South African environment groups demand an end to Shell exploration
Protesters are calling for Shell to stop prospecting in a pristine stretch of coastline. The company is expected to use seismic blasting, which locals fear would cripple local fishing communities and marine life.
China ‘modified’ the weather to create clear skies for political celebration – study
Fossil Exec Decries ‘Shot in the Eye’ as Guilbeault Opens Climate Plan Consultation
An oil and gas emissions cap, reduced methane emissions, zero-emission vehicles, and a net-zero power grid are all on the table for public consultation, after Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault announced a three-month delay in publishing the Trudeau government’s carbon reduction plan under the new climate accountability law.
The legislation, adopted in late June, allows for the extended timeline, and “Guilbeault says the delay is necessary to allow Indigenous peoples, provinces, and other interested parties to weigh in on what the plan should contain,” The Canadian Press reports. “Guilbeault has already sought input on the oil and gas emissions cap from the government’s Net-Zero Advisory Body, but is expanding those consultations to include provincial and territorial governments and other experts.”
“The debate over whether we need to act is long over,” the minister said. “Now we must determine how we can get where we need to go, together.”
Ottawa also announced its new list of parliamentary secretaries and cabinet committees Friday, while Anna Kanduth, senior research associate at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, urged a whole-of-government approach to the climate emergency.
Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski says Guilbeault’s announcement Friday “laid bare” the size of the challenge the government faces in implementing an “expansive” climate agenda. Any one of the major items on the action list “could occupy much of the government’s climate-related capacity,” Radwanski writes, so the revised March 29 deadline for the federal plan is no surprise. And Guilbeault “said in an interview that consultations around some of its key components—let alone actual design of the policies—won’t be done by then.”
That will leave the government to make “some assumptions” about the climate impacts of plans that will still be in development, the minister admitted. “I’m sure some people will say they’d want to see more details,” he said, “and I think that’s going to be a fair comment.”
That means the two big questions are whether the government “can get all these policies firmly in place during their current mandate, which in a minority parliament could be less than two years,” Radwanski says. “And, equally importantly, whether they can meaningfully engage with affected industries during the talks that are now starting, without watering down commitments in ways that put the 2030 target out of reach.”
The pressure for that watering down was on full display Friday, with Guilbeault in Alberta for meetings with fossil executives and their provincial government allies.
“Throughout my career as an environmentalist, I think I’ve shown an ability to be able to work with people who don’t think like I do, and that public policy is about the art of compromise,” Guilbeault told Calgary Herald columnist Chris Varcoe.
“I am an activist,” he added. “I was and I still am an activist, but I am now the minister of environment and climate change for all Canadians. And I have responsibilities now that were not the responsibilities I had as an environmentalist activist.”
Those ministerial duties “will have a direct impact on the oil and gas industry, the largest emitting sector of the Canadian economy,” Varcoe hastened to add, in an opinion piece that included a reference to the moment two decades ago when Guilbeault and a then-Greenpeace colleague “famously scaled the CN Tower to string up a banner that declared: ‘Canada and Bush: Climate Killers,’ under the observation deck of the Toronto landmark. He’s also opposed oil pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion and Energy East.”
Two decades later, Varcoe wrote, “he’s in charge of Canada’s climate strategy.”
But Guilbeault told the columnist that times have changed along the way.
“I felt at the time, 20, 30 years ago, that we had to do things like scale the CN Tower to be able to get people’s attention on climate change. And I don’t think we need to do that now,” he explained. “Now, we have the B.C. flooding, and we have the heat dome, and we have the hail storms that are constant reminders that we have entered the era of climate change and we need to do something.”
Varcoe captured the skepticism and open hostility Guilbeault faces in some corners of the Alberta oilpatch, with industry veteran and former TransCanada Corporation CEO Hal Kvisle, now chair of Alberta fossil ARC Resources, interpreting his appointment to the environment portfolio as a clear signal from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We took it as a direct shot in the eye,” Kvisle told Varcoe. “To pick Guilbeault as the environment minister, you might as well pick David Suzuki and just make it very clear to us what they think of us.”
Guilbeault countered that “my issue has always been with pollution. But I’m part of a government that has been very clear on this: We’re not going after production; we are going after the emissions.” He told Varcoe his office wall includes a November, 2015 photo of then-Alberta premier Rachel Notley announcing the province’s 100-megatonne tar sands/oil sands emissions cap, with Guilbeault among the environmental and fossil industry leaders on hand to applaud.
Six years later, Guilbeault said he’d been willing to support the Alberta cap, even though he favoured a lower threshold, “which did lead to me being accused of being a sell-out by some of my ex-environmental colleagues.”
The archived photo from The Canadian Press carries a credit to award-winning photojournalist Amber Bracken, who was arrested late last month while capturing riveting images of the militarized RCMP raid on a Wet’suwet’en blockade in northeastern British Columbia.
North Sea Oil Faces ‘Death Knell’ after Shell Quits Cambo Oilfield
Future oil and gas development in the North Sea may be facing its “death knell” after colossal fossil Royal Dutch Shell announced Friday that it is withdrawing from the controversial Cambo oilfield off the Shetland Islands.
The project had been one of a litany of embarrassments for the Boris Johnson government in the lead-up to the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow. U.K. environmental law charity ClientEarth had threatened legal action, and one cabinet secretary ludicrously suggested the project would not be a major climate risk because the petroleum it would produce—and the carbon dioxide emissions it would embody—could sit in barrels rather than being burned. Even so, the U.K. was widely expected to approve the oilfield, whose capacity has been estimated at between 255 and 800 million barrels, in the weeks after the COP.
But now, “sources said Shell’s project partner, the private equity-backed Siccar Point, would struggle to find another partner to take on Shell’s 30% stake in the new oilfield,” The Guardian reports. “Shell’s retreat has cast doubt over the future of a project that could yield hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, and sources say it raises fresh doubts over the North Sea’s future large-scale oil projects, too.”
While Shell’s public position on the project is that the “economic case for investment” was not strong, The Guardian says the company stepped away after the government called for “climate concessions” before it would approve the project.
“This is a turning point,” one industry source told the paper. “Companies will be thinking: if Shell can’t do it, can we? I just don’t see any truly large-scale projects being sanctioned in the North Sea any more. There will still be small developments around existing fields. But this is a death knell for major new projects in the UK.”
The source added that “there are no listed oil companies which would look seriously at this project, and the private companies don’t typically have the track record in project development which Shell brought to the table.”
But with the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce calling for what it calls a “reasoned debate” on oil and gas extraction and the jobs it creates, BBC climate editor Justin Rowlatt says it’s premature to write the North Sea oil and gas industry’s obituary.
“Whatever Shell says in public, this is about reputational cost, not conventional economics,” he writes. “Battling environmentalists and the Scottish government for the right to drill for oil is not a good look for a company that claims to be transitioning away from fossil fuels.” But with oil currently selling at US$70 per barrel, “there are lots of less high-profile companies who would be willing to suffer some bad publicity for a cut of that prize.”
Which means “the real question Shell’s decision raises is whether the U.K. government is willing to put its net-zero ambitions ahead of the huge tax revenues the project could deliver and deny a licence to develop the oilfield.”
Court Challenge Targets £13.6B in U.K. Fossil Subsidies Since Paris Conference
Campaigners are taking the United Kingdom government to court for handing oil and gas firms £13.6 billion in subsidies since the Paris Agreement, despite the country’s legal duty to reach net-zero by 2050.
“Between 2016 and 2020, oil companies received £9.9 billion in tax reliefs for new exploration and production of oil and gas, and £3.7 billion in payments towards decommissioning costs,” writes the Independent. The total is roughly equivalent to C$24 billion.
Paid to Pollute plans to argue that the U.K.’s generosity to the fossil sector is illegal under the country’s own climate laws. Maintaining those subsidies would run directly counter to an urgent warning from the Johnson government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC) that sticking to business-as-usual will find the U.K. contributing significantly to a “disastrous temperature rise of 2.7°C by 2100,” writes the BBC.
In its shortlist of recommendations to “support Britain’s climate leadership,” the CCC directly recommends the U.K. follow the COP 26 recommendations to phase out “inefficient subsidies,” adds the BBC.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit, former oil refinery worker Jeremy Cox, expressed disgust at the thought that the Johnson government might still be gung-ho on new oil and gas projects, even after hosting COP 26. “Just weeks after world leaders gathered in Glasgow and the prime minister urged them to keep the 1.5°C target alive, the U.K. government will have the hypocritical audacity to argue in High Court that it should continue to subsidize new oil and gas production,” he said.
(Much of the reporting in The Independent centred on the mammoth, new Cambo oilfield off the Shetland Islands. But that was before Royal Dutch Shell’s blockbuster announcement Friday that it was withdrawing from the project.)
The Paid to Pollute lawsuit is going forward just days after another high court hearing in London during which three young people—Adetola Onamade, 24, Jerry Amokwandoh, 22, and Marina Tricks, 20— asked for a full hearing into their claim that the Johnson government’s foot-dragging on climate action is “breaching their rights under the Human Rights Act to life and to family life by failing to do what was necessary to avert environmental disaster,” reports the Guardian.
“The defendants know that climate change is an urgent threat to life,” added environmental lawyer Tim Crosland of Plan B Earth. “They know its impacts hit hardest for groups exposed to disproportionate and discriminatory risks, including the claimants. They know what needs to be done but they are not doing it.”
B.C. Faces $1B in Damage After U.S. Refuses to Reinforce Cross-Border Dike
A longstanding cross-border failure to redress the vexed problem of the Nooksack River’s occasional but devastating flooding has left Fraser Valley farmers and homeowners with estimated damages nearing C$1 billion.
There’s more than enough blame to go around in the most recent chapter in the story of Washington State’s Nooksack River and its periodic threat to the fertile, low-lying lands of British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, writes the Globe and Mail.
That the river’s floodwaters managed to wreak such havoc in places like Abbotsford in mid-November is in part a result of a multi-jurisdictional failure to maintain key dike systems already in place north of the border.
Washington State arguably shoulders some of the blame for refusing B.C. ’s repeated pleas to build a $29-million levee extension that would have held the Nooksack within its banks at the town of Everson, some 9.5 kilometres from the Canadian border.
Building that extension could have saved the region more than $500 million in damage to infrastructure and agriculture, writes the Globe, citing a flood mitigation report produced for the city of Abbotsford in 2020.
Extending the levee at Everson would cost “less than a tenth” of flood prevention alternatives north of the 49th parallel, which would involve not only raising dikes but also “tunnelling a runoff channel through a mountain,” adds the Globe.
But, as the report noted, that calculation looked “only at Canada-side damages,” not at the potential costs to Washington State and its citizens. The Abbotsford report acknowledged that extending the levee could cause more flooding downstream, where the Nooksack threads through both valuable farmland and Indigenous territory, so that “additional analysis work is needed on the U.S. side to provide the overall benefit-cost ratio.”
Any flood control measures on the Nooksack would also have to account for the fact that the river is inhabited by chinook salmon, currently under federal legal protection in the U.S. as a threatened species.
“It really isn’t simply an economic analysis for us,” Dave Radabaugh, program coordinator for Washington’s National Flood Insurance Program, told the Globe. “We’re still looking at it and sorting through the options.”
One option the B.C. government has been reluctant to pursue, writes the Globe, is getting the International Joint Commission (IJC) involved. Once commissioned to do so by federal governments, the U.S.-Canada body can make non-binding recommendations for solutions to “thorny” cross-border water issues, “including payment from one country to another for construction or compensation.”
But B.C. has had cold feet about using the IJC ever since it recommended canceling a coal mine on the Flathead River, said Ralph Pentland, Canada’s former federal director of water planning and management. But Pentland described the province’s continuing unwillingness to invoke the IJC as “a big mistake—for the province and [for its] people.”
‘Recycling’ Carbon Tax Revenues Can Lessen Inequality, New Study Shows
Recycling carbon taxes in a progressive way can yield net benefits for the poorest citizens, a new study shows, in contrast with the business-as-usual belief that climate progress comes at the cost of increasing poverty.
“We find that if all countries adopt the necessary uniform global carbon tax and then return the revenues to their citizens on an equal per capita basis, it will be possible to meet a 2°C target while also increasing well-being, reducing inequality, and alleviating poverty,” writes a research team led by Mark Budolfson of Rutgers University, in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Climate policy research generally assumes that a carbon tax will subtract from all income groups equally. Because people with lower incomes will have a harder time paying a tax, and because “in rich countries fossil fuels are disproportionately consumed by poorer citizens,” carbon taxes are expected to have a greater impact on low-income residents, the authors state.
But “existing estimates of optimal climate policy have ignored the possibility that revenues from a carbon tax could be used in a progressive way that generates immediate net benefits for the current poor,” they add. “As a consequence, they mistakenly imply that climate action must come at some cost to overall well-being, and especially to the poor.”
The new study questions this assumption by reviewing economics literature and using a global climate policy model to compare how two different approaches will change inequality and consumption compared to business-as-usual.
The first approach had no revenue recycling component and showed the expected pattern. But in the second scenario, when the recycled tax revenues were distributed on an equal per capita basis, most citizens were net beneficiaries, the study found. The benefits of returning revenue to citizens could be even greater if total revenues are directed towards the poorest populations in the world, rather than the poorest within each country or region.
“Adopting strong climate policy need not entail a trade-off, where the people of today (and the poor in particular) must sacrifice for the benefit of future generations,” Budolfson told Rutgers Today.
As policy-makers debate whether to gradually ramp up aggressive action or make an immediate push toward maximum carbon reductions, the researchers said progressive revenue recycling leads to “high levels of decarbonization immediately.” The results of this study can inform regulators and lawmakers as countries explore using carbon taxes as part of their emissions reductions strategies, such as Canada’s carbon tax rebate.
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Most Companies Fuzzy On Emissions Tracking as Net-Zero Plans Emphasize Offsets
A new report on the global net-zero movement finds that many of the public and private corporations driving the explosion of net-zero targets are failing to account for their Scope 3 (indirect) emissions.
“This could majorly undermine the credibility of net-zero targets,” writes edie, since the Scope 3 emissions produced by the average, large multinational firm will be 11.4 times higher than its direct carbon pollution.
A post-COP 26 snapshot published by Net-Zero Tracker finds that companies with net-zero targets that meet “minimum procedural standards” have nearly doubled in the last year, from 110 to 207. The number of companies meeting criteria for “leadership on decarbonization” has also doubled. But only 32% of corporate net-zero targets cover the entirety of Scope 3 emissions, according to the snapshot, while another 25% partially address them.
“Given Scope 3 reporting is hard and it’s currently voluntary, most firms take an ‘à la carte’ approach to carbon reporting and action, choosing the lowest-hanging fruit and ignoring potentially the largest emissions sources in their value chain,” climate scientist Angel Hsu said in a Net-Zero Tracker media release.
The snapshot also expresses concern that many businesses are overly optimistic about using carbon offsets to reach net-zero, and made little or no progress to firm up their offsetting plans. Of the 43% of the businesses that intend to use offsets to meet their targets, two-thirds have not specified how or why carbon credits will be used.
That gap may set them up for future grief, with Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ) founder Mark Carney recently specifying that companies should treat offsets as a “last resort”, after all other efforts to reduce their actual emissions.
The large number of businesses considering buying offset credits to fulfil their net-zero plans “is worrying because the market is awash with cheap credits of dubious quality,” said Oxford Net-Zero Executive Director Dr. Steve Smith. “We can’t offset all the way to real, global net-zero. Leaders need to prioritize cutting their own emissions and set out clear rules and limits to their offsetting.”
The snapshot finds that commitments from nations, cities, and regions now cover 90% of global GDP, 85% of the global population, and 88% of global emissions. But 55% of countries have set their targets for after 2050, and two-thirds of the municipal targets exist only as pledges or discussions rather than concrete plans, edie writes.