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Glasgow City Council bans polluters from public spaces during COP26

Thanks to Glasgow

 

The critical UN sponsored global climate talks known as the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP 26) take place in Glasgow Scotland in late October and early November 2021.  These talks are directly linked to the COP talks in Paris, in 2015, where countries committed to increasing their pledges to reduce global warming by the 26th COP.

At the COP talks, there are formal negotiations between governmental delegates in attempts to arrive at a consensus on how to move forward on tackling climate breakdown.  Any formal agreement or action has to be adopted by this body.  At the same time, there are meetings inside the COP event organised by delegations from governmental departments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).  Finally, there are thousands of representatives of civil society organisations and other interested entities from across the world who will stage meetings, talks, demonstrations, protests and possibly direct action to draw attention to climate issues and what is happening inside the COP.  This fringe action mostly takes place outside formal UN spaces, and it has often functioned as the annual meeting of the global climate movement.

Then there are, as always, the giant, heavily-funded fossil fuel companies and other big polluters who tend to get free reign to lobby openly and behind closed doors in the side events and corridors of the COP.   The lobbying is intended to water down any policy decisions that might infringe on the economic interests of fossil fuel companies.

Since these companies have been the main drivers of climate breakdown, there has always been a significant disconnect between their dark presence and the lofty goals and objective of the COP talks .  They are shadows that block out the sunshine that otherwise could penetrate the talks.

The host for the COP 26 is the UK government, with Glasgow serving as the local host for the events around the COP 26.

 

 

 

 

In an unprecedented action, the Glasgow City Council passed a resolution banning polluting companies from public venues under the City’s control during the COP 26.  It is the first example of a host city counteracting the presence of particular vested interests while the talks take place. The motion requires that the Council: “will take steps to ensure that venues and community spaces either owned or operated by the Council are not used for the benefit of those who deny, ignore or wilfully contribute to catastrophic climate change, for the duration of COP26.”

Supporters of the resolution reasoned that it made no sense to allow those who continue to profit from climate breakdown be given any access to try to perpetuate those profits at the expense of the people most affected by the adverse impacts of that breakdown.

To implement the ban, the Council has produced criteria for identifying the climate culprits.

No one is deceived that this ban will stop the monied lobbyists for the fossil fuel interests from doing what they do behind closed doors, and in back alleys.  But they will be curtailed from doing it in public spaces.  Just as the talks are intended to protect our natural resources from the pollution by fossil fuels, the ban is there to protect our public spaces against the verbal pollution from lobbyists.

One article characterized those subject to the ban as ”climate laggards.”  Perhaps the next step is to consider banning those countries that remain “climate laggards” from participating in further talks.

 

Sources:

Glasgow Calls Out Polluters, COP26: What’s at Stake?  www.gcop.scot/cop26-whats-at-stake/Glasgow

Brendan Montague, “Polluters banned from COP26 public venues,” Ecologist (20 August 2021).  bit.ly/3DgIcIU

Sarah George, “Climate laggards to be banned from booking Glasgow’s public venues for COP26,” edie (20 August 2021).  bit.ly/3zgDIj5

EU’s “Fit for 55” and the carbon border tax

Is the fitness program more than an exercise in alliteration?

The recent EU plan for meeting its target of a 55% net emission reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 is titled “Fit for 55.”  The plan is part of the EU Green Deal and includes a wide range of policies and plans, totaling thousands of pages.

While the alliteration — “fit” for “fifty-five” — is clever, and we think cleverness in writing is helpful, it does raise a question as to whether the plan is an exercise in public relations or a meaningful step toward the GHG emission reduction target.

A preliminary assessment of the EU fitness program by the European Environmental Bureau is entitled “Why EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ is unfit and unfair.”  See EEB report in Commentary section of this issue of irish environment magazine.  The title certainly sets the tone for EEB’s assessment and the EEB rightfully points out the weaknesses of the plan.  A Podcast by the German media company DW on the “Fit for 55” is also available in this issue, and presents varying views of the fitness program.

 

 

 

Maritime Cyprus

 

We note some key contributions made by the fitness program at this time.  It cannot be lost that the Fit for 55 plan comes as everybody is gearing up for the 26th UN Conference of the Parties (COP), scheduled for Glasgow in late November.  In Fit for 55, the EU has laid down a marker for other political bodies and countries with specific and wide-ranging plans for advancing the global discourse on achieving net emissions by 2050.  The plans are, at times, ambitious and, at other times, timid.  And the fitness plan has to survive rounds of legislative and executive action in the EU structure before it can be implemented.

At the same time, the EU is viewed, rightfully, as one of the more progressive voices on global warming talks, and the fitness plan can serve to raise the threshold for others in the COP talks. Certainly the UK as host of the COP talks and as newly emerging from the EU should feel some pressure to engage in a meaningful discourse at the COP.  But Boris Johnson can be as unpredictable, and as evasive, as Trump so we shall see.

Another example of how the fitness plan can be useful is inclusion of an EU carbon border adjustment mechanism (“carbon border tax”).  The border tax is designed to counter carbon leakage which occurs when industries in country “A” are subject to a carbon price on their goods and they lose business to goods imported from Country “B” where the carbon price is lower or non-existent.  For example, any such carbon tax within the EU would have significant implications for iron, steel and aluminum coming into the EU from Russia and Turkey.  It has been estimated that Russia exported about €8 billion worth of covered goods in 2019.

The proposed carbon border tax is scheduled to come into effect in 2023, with a 3-year transition which would be subject only to reporting requirements, and the payments under the tax would be phased in over another 10 years.  Initially only 5 sectors would be affected:  iron and steel; aluminium; cement; fertilisers; and, electricity.

What we note here about the border tax merely scratches the surface.  The details required to implement a carbon border tax are complicated, extensive and far from settled.

It is the very complexity of the carbon tax plan that underlines its importance.  It is clearly not a pie-in-the-sky notion; it is not vague.  Rather the seriousness of the plan can serve as a model for others.  With the EU Fit for 55 on the table, already the American, Canadian and even the British are exploring the notion and what they might need to put forward in response.

The idea of a carbon border tax has been bouncing around climate talks for some time.  It is a specific application of a carbon tax, with geopolitical ramifications by using trade policies to advance climate action.

At least the EU commitment to such a plan takes the idea to a new level and hopefully the 26th COP will buzz with such talk.

Sources:

‘Fit for 55’: delivering the EU’s 2030 Climate Target on the way to climate neutrality, COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS (14 July 2021).  bit.ly/3f9lHLg

 

 

Lessons from the COVID pandemic for climate breakdown

First of all, trust the scientists

 

Over this past year lots has been written and spoken about what lessons we might learn from the COVID pandemic for dealing with climate breakdown.  They both affect the health of millions, with over 3.5 million dead from COVID-19; they disrupt the economies of almost every economy; and, they are subject to being distorted in political discourse.  We also found that delaying to confront a critical problem is dangerous and costly.  There is deep inequality with poor and disadvantaged communities suffering more than privileged people.   Both crises are global in nature and scope and require international cooperation.

A critical lesson has been about science.  In the midst of the COVID pandemic, scientists were center stage everywhere for much of the time, especially when matters were unclear.   Of course, there were exceptions in the Trump White House and a few other regressive and repressive regimes, although even Trump could not entirely ignore the scientists.

We relied on the health scientists to explain what this COVID thing is, what we might be able to do to slow it down or minimize it (masks and social distancing), and how we might stop it (vaccines).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

 

Aligned against the health scientists were money interests that pushed to reopen local economies despite the grave risks in doing so.  The tension between the advice by the health professionals and the lobbying of the money interests was obvious and continues as we write.  Of course the money interests pushed the health community to support the economic actions, or at least minimize the public opposition to reopening.  But the public paid particular attention to the health professionals, and their judgments, and it was clear that even Trump could not prevail in reopening what he wanted to reopen without endorsement of the health professionals.  That has been largely true for other national, state and local governments across the world.

At the end of the day, Dr. Fauci in the US was trusted far more than was Trump and others like him.

In a similar vein, the general public, and even to some extent national governments, are relying more and more on panels of experts to define the nature and scope and extent of climate breakdown, and the need for corrective action.  For instance, the Climate Change Committee in the UK has been a clear and powerful voice in advocating for more proactive responses to the climate risks by the UK government.  In Ireland, the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) has become increasingly more outspoken about the failures of the Irish government, a known laggard on climate action.  This CCAC has served as a model for even the Irish EPA, the Citizens Assembly and the Oireachtas (legislature) Joint Climate Committee for pushing for more climate action.

At the international level, the long-term consensus of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reinforced by increasingly frequent and extreme weather events, has effectively silenced the climate denialists in most countries.

While these lessons are instructive, we also have to admit that one of the crowning achievements of the scientific community in the fight against COVID-19 was the development of the vaccines.

Unfortunately there is no vaccine for climate breakdown.

 

Sources:

World Health Organisation (WHO), Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Climate change (22 April 2020).  bit.ly/33AU73n

Editorial, “Climate and COVID-19: converging crises,” The Lancet (9 Jan 2021).  bit.ly/3txF316

“Covid-19 and Climate Change,” Climate Central (28 April 2021).  bit.ly/3o2LcBo

Klenert, D., Funke, F., Mattauch, L. et al. Five Lessons from COVID-19 for Advancing Climate Change Mitigation. Environ Resource Econ 76, 751–778 (2020). doi.org/10.1007/s10640-020-00453-w

 

One Very Dark Day for Fossil Fuel Companies

And a bright shining moment for the rest of us

Fossil fuel companies suffered significant losses in court and in shareholder actions, all on May 26, 2021.  And a major user of fossil fuel has committed to shake its dependence on fossil fuels.  The results reflect a distinct, growing expression of institutional concerns and action over climate breakdown.

Here’s what happened.

A Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to significantly cut its emissions over the next ten years.  Basing its decision in part on European human-rights law, the court found that Shell had helped drive “dangerous climate change.”  While Shell was taking actions to modify its business plans in response to climate change, the court found that it was not enough in light of current science.  The court ordered Shell to cut its own emissions and those of its suppliers and customers by 45% by the end of 2030 in comparison with 2019 levels.  The specificity of the order is impressive.  The court ruling can, of course, be reversed but as we have pointed out in the last several issues there is a growing body of legal cases supporting such action.  See ieBLOG posts cited below.

 

 

 

 

 

Exxon Mobil lost a critical fight to one of its shareholders, a small investor group, Engine No. 1, that owns only 0.02% of the company’s stock.  The investor group nominated four people to Exxon’s Board, and two were elected, with the help of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.  As usual Exxonj did not sit idly by and spent $35 million to block the Engine 1 candidates.

 

 

 

 

 

At the Chevron annual meeting, a shareholder resolution required the company to reduce its scope 3 emissions — greenhouse gases that are released by the use of the oil, gas and other products the company sells.  The resolution passed with 61% of the vote, despite stiff opposition by the company’s management.

 

 

 

 

 

At the same time, Ford Motor Company announced that its all-electric truck F–150 had received 70,000 reservations for a 2022 launch of the truck.  Ford also increased its spending on electrification, including battery development, to more that $30 billion by 2025, up from $22 billion.

The convergence of these actions on one day has been described as the light at the end of the tunnel, a tipping point, a game-changer, a powerful signal. But whatever positive read we give to these events, we should not be deluded.  The fossil fuel companies understand that they soon will no longer be able to compete with renewable energy.  But they are here to stay as long as they can continue to create the conditions that allow them to make lots of money.

Their life span may be shortening but their lust remains robust.

 

Sources:

Bill McKibben, “Big Oil’s Bad, Bad Day,” The New Yorker (26 May 2021).  bit.ly/2SrOmCZ

Lorraine Woellert, Ben Lefebvre and Amiricva Hernandez, “’Powerful signal’: In a single day, Big Oil suffers historic blows on climate,” Politico (26 May 2021).  politi.co/3i12i1s

Jillian Ambrose, “‘Black Wednesday’ for big oil as courtrooms and boardrooms turn on industry,” The Guardian (29 May 2021).  bit.ly/3uyttTV

“Extending the reach of environmental litigation,” in the ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 February 2021).  bit.ly/3uoGPCc

“Continuing to extend the reach of environmental litigation,” in the ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 March 2021).  bit.ly/34shX1K

First there were big fossil fuel companies manipulating information on climate breakdown

Now the big meat and dairy companies are at it

 

Environmental protection efforts have been stalked for decades by the big money of fossil fuel interests.  These interests have spent not so small fortunes fostering denials of the realities of climate breakdown.  When the fossil fuel companies began to attack and undermine any climate action that threatened carbon products, they adopted the lobbying and public relations strategies of the tobacco industry in its long-standing fight against any regulation of cigarettes.

You have to wonder about adopting the strategies of big tobacco.  While their efforts succeeded for decades, more recently they have been widely exposed and cigarette smoking has been deeply curtailed and even vilified.  The work by Naomi Oreskes, and Erik Comway, in Merchants of Doubt, exposed the heavily funded and aggressive public relations and political campaign by the tobacco industry to undermine the science of and governmental efforts for regulating cigarette smoking.  Oreske has also done much the same for the oil industry.

Now we find a similar campaign being developed by “Big Meat and Dairy.”  A recent study from New York University, “The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers,” concludes that:

Top U.S. meat and dairy companies, along with livestock and agricultural lobbying groups, have spent millions campaigning against climate action and sowing doubt about the links between animal agriculture and climate change…

It is the first peer-reviewed study that documents the individual carbon footprints of meat and dairy companies. Only four of the 35 companies had pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050; the others waffled to varying degrees.  Also, as is often found to be the case, especially in Ireland, the focus and commitments from the agri sector are on carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions whereas the primary emissions from the sector are of methane, a particularly potent though shorter lasting greenhouse gas (GHG).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generally, animal agriculture is responsible for about 14% of global GHGs, though in Ireland it is about 33%.  Interesting, because surprising, the study indicates that research has shown that the five largest livestock-based producers -— JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Fonterra — emitted more GHGs than ExxonMobil.  Despite this heavy loading of GHGs from agriculture, only 7 of 16 countries discuss animal agriculture as part of their plans to meet the Paris Accord.

Moreover, when the researchers analysed the companies’ future emissions compared to the emission reduction pledges of their home countries, they found that some companies’ emissions were higher than their respective home country’s total emission pledges.  This was true, for example, for Switzerland-based Nestlé and New Zealand-based dairy giant Fonterra.

In light of the major influence the agriculture sector has on GHG emissions and climate breakdown, it is disturbing to see the sector and individual companies denying climate breakdown and/or their role in the breakdown and opposing any climate regulation of the sector.  And they are not shy about spending money to fight climate regulations, including by public relations campaigns and through political candidates.

For example, in the U.S, the agribusiness spent $750 million on national political candidates from 2000 to 2020, close to the $1 billion spent by the energy sector.  For lobbying, the agri sector spent $2.5 billion from 2000 to 2019, compared to the $6.2 billion by energy and natural resource companies.  In comparing individual companies, Exxon spent substantial more dollars on campaigns and lobbying, but relative to each company’s revenues, Tyson spent double what Exxon spent on campaigns and 33% more on lobbying.

As with the fossil fuel interests, the meat and dairy industries also fund their own academic experts, who then publish research that minimizes or denies the adverse impacts of agriculture on climate breakdown.

The authors of the study note that there has been substantial research on fossil fuels industry’s efforts to influence public discourse but little on the agricultural industries’ similar campaigns.

This last note is especially relevant to Ireland.  In contrast to the US, there is little in the way of a fossil fuel industry and so little political influence from fossil fuel interests in Ireland.  But the agriculture and food sector exercise significant influence over socio-political affairs.  In particular they continue to push hard for an expansion of the sector despite its contributing about a third of Ireland’s GHG emissions.

What we need in Ireland is an independent and thorough assessment and evaluation of how the agri-food sector is trying to influence public perception and political action, or inaction, on climate breakdown.

Sources

Lazarus, O., McDermid, S. & Jacquet, J. “The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers.” Climatic Change 165, 30 (2021). doi.org/10.1007/s10584-021-03047-7

Samuel Sigal, “ It’s not just Big Oil. Big Meat also spends millions to crush good climate policy: A new study reveals how the companies you buy meat from block climate action,” Vox (13 April 2021).  bit.ly/3aDKbdq

See “Tobacco Strategy “ in iePEDIA section of irish environment magazine (1 April 2012).  bit.ly/3gyXkIL

See, “ExxonMobil’s Culpability for Climate Change Denialism,” in Reports section of irish environment magazine (1 October 2017).  bit.ly/3vdznKR