Tag Archives: climate policy

Could ecological interest rates help the Earth?

The global economy doesn’t reflect the Earth’s crisis and its warming climate. Might ecological interest rates help link them?

Andrew Simms, a political economist and co-author of the original Green New Deal, believes ecological interest rates could prevent financial institutions investing in fossil fuels and connect the monetary system to the reality of the planet’s finite ecosystems. This is an edited extract from his new pamphlet written jointly for Prime Economics, the New Weather Institute and the Rapid Transition Alliance.

LONDON, 3 March, 2021 − We need a new global economy, one which recognises the deepening crisis facing life on Earth and is designed to help to solve it. And a good way to build one, experts say, is to switch to something called ecological interest rates.

Interest rates usually capture people’s attention only if they have savings, when they’re bothered by low rates, or borrowings such as a mortgage, which means high ones. But economists are becoming unusually preoccupied with them, partly because it’s very likely that they will soon do something shocking and unusual: go negative.

There’s another reason, though. With intense focus on a green economic recovery after the pandemic, there’s a growing realisation that there is no real link between money, its cost and our ecological life-support system.

The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity, as a conservative annual assessment of ecological overshoot makes clear. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes.

The size of the economy, in turn, is fuelled by the supply of credit in different monetary forms. More money in circulation tends to increase conventional economic growth.

Excessive economic footprint

This doesn’t necessarily mean the productive economy is getting bigger, though. For example, if banks lend money in a risky way – as happened with the sub-prime mortgage debacle behind the 2007-08 financial crisis – they can create an asset bubble which, when it bursts, can trigger recession.

Interest rates are the price we pay to borrow money, and when the price of money is positive, which it usually is, we have to pay back more than we actually borrowed. So interest also motivates orthodox growth, which relies on exploiting the biosphere and human labour.

What matters with an issue like climate breakdown is what happens in aggregate, and how this relates to any change in impact needed for the economy to operate within a particular planetary boundary – in effect, to fit its shoe size.

The economy’s footprint is already too big. So, to be environmentally sustainable, improvements in material efficiency must be big enough not only to compensate for the effects of growth, but also to reduce absolute consumption in line with getting back to the right shoe size again.

For example, there’s a lot of hype about improved aviation fuel efficiency. But, between 2013 and 2019, aviation passenger traffic went up four times faster than fuel efficiency improved. Elsewhere, the carbon emission benefits of supposedly efficient hybrid cars were shown to be only around one third of those promised.

The International Resource Panel (IRP) report, Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future, found that emissions from the extraction and production of materials such as metals, minerals, woods and plastics more than doubled from 1995 to 2015, accounting for a quarter of global emissions. Measures to improve resource efficiency did not come close to cancelling out the rise.

“The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes”

Global resource use continues to grow. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently spoke of humanity waging a “suicidal war” on nature:  global material use is projected to rise to 170-184 billion tonnes by 2050.

Money is a means of exchange, a store and a measure of value, or a unit of account. In essence, though, it isn’t a note or a coin but a social contract, an agreement about how to allocate resources. And the way our current money system is allocating resources is pushing us rapidly over a climate and ecological cliff.

That’s because money – a social construct, “a promise to pay” – cannot be finite. We can always make another promise. But the ecosystem’s ability to fulfil that promise – to meet the liability – is finite.

A price is what you pay, in money, for goods or services. But in practice prices often don’t carry vital information − the human cost of production, the impact on human health, or current and future environmental damage.

And there are larger issues. If someone planned to build on a much-loved meadow, you would face two questions: how much would you pay to save it, or how much compensation would you demand for its loss? Two very different prices would result, one limited by your ability to pay, the other possibly infinitely high. It could be no price.

Prices are judgements of value. How would you set the price of the notional tonne of carbon which, when burned, tipped the balance towards irreversible runaway global warming? You’d ask the price of a climate capable of supporting human civilisation.

Heading for 4°C

Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, has said that the financial sector is investing in fossil fuels so “that if you add up the policies of all of the companies out there, they are consistent with warming of 3.7-3.8°C”. The globally agreed target is to keep climate heating below 1.5°C.

Many currencies are too big, covering areas that are too large and include a range of economic circumstances for which no single interest rate can be optimal. There are always some areas likely to be “overheating” and others that are struggling. You cannot set an interest rate that suits everyone; money is likely to be too cheap in one place or too expensive in another. Many people therefore argue for more currencies.

One way of reconnecting the money supply to the real world of natural resources is to have currencies which are backed by something real – like commodities. Several could address economic inequality (think various ways of providing universal income and/or services, such as access to energy and built-in incentives to veer away from carbon use).

It’s a sign of the times that alongside the base rate on the Bank of England’s website, the large-scale public creation of money (quantitative easing) has gone from being a seemingly exotic tool to one so standard that it is now one of the two default tools of monetary policy.

Ultimately, though, overuse of the biosphere requires limits on resource consumption. This still leaves quite a lot of room for action, such as making money expensive for what you want to avoid, like more fossil fuel, and cheap for what you need, a switch to job-creating, and clean, renewable energy. So credit should be more expensive for what you want less of.

Mark Carney says banks currently have portfolios of investment that will lead to catastrophic global heating of around 4°C. That shows the cost of borrowing should be made much higher for those investors who are fuelling the crisis.

Lessons from the pandemic

An ecological rate of interest would price money in terms of environmental limits. Current interest rates rarely if ever do this. A few banks are starting to incorporate so-called ESG factors (environmental, social and governance). A few are ceasing to lend to some of the most climate-damaging activities and to vary the cost of capital to reflect environmental risks. But they’re not even scratching the surface of the problem.

One way to do this would be to raise sharply the so-called risk weighting of all high-carbon loans, whether from a bank to a coal mine or for the purchase of a petrol-driven car, making the loan more expensive and sending a decisive market signal.

Central banks and supervisory monetary authorities have as their core mandate the maintenance of financial and monetary stability. Acting to prevent the allocation of vast financial resources to climate breakdown, with its catastrophic implications for humanity and the wider economy, is therefore directly aligned with their fundamental purpose.

What the world needs is something which goes beyond a greener money supply, something which deals with the aggregate size of the economy. There is a growing consensus among a wide spectrum of progressive voices about how a range of economic and social problems could be addressed at the same time as moving away from a growth-dependent economy.

With a rapid, just transition, to live within our ecological means (and the potential for radical policy and behaviour change has been widely demonstrated by responses to the coronavirus pandemic) what might it mean to align the economy with planetary boundaries?

Climate scientists say we should be aiming to return to a carbon concentration in the atmosphere no higher than 350 parts per million of CO2. An ecological growth rate would then be one compatible with stabilising greenhouse gases at no higher than this level. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Andrew Simms is an author, political economist and campaigner. He is co-director of the New Weather institute, co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, and a research associate at the University of Sussex. He was for many years the policy director of the New Economics Foundation and led its work on environment, energy, climate and interdependence, as well as on the health of local economies. He tweets from @andrewsimms_uk

The global economy doesn’t reflect the Earth’s crisis and its warming climate. Might ecological interest rates help link them?

Andrew Simms, a political economist and co-author of the original Green New Deal, believes ecological interest rates could prevent financial institutions investing in fossil fuels and connect the monetary system to the reality of the planet’s finite ecosystems. This is an edited extract from his new pamphlet written jointly for Prime Economics, the New Weather Institute and the Rapid Transition Alliance.

LONDON, 3 March, 2021 − We need a new global economy, one which recognises the deepening crisis facing life on Earth and is designed to help to solve it. And a good way to build one, experts say, is to switch to something called ecological interest rates.

Interest rates usually capture people’s attention only if they have savings, when they’re bothered by low rates, or borrowings such as a mortgage, which means high ones. But economists are becoming unusually preoccupied with them, partly because it’s very likely that they will soon do something shocking and unusual: go negative.

There’s another reason, though. With intense focus on a green economic recovery after the pandemic, there’s a growing realisation that there is no real link between money, its cost and our ecological life-support system.

The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity, as a conservative annual assessment of ecological overshoot makes clear. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes.

The size of the economy, in turn, is fuelled by the supply of credit in different monetary forms. More money in circulation tends to increase conventional economic growth.

Excessive economic footprint

This doesn’t necessarily mean the productive economy is getting bigger, though. For example, if banks lend money in a risky way – as happened with the sub-prime mortgage debacle behind the 2007-08 financial crisis – they can create an asset bubble which, when it bursts, can trigger recession.

Interest rates are the price we pay to borrow money, and when the price of money is positive, which it usually is, we have to pay back more than we actually borrowed. So interest also motivates orthodox growth, which relies on exploiting the biosphere and human labour.

What matters with an issue like climate breakdown is what happens in aggregate, and how this relates to any change in impact needed for the economy to operate within a particular planetary boundary – in effect, to fit its shoe size.

The economy’s footprint is already too big. So, to be environmentally sustainable, improvements in material efficiency must be big enough not only to compensate for the effects of growth, but also to reduce absolute consumption in line with getting back to the right shoe size again.

For example, there’s a lot of hype about improved aviation fuel efficiency. But, between 2013 and 2019, aviation passenger traffic went up four times faster than fuel efficiency improved. Elsewhere, the carbon emission benefits of supposedly efficient hybrid cars were shown to be only around one third of those promised.

The International Resource Panel (IRP) report, Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future, found that emissions from the extraction and production of materials such as metals, minerals, woods and plastics more than doubled from 1995 to 2015, accounting for a quarter of global emissions. Measures to improve resource efficiency did not come close to cancelling out the rise.

“The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes”

Global resource use continues to grow. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently spoke of humanity waging a “suicidal war” on nature:  global material use is projected to rise to 170-184 billion tonnes by 2050.

Money is a means of exchange, a store and a measure of value, or a unit of account. In essence, though, it isn’t a note or a coin but a social contract, an agreement about how to allocate resources. And the way our current money system is allocating resources is pushing us rapidly over a climate and ecological cliff.

That’s because money – a social construct, “a promise to pay” – cannot be finite. We can always make another promise. But the ecosystem’s ability to fulfil that promise – to meet the liability – is finite.

A price is what you pay, in money, for goods or services. But in practice prices often don’t carry vital information − the human cost of production, the impact on human health, or current and future environmental damage.

And there are larger issues. If someone planned to build on a much-loved meadow, you would face two questions: how much would you pay to save it, or how much compensation would you demand for its loss? Two very different prices would result, one limited by your ability to pay, the other possibly infinitely high. It could be no price.

Prices are judgements of value. How would you set the price of the notional tonne of carbon which, when burned, tipped the balance towards irreversible runaway global warming? You’d ask the price of a climate capable of supporting human civilisation.

Heading for 4°C

Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, has said that the financial sector is investing in fossil fuels so “that if you add up the policies of all of the companies out there, they are consistent with warming of 3.7-3.8°C”. The globally agreed target is to keep climate heating below 1.5°C.

Many currencies are too big, covering areas that are too large and include a range of economic circumstances for which no single interest rate can be optimal. There are always some areas likely to be “overheating” and others that are struggling. You cannot set an interest rate that suits everyone; money is likely to be too cheap in one place or too expensive in another. Many people therefore argue for more currencies.

One way of reconnecting the money supply to the real world of natural resources is to have currencies which are backed by something real – like commodities. Several could address economic inequality (think various ways of providing universal income and/or services, such as access to energy and built-in incentives to veer away from carbon use).

It’s a sign of the times that alongside the base rate on the Bank of England’s website, the large-scale public creation of money (quantitative easing) has gone from being a seemingly exotic tool to one so standard that it is now one of the two default tools of monetary policy.

Ultimately, though, overuse of the biosphere requires limits on resource consumption. This still leaves quite a lot of room for action, such as making money expensive for what you want to avoid, like more fossil fuel, and cheap for what you need, a switch to job-creating, and clean, renewable energy. So credit should be more expensive for what you want less of.

Mark Carney says banks currently have portfolios of investment that will lead to catastrophic global heating of around 4°C. That shows the cost of borrowing should be made much higher for those investors who are fuelling the crisis.

Lessons from the pandemic

An ecological rate of interest would price money in terms of environmental limits. Current interest rates rarely if ever do this. A few banks are starting to incorporate so-called ESG factors (environmental, social and governance). A few are ceasing to lend to some of the most climate-damaging activities and to vary the cost of capital to reflect environmental risks. But they’re not even scratching the surface of the problem.

One way to do this would be to raise sharply the so-called risk weighting of all high-carbon loans, whether from a bank to a coal mine or for the purchase of a petrol-driven car, making the loan more expensive and sending a decisive market signal.

Central banks and supervisory monetary authorities have as their core mandate the maintenance of financial and monetary stability. Acting to prevent the allocation of vast financial resources to climate breakdown, with its catastrophic implications for humanity and the wider economy, is therefore directly aligned with their fundamental purpose.

What the world needs is something which goes beyond a greener money supply, something which deals with the aggregate size of the economy. There is a growing consensus among a wide spectrum of progressive voices about how a range of economic and social problems could be addressed at the same time as moving away from a growth-dependent economy.

With a rapid, just transition, to live within our ecological means (and the potential for radical policy and behaviour change has been widely demonstrated by responses to the coronavirus pandemic) what might it mean to align the economy with planetary boundaries?

Climate scientists say we should be aiming to return to a carbon concentration in the atmosphere no higher than 350 parts per million of CO2. An ecological growth rate would then be one compatible with stabilising greenhouse gases at no higher than this level. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Andrew Simms is an author, political economist and campaigner. He is co-director of the New Weather institute, co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, and a research associate at the University of Sussex. He was for many years the policy director of the New Economics Foundation and led its work on environment, energy, climate and interdependence, as well as on the health of local economies. He tweets from @andrewsimms_uk

India’s energy policy is key to the planet’s future

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Reformed trade rules can help to save the climate

If the British government agrees to reformed trade rules, that could help the crucial climate talks it will chair in November.

LONDON, 20 January, 2021 – This could be the year of opportunity for the United Kingdom – and far beyond it – in securing real action on tackling the climate crisis: reformed trade rules could provide a climate dividend of the rancorous Brexit process of leaving the European Union.

Success could earn the UK government an honoured place among the politicians visionary enough to confront probably the worst threat facing humankind. Failure would damn this generation of British leaders as a lightweight irrelevance.

Barely ten months from now, in November, the British government faces a massive challenge. In the Scottish city of Glasgow it will host and chair the annual United Nations climate conference, which must breathe new energy and hope into the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 197 countries in the French capital in 2015.

Paris promised much but so far has delivered little in achieving the reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases the world urgently needs. Unless the Glasgow conference (COP-26 in UN jargon – the 26th Conference of the Parties) ends with iron-clad agreement that will inexorably ensure global average temperatures stay below 1.5°C, the planet faces dangerous and perhaps irreversible climate heating.

On the first day of 2021 the UK struck out on its own politically, leaving the EU after 47 years of membership to follow an independent route, not least on trade.

“We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”

Opponents of Brexit have dismissed the move as a risky gamble. Supporters say it gives the UK the alluring prospect of trade on British terms alone. Both agree in hoping the country may now enjoy more freedom and flexibility in trade policy.

Whether or not it does, campaigners argue, Brexit could open the way to a different but immensely important goal: it could be a game-changer in Glasgow.

They are pinning their hopes on the possibility that the UK will decide to join a new green trade grouping – ACCTS, the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, formed by six countries committed to using trade policy to support action on the climate (New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Fiji and Switzerland).

If the UK does join ACCTS this year (it is an open agreement, which welcomes new members), that would send a clear message to the other members of the World Trade Organisation, its supporters believe, that post-Brexit Britain champions environmentally-sustainable trade and sees it as a potent way to strengthen action on the climate crisis.

Supporters of ACCTS say signatories are showing they back the reform of trade rules so as to give priority to the environment – a huge shift in emphasis for the global trading system. The Agreement has three main aims:

  • Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services: This means cutting tariffs on environmentally-friendly products (including, for example, wind turbines and solar panels) so they can be traded more freely and reach the countries where they are most needed, attracting investment and development. The UK already charges very low tariffs, so compliance will be simple
  • Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies: 89% of global carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and industry. Yet governments continue to subsidise coal, oil and gas, pouring US$500 billion (£367bn) of public money into their production and consumption every year. The UK currently offers an estimated £10bn (US$13.6bn) of public support to fossil fuels each year, in the form of direct subsidies and tax breaks. This runs counter to all the UK’s climate goals, which instead favour funding support for renewable energy
  • Developing eco-labels for goods: This aims to develop a common way of labelling goods with information about their environmental impact, to give consumers information on which to base their decisions.

‘Incoherence’

Speaking in Stockholm in March 2020 at an event to discuss climate change, trade, and sustainable development in the run-up to the Glasgow talks, Andrew Jenks, New Zealand’s ambassador to Sweden, said: “Fossil fuel subsidies are the height of policy incoherence on an issue where we cannot afford to carry on the mistakes of the past.”

From his diplomatic colleague the British ambassador, Judith Gough, there was if anything even more exuberant language for the potential offered by ACCTS: “We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”.

An active supporter of the ACCTS countries is the UK charity Traidcraft Exchange. It concludes a recent report, Getting in on the ACCTS, with these words: “In November 2020, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson announned a ten-point plan to ‘create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero [greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050.’

“Joining ACCTS would strengthen these commitments, and would send a clear message about how Britain plans to use its new independent trade policy.” There will be many listeners waiting intently in Glasgow to hear that message. – Climate News Network

If the British government agrees to reformed trade rules, that could help the crucial climate talks it will chair in November.

LONDON, 20 January, 2021 – This could be the year of opportunity for the United Kingdom – and far beyond it – in securing real action on tackling the climate crisis: reformed trade rules could provide a climate dividend of the rancorous Brexit process of leaving the European Union.

Success could earn the UK government an honoured place among the politicians visionary enough to confront probably the worst threat facing humankind. Failure would damn this generation of British leaders as a lightweight irrelevance.

Barely ten months from now, in November, the British government faces a massive challenge. In the Scottish city of Glasgow it will host and chair the annual United Nations climate conference, which must breathe new energy and hope into the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 197 countries in the French capital in 2015.

Paris promised much but so far has delivered little in achieving the reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases the world urgently needs. Unless the Glasgow conference (COP-26 in UN jargon – the 26th Conference of the Parties) ends with iron-clad agreement that will inexorably ensure global average temperatures stay below 1.5°C, the planet faces dangerous and perhaps irreversible climate heating.

On the first day of 2021 the UK struck out on its own politically, leaving the EU after 47 years of membership to follow an independent route, not least on trade.

“We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”

Opponents of Brexit have dismissed the move as a risky gamble. Supporters say it gives the UK the alluring prospect of trade on British terms alone. Both agree in hoping the country may now enjoy more freedom and flexibility in trade policy.

Whether or not it does, campaigners argue, Brexit could open the way to a different but immensely important goal: it could be a game-changer in Glasgow.

They are pinning their hopes on the possibility that the UK will decide to join a new green trade grouping – ACCTS, the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, formed by six countries committed to using trade policy to support action on the climate (New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Fiji and Switzerland).

If the UK does join ACCTS this year (it is an open agreement, which welcomes new members), that would send a clear message to the other members of the World Trade Organisation, its supporters believe, that post-Brexit Britain champions environmentally-sustainable trade and sees it as a potent way to strengthen action on the climate crisis.

Supporters of ACCTS say signatories are showing they back the reform of trade rules so as to give priority to the environment – a huge shift in emphasis for the global trading system. The Agreement has three main aims:

  • Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services: This means cutting tariffs on environmentally-friendly products (including, for example, wind turbines and solar panels) so they can be traded more freely and reach the countries where they are most needed, attracting investment and development. The UK already charges very low tariffs, so compliance will be simple
  • Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies: 89% of global carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and industry. Yet governments continue to subsidise coal, oil and gas, pouring US$500 billion (£367bn) of public money into their production and consumption every year. The UK currently offers an estimated £10bn (US$13.6bn) of public support to fossil fuels each year, in the form of direct subsidies and tax breaks. This runs counter to all the UK’s climate goals, which instead favour funding support for renewable energy
  • Developing eco-labels for goods: This aims to develop a common way of labelling goods with information about their environmental impact, to give consumers information on which to base their decisions.

‘Incoherence’

Speaking in Stockholm in March 2020 at an event to discuss climate change, trade, and sustainable development in the run-up to the Glasgow talks, Andrew Jenks, New Zealand’s ambassador to Sweden, said: “Fossil fuel subsidies are the height of policy incoherence on an issue where we cannot afford to carry on the mistakes of the past.”

From his diplomatic colleague the British ambassador, Judith Gough, there was if anything even more exuberant language for the potential offered by ACCTS: “We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”.

An active supporter of the ACCTS countries is the UK charity Traidcraft Exchange. It concludes a recent report, Getting in on the ACCTS, with these words: “In November 2020, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson announned a ten-point plan to ‘create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero [greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050.’

“Joining ACCTS would strengthen these commitments, and would send a clear message about how Britain plans to use its new independent trade policy.” There will be many listeners waiting intently in Glasgow to hear that message. – Climate News Network

Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say

Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.

LONDON, 14 January, 2021 − One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

Attempts abandoned

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.

“The technology would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering”

The report also makes clear that the technology has not lived up to expectations. Instead of capturing up to 95% of the carbon from any industrial process, rates have been as low as 65% when they begin and have only gradually improved.

Despite these drawbacks and a number of failed CCS developments in the UK, the British government has just ploughed another £1 billion (US$1.36bn) into more research and development of the technology, and to provide infrastructure. The report says this reliance by government on CCS means it is unlikely to reach its target of zero emissions by 2050.

The report says that CCS features prominently in many energy and climate change scenarios, and in strategies for meeting climate change mitigation targets. These include the approaches backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission, the International Energy Agency and the UK Committee on Climate Change.

But it is apparent that the current trend of CCS deployment worldwide has yet to reach the pace of development necessary for these scenarios to be realised.

If CCS is to have a meaningful role in mitigation, deployment would need to accelerate markedly, the report says.

Policy change needed

Friends of the Earth and Global Witness say that because of the clear failure of the technology to live up to expectations there should be a change of emphasis by governments. Policy should be directed towards renewables, particularly solar, onshore and offshore wind, because they have by contrast exceeded all targets in both cost and deployment and provide real hope of solving the carbon dioxide problem.

These now proven renewable technologies, plus battery and other storage ideas and a much-needed energy efficiency drive, will deliver carbon reductions far more quickly and cheaply, the writers say.

The two organisations add: “It is the cumulative emissions from each year between now and 2030 that will determine whether we are to achieve the Paris 1.5°C goal. With carbon budgets increasingly constrained, the report shows that we cannot expect carbon capture and storage to make a meaningful contribution to 2030 climate targets.

“In this context, fossil fuel CCS is a distraction from the growth of renewable energy, storage and energy efficiency that will be critical to rapidly reducing emissions over the next decade.” − Climate News Network

Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.

LONDON, 14 January, 2021 − One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

Attempts abandoned

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.

“The technology would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering”

The report also makes clear that the technology has not lived up to expectations. Instead of capturing up to 95% of the carbon from any industrial process, rates have been as low as 65% when they begin and have only gradually improved.

Despite these drawbacks and a number of failed CCS developments in the UK, the British government has just ploughed another £1 billion (US$1.36bn) into more research and development of the technology, and to provide infrastructure. The report says this reliance by government on CCS means it is unlikely to reach its target of zero emissions by 2050.

The report says that CCS features prominently in many energy and climate change scenarios, and in strategies for meeting climate change mitigation targets. These include the approaches backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission, the International Energy Agency and the UK Committee on Climate Change.

But it is apparent that the current trend of CCS deployment worldwide has yet to reach the pace of development necessary for these scenarios to be realised.

If CCS is to have a meaningful role in mitigation, deployment would need to accelerate markedly, the report says.

Policy change needed

Friends of the Earth and Global Witness say that because of the clear failure of the technology to live up to expectations there should be a change of emphasis by governments. Policy should be directed towards renewables, particularly solar, onshore and offshore wind, because they have by contrast exceeded all targets in both cost and deployment and provide real hope of solving the carbon dioxide problem.

These now proven renewable technologies, plus battery and other storage ideas and a much-needed energy efficiency drive, will deliver carbon reductions far more quickly and cheaply, the writers say.

The two organisations add: “It is the cumulative emissions from each year between now and 2030 that will determine whether we are to achieve the Paris 1.5°C goal. With carbon budgets increasingly constrained, the report shows that we cannot expect carbon capture and storage to make a meaningful contribution to 2030 climate targets.

“In this context, fossil fuel CCS is a distraction from the growth of renewable energy, storage and energy efficiency that will be critical to rapidly reducing emissions over the next decade.” − Climate News Network

Major US pension fund plans fossil-free future

Goodbye to fossil fuels, says one major US pension fund: they’re no good for either the climate or the economy.

LONDON, 17 December, 2020 − In what’s being billed as “the biggest leap forward worldwide on climate finance action this year,” a major US pension fund has announced plans to move its money out of fossil fuels.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has a portfolio of $226 billion worth of investments under its control. A substantial portion of that cash pile has been invested in the fossil fuel industry, including more than $1bn in the oil giant ExxonMobil.

Tom DiNapoli, the New York State comptroller, who oversees the state’s fiscal affairs, said the retirement fund was pulling its money out of fossil fuels not only for the good of the climate: the move also made financial sense.

“New York State’s pension fund is at the leading edge of investors addressing climate risk because investing for the low-carbon future is essential to protect the fund’s long-term value”, said DiNapoli.

“Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk”

“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk.”

The fund is the third largest public pension fund in the US, investing on behalf of more than a million past and present state and local government employees. Under the fund’s plan, investments in what’s termed the riskiest oil and gas companies will be withdrawn by 2025: by 2040 the fund aims to have no money invested in companies associated with climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

It says it has already withdrawn investments in more than 20 coal companies. Earlier this year, the last remaining coal-fired power plant in New York State closed.

The fund is now reviewing its investments in tar sands projects and plans further analysis of its financial holdings in fracking companies, fossil fuel service groups, oil and gas transport companies and pipeline operations.

Sandy’s warning

Climate activists in New York State have been among those at the forefront of what’s grown into a global campaign aimed at persuading investors to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean, the east coast of the US, and Canada. In the north-east of the US alone more than 60 people died, and the overall cost of the damage caused was estimated at more than $70bn.

In the aftermath of Sandy, a coalition of various organisations, including 350.org, was formed with the aim of persuading institutions – from religious groups to universities to sovereign wealth funds – to withdraw investments in fossil fuel enterprises.

Other organisations, such as the UK-based Fossil Free group, have boosted what is now a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement, which has successfully campaigned for several trillion dollars’ worth of investments to be withdrawn from the fossil fuel industry. − Climate News Network

Goodbye to fossil fuels, says one major US pension fund: they’re no good for either the climate or the economy.

LONDON, 17 December, 2020 − In what’s being billed as “the biggest leap forward worldwide on climate finance action this year,” a major US pension fund has announced plans to move its money out of fossil fuels.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has a portfolio of $226 billion worth of investments under its control. A substantial portion of that cash pile has been invested in the fossil fuel industry, including more than $1bn in the oil giant ExxonMobil.

Tom DiNapoli, the New York State comptroller, who oversees the state’s fiscal affairs, said the retirement fund was pulling its money out of fossil fuels not only for the good of the climate: the move also made financial sense.

“New York State’s pension fund is at the leading edge of investors addressing climate risk because investing for the low-carbon future is essential to protect the fund’s long-term value”, said DiNapoli.

“Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk”

“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk.”

The fund is the third largest public pension fund in the US, investing on behalf of more than a million past and present state and local government employees. Under the fund’s plan, investments in what’s termed the riskiest oil and gas companies will be withdrawn by 2025: by 2040 the fund aims to have no money invested in companies associated with climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

It says it has already withdrawn investments in more than 20 coal companies. Earlier this year, the last remaining coal-fired power plant in New York State closed.

The fund is now reviewing its investments in tar sands projects and plans further analysis of its financial holdings in fracking companies, fossil fuel service groups, oil and gas transport companies and pipeline operations.

Sandy’s warning

Climate activists in New York State have been among those at the forefront of what’s grown into a global campaign aimed at persuading investors to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean, the east coast of the US, and Canada. In the north-east of the US alone more than 60 people died, and the overall cost of the damage caused was estimated at more than $70bn.

In the aftermath of Sandy, a coalition of various organisations, including 350.org, was formed with the aim of persuading institutions – from religious groups to universities to sovereign wealth funds – to withdraw investments in fossil fuel enterprises.

Other organisations, such as the UK-based Fossil Free group, have boosted what is now a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement, which has successfully campaigned for several trillion dollars’ worth of investments to be withdrawn from the fossil fuel industry. − Climate News Network

China’s climate lead offers the planet new hope

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

Nuclear power hinders fight against climate change

Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.

LONDON, 6 October, 2020 − Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.

“This raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy”

The study found that in some large countries, going renewable was up to seven times more effective in lowering carbon emissions than nuclear.

The findings are a severe blow to the nuclear industry, which has been touting itself as the answer to climate change and calling itself a low-carbon energy. The scientists conclude that if countries want to lower emissions substantially, rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible, they should invest in solar and wind power and avoid nuclear.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and the study’s lead author, said: “The evidence clearly points to nuclear being the least effective of the two broad carbon emissions abatement strategies, and coupled with its tendency not to co-exist well with its renewable alternative, this raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy.

“Countries planning large-scale investments in new nuclear power are risking suppression of greater climate benefits from alternative renewable energy investments.”

The report says that as well as long lead times for nuclear, the necessity for the technology to have elaborate oversight of potentially catastrophic safety risks, security against attack, and long-term waste management strategies tends to take up resources and divert attention away from other simpler and much quicker options like renewables.

Consistent results

The nuclear industry has always claimed that countries need both nuclear and renewables in order to provide reliable power for a grid that does not have input from coal- or gas-fuelled power stations.

This study highlights several other papers which show that a reliable electricity supply is possible with 100% renewables, and that keeping nuclear in the mix hinders the development of renewables.

Patrick Schmidt, a co-author from the International School of Management in Munich,  said: “It is astonishing how clear and consistent the results are across different time frames and country sets. In certain large country samples the relationship between renewable electricity and CO2 emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear.”

As well as being a blow to the nuclear industry, the paper’s publication comes at a critical time for governments still intending to invest in nuclear power.

For a long time it has been clear that most advanced democratic countries which are not nuclear weapons states and have no wish to be have been investing in renewables and abandoning nuclear power, because it is too expensive and unpopular with the public. In Europe they include Germany, Italy and Spain, with South Korea in the Far East.

Nuclear weapons needs

Nuclear weapons states like the UK and the US, which have both admitted the link between their military and civilian nuclear industries, continue to encourage the private sector to build nuclear stations and are prepared to provide public subsidy or guaranteed prices to induce them to do so.

With the evidence presented by this paper it will not be possible for these governments to claim that building new nuclear power stations is the right policy to halt climate change.

Both Russia and China continue to be enthusiastic about nuclear power, the cost being less important than the influence gained by exporting the technology to developing countries. Providing cheap loans and nuclear power stations gives their governments a long-term foothold in these countries, and involves controlling the supply of nuclear fuel in order to keep the lights on.

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex and also a co-author, said: “This paper exposes the irrationality of arguing for nuclear investment based on a ‘do everything’ argument.

“Our findings show not only that nuclear investments around the world tend on balance to be less effective than renewable investments at carbon emissions mitigation, but that tensions between these two strategies can further erode the effectiveness of averting climate disruption.” − Climate News Network

Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.

LONDON, 6 October, 2020 − Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.

“This raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy”

The study found that in some large countries, going renewable was up to seven times more effective in lowering carbon emissions than nuclear.

The findings are a severe blow to the nuclear industry, which has been touting itself as the answer to climate change and calling itself a low-carbon energy. The scientists conclude that if countries want to lower emissions substantially, rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible, they should invest in solar and wind power and avoid nuclear.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and the study’s lead author, said: “The evidence clearly points to nuclear being the least effective of the two broad carbon emissions abatement strategies, and coupled with its tendency not to co-exist well with its renewable alternative, this raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy.

“Countries planning large-scale investments in new nuclear power are risking suppression of greater climate benefits from alternative renewable energy investments.”

The report says that as well as long lead times for nuclear, the necessity for the technology to have elaborate oversight of potentially catastrophic safety risks, security against attack, and long-term waste management strategies tends to take up resources and divert attention away from other simpler and much quicker options like renewables.

Consistent results

The nuclear industry has always claimed that countries need both nuclear and renewables in order to provide reliable power for a grid that does not have input from coal- or gas-fuelled power stations.

This study highlights several other papers which show that a reliable electricity supply is possible with 100% renewables, and that keeping nuclear in the mix hinders the development of renewables.

Patrick Schmidt, a co-author from the International School of Management in Munich,  said: “It is astonishing how clear and consistent the results are across different time frames and country sets. In certain large country samples the relationship between renewable electricity and CO2 emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear.”

As well as being a blow to the nuclear industry, the paper’s publication comes at a critical time for governments still intending to invest in nuclear power.

For a long time it has been clear that most advanced democratic countries which are not nuclear weapons states and have no wish to be have been investing in renewables and abandoning nuclear power, because it is too expensive and unpopular with the public. In Europe they include Germany, Italy and Spain, with South Korea in the Far East.

Nuclear weapons needs

Nuclear weapons states like the UK and the US, which have both admitted the link between their military and civilian nuclear industries, continue to encourage the private sector to build nuclear stations and are prepared to provide public subsidy or guaranteed prices to induce them to do so.

With the evidence presented by this paper it will not be possible for these governments to claim that building new nuclear power stations is the right policy to halt climate change.

Both Russia and China continue to be enthusiastic about nuclear power, the cost being less important than the influence gained by exporting the technology to developing countries. Providing cheap loans and nuclear power stations gives their governments a long-term foothold in these countries, and involves controlling the supply of nuclear fuel in order to keep the lights on.

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex and also a co-author, said: “This paper exposes the irrationality of arguing for nuclear investment based on a ‘do everything’ argument.

“Our findings show not only that nuclear investments around the world tend on balance to be less effective than renewable investments at carbon emissions mitigation, but that tensions between these two strategies can further erode the effectiveness of averting climate disruption.” − Climate News Network

Poland’s coal remains king, but renewables gain

When it comes to meeting the challenge of climate change, Poland’s coal reliance leaves it one of Europe’s laggards.

LONDON, 1 October, 2020 – The burning of Poland’s coal, by far the most polluting of fossil fuels, provides more than 75% of its electricity.

But in a country where coal has been king for years and in which mining lobby groups and trades unions have traditionally wielded considerable economic and political power, change is on the way.

Under policies recently announced by the Warsaw government’s climate ministry, the aim is to reduce coal’s share in electricity generation to between 38% and 56% of the total by 2030 – and to between 11% and 28% by 2040.

The government says it will make big investments in nuclear power – with the first energy being generated by 2033 – and in installations for the import of liquefied natural gas. Meanwhile a pipeline importing natural gas from Norway is due to be completed in late 2022.

There’s also a big push into renewables – a part of the energy sector which till recently has been largely ignored by Poland’s rulers. At present the country has only limited onshore wind facilities and none offshore. A national energy and climate plan announced in July this year envisages large-scale development of offshore wind energy.

Solar dawn

“The Baltic Sea offers some of the world’s most favourable conditions”, says Janusz Gajowiecki, president of the Polish Wind Energy Association. “The planned construction of 10GW offshore is just a first step … Poland has a chance to become a leader in the Baltic Sea with a potential (of generating) up to 28GW by 2050.”

One sector where change is already under way is solar power. The growth rate of solar installations in Poland is now among the fastest in Europe: last year solar power grew nearly four times – albeit from a low base – to 784MW. The aim is for solar power to double this year – with 8GW installed by 2025.

Whether Poland will achieve its energy targets depends largely on the country’s politics – and on how much pressure the European Union is willing to exert on what has been one of the largest and fastest-growing economies within the bloc.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party is a conservative body, strongly resistant to change. It is heavily dependent on coal-mining communities – particularly in the coal-rich region of Silesia – for shoring up its power base.

More than 80,000 people are directly employed in the country’s coal industry. Belchatow power station in central Poland is among the world’s biggest coal-fired energy plants.

“The Baltic Sea offers some of the world’s most favourable conditions [for offshore wind] … Poland has a chance to become a leader in the Baltic”

Poland has refused to give its support to an EU-wide plan to go carbon-neutral by mid-century: Warsaw says taking coal out of the country’s energy mix is unrealistic – and far too costly.

“The cost of this idea rises to hundreds of billions of dollars”, a senior energy adviser told the Financial Times. “Politicians trying to proceed with such a process, they are not living on the ground.”

Warsaw says its energy security is a priority: it particularly wants to avoid any dependence on Russia for its power supplies.

Government plans to either open new mines or expand existing ones – open-cast lignite facilities which are a main source of climate-changing greenhouse gases – are being met with strong opposition both within the country and by Poland’s neighbours.

The industry is also coming under fire from health experts concerned about one grave consequence of Poland’s coal: some of the worst air pollution in Europe.

A report by the World Bank says Poland has 36 of the 50 most polluted cities in Europe, and estimates that bad air quality is responsible for more than 44,000 premature deaths there each year. – Climate News Network

When it comes to meeting the challenge of climate change, Poland’s coal reliance leaves it one of Europe’s laggards.

LONDON, 1 October, 2020 – The burning of Poland’s coal, by far the most polluting of fossil fuels, provides more than 75% of its electricity.

But in a country where coal has been king for years and in which mining lobby groups and trades unions have traditionally wielded considerable economic and political power, change is on the way.

Under policies recently announced by the Warsaw government’s climate ministry, the aim is to reduce coal’s share in electricity generation to between 38% and 56% of the total by 2030 – and to between 11% and 28% by 2040.

The government says it will make big investments in nuclear power – with the first energy being generated by 2033 – and in installations for the import of liquefied natural gas. Meanwhile a pipeline importing natural gas from Norway is due to be completed in late 2022.

There’s also a big push into renewables – a part of the energy sector which till recently has been largely ignored by Poland’s rulers. At present the country has only limited onshore wind facilities and none offshore. A national energy and climate plan announced in July this year envisages large-scale development of offshore wind energy.

Solar dawn

“The Baltic Sea offers some of the world’s most favourable conditions”, says Janusz Gajowiecki, president of the Polish Wind Energy Association. “The planned construction of 10GW offshore is just a first step … Poland has a chance to become a leader in the Baltic Sea with a potential (of generating) up to 28GW by 2050.”

One sector where change is already under way is solar power. The growth rate of solar installations in Poland is now among the fastest in Europe: last year solar power grew nearly four times – albeit from a low base – to 784MW. The aim is for solar power to double this year – with 8GW installed by 2025.

Whether Poland will achieve its energy targets depends largely on the country’s politics – and on how much pressure the European Union is willing to exert on what has been one of the largest and fastest-growing economies within the bloc.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party is a conservative body, strongly resistant to change. It is heavily dependent on coal-mining communities – particularly in the coal-rich region of Silesia – for shoring up its power base.

More than 80,000 people are directly employed in the country’s coal industry. Belchatow power station in central Poland is among the world’s biggest coal-fired energy plants.

“The Baltic Sea offers some of the world’s most favourable conditions [for offshore wind] … Poland has a chance to become a leader in the Baltic”

Poland has refused to give its support to an EU-wide plan to go carbon-neutral by mid-century: Warsaw says taking coal out of the country’s energy mix is unrealistic – and far too costly.

“The cost of this idea rises to hundreds of billions of dollars”, a senior energy adviser told the Financial Times. “Politicians trying to proceed with such a process, they are not living on the ground.”

Warsaw says its energy security is a priority: it particularly wants to avoid any dependence on Russia for its power supplies.

Government plans to either open new mines or expand existing ones – open-cast lignite facilities which are a main source of climate-changing greenhouse gases – are being met with strong opposition both within the country and by Poland’s neighbours.

The industry is also coming under fire from health experts concerned about one grave consequence of Poland’s coal: some of the worst air pollution in Europe.

A report by the World Bank says Poland has 36 of the 50 most polluted cities in Europe, and estimates that bad air quality is responsible for more than 44,000 premature deaths there each year. – Climate News Network

UK nuclear industry seeks subsidies for survival

The UK nuclear industry hopes the British government will go on subsidising it, despite the existence of cheaper fuels.

LONDON, 23 September, 2020 – The decision by the Japanese company Hitachi to abandon its plan to build two large nuclear plants in the United Kingdom leaves the British government’s energy plans in tatters, and the UK nuclear industry reeling.

The UK’s official plan is still to build ten nuclear stations in Britain, but only three schemes remain. Most have now been cancelled by the companies that planned to build them, principally because they cannot raise the capital to do so. This leaves only the debt-laden French giant EdF and the Chinese state-owned industry still in the field.

At the same time, Britain’s existing nuclear plants are in trouble. They are not ageing gracefully, cracks in their graphite cores and rust in their pipework causing ever-lengthening shutdowns and retirement dates to be brought forward.

The plants at Hunterston B in Scotland, Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England, and Dungeness B in Kent on the south-east coast, are all struggling to survive.

Meanwhile the main competitors to nuclear – solar, and both onshore and offshore wind farms – continue to be built apace and produce electricity at half the price of new nuclear power.

These setbacks for the nuclear industry are mirrored in the US, where existing nuclear plant can no longer compete with renewables and is being retired early by utilities, which need to make a profit to survive in a competitive market.

Vanished incentive

EdF, the only company currently constructing nuclear power stations in western Europe, is currently building two giant new reactors at Hinkley Point C. It hopes to build two more at Sizewell C in Suffolk in eastern England, but these are delayed because the lucrative deal offered by the UK government to induce EdF to build those in Somerset is no longer on offer.

The company awaits a decision from the government on a new way to subsidise Sizewell C, which could mean buying a stake in the power station, or a nuclear tax on consumers to pay for the capital cost, neither of which is likely to be popular with the public.

The problem for the French company is that it currently relies on the Chinese to pay one-third of the cost of both the Hinkley Point and Sizewell stations, and the UK’s relationship with China has soured over Hong Kong democracy and security concerns.

The Chinese also plan to build their own reactor on the seashore at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, as a global showcase for their technology, but because of fears of allowing the Chinese to control part of the UK’s power supply that scheme now looks increasingly unlikely, although officially Beijing is still pressing ahead.

A long-awaited energy White Paper (a government policy document setting out proposals for future legislation) describing how to get the country down to zero carbon emissions by 2050, a target enshrined in law, is due to be published before the end of 2020.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice”

The date has already been put back several times. The paper will include the government’s new position on nuclear power, which has not been revised since 2005.

At stake is the future of the nuclear industry, not just in Britain but further afield as well: the UK is the only country in Western Europe that still supports new large-scale nuclear plants.

The nuclear industry is not giving up hope for its technology, despite the bleak prospects. It is pushing the latest idea of small modular reactors (SMRs) that can be factory-built.

In the UK the engineering company Rolls-Royce is pushing its own version of this. Detractors say this is another unproven and potentially expensive diversion from the need to tackle climate change with cheaper renewable technologies.

One glimmer of hope for the industry is the British prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who is said to favour “blue sky thinking” and to enthuse about the possibilities offered by “green” hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from either renewables or nuclear stations.

This has led the nuclear industry to consider using reactors to produce hydrogen and so make it part of the green revolution, although it would be a very expensive way of doing it.

Intent on survival

While in the past the nuclear industry has struggled with public alarm about waste issues and radioactivity, it now has one over-riding problem: cheaper competition and its inability to finance itself.

As Mycle Schneider, lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, puts it in an interview with pv magazine: “It has become obvious that renewables, even unsubsidised, come in at a fraction of the cost of new nuclear power.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice, and it has nothing to do with market economy-driven energy policy.”

In western Europe, Japan and the US, where market forces dominate and nuclear power has fallen out of favour, the coming UK White Paper is a potential beacon of hope for what looks like a sunset industry.

The nuclear industry hopes that in Britain it still has a champion that will throw it a lifeline by providing new subsidies. If it does, it will be a political decision that triumphs over financial common sense. – Climate News Network

The UK nuclear industry hopes the British government will go on subsidising it, despite the existence of cheaper fuels.

LONDON, 23 September, 2020 – The decision by the Japanese company Hitachi to abandon its plan to build two large nuclear plants in the United Kingdom leaves the British government’s energy plans in tatters, and the UK nuclear industry reeling.

The UK’s official plan is still to build ten nuclear stations in Britain, but only three schemes remain. Most have now been cancelled by the companies that planned to build them, principally because they cannot raise the capital to do so. This leaves only the debt-laden French giant EdF and the Chinese state-owned industry still in the field.

At the same time, Britain’s existing nuclear plants are in trouble. They are not ageing gracefully, cracks in their graphite cores and rust in their pipework causing ever-lengthening shutdowns and retirement dates to be brought forward.

The plants at Hunterston B in Scotland, Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England, and Dungeness B in Kent on the south-east coast, are all struggling to survive.

Meanwhile the main competitors to nuclear – solar, and both onshore and offshore wind farms – continue to be built apace and produce electricity at half the price of new nuclear power.

These setbacks for the nuclear industry are mirrored in the US, where existing nuclear plant can no longer compete with renewables and is being retired early by utilities, which need to make a profit to survive in a competitive market.

Vanished incentive

EdF, the only company currently constructing nuclear power stations in western Europe, is currently building two giant new reactors at Hinkley Point C. It hopes to build two more at Sizewell C in Suffolk in eastern England, but these are delayed because the lucrative deal offered by the UK government to induce EdF to build those in Somerset is no longer on offer.

The company awaits a decision from the government on a new way to subsidise Sizewell C, which could mean buying a stake in the power station, or a nuclear tax on consumers to pay for the capital cost, neither of which is likely to be popular with the public.

The problem for the French company is that it currently relies on the Chinese to pay one-third of the cost of both the Hinkley Point and Sizewell stations, and the UK’s relationship with China has soured over Hong Kong democracy and security concerns.

The Chinese also plan to build their own reactor on the seashore at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, as a global showcase for their technology, but because of fears of allowing the Chinese to control part of the UK’s power supply that scheme now looks increasingly unlikely, although officially Beijing is still pressing ahead.

A long-awaited energy White Paper (a government policy document setting out proposals for future legislation) describing how to get the country down to zero carbon emissions by 2050, a target enshrined in law, is due to be published before the end of 2020.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice”

The date has already been put back several times. The paper will include the government’s new position on nuclear power, which has not been revised since 2005.

At stake is the future of the nuclear industry, not just in Britain but further afield as well: the UK is the only country in Western Europe that still supports new large-scale nuclear plants.

The nuclear industry is not giving up hope for its technology, despite the bleak prospects. It is pushing the latest idea of small modular reactors (SMRs) that can be factory-built.

In the UK the engineering company Rolls-Royce is pushing its own version of this. Detractors say this is another unproven and potentially expensive diversion from the need to tackle climate change with cheaper renewable technologies.

One glimmer of hope for the industry is the British prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who is said to favour “blue sky thinking” and to enthuse about the possibilities offered by “green” hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from either renewables or nuclear stations.

This has led the nuclear industry to consider using reactors to produce hydrogen and so make it part of the green revolution, although it would be a very expensive way of doing it.

Intent on survival

While in the past the nuclear industry has struggled with public alarm about waste issues and radioactivity, it now has one over-riding problem: cheaper competition and its inability to finance itself.

As Mycle Schneider, lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, puts it in an interview with pv magazine: “It has become obvious that renewables, even unsubsidised, come in at a fraction of the cost of new nuclear power.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice, and it has nothing to do with market economy-driven energy policy.”

In western Europe, Japan and the US, where market forces dominate and nuclear power has fallen out of favour, the coming UK White Paper is a potential beacon of hope for what looks like a sunset industry.

The nuclear industry hopes that in Britain it still has a champion that will throw it a lifeline by providing new subsidies. If it does, it will be a political decision that triumphs over financial common sense. – Climate News Network