Tag Archives: United Kingdom

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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    Safety warning from British Health & Safety Executive

    Repost from Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Great Britain
    [Editor: CONTEXT – I received this in an  email from Fred Millar,  independent consultant and expert on chemical safety and railroad transportation.  Fred’s email comment puts the British commentary in a “North American oil-train” perspective:  “Impact of falling oil prices may be quite small re volumes of Crude By Rail shipments, some informed observers have noted.  But this UK HSE message highlights a likely, less visible but no less ominous impact: dangerous lowering of safety standards in the oil industry [and by implication in the newly important “pipeline on rails” railroads carrying crude oil and other hazmat].  If this impact had not been seen previously at significant levels by safety agencies, there would be no need for such blunt alarums, of course.”  – RS]

    No Compromise

    By Judith Hackitt, HSE Chair, 2/6/15

    The impacts of falling oil prices is having a wide ranging effect in the UK – from the lower cost of filling up the car to people’s livelihoods being under threat.

    It is inevitable companies seek to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and the decisions they are being forced to make are tough ones. It’s actually a stress test of leadership and senior management.

    Part of that test is whether company decision makers have all the relevant information to make informed decisions.

    How can they?

    At the very least they have to make assumptions about what the future will look like. In this case, how long oil prices will stay at these levels? What decisions are competitor companies and industries taking? After all, they need to be making the right decisions for the company in the short term and for the mid to long term.

    We’ve been here before, of course, in the 1990s when oil prices dropped and assumptions were made about the long term life of North Sea assets that proved to be wide of the mark. So this is a time when corporate memory really counts.

    On that occasion the assumption was made that North Sea production would be wound down in the medium term and assets could afford to be neglected because they would soon be out of service. As prices rose again, the assets were called upon to continue to produce and many are now operating well beyond their original life expectancy. Doing that has required huge effort by the North Sea Oil and Gas industry to bring those neglected assets back up to the required standard.

    Those who have led this effort to improve asset integrity deserve to be praised, but their voices need to continue to be heard as we go through this next difficult phase for the industry.

    Cutting costs where there seems to be least tangible day-to-day effect is obviously tempting but leaders and senior managers need to pass the stress test on knowing where health and safety – and particularly process safety and asset integrity – sits in this mix.

    Asset integrity must not suffer from short term expediency over where the axe falls. Leadership is critical to avoid wrong assumptions being made about the lifespan of assets, assumptions we know from previous experience can take years to reverse.

    Current news headlines may be disconcerting, but I want all industries dealing with process safety to avoid inadvertently writing tomorrow’s headlines today.

    Safety must not be compromised, even in tough times.

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      Rich countries are subsidizing oil, gas and coal companies by $88 billion a year

      Repost from The Guardian
      [Editor: Hmmm… do you think maybe the anti-tax crowd will latch onto this one?  Not likely.  The Guardian story is an excellent summary of an incredibly important new study by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International.  I highly recommend the original sources: a 4-page summary report and recommendations, the full 74 page report, and a 6-page report on the United States subsidies.  – RS]

      Rich countries subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by $88bn a year

      US, UK, Australia giving tax breaks to explore new reserves despite climate advice that fossil fuels should be left buried

      Fossil fuel exploration subsidies – mapped

      By John Vidal Monday 10 November 2014
      The fossil fuel bailout - G20 subsidies for oil, gas and coal exploration
      The fossil fuel bailout – G20 subsidies for oil, gas and coal exploration

      Rich countries are subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by about $88bn (£55.4bn) a year to explore for new reserves, despite evidence that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

      The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has found that the US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. Most of the support was in the form of tax breaks for exploration in deep offshore fields.

      The public money went to major multinationals as well as smaller ones who specialise in exploratory work, according to British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International.

      Britain, says their report, proved to be one of the most generous countries. In the five year period to 2014 it gave tax breaks totalling over $4.5bn to French, US, Middle Eastern and north American companies to explore the North Sea for fast-declining oil and gas reserves. A breakdown of that figure showed over $1.2bn of British money went to two French companies, GDF-Suez and Total, $450m went to five US companies including Chevron, and $992m to five British companies.

      Britain also spent public funds for foreign companies to explore in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, India and Indonesia, as well as Russia, Uganda and Qatar, according to the report’s data, which is drawn from the OECD, government documents, company reports and institutions.

      Oil and gas exploration expenditure in G20 countries (public and private)
      Oil and gas exploration expenditure in G20 countries (public and private). Photograph: ODI/Rystad Energy

      The figures, published ahead of this week’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, contains the first detailed breakdown of global fossil fuel exploration subsidies. It shows an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

      “The evidence points to a publicly financed bail-out for carbon-intensive companies, and support for uneconomic investments that could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2C,” say the report’s authors.

      “This is real money which could be put into schools or hospitals. It is simply not economic to invest like this. This is the insanity of the situation. They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro-power and they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious UN climate deal in 2015,” said Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI.

      The report is important because it shows how reforming fossil fuel subsidies is a critical issue for climate change.

      “The IPCC [UN climate science panel] is quite clear about the need to leave the vast majority of already proven reserves in the ground, if we are to meet the 2C goal. The fact that despite this science, governments are spending billions of tax dollars each year to find more fossil fuels that we cannot ever afford to burn, reveals the extent of climate denial still ongoing within the G20,” said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzman.

      The report further criticises the G20 countries for providing over $520m a year of indirect exploration subsidies via the World Bank group and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) to which they contribute funds.

      The authors expressed surprise that about four times as much money was spent on fossil fuel exploration as on renewable energy development.

      “In parallel with the rising costs of fossil-fuel exploration and production, the costs of renewable-energy technologies continue to fall rapidly, and the speed of growth in installed capacity of renewables has outperformed predictions since 2000,” said the report.

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