Is climate action a $26-trillion opportunity? Here’s where that number comes from

 As Australia’s fires continue to worsen, Kenya is experiencing floods, and the two calamities are connected. Eric Sorensen explains how natural weather patterns, combined with climate change, are fuelling the crisis.
OTTAWA – The Liberal government’s climate strategy is all about finding a balance between the environment and the economy, which involves convincing people that curbing greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow global warming brings a net economic benefit.

“This is not simply an environmental issue. It is an economic issue. The estimates going forward in terms of the size of the prize for countries that are in this game early, developing technologies and deploying technologies that address some of the carbon-related issues, is enormous. It’s been estimated at a $26 trillion opportunity.”

– Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, BNN Bloomberg, Jan. 7, 2020

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Catherine McKenna, the previous environment minister, was fond of throwing out massive numbers to show what fighting climate change could mean for the economy. Ahead of a 2016 trade mission to China, she talked about a $23-trillion opportunity. By 2018, that number had jumped to $30 trillion.

Wilkinson, became environment minister after the fall election, is also using that talking about, although he pegs it at $26 trillion.

No matter how many trillions of dollars they mention, it is a lot of money – 15 times Canada’s current gross domestic product.

But is it true? Let’s start with where it comes from.

Environment Canada says the figures are largely drawn from a 2016 report from the World Bank’s International Financial Corporation and a 2018 report from The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

READ MORE: Severe weather in Canada cost $1.3 billion in insured damages in 2019

Both cite U.S. dollars in their findings. That’s important, because US$26 trillion is more than $34 trillion on this side of the border.

The figures were also referring to economic benefits over more than a decade, not annually.

The World Bank projected that with the government policies created in response to the Paris climate agreement, the world would see an estimated US$23 trillion in investment opportunities between 2016 and 2030. That included renewable energy, transportation and waste systems in emerging economies such as China, Russia and India.

Helen Mountford, who is the program director of the global commission that produced the report, said the US$26 trillion figure was based on economic models that compared what economic growth would look like between 2018 and 2030 in two scenarios: not doing anything different to grow a clean economy, and doing what is needed to meet the commitments made in Paris.

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READ MORE: 2019 was second-hottest year on record, data shows

The 2015 Paris accord aims to cut emissions enough to keep global warming to as close as possible to 1.5 C above pre-industrial times.

“The current path we’re on, the business as usual sort of economic-growth path is going to be $26 trillion less than taking a smart, climate action pathway,” said Mountford, also vice-president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute. “It’s an economic opportunity we can seize if we put in place ambitious climate policies in a smart way and do it now.”

The figures are also cited in a global context. There is not a $26-trillion opportunity for Canada alone.

Wilkinson does reflect this when he says the opportunities are there for “countries.”

Celine Bak, president of Analytica Advisors and an expert on the business impacts of climate change, said it’s very difficult to assess what Canada’s share of the $26 trillion could be because as far as she knows, there isn’t anyone in Canada working on a model to figure that out.

“I think it’s an accurate statement globally,” she said. “I think it’s to be determined what part of that will be an opportunity for Canada.”

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Mountford says the $26-trillion estimate is likely to be an understatement, because it’s hard to assess how quickly the world is going to decarbonize.

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Estimates will depend heavily on how quickly governments adopt more stringent climate policies, but also on how business responds.

There are some signs of momentum, and not just on the government side.

In the U.S., investments in sustainable funds quadrupled from 2018 to 2019. The world’s biggest money manager, BlackRock, announced earlier this month that climate change is going to become a key part of investment decisions. It said it will be pulling its money out of coal production entirely.

Last week, Microsoft announced it is shifting to renewable energy entirely by 2025 and will be “carbon negative” by 2030.

That means taking one big step further than achieving net-zero emissions, because it would involve the company taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than it emits.

There are lots of companies preparing to jump on board the trend in Canada too.

Mike Crawley, CEO of Ontario-based Northland Power, said Europe’s recently announced goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 is a big opportunity for his company, which specializes in building offshore wind power. That energy source will play a major role in Europe’s climate plan, where coal remains a significant source of electricity.

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Wilkinson is not pulling a number out of the sky when he says there are estimates that action on climate change is a $26-trillion economic opportunity, but there are many other details important to understanding the number.

For those reasons, his claim earns a rating of “a little baloney” – the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required. SOURCE

A win for future climate refugees?

It’s Wednesday, January 22, and the U.N. just ruled in favor of climate refugees.

As the world warms and generates increasingly severe droughts, fires, floods, and hurricanes, more and more people are being forced to leave their homes in search of habitable land. In coming years, climate change is expected to create millions of refugees. On Monday, a U.N. panel ruled that those refugees can’t be forced to go home by their adoptive countries. That decision could become the basis for future legal claims by climate-displaced people.

The ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee concerned the case of Ioane Teitiota, a Kiribati man who tried to get asylum from New Zealand in 2013 by arguing that his home island will soon disappear under rising seas, violating his inherent right to life under the 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite the fact that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that Kiribati is one of six Pacific islands most threatened by rising seas, the U.N. committee did not rule in Teitiota’s favor. His life, it argued, is not currently at risk, and there is still time for the Republic of Kiribati to take action to protect its citizens against rising seas. (The island has an estimated 10 years before it becomes uninhabitable.)

The ruling isn’t a win for Teitiota, but the panel did say that the effects of climate change could become so bad that people could be exposed to a “violation of their rights.” If that becomes the case, countries like New Zealand and the U.S. will have to accept the refugees or risk violating the U.N.’s ruling. SOURCE

FARMING’S GROWING PROBLEM

Fertilizers are contaminating and warming the planet. Regulators haven’t acted on decades-old warnings.

Image result for publicintegrity: Fertilizers are contaminating and warming the planet. Regulators haven’t acted on decades-old warnings.

ROCKWELL CITY, Iowa — Everywhere Randy Souder looked, he saw mud. On his soggy fields. In the mechanized crannies of his planter. Along the rural road to his house, where he’d left a trail of clumps. It was late June, and record-breaking rain had pushed the state’s corn-planting rate to its lowest level in nearly four decades. Souder hoped the summer sun would dry the soil quickly.

Once it did, Souder could finally start the critical next step: Bring in a rig with tires tall enough to clear shoulder-high corn stalks and cast a 100-foot swath of fertilizer over his crop. That blast of nitrogen — the farming equivalent of pixie dust — would make the ears grow large and dense with kernels if applied at the right time.

“When I started 40 years ago, my fertilizer pounds per acre [were] less than half of what they are now,” Souder said. “I started out with a 110-bushel yield, and I’m thinking, ‘It’ll never get any better than this.’ Now we’re pushing 300-bushel on the corn.”

But this agricultural alchemy comes with a toll. In America’s Corn Belt and around the world, some of the fertilizer applied to fields escapes the soil in new forms that contaminate and warm the planet.

Some of these compounds enter the atmosphere as a potent greenhouse gas that’s now at its highest concentration in the last 800,000 years, helping fuel climate problems like the flooding that upended farmers’ lives last spring.

Other fertilizer byproducts contaminate water wells, especially in agricultural areas, where the U.S. Geological Survey says one in five has levels exceeding federal health limits. These contaminants also wash into streams, rivers and lakes, where they become what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls “one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.”

This pollution stream feeds the kind of algae bloom that was so toxic in Lake Erie in 2014 that officials in Toledo, Ohio, warned roughly 500,000 customers not to drink or come in contact with the city’s tap water for three days. The nutrients flow more than a thousand miles from agricultural states to the Gulf of Mexico, where they nourish an aquatic dead zone that in summer 2017 grew as large as New Jersey.

 

Deep cuts to nitrogen runoff and emissions are critical, researchers say, both to curb mounting hazards from water pollution and to stave off the most cataclysmic consequences of rising global temperatures.

And while it’s a smaller environmental danger than carbon, scientists say fertilizer is an underrated and growing threat — one that’s more complicated to solve. MORE

 

France begins radical plan to phase out single-use plastic

zero-waste lifestyle

© Igisheva Maria

The French government has set a goal of eliminating all single-use plastics by 2040. Phase one has begun.

I was recently in Paris and was shocked at how little single-use plastic I saw, especially compared to how much of it I see in New York City. Here we kvetch about the impossibility of giving up such convenience, but in France? Shoppers look great with their net bags, people take coffee breaks in cafes, and nobody is panicked about dying of dehydration if they can’t have a plastic water bottle constantly at hand.

As it turns out, on January 1, the first part of an ambitious plan to phase out single use plastic had begun – which includes the ban of three single-use plastic products: plates, cups, and cotton buds. And from what I saw, the Parisian public has already gone way beyond that.

You’d think it would be simple. We are drowning in plastic, a forever material that does not break down in nature and is causing all kinds of mayhem in the natural world. At most 9 percent of plastic produced globally is recycled, yet global plastic production continues to skyrocket. “The last 15 years saw more plastic produced than in all previous human history, and plastic production is expected to triple again by 2050,” notes France24.

But it’s not simple because plastic is made from petroleum – and as petrochemical companies are facing the possibility of reduced demand for fuel, they are ramping up plastic production. Few industries have as much power as the fossil fuel one does, and thus, fighting plastic is no easy task. In the United States, there are actual bans against plastic bans. It is truly a travesty.

Which is why big moves to ban plastic are big news – and I dare say, “radical.” It’s not easy bucking big oil and the plastic industry, nor is it easy to convince consumers to give up the convenience of disposables.

The French government’s goal is to phase out all single-use plastics by 2040, in accordance with European Union directives. But the EU target, while admirable, is also vague and asks countries only to “significantly reduce” their consumption. France’s ambitious plan seems like a great example of how to do it. Here is the schedule, according to the new decree:

  • As mentioned above, in 2020 single-use plastic plates, cups, and cotton buds are banned.
  • In 2021, disposable cutlery, plastic takeout cup lids, confetti, drink stirrers, foam containers, plastic straws, and produce packaging containers will be banned. And there will be penalties for excessive plastic packaging. There will also be the deployment of bulk distribution set-ups for which vendors will have to allow customers to use their own containers.
  • In 2022, plastic teabags and fast-food toys will be verboten – as will disposable dishes at restaurants. Water fountains will be mandatory in public buildings. Companies will no longer be allowed to give out free water bottles.

Shops will have six months to use up any stock they have. And there is a temporary exemption for compostable products containing at least 50 percent organic materials, and also for cutlery used in health and corrections facilities, as well as on trains and airplanes. But, those exemptions will expire in July 2021.

But honestly, from what I saw, the general public is already way ahead of the deadlines – and there is a lot to be learned. See how they do it here: 6 zero-waste lessons from Paris. SOURCE

Why shouldn’t an electric car look like a toaster?

Canoo redesigns the electric car from the ground up. It redesigns the ownership model too.

Canoo in front of house

Adele Peters of Fast Company writes about the design of the Canoo, a new electric vehicles that doesn’t look like a canoe, or for that matter, an electric car. It’s designer tells her that “With electric power trains, there’s actually no need that a car looks like a traditional combustion engine car.” She continues:

The basic shape of a car hasn’t really changed over a century, with space for an engine, space for passengers, and space for luggage, all arranged in basically the same configuration. But because powerful electric motors and batteries are smaller than a standard powertrain, the whole shape of the vehicle could transform, if car designers were feeling creative.

It’s an interesting vehicle that the designers call a “loft on wheels”. From the press release:

Canoo interior© Canoo

With the interior space of a large SUV and the exterior footprint of a compact car, the canoo holds enough space for seven people. All seating is designed to feel more like furniture than traditional car seats. For example: The rear seats are more like a sofa to lounge on than a cramped and segmented backseat, and the front takes inspiration from mid-century modern chairs. “Cars always have been designed to convey a certain image and emotion; however, we chose to completely rethink car design and focus on what future users will actually need. Thus, we came up with this loft-inspired vehicle,” says Richard Kim, in Charge of Design at Canoo.

Canoo Skateboard© Canoo

The Canoo puts all the guts of the car, the batteries and the motors, in a “Skateboard”, a term used by Amory Lovins a dozen years ago, where all the workings of the car are squished into the bottom and the body is stuck on top. But Canoo takes it even further with its “steer by wire”, with no hardware connection between the steering wheel and the wheels. I love the visibility, the low window in the front that will let you see the kid walking in front, in case the seven cameras, five radars, and 12 ultrasonic sensors don’t.

Canoo steering© Canoo

Steer-by-wire offers weight savings and paves the way for autonomous driving. We have complete freedom to locate the steering wheel to suit any cabin design and driver position. It also leads to a more responsive and smoother driving experience. Since steer-by-wire eliminates the need for a mechanical connection, there is more freedom to arrange the interior space of the vehicle to provide customers with exciting new vehicle options.

Volkswagen adVolkswagen ad/Promo image

And so, we get what I have called the toaster-car, like Hyundai was showing at CES this year. It’s not a new idea, and it just makes sense if you don’t have to park an engine out front. SOURCE

Coke’s Reason For Not Ditching Single-Use Plastic Is Bullshit

Photo: Getty

Public concern about the climate and plastic crises is surging, and more and more brands are developing more sustainable business practices to cash in on said concern. But not Coca-Cola, which is doubling down and blaming consumers for its choice.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Coke’s sustainability chief said that it will keep selling its products in single-use plastic, because people want it. That logic seems off. I’m pretty sure suppliers have some impact on demand, but what do I know, I’m not an economist.

Coca-Cola produces some 3.3 million U.S. tons of plastic packaging per year, the equivalent of roughly 600,000 African elephants. Last year, Coca-Cola was named the most polluting brand for the second year in a row in an audit led by the Break Free From Plastic coalition.

Plastic is creating global crises. Its production and disposal both release hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases, which warm the climate and threaten public health. It’s wreaking havoc on the world’s waterways, too—every minute, the equivalent of one dump truckload of plastic gets into the ocean, where it kills wildlife, carries diseases, and releases a fuckload of cancer-causing pollutants. That includes Coke bottles—in their audit last year, Break Free From Plastic found that Coca-Cola was responsible for 11,732 pieces of plastic litter found in 37 countries on four continents.

“Coke products are polluting the land and the oceans worldwide,” Judith Enck, former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and founder of Beyond Plastics, told Earther in an email. SOURCE

Alberta’s looming multibillion-dollar orphan wells problem prompts auditor general probe

There are 3,406 deserted oil and gas wells in the province, with growing concern about more joining the list

This oil well near Two Hills, Alta., has been inactive since 2012, and its owner, Sequoia Resources, ceased operations in 2018. Dwight Popowich, who owns the land, wonders who will clean it up. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

As Alberta struggles to clean up thousands of oil and gas wells left behind by bankrupt companies, the province’s auditor general is set to investigate how the problem became so big and why the industry regulator’s efforts to collect security deposits came up so short, CBC News has learned.

Often referred to as orphan wells, there are currently 3,406 such wells scattered around the province, usually on the properties of rural landowners, where they lie untended.

There are another 94,000 inactive wells in the province, with the worry that many of these may become orphaned as their owners struggle — and taxpayers could be left with the bill.

The auditor general’s office will look at whether the province is doing enough to prevent wells from becoming orphaned in the first place, and whether it is prepared for more to be added to the list due to ongoing pressure on Alberta’s energy economy.

“We will be focusing on both whether the government — and specifically the Alberta Energy Regulator — has the systems and processes to assess whether orphan oil and gas sites are being managed and reclaimed efficiently and economically in the best interests of Albertans,” said Val Mellesmoen, spokesperson for the Office of the Auditor General of Alberta.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), an arm’s-length agency of the provincial government that oversees the energy industry and its activities, has a liability management system that is supposed to make sure companies that are permitted to drill have a healthy enough bottom line to pay for cleanup later on.

Val Mellesmoen, spokesperson for the Office of the Auditor General of Alberta, says they are set to review the orphan wells issue. (CBC)

If a company’s estimated assets fall below the cost of its environmental liabilities, the AER can collect and hold what’s effectively a security deposit to make sure there’s money on hand for cleanup if the company later walks away from the well.

But the regulator has been using a formula based on out-of-date commodity prices that has inflated the assets of many companies. As a result, companies were not asked to put down large enough security deposits for future cleanup.

The province’s own estimate of the eventual cleanup bill for every oil and gas well in Alberta is $30 billion, while the AER only holds $227 million in financial security.

“The promise of this production was that companies would clean up their mess,” said Nikki Way, a senior analyst at the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think-tank based in Calgary.

“I’m disappointed that we’re at the point where the ‘polluter pays’ principle is not being upheld and we’re considering cleaning up a bill that was always supposed to be accounted for.”

Alberta has asked the federal government to help pay for cleaning up orphan wells. In a November 2019 letter sent by Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews to Bill Morneau, his federal counterpart, the province asked Ottawa for funding and tax instruments to encourage investment in well reclamation.

“This system is just not sustainable,” said Lucija Muehlenbachs, an economist at the University of Calgary who specializes in the energy industry.

“It’s not functioning, so it will have to be completely thrown out the window. But it’s many years too late.”

 

The AER uses a liability management rating, or LMR, to determine whether a company has enough money to clean up its wells down the line. If the company’s estimated assets — calculated based on the amount of resources in its wells — are less than the estimated cost of cleaning up the wells, the company has to pay a security deposit.

But the AER has been using commodity prices from 2008-2010, back when oil prices were much higher, to estimate the value of assets. Even though the regulator assesses these assets every month, because of its use of old commodity prices, many companies that should be putting up security deposits have not had to.

And simply adjusting the calculation now to account for current prices isn’t an easy fix, according to the AER, because it could force struggling companies into bankruptcy.

“In many cases, this would have negative consequences for those already facing financial difficulties, and increases the risk that end-of-life obligations would not be addressed,” AER spokesperson Shawn Roth said in an email.

Landowners left in the lurch

Meanwhile, landowners who agreed to lease their land to oil companies so they could drill wells were promised the companies would clean up after the wells were done producing and restore the surface of the land to its original state.

Instead, many are left with inactive wells that nobody is monitoring, let alone cleaning up and closing.

Dwight Popowich has been left in limbo and unable to sell his land while it has an inactive well left behind by a company that ceased operations in 2018. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Dwight Popowich has an oil well on his property near Two Hills, Alta., about 100 kilometres east of Edmonton, that was drilled in 2008. It stopped producing in 2012, and its owner, Sequoia Resources Corp., stopped operating in March 2018. No remediation work has been done on the well.

Popowich is waiting for the well to be transferred to the Orphan Well Association, which is an industry- and government-supported group that is trying to manage orphan wells. But, in the meantime, no one is monitoring the well on his property.

“We don’t know if it’s safe. We don’t know if it’s leaking. Nobody’s showing up to even take a look at it,” Popowich said.

Sequoia held licences for 2,300 wells when it ceased operations in 2018.

For Popowich, the well has become a financial headache in addition to an environmental problem. He wanted to subdivide his land and sell off half of it to help pay for his retirement. But the well is in the way.

“Nobody wants to buy the land if they have to deal with a well that’s in limbo,” he said.

A better way

Across the border in North Dakota, as oil prices declined, the state saw a growing number of inactive wells, but it has not experienced the same problem with orphan wells as Alberta.

North Dakota has strict timelines in place to deal with inactive wells. If a well stops producing for as little as three months, it’s immediately flagged. The state also collects a bond from companies upfront — $50,000 US if the company is drilling one well — and can use that money to pay for plugging and remediating wells.

North Dakota, which is the second largest crude oil producer in the U.S. after Texas, has only 1,683 inactive wells — and not one of them is an orphan.

The head of North Dakota’s regulator says a combination of a bond system and plugging and reclamation fund is essential for preventing orphan wells.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.

Alberta, on the other hand, does not have any timeline for how long a company can leave a well inactive. This has raised concerns that many of the approximately 94,000 inactive wells in Alberta may become orphaned before their owners clean them up.

Looking ahead

Alberta’s industry knows the liability management system needs to change, and the AER and provincial government have said they are reviewing the program. The AER says a new system would gather more company-specific information to gain a more holistic view of whether a company can meet its environmental obligations.

But the government and regulator have to tread lightly on an industry that’s struggling.

Inactive wells that are not properly plugged and cleaned up could leak contaminants into the soil and air. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

“We want to see progress on the file, but you have to manage the unintended consequences,” said Brad Herald, vice-president of Western Canada operations for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

“You don’t want to create more defaults. There are a lot of companies struggling. We are empathetic to that.”

Nikki Way of the Pembina Institute says concerns over low oil prices should not stop the government from taking action now. New wells can be treated differently, with more financial security collected prior to drilling.

She points out that while the government has to balance the profitability of the industry with any new regulations, the liability problem will continue to grow if nothing is done.

“The pressures aren’t going away any time soon,” she said. “So the scope of the problem needs to be front and centre and transparent.” SOURCE

 

Millionaires at the World Economic Forum are demanding higher taxes: Don Pittis