from agriculture which are likely to be among the most difficult to reduce.

Many countries, especially Canada, the US and Australia are turning to gas because it creates only half the emissions that coal does when burnt. However, much of this new energy comes from Fracking – 39% in the USA, 15% in Canada, which releases large quantities of methane – the third most common greenhouse gas and 25 x more damaging than coal as well as using vast quantities of water and posing a risk to water supplies when mined. Methane creates self -reinforcing feedback loops which are contributing to rapid heating in Arctic regions. The main risk however, is that it will result in little effort to reduce energy demand and delay the switch to more sustainable and renewable sources of power.

For this reason Denmark and Costa Rica have created Beyond Oil and Gas, along the lines of the Powering Past Coal Alliance. It calls on its members to commit to ending both the consumption and production of gas and oil.

 

 

In October 2020, eight of the world’s largest insurers and reinsurers joined the Net Zero Insurance Alliance and committed to transitioning to Net Zero. Already members of the Net Zero Asset Alliance, they are among the 53 institutional investors who are no longer funding coal. By the end of 2020, 65 businesses with assets worth more than $12 trillion had committed to either divesting or making no new coal investments. This is up from $4 million in 2017.

In South Korea, three major insurers said they would no longer cover new coal power projects.

The USA is currently lagging and still has $90 billion invested in coal, however Suncorp has announced that it will no longer directly finance or underwrite new oil or gas projects. It will also phase out financing and insuring oil and gas exploration by 2025. 

Given increasing difficulty in obtaining funding and insurance for fossil fuel projects and that renewables have become cheaper in 90% of the world, it's thought every likely that developing countries will simply leapfrog over older technologies and jump straight to renewable energy especially as major investors look for alternative placements for the funds in their trust. Egypt and Argentina have already leapt ahead in this manner.

 

More news from Europe 

 

  •  In 2019 almost a fifth (19%) of the energy consumed in the EU came from renewable sources, just 1% less than planned because of the pandemic
  • On the 29th of October the European Investment Bank announced that it would be lending Poland’s BOS Bank, €75 million of which 50% would be to enable or small to medium sized businesses to implement climate friendly solutions including for energy efficiency projects in buildings and renewable energy including solar.

  • Austria has announced that it is investing € 1.2 billion in Geothermal energy for district heating which together with hot water supply accounts for one third of its energy consumption and 20% of its emissions. It already has 90,000 heat pump systems in operation and ten heat generation plants which together produce some 300GW of power. It is also exploring underground battery storage. No wonder Gunter Siddiqi, chair of the International Energy Agency's Renewable Energy Working Party called Geothermal energy, " the sleeping energy giant.” 

On that note, Iceland -conveniently situated on the ring of fire, has been successfully using Geothermal energy since 1907. It’s specialists in the field are now travelling as far as China to help establish geothermal production there and it soon plans to export energy as well. Without  knowing the geology required or logistics involved, I am surprised that more countries, particularly cold countries with high heating demand such as  Japan, Canada, Russia and other Scandinavian countries have not availed themselves more of this technology.

  • A third Dutch Pension Fund (ABP) the largest in Europe which covers teachers, scientists and civil servants and controls € 344 billion in assets, has just announced that it will divest from fossil fuels by 2025 

More news from North America

  • In the USA, 500 large corporations have signed on to Business Ambition for 1.5C both in their own right and to support the Biden Administration in reaching its target to cut emissions by 50% by 2030. Between them they control $US 13  trillion in assets and include big names such as Google, Microsoft, Ikea, Nestle, Walmart, Netflix and Visa.
  • The number of small to medium companies which have signed up to the Race to Net Zero, has increased even more (645%) and they are now looking hard at their supply chains.
  • Financial Services which between them manage $US 37 trillion in investments representing 38% of the world’s assets, have joined Net Zero Asset Manager’s Initiative for the same purpose. Their numbers too have tripled in the last month.

  • Amazon is now the world’s largest buyer of renewable energy.

Read more of their stories here

CANADA

Canada’s economy, like Australia’s is very much dependent upon resource extraction and has been similarly tardy about emission reductions. It was also the only G7 country to see its emissions increase between 2017 and 2019. However, in June 2021 it announced that it would not be approving more thermal coalmines and would phase out all thermal coal production by 2030. Coal presently supplies only 10% of its domestic electricity but metallurgical coal for making steel represents 95% of its exports. Thermal coal has the highest emissions. Tar sand extractors want to use carbon sequestration to reduce theirs, but overall Canada has committed to reducing its carbon footprint to below 2005 levels by 2030.

AUSTRALIA

Australia now has five pumped Hydro projects in operation. Pumped Hydro is another technology whose time has come. Briefly, it involves using excess energy from renewables such as wind and solar pumping water to a height and then releasing it to drive turbines when demand exceeds generation, thus acting as a form of battery. 

 


South Australia, pioneer in large scale solar generation in Australia – thanks to Elon Musk, is also experimenting with Pumped Hydro from seawater. This idea has antecedents. Okinawa in Japan had such a facility operating from 1999 – to 2016, but was closed because the owner could not make it profitable.  

 To be continued.....Next Post: 8 What's Happening in Asia, Africa and the Middle East

 


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