Hot Takes: The Top Climate Change Reporting of the Past Year


An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland near the arctic circle. (John McConnico/AP)

An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland near the arctic circle. (John McConnico/AP)

A compilation of some of the best journalism in the months leading up to Barack Obama’s historic action to address climate change.

Last week, President Obama unveiled the Clean Power Plan, a pillar of his legacy project and his most ambitious exercise of executive authority to combat climate change. The proposed regulations are designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by almost a third from 2005 levels within the next 15 years. The potential for the biggest climate change victory in years follows a banner year for climate change journalism. We’ve compiled some of the best stories:

How Climate Change Will End Wine As We Know It

BuzzFeed, November 2014

Harvest of Change

Des Moines Register, September 2014

Iowa farmers are facing pressures from all sides to do something about climate change, and even those who don’t believe in it are being forced to respond. The federal government wants to prevent fertilizers used on Midwestern farms from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Big box retailers want protection against price shocks. Meanwhile, Iowa farmers seek to protect their land from increased rain, which causes erosion and strips nutrients from the soil. Acting on all these pressures can be costly and, sometimes, detrimental to production.

Inside the War on Coal

Politico, May 2015

An army of Sierra Club lawyers who appear at obscure state and local hearings in the Midwest – where small commissions debate the future of individual coal plants – has managed to shut down one coal plant every 10 days for the past 5 years thanks to the unlikely funding of large corporations. The spirit of the funders, however, has little to do with environmental concern and a lot to do with the escalating costs of producing coal, a result of the government’s ever-tougher environmental regulations.

Coal Crash: How Pension Funds Face Huge Risk From Climate Change

The Guardian, June 2015

Some of the world’s largest pension funds – including those of organizations like the United Nations, which advocate for urgent action to prevent climate change – have historically invested generously in coal companies. But now those investments, which used to produce handsome returns, could collapse.

The Making of a Climate Change Refugee

Foreign Policy, January 2015

After Ioane Teitiota, a native from the sinking island nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific, sought a work visa extension in New Zealand, his lawyer argued that Teitoiota was a victim of climate change in need of permanent refugee status. The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful but drew significant international attention to the reality and potential effects of rising ocean levels.

Exxon’s Gamble: 25 Years of Rejecting Shareholder Concerns on Climate Change

Inside Climate News, June 2015

Oil companies have long fought against anyone who demands change based on apocalyptic predictions of climate change, including their own investors. In fact, over the past 25 years, top executives at Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips battled a combined 113 proposals from activist investors that ranged from adding board members with climate change expertise to establishing ceilings for greenhouse emissions. Not a single proposal passed.

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World Bank Fossil Fuel Financing Leapt in 2014 Despite Its Calls To End Subsidies


coal-india

By Karl Mathiesen, Guardian UK, 17 April 15

ALSO SEE: How the World Bank Broke Its Promise to Protect the Poor

Source: Reader Supported News

New analysis reveals funding of over $3bn for fossil fuel-related projects last year, despite repeated calls by bank’s president to scrap such ‘harmful’ global subsidies

The World Bank increased its financing for fossil fuel projects in the last financial year, according to a new analysis, despite repeated calls by its president to end the global subsidies for oil, coal and gas.

In a report released on Friday, Oil Change International (OCI) identified $3.4bn (£2.3bn) of loans, grants, guarantees, risk management and equity for fossil fuel-related projects in the developing world in the 2013-14 financial year. This was the highest recorded in four years and up 23% on the year before although the bank said it disagreed with lumping in both direct and indirect funding.

On Monday, the bank’s president Jim Yong Kim told the Guardian “we need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now”, echoing his previous comments on such “harmful” subsidies. The World Trade organisation’s definition of a subsidy is a “financial contribution by a government or any public body”, including loans and loan guarantees.

Stephen Kretzmann, the executive director of OCI, said: “Bank staff are absolutely right to be concerned about fossil fuel subsidies, but they need to get their own house in order as well. They provided more than $3bn in financing for fossil fuels last year, all of which are clearly subsidies for fossil fuel production. The World Bank should lead by example, not try to hide business as usual.”

A World Bank spokeswoman said: “We have seen the [OCI] report and do not agree with the way it characterises our work. Critically, the report uses a completely different way of classifying energy projects to the World Bank Group.”

The spokeswoman said the bank’s own assessment showed its support for fossil fuels almost halved during 2013/14, while its financing of renewable energy rose significantly.

But the bank admitted that its fossil fuel calculation did not include another tranche of funding for governance, called ‘policy and institutional development’ – part of which supports the burning of fossil fuels.

“In countries that produce hydrocarbons, these need to be considered as part of the overall energy strategy. In countries where natural gas is available, the development of this resource often provides a critical alternative to coal-fired power generation,” said the spokeswoman, who added that gas was a “clean flexible fuel”. The bank did not provide an estimate of how much it had put towards the fossil fuel industry through this type of funding.

Sasanka Thilakasiri, who advises Oxfam International on economic justice issues, said:“If the World Bank is suggesting that they are investing in fossil fuels via loop holes, this flies in the face of the good things they have been saying in moving towards a low-carbon economy. The World Bank needs to close this loop hole.”

“Any sort of lending from public institutions, including the World Bank, is a subsidy,” said BankWatch campaigns director Petr Hlobil, who monitors global financing of fossil fuels. “This is the hypocrisy within the institution.”

Graphic covering cost for oil and renewable energy. (photo: Oil Change International)
Data covering the cost for oil and renewable energy. (photo: Oil Change International)

The World Bank’s data for 2013-14 shows its fossil fuel funding fell to $1.3bn. At the same time its policy and institutional support more than trebled to $1.6bn.

OCI said a $19.8m project in Ghana for “oil and gas capacity building” and one in Mozambique that provided $24.2m to improve the management of coal, oil and gas extraction were examples of finance that could be categorised as policy funding, but facilitated the burning of more fossil fuels.

In addition, OCI said it was its view that projects to build transmission lines to carry fossil fuel-generated electricity still constituted support for fossil fuels.

“A lot of World Bank support goes to supporting the infrastructure around the fossil fuel industry, not just generation itself,” said Petra Kjell, environment programme manager at the Bretton Woods Project (BWP), who said the OCI report was consistent with BWP’s previous research into the bank’s patronage of the fossil fuel industry.

The bank disputed the claim that financing for transmission was support for fossil fuels. “A significant proportion of bank transmission/distribution financing is used to rehabilitate and upgrade inefficient old grids – improving overall emissions,” said the spokeswoman.

Kim has also been a strong advocate for a carbon price. In January at Davos he said “governments must put a price on pollution”. Financial analysts, including Mark Carney the governor of the Bank of England, have warned that a carbon price will render many fossil fuel reserves valueless. Kim himself has described the “systemic risk associated with carbon-intensive activities”.

Yet OCI found the bank had put $643m into projects that contained some element of fossil fuel exploration during 2013-14.

The bank’s spokeswoman said: “In some developing countries renewable costs and lack of base load alternatives mean that fossil fuels will remain part of the energy mix. We won’t solve the climate challenge by targeting energy use in least developed countries. The focus should be on the biggest emitters.”

The discovery of new reserves in developing countries traps them into an economic model that would be incompatible with a working carbon tax, said Shelagh Whitley , a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute.

“The World Bank actively shapes energy policies in developing countries and should be backing green and low carbon energy. Instead, the direction of its financial support risks locking the poorest countries into outdated economic models powered by dirty fuels. We could end up with parallel worlds of sustainable, clean energy for the rich and dead-end polluting power for the poor,” she said.

Fossil Fuel Reserve Must Stay Buried to Prevent Climate Change


Coast Guard continues response to allision, oil spill south of New OrleansNew research is first to identify which reserves must not be burned to keep global temperature rise under 2C, including over 90% of US and Australian coal and almost all Canadian tar sands
By Damian Carrington, Guardian UK 08 January 14

Vast amounts of oil in the Middle East, coal in the US, Australia and China and many other fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change, according to the first analysis to identify which existing reserves cannot be burned.

The new work reveals the profound geopolitical and economic implications of tackling global warming for both countries and major companies that are reliant on fossil fuel wealth. It shows trillions of dollars of known and extractable coal, oil and gas, including most Canadian tar sands, all Arctic oil and gas and much potential shale gas, cannot be exploited if the global temperature rise is to be kept under the 2C safety limit agreed by the world’s nations. Currently, the world is heading for a catastrophic 5C of warming and the deadline to seal a global climate deal comes in December at a crunch UN summit in Paris.

“We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit,” said Christophe McGlade, at University College London (UCL), and who led the new research published in the journal Nature. The work, using detailed data and well-established economic models, assumed cost effective climate policies would use the cheapest fossil fuels first, with more expensive fuels priced out of a world in which carbon emissions were strictly limited. For example, the model predicts that significant cheap-to-produce conventional oil would be burned but that the carbon limit would be reached before more expensive tar sands oil could be used.

It was already known that there is about three times more fossil fuel in reserves that could be exploited today than is compatible with 2C, and over 10 times more fossil fuel resource that could be exploited in future. But the new study is the first to reveal which fuels from which countries would have to be abandoned. It also shows that technology to capture and bury carbon emissions, touted by some as a way to continue substantial fossil fuel use in power stations, makes surprisingly little difference to the amount of coal, oil and gas deemed unburnable.

Major fossil fuel companies face the risk that significant parts of their reserves will become worthless, with Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Exxaro owning huge coal reserves and Lukoil, Exxon Mobil, BP, Gazprom and Chevron owning massive oil and gas reserves.

If the world’s nations keep their pledge to combat climate change, the analysis finds the prospects are bleakest for coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels. Globally, 82% of today’s reserves must be left underground. In major coal producing nations like the US, Australia and Russia, more than 90% of coal reserves are unused in meeting the 2C pledge. In China and India, both heavy and growing coal users, 66% of reserves are unburnable.

While the prospects for gas are better, the study still found 50% of global reserves must remain unburned. But there are stark regional variations, with the giant gas producers in the Middle East and Russia having to leave huge quantities underground, while the US and Europe can exploit 90% or more of their reserves to replace coal and provide local power to their large cities. Some fracking for shale gas is consistent with the 2C target, according to the study, but is dominated by the existing industry in the US, with China, India, Africa and the Middle East needing to leave 80% of their potential shale gas unburned.

Oil has the lowest proportion of unburnable fuel, with a third left unused. However, the Middle East is still required to leave 260bn barrels of oil in the ground, an amount equivalent to Saudi Arabia’s entire oil reserve. The study’s conclusion on the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands is blunt, finding production must fall to “negligible” levels after 2020 if the 2C scenario is to be fulfilled. The research also finds no climate-friendly scenario in which any oil or gas is drilled in the Arctic.

The new analysis calls into question the gigantic sums of private and government investment being ploughed into exploration for new fossil fuel reserves, according to UCL’s Professor Paul Ekins, who conducted the research with McGlade. “In 2013, fossil fuel companies spent some $670bn (£443bn) on exploring for new oil and gas resources. One might ask why they are doing this when there is more in the ground than we can afford to burn,” he said.

“The investors in those companies might feel that money is better spent either developing low-carbon energy sources or being returned to investors as dividends,” said Ekins.

“One lesson of this work is unmistakably obvious: when you’re in a hole, stop digging,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org which is campaigning to get investors to dump their fossil fuel stocks. “These numbers show that unconventional and ‘extreme’ fossil fuel – Canada’s tar sands, for instance – simply have to stay in the ground.”

“Given these numbers, it makes literally no sense for the industry to go hunting for more fossil fuel,” McKibben said. “We’ve binged to the edge of our own destruction. The last thing we need now is to find a few more liquor stores to loot.”

Financial experts, including the Bank of England and Goldman Sachs, have begun taking seriously the risk that expensive fossil fuel projects will be rendered worthless by future climate action. James Leaton, research director at the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) said: “Investors are already using the detailed CTI cost curves to start identifying how low demand and price scenarios could play out.”

The research also highlights the contradiction of governments seeking to maximise their nation’s fossil fuel extraction, as in the UK, while simultaneously pledging to limit global warming to 2C. Ekins said if governments approved new fossil fuel production, they should be asked what resources elsewhere would not be exploited.

“If some UK shale gas resources turn out to be economically viable, and provided the local environmental impacts can be made acceptable, I would say we should use them,” he said. “But the caveat is what fossil fuels should we then not be using from somewhere else, if we are going to keep within the carbon budget. That is a question I have never heard asked by a policy maker in this country.”

If a global deal is signed in December to keep most fossil fuels in the ground, then compensating the losers will be key, according to Michael Jakob, a climate change economist at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. “If you really want to convince developing countries to leave their coal in the ground, you have to offer something else and I don’t think the Saudis will leave that oil in the ground if they get nothing for it,” he said, citing green technology including CCS, as well as financial compensation.

Jakob said the challenge was enormous, but that it provided benefits as well as costs: “There are huge sums at stake, but not just on the losers’ side but also on the winners’ side. Some assets will lose value, but others will gain value, like solar and wind power and land for biomass production.” In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that tackling global warming by diverting hundred of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%.

Source: Reader Supported News

Also read:
Denmark Sets New World Record for Renewable Energy in 2014, Powering 39 Percent of Country With Wind
Here’s Why Keystone XL Is the Wrong Choice for Our Nation-By Robert Redford
This Fix Is (Almost) In on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Groundbreaking UN Report Warns Climate Change a Threat to Global Security and Mankind


Drought

By Brandon Baker, EcoWatch 01 April 14

While climate change reports are far from a new phenomenon, an international study released Monday morning should be enough to give any human being reason to act and/or demand action from legislators and the energy industry around them.

For the first time, a United Nations panel has concluded that the list of widely known climate change impacts—including extreme weather and warming—could soon grow to include increased strains on water and food supplies, leading to civil resource wars, migration and international conflict.

That’s on top of assertions that the effects of climate change are already seen on every continent and oceans on the planet, and that we’re “ill-prepared” for them.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group II, which compiled the report. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”

By all accounts, the report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability is the most comprehensive report on climate change released on a global scale. A total of 309 authors and editors from 70 countries were selected to produce the report. Additionally, 436 contributors and nearly 1,800 experts and government reviewers provided input. The report’s impending release led to a flurry of responses and interpretations over the weekend that all agree that fossil fuel divestment needs to end now.

“Oil rigs and coal power plants are weapons of mass destruction, loading the atmosphere with destructive carbon emissions that don’t respect national borders,” Jen Maman, peace adviser at Greenpeace International, said. “To protect our peace and security, we must disarm them and accelerate the transition to clean and safe renewable energy that’s already started.”

Chris Field, another IPCC co-chair, told The Guardian that the group that compiled the report realized it was high time to move beyond weather and energy related impacts when discussing the risks of a changing climate.

“If we want to take a smart approach to the future, we need to consider a full range of possible outcomes and that means not only the more likely outcomes, but also outcomes for truly catastrophic impacts, even if those are lower probability,” Field said.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist, author, professor and director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center, said the report shows that “increased competition for diminishing resources among a growing global population is unfortunately a perfect prescription for increased conflict.” In the IPCC’s view, it’s most striking that these effects on our agriculture, health, livelihood and ecosystems are taking place “from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.”

That means the potential for mass migrations and competition is just as widespread. Mann adds that it will have an extreme impact on biodiversity.

“The Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world and a home to much ocean biodiversity, is being hit with a double whammy—increased coral bleaching because of hotter waters and the increased acidity of the ocean water as growing atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to penetrate into the upper ocean,” Mann said. “In fact, scientists conclude that this combination of factors will kill off the Great Barrier Reef and nearly all the world’s coral reefs in a matter of decades if we continue with the course that we’re on.”

Hoda Baraka of 350.org says keeping coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground is the best way to minimize that course.

To those who are concerned about the potential financial cost of adapting to the demands of climate change, Amalie Obsuan, a Greenpeace campaigner for Southeast Asia, suggests examining the true cost of warming.

“Let’s not get distracted by limited economic models or be blinded by global [gross domestic product],” she said. “What value can you put on the lives of 8,000 people left dead or missing by typhoon Haiyan? Or what is the cost of the trauma of children being torn from their mother’s arms due to storm surges?

“That is the true cost of climate change that should define the urgency of the action we take.”

Source: Reader Supported News