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Natural gas as a “transitional” fuel?

Only in the gas industry’s dreams

If we magically shut off all natural gas the question arises as to whether we could maintain current levels of energy to heat homes, power electricity, and support some industrial processes.  The natural gas industry argues heatedly that we cannot. They say that natural gas is a necessary, even critical, transition fuel to be relied upon until renewable energy sources develop enough capacity and deliverability to supply our needs.  In effect, it serves as a bridge to a full renewable energy world.

Such an argument indicates that fossil fuel industries know that in the long run that their financial viability is quite shaky, as it may be simply a matter of how long it takes for renewables to replace the fossils.  Nevertheless, in the meantime, the gas industry hopes that they can delay the inevitable for decades to squeeze out what profits they can.  Claiming to be a transitional fuel represents that lifeline.

Julian Popov, in Euractiv, points out that this argument about gas being a transitional fuel does not hold water.   As he notes, “if we look at countries that significantly reduced coal in power generation, we will see that coal is not replaced by gas and doesn’t behave as a transitional fuel. Countries reduce coal, but gas consumption does not increase but instead stays the same or even declines.”  For example, in the UK coal generation peaked at 40% in 2012 and today coal generates less than 3% of British electricity.  It is also being phased out entirely.  Yet in the last two decades, gas demand has remained flat and both gas and nuclear are in relative decline over the previous five years.  In Germany, over the last decade coal generation declined by 44% and nuclear by 49% but natural gas increased by only 13%.   Yet lights and heat remained on in German

 

 

 

Moreover, these developments were happening when natural gas prices were low and the costs of renewables were high.  Now we see a dramatic lowering in the cost of renewables and significant rising prices in gas. Under such circumstances the chance of natural gas serving as a transitional fuel is more fantasy than fact.

Popov says that “The reality is that gas does not replace coal. So far, coal has been replaced primarily by renewables and energy efficiency in power generation.”   He also notes how in buildings, another sector where natural gas has been widely relied on, gas is being replaced by heat pumps, efficient insulation and renewables, including hydrogen.  In transport, battery-operated vehicles are steadily winning the race for passenger cars.

While natural gas continues to have some limited value, Popov argues that it is not as a “transitional fuel” but as a “fuel of last resort” that might fill an occasional gap in energy supply.  Yet other technologies are more helpful, and less harmful in filling any occasional gap.  Those options include batteries, market integration, cross-border grid connectivity, digitalisation of the energy system, and others.

Finally, Popov points out that calling gas a transitional fuel is basically a PR slogan of the industry.  But language matters.  That slogan is dangerous as it is being used to push for gas as a “transitional activity,” along with nuclear, under the EU sustainable finance Taxonomy being finalized at the moment.  See Sources on Taxonomy below.

 

Sources:

Julian Popov, “Natural Gas is not a transitional fuel, so let’s stop saying it is,” Euractiv (6 Dec 2021). bit.ly/3HsRJxP

Akos Losz and Jonathan Elkind, “The Roles of Natural Gas in the Energy Transition,” Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy (24 sept 2019).  bit.ly/3sKGFI2

T&E, “That inedible dish called the EU Taxonomy” in the Commentary section of the January 2022 issue of www.irishenvironment.com

“EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy” in ieBLOG section of the January 2022 issue of www.irishenvironment.com

 

The new climate denialism

Migration and borders

Over the past decade climate denialism has seemed to fade.  Increasingly those who want to belittle climate breakdown can no longer rely on claims that it just does not exist.  The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the breakdown does exist, it is based in large part on humans using fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases, and it is getting worse already.   The explosion of extreme weather events across the globe, tied to climate breakdown, has sealed the fate of traditional climate denialism.

But there are still plenty of people, with lots of money, who oppose doing anything about climate breakdown, often for personal financial reasons, e.g., their economic livelihood requires continuing reliance on fossil fuels and other GHGs.  They may have abandoned old arguments but they have not given up.  Rather they have merely shifted tactics and we need to be alert.

Opponents of climate action have increasingly turned one of our own arguments against us, with disturbing implications.

 

We have often argued that if nothing is done to control and eliminate GHGs, we will see massive waves of environmental refugees fleeing places being destroyed by floods, fires, famine, and droughts.   There may be as many as 1.2 billion such refuges by 2050.  Our conclusion has been that such waves need to be prevented by controlling or eliminating GHG emissions.

With a degree of perversity, those opposed to climate actions conclude that the problem is the wave, not the cause of the wave. They argue that “these people” riding the waves are immigrants who will bring their dirty ways, their pollutants, and carbon dioxide and GHGs with them (reflecting Trump on immigration).  So the solution is to stop these generally poor and disadvantaged people from coming to where we are, with walls and borders and repressive immigration policies, instead of stopping climate breakdown.  Stopping immigration becomes an environmental/green project!

The core of this anti-immigrant argument feeds off the nationalism that runs rampant across the globe at the moment: More walls, more borders, more exclusion (see Milman).

Of course the idea that the people in these waves are a major source of climate breakdown is belied by the reality that the richest 1% of the world are responsible for more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015.

We need to continue to be advocates for those ”fleeing climate-induced disasters” but we need to be sensitive to how our argument is being turned against the vulnerable people sucked up into these waves.

 

Sources

Oliver Milman, “Climate denial is waning on the right. What’s replacing it might be just as scary,” The Guardian (21 Nov 2021).  bit.ly/3cUt2x1

“Eco-Fascism: The dark side of environmentalism” in ieBLOG section of www.irishenvironment.com (1 Sept 2019).

 

The Writing on the Climate Wall

Businesses and industries can read it

A recent virtual Open Newsroom discussion, sponsored by thejournal.ie, was held on “The climate crisis and COP26.”  Hosted by Christine Bohan, it featured enviro journalists John Gibbons (think_or_swim) and Niall Sargent (Noteworthy.ie), and Lauren Boland and Orla Dwyer of The Journal.  The focus was on an assessment of the current status of climate and biodiversity actions and the expectations of what may or may not happen at the UN COP26 talks in Glasgow in early November.

Comparisons were made to the results of the Copenhagen (2009) and Paris COPs (2015), the former generally recognized as a failure and the later offering more promise, as yet unmet.   Several were encouraged by the increased  focus on biodiversity, and its critical interplay with climate breakdown.  Positive signs were seen in more actions being taken on climate actions since Paris, including in Ireland; the development of concrete solutions for aspects of climate problems; a more informed public, again notable in Ireland; growing data on the costs of actions and inaction; and the climate youth movement.  There was general agreement on a “cautious optimism” for the COP26 talks.

We suggest there is another force at work that receives little attention, or any credit, but which is becoming more helpful in dealing with climate breakdown.  As surprising as it sounds, the credit goes to the business/industry community.

Many companies, and their reactionary political supporters, continue to resist efforts to switch to renewable energy and other sustainable climate actions.  Much time and effort is spent trying to convince these reactionaries to mend their ways and go green, but there are large economic benefits accruing to the old carbon-rich ways.  The entrenched resistance of the fossil fuel interests is a constant reminder.

But many companies are reading the writing on the climate wall:  almost every credible scientist (now up to 99%) and reliable study demonstrates the reality of climate breakdown, resulting from GHG emissions, especially from the burning of fossil fuels. And all the experts agree that the only way forward must rely on turning away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources and sustainable practices.

 

 

 

 

Cambridge University – L.Tan

 

These messages have been burned into the consciousness of all of us by the increasing number and severity of extreme weather events over the past several decades.  And these extreme weather events support the recent IPCC special reports in October 2018 and August 2021(Code Red), and the shifts in public awareness in Ireland as reflected by the Citizens’ Assembly, the growing proactive work of the Climate Advisory Council and EPA, the Oireachtas Joint on Climate Action, and the new Climate Bill that is beginning to unfold.   Recent US studies by military and intelligence agencies warn of increased conflicts within and between nations, increased dislocation and migration of millions, and heightened military tension as a result of climate breakdown.

No wonder businesses and industries increasingly understand what is happening with the climate.  Like it or not the world has changed and will change even more and faster, and there is no going back. If they want to survive and prosper, they have to build and operate for a world run by renewable energy and sustainable practices.  It is in their own best interest.  And ours.

Even the most intransigent fossil fuel interests know their carbon time is limited, though many will still fight like demons, and spend like a profligate to extend their carbon time on earth.

In a recent interview in The Guardian, Jane Goodall acknowledges the implications of this quickly forming consensus.  She points out that companies will continue to grow more supportive of climate action because a more sustainable ethic is “creeping in” and younger people (the future consumers) are ”growing up with a different understanding.”  And there is the writing on the wall.  She gives the example of the soft drink manufacturers who contribute to water shortages. As she notes, “If they go on using water the way they are using water, they won’t be able to make their drinks anymore. So they have to find methods which are more saving.”

Hoping that such a development continues, what do we do to make use of it.

First, don’t get bent out of shape when some regressive business or industry fights back.  Look around for those who have joined the consensus, form alliances with them, and work with them.  We have the example of local governments stepping in and assuming the lead for climate actions when national or regional governments fail to do so.

Second, even if the UN COP talks deliver less than we could hope for, trust that as long as the people at large continue to demand more proactive climate actions, businesses will pay attention and plan their own future to survive in a renewable energy world.

But we’re not delusional about any fundamental transformation of how business is conducted across the globe.  While we argue that certain changes are inevitable, that only means they are “certain to happen; unavoidable.”   But it is not clear just when they will happen.  And with climate breakdown things can turn deadly quickly.

So keep highlighting the writing on the climate wall and work with those who can read, and continue to push against the climate illiterate.

 

Sources:

Dominic Rushe, ‘Reading the writing on the wall’: why Wall Street is acting on the climate crisis: The industry has backed polluters for decades. Now, amid growing pressure, Wall Street says it’s going green,” The Guardian (16 March 2021).  bit.ly/3G7ZMA3

Emine Saner, “Jane Goodall on fires, floods, frugality and the good fight: ‘People have to change from within’,” The Guardian (20 Oct 2021).  bit.ly/3aTjIs7

Christopher Flavelle, Julian E. Barnes, Eileen Sullivan and Jenifer Steinhauer, “Reports Lay Out Climate’s Threat to U. S. Security,” The New York Times (22 Oct 2021). www.nytimes.com/2021/10/21/climate/climate-change-national-security.html

Jon Chorley, “Businesses Must Step Up On Climate Change—and Tech Innovations Are Key,” Forbes (18 Oct 2021).  bit.ly/3muK8qZ

Business Strategies to Address Climate Change, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions  bit.ly/3Ct3ulF

See, also, Andrew Phillips and Charles Seaford, “The Climate Consensus. The Public’s Views on How to Cut Emissions: Results from the Climate Calculator,” DEMOS in the Commentary section of the current (November 2021) issue of www.irishenvironment.com

Lobbying in favor of those who would destroy the earth

Is that ethical?

Lobbying has always had its dark side.  In a classical instance of lobbying to lower taxes for businesses, we see this dark side at work:

For six years, Audrey Ellis and Adam Feuerstein worked together at PwC, the giant accounting firm, helping the world’s biggest companies avoid taxes.

In mid-2018, one of Mr. Feuerstein’s clients, an influential association of real estate companies, was trying to persuade government officials that its members should qualify for a new federal tax break. Mr. Feuerstein knew just the person to turn to for help. Ms. Ellis had recently joined the Treasury Department, and she was drafting the rules for this very deduction.

That summer, Ms. Ellis met with Mr. Feuerstein and his client’s lobbyists. The next week the Treasury granted their wish  — a decision potentially worth billions of dollars to PwC’s clients.

About a year later, Ms. Ellis returned to PwC, where she was immediately promoted to partner. She and Mr. Feuerstein now work together advising large companies on how to exploit wrinkles in the tax regulation that Ms. Ellis helped write. (See New York Times below).

In many such cases the end result is that a company or industry pays less in taxes (and makes more profit) or obtains some economic benefit as a result of manipulating the regulations.

But now the stakes are much higher. It is not just money that is at stake.  It is also the fate of the planet.

Over the past several decades there have been exposés about how business and industries have spent small fortunes attempting to reduce or eliminate governmental regulations that support environmental protections. Most at risk are efforts to fight climate breakdown.  Exxon Mobil has often stood as the poster child for these efforts.

While the focus has been on the companies involved, it is time to also focus on the lobbyists who serve the interest of those working to destroy environmental regulations.

In the Commentary section of the current issue of this magazine is a copy of a speech by the EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, “Ethical lobbying in a post-COVID world,” given to a group of global public affairs specialist, or lobbyists.  Many of those at the talk represented tech, energy, transport, farming and similar companies.

Her speech explores how the Covid-19 pandemic (and the associated massive recovery plans) and plans to deal with recent extreme weather events are being impacted by lobbyists.  The Ombudsman raises the question: “Can what some lobbyists do ever be considered ethically neutral if it is knowingly directed at watering down regulations designed to tackle the climate crisis.”   As she notes, “Thanks to skilled lobbyists and receptive politicians, EU environmental law often emerges weaker than their initial draft. Just Google EU environmental law and ‘watered down’ and you will find a graveyard of failed ambition.”

At the moment we face a concerted onslaught within the UK against the “bonfire” of EU laws that had been vilified in the Brexit campaign and now face revision or extinction by the Johnson administration.  Regulations and laws on everything from genetically modified farming to medical devices to vehicle standards are on top of bonfire.  The aim is to review, modify or repeal (not to strengthen) the “legislative sausage machine” in Brussels, all to “improve growth and prosperity for everyone” (not to protect better the earth we live on).   It will all end in a “massive regulatory cull” and bonfire.

The use of bonfire as a metaphor carries loaded political associations for those in Northern Ireland where bonfires are lit on the night before the Twelfth of July, an Ulster Protestant celebration.

The Brexit minister in the Johnson administration also announced that the public could contribute to this conflagration through a standards commission that could get ideas from any British citizen.

Of course we know that those who will offer all sorts of ideas for the massive regulatory cull will be lobbyists for those with vested interests in the regulations.  The work of ploughing through massive amounts of regulations and revising them to fit the purposes of private business clients is time consuming.   And time costs money.  Since such lobbyists have substantially more assets and resources than environmental NGOs, it is hard to identify and to counter the influence of the private lobbyists.

While there has been some success in exposing the efforts of the fossil fuel companies, perhaps it is time to expose the work of the lobbyists as well.

Do lobbyists really want to be identified with efforts to destroy the earth?  Do their children?

 

Sources:

Jesse Drucker and Danny Hakim, “How Accounting Giants Craft Favorable Tax Rules From Inside Government:  Lawyers from top accounting firms do brief stints in the Treasury Department, with the expectation of big raises when they return,” The New York Times (20 September 2021).  nyti.ms/3izFqpx

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, “Ethical lobbying in a post-COVID world,” re-printed in the Commentary section in the current, October issue of www.irishenvironment.com   The speech was originally published on the Ombudsman website at www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/speech/en/146894

Lisa O’Carroll, “Rules on GM farming and cars to be top of UK bonfire of EU laws:  Minister reveals plans to change laws inherited from EU, with rules on medical devices also in crosshairs,” The Guardian (16 Sept 2021).  bit.ly/3iBMxxJ

Tom McTague, “Brexit boom for Britain’s lobbyists,” Politico (12 July 2017).  politi.co/3zS6LsA

 

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