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Alberta Canada: Don’t cheer the new premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

Repost from The Guardian
[Editor:  Significant quote: “…investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.”  – RS

Don’t cheer Alberta’s premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

Alberta’s climate plan falls far short of what’s possible: unleashing a green economy that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and transitions off the tar sands

By Martin Lukacs, 24 November 2015 14.12 EST, updated 25 November 2015 10.28 EST
The Syncrude Oil Sands site near to Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Alberta’s new climate plan is drawing praise from sources that have rarely got on with the oil-exporter – Al Gore, labour unions and some of North America’s biggest green groups. At first glance, it’s not hard to see why: Alberta is promising an accelerated phase-out of coal, increased funds for renewable energy and impacted workers, and a price on carbon. It’s a major step hard to imagine scarcely a year ago, when the province was still under a multi-decade Conservative reign.

So why then are the oil barons celebrating? Beaming with pride, the heads of Canada’s biggest tar sands companies flanked Premier Rachel Notley during Sunday’s announcement.

Their hope: that Alberta’s globally tarred reputation will suddenly be scrubbed clean. Despite the lofty rhetoric, the government has committed only to bringing emissions below today’s levels by 2030 – making it even less ambitious than what Stephen Harper’s federal petro-state offered. This might be what the Premier meant when she promised that new pipelines – which companies desperately need to export tar sands – would soon benefit from “creative lobbying and advocacy efforts.”

The tar sands now has a glossy new sheen. Alberta’s plan sets a cap on their emissions – an acknowledgement that tar sands will no longer grow infinitely. Except it’s so high as to allow a staggering forty percent increase over the next fifteen years. And if a Conservative government returns to power, could it abandon the policy and ensure nothing is accomplished? In other words, this is a cap big enough to drive a three-story tar sands truck through.

Here’s the other reason the oil barons are cheering: they know they could be getting squeezed a hell of a lot more. After all, Alberta’s New Democratic Party got elected with a mandate for bold change. Albertans were tired of oil-soaked politicians who let companies vacuum up billions in profit amidst skyrocketing inequality and deteriorating public services. And the oil price crash made clearer than ever before the cost of a boom-and-bust economy built on a single volatile commodity.

Climate science backs that mandate for rapidly transforming our economy: it tells us that since we’ve delayed for so long, small reforms will no longer suffice. And Albertans understand the scientific reports that the vast majority of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avert dangerous climate change – the impacts of which they’ve already experienced in flooded Calgary and a drought-parched countryside. But while good times fueled denial, the ecologically suicidal politics of the establishment could be ignored. When the oil shock hit, they also started looking economically reckless.

As the oil barons thrash about in a self-induced crisis, this should be the time to part ways with them. Exxon is being investigated in the United States for having discovered the lethal consequences of climate change in the 1970s, then lied about it for decades while doing everything to make this catastrophe a reality. Low oil prices – which don’t look to be going away – have already forced the cancellation of extraction projects and created a thaw in investment throughout Alberta’s oil patch. The cost of renewable energy has dropped at incredible and unexpected speed. And just weeks ago, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. It was not, as Premier Notley put it, a “kick in [Alberta’s] teeth.” But you couldn’t pick a better moment to kick the oil barons to the curb.

None other than the Economist – not exactly a radical menace to big business – has argued that the oil price collapse offers a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to transform a dysfunctional energy system.

The Alberta government could start by vanquishing the myth that the oil barons are economically indispensable. As the oil industry has thrown almost forty thousand people out of work, they have proved their interests never aligned with Albertans. The facts always told a different story: investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.

So why – and this applies equally to Prime Minister Trudeau – fixate on building cross-country pipelines, when you could create more jobs in clean energy? Tackling climate change could be not just a public relations strategy to finesse the exporting of Alberta’s bitumen. It could be a chance to massively boost and transform the economy – making it more healthy, just and humane.

Look at what Germany – a similar, industrialized nation – has accomplished. In just over a decade, Germany has generated 30 percent of their electricity through renewables and created 400,000 good jobs in clean energy, much of it community-controlled and run by energy cooperatives. Using the right policies, Alberta could make this transition happen even more quickly, with greater benefits for First Nations, workers, and those getting the worst deal in the current economy.

It’s not too late to seize the historic opportunity. The NDP could still put forward a plan to create 200,000 good, green jobs over the next several years. Reports have laid out how this could happen with targeted investment: in accessible public transit, in energy-saving housing retrofits, in eco-system restoration, and by taking advantage of Alberta’s incredible potential for renewable energy. Nature didn’t make Alberta an oil province. Erect new signs: welcome to solar, wind and geothermal country.

How should Alberta pay for this transition? By putting their hands on the enormous profits of the industry that created the crisis in the first place. The new carbon tax – and the royalty hike the government must vigorously pursue – should be raised to send a stronger message to the market to jump-start a transition off oil.

Economists have shown a fair and effective tax would look more like $200 a tonne. $20 or $30 a tonne will not cut it – especially when half of the revenue generated will return as subsidies to oil and gas companies and dirty electricity generators. At this rate, most oil companies will be spending barely $1 more per barrel of oil. Polluters should be paying, not being paid off. The only message this will send the market is to “dig, baby, dig.”

Rolling out a plan to create a new, cleaner economy that’s more just and prosperous would convince voters there is an alternative to the oil economy. At that point the NDP could initiate a debate on a moratorium on tar sands development that has been called for by a hundred of North America’s top scientists. Scientific studies show we could get all of our electricity from renewables by 2030, not just 30 percent as Alberta now promises; and an economy entirely run by renewables by 2050. When popular movements can build pressure for such a transition, one thing will be sure: oil barons won’t be hand-clasping on the stage – they’ll be howling from the sidelines.

These movements, with Indigenous communities leading the way, have pushed the Alberta government this far. Now they must push them farther, and faster. It’s not time yet to cheer Alberta’s premier. Demand instead she break the oil barons’ vice-grip on our future.

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Global Climate Talks: G7 leaders target zero-carbon economy

Repost from The Carbon Brief

G7 leaders target zero-carbon economy

Simon Evans & Sophie Yeo, 08 Jun 2015, 17:00
Third working party at G7 summit
Third working party at G7 summit. | Bundesregierung/Kugler

Global climate talks received a symbolic boost today, as the G7 group of rich nations threw their weight behind a long-term goal of decarbonising the global economy over the course of this century.

The joint communique from the leaders of Japan, Germany, the US, UK, Canada, Italy and France reaffirms their commitment to the internationally agreed target of limiting warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It also reiterates their commitment to deep cuts in emissions by 2050.

Today’s declaration goes a step further, however, backing a long-term goal of cutting global greenhouse gas emissions at the “upper end” of 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050 and decarbonising completely “over the course of this century”.

These milestones are broadly in line with the path to avoiding more than 2C of warming, set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year. The IPCC said this would require “near zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases by the end of the century”.

The 40-70% reduction on 2010 levels by 2050 is the range for 2C set out by research organization Climate Analytics earlier this year. It also just about reaches the 70-95% range of emissions reduction by 2050 that would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C. A review of whether to adopt this tougher temperature target is expected to conclude at UN climate talks in Bonn this week.

Powering up Paris?

The G7 declaration calls this year’s UN talks in Paris “crucial for the protection of the global climate” and says: “We want to provide key impetus for ambitious results”. It promises to put climate protection “at the centre of our growth agenda”.

However, the G7 nations only account for 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd argued recently that the larger G20 needed to drive the planned global climate deal.

As such, the good will of the G7 is hardly enough to guarantee success in Paris on its own. In the run-up to the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen — variously described as a “failure”, “setback” or a “disaster” — the then-G8 group of leading nations said:

“We are committed to reaching a global, ambitious and comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen.”

The same 2009 G8 statement set a goal of cutting emissions by “at least” 50% by 2050 – within the 40-70% range set out by the G7 today. It said developed countries should collectively cut emissions by “80% or more” compared to 1990 levels.

G 7-group -photo
Group photo of the G7 leaders sitting together with their outreach guests on a bench. Source: Federal Government – Bundesregierung / Bergmann.

Zero carbon economy

Today’s text does not repeat this promise on developed country emissions. The novel element is its backing for potentially greater global ambition in 2050, along with complete decarbonisation by the end of this century.

Statements from NGOs — and some newspaper headlines — added their own interpretations to this new pledge. The Guardian said the leaders had “agreed on tough measures” that would cut emissions by “phasing out the use of fossil fuels”. The Financial Times headline  says “G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuels”.

Greenpeace said the text signalled the fossil fuel age was “coming to an end” and that coal, in particular, must be phased out in favour of 100% renewable energy. Christian Aid made similar points, asking global leaders to follow the UK in committing to phase out unabated coal. G7 nations continue to rely on large fleets of coal-fired power stations, whose combined emissions are more than twice Africa’s total.

The G7 language on decarbonisation this century is not specific, however, and does not promise an end to the use of coal or other fossil fuels. Instead, the language could imply reaching net-zero, where any remaining emissions are balanced by sequestration through afforestation or negative emissions technologies.

The most likely method of achieving negative emissions, biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), is controversial because it might require very large areas of land to be set aside for fast-growing trees or other biomass crops.

The G7 “commit to” develop and deploy “innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050”. The communique doesn’t explain which technologies would be considered “innovative”. However, the use of the plural term “energy sectors” perhaps points past electricity generation towards transport, heat and beyond.

Finance

The declaration is thin on new financial commitments – despite some high expectations heralded by chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement in May that Germany would double its contribution to international climate finance by 2020.

The communique says that climate finance is already flowing at “higher levels”. All G7 countries have pledged various sums of money into the UN-backed Green Climate Fund (GCF) over the past year, although all countries’ cumulative contributions are still only around $10bn.

This is well short of the $100bn a year that rich countries have pledged to provide every year by 2020. A significant proportion of this is expected to be channelled through the GCF. So far, there is no clear roadmap on how this money will be scaled up over the next five years – a source of contention for developing countries, which rely upon international donations to implement their own climate actions.

In the statement, the G7 countries pledge to “continue our efforts to provide and mobilize increased finance, from public and private sources”.

This doesn’t equate to a commitment to actually scale up finance, Oxfam’s policy lead on climate Tim Gore tells Carbon Brief:

“They’re saying that it’s higher than it was, and now they’re going to try and maintain it at that higher level. What we were looking for was what Merkel did, and say from the level we’re at now, we’re going up towards 2020.”

The statement also says that the G7 nations “pledge to incorporate climate mitigation and resilience considerations into our development assistance and investment decisions”. This could have particular implications for Japan, which is still investing heavily in coal plants both domestically and abroad.

Conclusion

Despite its shortcomings, the stronger elements of the G7 communique were not easily won. Wording on the long term goal could reverberate at the UN negotiations taking place this week in Germany, sending a message about the pressure that countries such as Japan and Canada are under to toe the climate line.

Both nations have faced criticism for low ambition in their INDCs (still due to be finalised in Japan’s case), yet have nonetheless agreed to a statement pointing towards a decarbonised economy by the end of the century.

Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, says:

“I think it shows the pressure that some of these laggard countries felt under from other countries and from the public in their own countries to not block the language. This is not a kumbaya moment that all of a sudden has transformed the long term goal discussion, and those who have been resisting good language in this agreement are suddenly going to turn around on decarbonisation in the long term goal. I think that’s the political significance.”

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California governor orders aggressive greenhouse gas cuts by 2030

Repost from Reuters
[Editor:  See also local coverage in The Contra Costa Times.  – RS]

California governor orders aggressive greenhouse gas cuts by 2030

By Rory Carroll, Apr 29, 2015 11:28pm IST 
California Governor Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
California Governor Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

(Reuters) – California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order on Wednesday to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030, a move he said was necessary to combat the growing threat of climate change.

The targeted reduction was tied to 1990 levels and is “the most aggressive benchmark enacted by any government in North America to reduce dangerous carbon emissions,” Brown said in a statement.

California operates the nation’s largest carbon cap and trade system. The state sets an overall limit on carbon emissions and allows businesses to hand in tradeable permits to meet their obligations.

Achieving the new target will require reductions from sectors including industry, agriculture, energy and state and local governments, Brown said.

“I’ve set a very high bar, but it’s a bar we must meet,” Brown told a carbon market conference in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Brown said the new target will position California as a leader in combating climate change in the United States and internationally.

Brown said he has spoken to leaders in Oregon, Washington and Northeastern states about collaborating with California to cut their output of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Those states could potentially link to California’s carbon market in future years.

He said he has had similar discussions with leaders in the Canadian provinces of Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario, as well as in Germany, China and Mexico.

Quebec is already linked to the California market. Leaders in Ontario this month signaled their intention to join the program.

“This will be a local policy but it will be globally focused,” Brown told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the news and encouraged other states and cities around the world to also take action, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.

“California’s bold commitment to tackling climate change is a strong example to states and regions all over the world that they can join their national governments in taking ownership of this critical issue and in showing leadership,” Haq said.

The plan for how California will achieve the 2030 target will be hammered out over the next year by the California Air Resources Board (ARB), which oversees the cap-and-trade program.

“With this bold action by the governor, California extends its leadership role and joins the community of states and nations that are committed to slash carbon pollution through 2030 and beyond,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the ARB.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles and Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Susan Heavey and David Gregorio)
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