For the first time, our failing environment is seen as the biggest business risk at Davos

No bridge over troubled waters.

It wasn’t long ago that captains of industry fretted most about oil prices, asset bubbles, and unemployment. But since 2007, those participating in the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland have seen these worries replaced by an even more urgent threat: environmental change.

More than a thousand WEF participants were surveyed this year (pdf) about the biggest global risks facing the world. For the first time, climate change or climate-related issues occupied the top five spots as the most likely global risks. Weapons of mass destruction were the only non-environment related risk to be on the list of threats likely to have the biggest impact. It’s the first time since the poll began that environmental risk has ranked so highly, up from zero in 2010. 1

“Climate change is striking harder and more rapidly than many expected,” states the WEF (pdf). The world is now on track to warm by more than 3°C, blowing past what scientists say is a level required to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences. There’s no sign GHG emissions are peaking, states the United Nations (pdf), and every year of delay makes future reductions more difficult and drastic with potential damages measured in the trillions of dollars. The top factors ranked by 1,047 participants from business (38%), academia (21%), and government (15%) surveyed this year are below: MORE

U.S. JUDGES TOSS LANDMARK YOUTH CLIMATE CASE, SEND PLAINTIFFS BACK TO THE BALLOT BOX

Our Children’s Trust/Twitter

After a five-year push just to secure a trial date, the landmark Juliana v. United States youth climate justice case is hanging by a thread, after two out of three judges who heard the case before the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that it didn’t belong in court.

Our Children’s Trust, the legal charity managing the case, said it would appeal for an en banc hearing before a panel of 11 judges, the New York Times reports.

Even though the Juliana plaintiffs “made a compelling case that action is needed,” wrote Judge Andrew Hurwitz, he and Judge Mary Murguia determined that climate change is not an issue to be decided by the courts. “Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power,” he concluded in a 32-page opinion. “Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.”

“They want to leave the key decisions to the ballot box,” said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “So for now, all three branches of the federal government are sitting on their hands as the planet burns.”

Even so, the decision was “a disappointment but not a surprise,” Gerrard added, since “many U.S. judges have vigorously enforced the environmental laws written by Congress but won’t go beyond that.”

“If ever there were a case where your heart says yes but your mind says no,” said University of Michigan law professor, former head of the environmental crimes section at the U.S. Justice Department, “Juliana unfortunately is that case.”

None of which stopped District Judge Josephine Staton from writing what Grist calls a “searing dissent” that “lacerated the U.S. government” and argued that the 21 youth plaintiffs, ages 12 to 23, had standing to go to trial.

“In these proceedings, the government accepts as fact that the United States has reached a tipping point crying out for a concerted response—yet presses ahead toward calamity,” she wrote. “It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward the Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defences. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation.”

The judgement “reverses an earlier ruling by a district court judge, Ann Aiken, that would have let the case go forward,” the Times writes. “Instead, the appeals court gave instructions to the lower court to dismiss the case.” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark said the Trump administration was “pleased with the outcome,” contending that it “fell squarely outside the parameters” of Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which defines the role of the federal courts.

Our Children’s Trust Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel maintained the case is “far from over”, telling the Times the request for an en banc hearing would be the next step. Olson “originally filed the federal suit in 2015 against the Obama administration, demanding both that the government drop policies that encouraged fossil fuel use and take faster action to curb climate change from a president already seen as friendly to environmental interests,” the Times recalls.

“Working under a legal principle known as the public trust doctrine, which can be used to compel the government to preserve natural resources for public use, the initial complaint stated that government officials had ‘willfully ignored’ the dangers of burning fossil fuels.”

Climate law specialist Ann Carlson of the UCLA Law School said she’d “always thought this case was creative and interesting but a long shot,” given “just how big the remedy was that the plaintiff were seeking in the case”, to “get the United States to stop emitting carbon into the atmosphere.” At a hearing in June, the Times recalls, Hurwitz pressed Olson on the lead role she was asking the courts to take: “You’re asking us to do a lot of new stuff, aren’t you?” he asked.

But Carlson pointed to the strongly sympathetic note the two justices took in a majority opinion that acknowledged the need for climate action. “There really is a giant dilemma here about the lack of political will to address the problem, the lack of judicial comfort in stepping in to solve the problem,” she told the Times.

Olson said the sweeping remedy described in the court decision wasn’t the only option available to it. “It doesn’t have to be the whole shebang,” she said. But for the Juliana kids, “the idea that their only recourse is to go to the very branches of government that are violating their rights when half of them can’t even vote is a preposterous notion.”

In a Friday evening e-blast to supporters, Our Children’s Trust stressed that “we’re not done!” and laid out the process and prospects for seeking an en banc review.“Given the strength of the dissenting opinion of Judge Staton, articulating the apocalyptic conditions, the strength of the evidence, and the proper role of the government and the courts, we are optimistic that the 11-judge panel will reverse today’s majority decision and finally set the case for trial,” the organization stated. “Assuming the Ninth Circuit grants the en banc review, we expect briefing and argument of the case to be complete by year end.” SOURCE

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Judge writes blistering dissent as kids’ climate lawsuit gets tossed

David Suzuki: Conservation and climate action go together

Getty

We live on a changing planet. Unnaturally rapid global warming is altering everything, including lands and waters. Evidence shows we’ve already emitted enough greenhouse gases to alter the structure of ecosystems and interactions within them. Because many gases, such as carbon dioxide, remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, impacts to the planet will continue even if we stop all atmospheric emissions tomorrow.

Approaches to conservation are also changing in response to climate disruption. Protected areas were initially established primarily for the benefit of people: to preserve breeding grounds for game that hunters prefer or to optimize areas for human recreation. Over several decades, efforts have shifted toward prioritizing ecological integrity for Canada’s parks and recognizing the role of Indigenous leadership in conservation and stewardship.

Protected areas can be excellent climate-mitigation tools. Mature forests, peatlands, oceans, and marshes house significant carbon stores, while disturbing these ecosystems releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Evidence shows Earth is heating at an accelerating rate, outpacing the capacity of numerous plant and animal species to adapt. To safeguard biodiversity, protected-area planning has had to evolve to address the habitat changes brought by climate disruption.

This planning isn’t new. Twenty years ago, the World Wildlife Fund produced Buying Time: A User’s Manual for Building Resistance and Resilience to Climate Change in Natural Systems, based on the premise that strategic conservation measures could give nature breathing room until the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy was complete.

“Climate change is happening now and nature is experiencing its impacts first,” the report says. “Whether one looks at coral reefs, mangroves, arctic areas, or montane regions, climate change poses a complex and bewildering array of problems for ecosystems. The key question is, what can be done—in addition to the rapid reduction of CO2 emissions now—to increase the resiliency of these ecosystems to climate change?”

The WWF team developed three broad approaches: protect adequate and appropriate space, limit all nonclimate stresses, and practise adaptive management and strategy-testing. Maintaining functional ecosystems and keystone species must be taken into consideration. Other stresses—like chemical pollutants, fragmentation by roads, and industrial activities—must be reduced. Conservation-method outcomes must be regularly assessed and recalibrated.

More recently, an article in the journal Environmental Research Letters explored “climate-wise connectivity”, natural-area connection “that specifically facilitates animal and plant movement in response to climate change”.

Climate-wise connectivity looks at a number of strategies for conservation planning amid the climate crisis as emergent ecosystems appear. These include increasing the amount of habitat conserved throughout the landscape, adding corridors between protected areas, creating small “stepping stones” of habitat, taking into account the pace of habitat change in different areas so that rapidly changing areas can be buffered by those changing at a slower velocity, and maintaining biologically rich hot spots.

Connectivity corridors that link conservation areas are, at heart, efforts to provide wildlife with pathways on their journeys to continued survival. The article notes that “geophysical features that create a diversity of microclimates are important to focus on as they can buffer the effects of climate change, giving species more opportunities and time to track the changing climate.”

As landscapes and our approaches to conserving them shift, so must our social systems. Climate justice and social justice are intricately linked. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has noted that climate change is disproportionately affecting the poor and most vulnerable, both internationally and within Canada, and will continue to do so.

Humans are part of nature. We form what some social scientists call a “social-ecological system“. We must also build resilience in our own lives and support others less fortunate than ourselves, as human resilience is shaped by many factors: where we live, our relationships with the land, at-hand government support systems, and our personal economic and social resources.

Activism is one way to foster resilience. It can help overcome despair. As people living in Canada, we must help shift social and economic structures to advance climate and ecological resilience. This includes advocating for the establishment of protected areas as tools to maintain carbon, supporting Indigenous-led conservation initiatives, and demanding justice for those displaced and impoverished by climate change, within our borders and without.

How to stop freaking out and tackle climate change

Here’s a five-step plan to deal with the stress and become part of the solution.

Evan Cohen

You are scrolling through the news and see yet another story about climate change.

Australia is on fire. Indonesia is drowning. At the same time, Donald Trump is trying to make it easier to build new fossil-fuel projects.

As you read, your chest tightens and a sense of dread washes over you, radiating out from your heart. You feel anxious, afraid and intensely guilty. Just this morning, you drove a gasoline-powered car to work. You ate beef for lunch. You booked a flight, turned on the heat, forgot your reusable grocery bags at home. This is your fault.

As an environmental writer, I’m often asked for guidance on coping with climate change. I have thoughts. Even better, I have a five-point plan to manage the psychological toll of living with climate change and to become part of the solution.

Step 1: Ditch the shame.

The first step is the key to all the rest. Yes, our daily lives are undoubtedly contributing to climate change. But that’s because the rich and powerful have constructed systems that make it nearly impossible to live lightly on the earth. Our economic systems require most adults to work, and many of us must commute to work in or to cities intentionally designed to favor the automobile. Unsustainable food, clothes and other goods remain cheaper than sustainable alternatives.

And yet we blame ourselves for not being green enough. As the climate essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar writes, “The belief that this enormous, existential problem could have been fixed if all of us had just tweaked our consumptive habits is not only preposterous; it’s dangerous.” It turns eco-saints against eco-sinners, who are really just fellow victims. It misleads us into thinking that we have agency only by dint of our consumption habits — that buying correctly is the only way we can fight climate change.

As long as we are competing for the title of “greener than thou,” or are paralyzed by shame, we aren’t fighting the powerful companies and governments that are the real problem. And that’s exactly the way they like it.

Step 2: Focus on systems, not yourself.

Even if we manage to zero-out our own contributions to climate change, it would be practically a full-time job, leaving us little time or energy for pushing for the systemic changes we need. And the avoided emissions would be tiny compared with the scale of the problem. Each person in the United States emitted an average of 16 metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide in 2018, according to the Energy Information Agency. The entire country emitted 5.28 billion metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide that year.

I have chosen to fight against a proposed gas pipeline, liquefaction facility and liquefied natural gas export terminal that the Canadian company Pembina wants to build in Oregon, where I live. If built, the project would result in emissions of over 36.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Some 42,000 people submitted comments to a state agency asking it to deny permits for the project. If we manage to stop construction, each of those people could claim credit for preventing one forty-two-thousandth of those emissions — some 876 metric tons per person! It would take 54 years of individual zero-carbon living to make the same dent.

My point is that the climate crisis is not going to be solved by personal sacrifice. It will be solved by electing the right people, passing the right laws, drafting the right regulations, signing the right treaties — and respecting those treaties already signed, particularly with indigenous nations. It will be solved by holding the companies and people who have made billions off our shared atmosphere to account.

Step 3: Join an effective group.
These sweeping, systemic changes are complicated and will be hard won. No single person alone can make them happen. Luckily, there are already dozens, if not hundreds, of groups dedicated to climate activism. Some are local and focused on stopping particular fossil-fuel projects, like Rogue Climate in Southern Oregon, with which I am working. Others are national and focused on changing federal policy, like Zero Hour and the Sunrise Movement. Still others, like Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future, are international and focused on putting moral pressure on climate negotiators and governments around the world. Groups like Project Drawdown research the nuts and bolts of decarbonizing the world. Climate change is linked to income inequality and injustice, so if your passion is fighting for racial justice, the rights of the poor, or indigenous rights and sovereignty, that works, too. Or you might volunteer for a climate-focused local or national political candidate.

 

Step 4: Define your role.

The power of these groups is not simply strength in numbers. They work well because they divide up the work that needs to be done and give each task to those best suited to it. This also makes the fight less daunting. Instead of trying to become an expert in international regulatory law, global supply chains, atmospheric science and the art of protest, you can offer the skills and resources you already have, and trust that other people with complementary skills are doing what they can do, too. If you are a writer, you can write letters to the editor, newsletters and fliers. If you are strong, you can lift boxes. If you are rich, you can donate money. Only you know what and how much you can reasonably do. Take care not to overdo it at first and risk burning out. Set a sustainable level of involvement for yourself and keep it up. As a bonus, working with a group will increase the richness and diversity of your personal relationships, and may well temper your climate anxiety and depression.

Step 5: Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.

Even though keeping global warming under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) would absolutely be better than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) of warming, there is no threshold that means that it is “too late” or that we are “doomed.” The lower, the better. It is always worth fighting.

As we fight, it is important for our mental health and motivation to have an image in mind of our goal: a realistically good future.

Imagine dense but livable cities veined with public transit and leafy parks, infrastructure humming away to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, fake meat that tastes better than the real thing, species recovering and rewilding the world, the rivers silver with fish, the skies musical with flocking birds.

This is a future where the economic inequality, racism and colonialism that made decades of inaction on climate change possible has been acknowledged and is being addressed. It is a time of healing. Many ecosystems have changed, but natural resilience and thoughtful human assistance is preventing most species from going extinct. This is a future in which children don’t need to take to the streets in protest and alarm, because their parents and grandparents took action. Instead, they are climbing trees.

This future is still possible. But it will only come to pass if we shed our shame, stop focusing on ourselves, join together and demand it. SOURCE

Clearcutting B.C. forests contributing more to climate change than fossil fuels: report

Protective wrap surrounds seedlings newly planted on a clearcut hillside along Highway 14 on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Western Forest Products Jordan River Managed Forest area. The wrap helps to protect and nurture the seedlings.

 Protective wrap surrounds seedlings newly planted on a clearcut hillside along Highway 14 on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Western Forest Products Jordan River Managed Forest area. The wrap helps to protect and nurture the seedlings. CP PHOTO/Don Denton

While B.C. aims to drastically cut fossil fuel emissions, a new report from an environmental action group says the province should end an even more dangerous contributor to climate change: clearcutting forests.

The report released last week by Sierra Club BC found 3.6 million hectares of forest were clearcut across B.C. between 2005 and 2017 — an area larger than the size of Vancouver Island.

Those areas are considered “sequestration dead zones” for 13 years after they’re clearcut. That means until newly-planted trees grow and mature, the areas release more carbon into the atmosphere from decomposing matter and soil than those young trees can capture and absorb.

 Conservationists attack NDP government over old-growth logging

After reviewing provincial data, the report found logging in B.C. contributes 42 million tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Add on the 26 million tonnes of carbon per year that cannot be captured because of clearcutting, and those emissions outpace the 65 million tonnes of emissions recorded annually in B.C., mainly from fossil fuels.

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“At a time when we urgently need to be reducing all forms of carbon pollution to defend our communities from the climate crisis, clearcut logging in B.C. is making the problem notably worse,” the study’s author and Sierra Club BC’s senior forest and climate campaigner Jens Wieting said in a statement.

“We can only have a stable climate if we protect intact forests, and we can only sustain intact forests if we stabilize the climate. Both are only possible if we reform forestry and give up clearcutting.”

READ MORE: District of Peachland asking province for pause on watershed clearcutting

According to Sierra Club BC, the province does not include forest carbon emissions in its official greenhouse gas inventories.

That practice should change immediately, the report argues, with the group calling for more government research and monitoring along with an overall end to clearcutting, primarily within old-growth forests.

The report found of the 3.6 million hectares of clearcut forest studied — which amounts to just over nine per cent of B.C.’s total forested land — 1.9 million hectares were old-growth forests.

Those old-growth trees are the best defence against carbon emissions due to their great capacity for capturing the gas. According to the report, B.C.’s old-growth rainforests can store over 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare, which is one of the highest rates on the planet.

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 Plan to allow logging of old growth forests draws criticism

“By clearcutting old-growth and older forests, we’re fuelling more global heating,” Wieting said. “We’re putting at risk the future of communities, the forests that remain standing and current and future forestry jobs.”

In his own statement, Nelson city Coun. Rik Logtenberg said local governments’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions will do little to lessen impacts on the climate unless clearcutting comes to an end.

““Clearcutting the forests that surround our communities can have serious impacts on watersheds, dirtying drinking water and putting us at greater risk from flooding, landslides, droughts and wildfire,” said Logtenberg, who also chairs a group of elected leaders known as the Climate Caucus.

“We need provincial leadership to reduce all emissions, including those from forestry, and we need reformed forestry laws to protect and restore forests as a natural defence against climate change.”

READ MORE: B.C. climate plan targets cleaner industry and transportation to hit emission targets

The province’s CleanBC plan, unveiled just over a year ago, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, based on 2007 levels.

Legislation was introduced earlier this year that would set interim emissions targets that will help reach that goal.

While the plan includes initiatives to reduce pollution from industry — primarily oil and gas — and pushes towards energy-conserving buildings and electric vehicles, it does not mention the forestry industry or logging practices.

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In a statement, the Ministry of Environment said it does record emissions from forestry operations, but does not apply them to the province’s emissions totals “as is standard carbon accounting practice around the world.”

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 Disturbing finding about destruction of old-growth rainforest in B.C.

 

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development added it introduced the forest carbon initiative in 2017, which includes planting more trees and hauling away residual waste from forest floors.

The initiative, which is jointly funded by the province and the federal government to the tune of $290 million, has led to the replanting of roughly 12 million trees on the coast and in the Cariboo, with an anticipated 70 million more anticipated by 2022.

The ministry also anticipates 55,000 hectares of fertilization along the coast between 2019 and 2022, after seeing 14,000 hectares fertilized over the past 18 months.

READ MORE: B.C. bans logging in sensitive border area after urging from Seattle mayor

In a statement, BC Council of Forest Industries president and CEO Susan Yurkovich didn’t dispute the Sierra Club’s science, but pointed to its track record in “sustainable forest management.”

“Each year, we harvest less than one per cent of the working forest land base and three trees are planted for every one harvested,” she said. “We have more forested areas certified to internationally recognized sustainability standards than any other jurisdiction in the world.”

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Yurkovich went on to say buildings and products created with forested materials also store carbon dioxide, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  SOURCE

The Tragedy of Germany’s Energy Experiment

The country is moving beyond nuclear power. But at what cost?

Credit…Ronald Wittek/EPA, via Shutterstock

HAMBURG, Germany — Are the Germans irrational? Steven Pinker seems to think so. Professor Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, told the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel recently that if mankind wanted to stop climate change without stopping economic growth too, the world needed more nuclear energy, not less. Germany’s decision to step out of nuclear, he agreed, was “paranoid.”

My country has embarked on a unique experiment indeed. The Merkel government has decided to phase out both nuclear power and coal plants. The last German reactor is scheduled to shut down by the end of 2022, the last coal-fired plant by 2038. At the same time, the government has encouraged the purchase of climate-friendly electric cars — increasing the demand for electrical power. And despite efforts to save energy in the past decades, Germany’s power consumption has grown by 10 percent since 1990.

Skeptics fear that the country is on a risky path. Sufficient renewable energy sources might not be available in time to compensate for the loss of fossil and nuclear power. Though renewables account for around 40 percent of Germany’s electricity supply, there are limits to further expansion, for reasons that are political rather than technological.

In some rural parts of Germany, people are fed up with ever growing “wind parks”; more citizens are protesting new — and often taller — wind turbines in their neighborhoods. And there is growing resistance to the new paths needed to transport electricity from coasts to industrial centers. According to official calculations, close to 3,700 miles of new power lines are required to make Germany’s “Energiewende,” or energy revolution, work. By the end of 2018, only 93 miles had been built.

The plan risks more than a shortfall in supply. It could also prevent the country from dealing with climate change. By shutting down nuclear plants faster than those for coal, Germany may consign itself to dependence on fossil fuels, and all the damage to the climate they cause, for longer than necessary. Nevertheless, Germans’ opposition to nuclear power endures: 60 percent of them want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Paranoia is not exactly the right word to describe the attitude behind these figures, though. Rather, it is the very German trait of freezing when faced with a dilemma. For a nation that is as keen as ours to do what would undoubtedly be considered good, choosing between two evils — here, nuclear power and climate change — is a nearly insurmountable task.
Nuclear energy, to start with, is ultimately not safe, and the Germans have always been particularly uneasy with it. After the nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the “Atomausstieg,” the exit from nuclear energy once and for all. Why? Because, as Ms. Merkel put it back then: “The residual risk of nuclear energy can be accepted only if one is convinced that — as far as it is humanly possible to judge — it won’t come to pass.” After Fukushima, Ms. Merkel, a trained physicist, was no longer able to believe that a nuclear disaster would not occur. That there was a catastrophe even in a high-tech country like Japan made her change her mind.
But what about the near-certain catastrophic consequences of the second evil, climate change enhanced by coal-fired plants? Ms. Merkel recognized recently that “climate change is happening faster than we had thought a couple of years ago.” At the same time, she had to admit that Germany was struggling to fulfill the promises of the Paris climate accord: Despite new hopeful figures, the targeted 40 percent reduction of carbon emissions by the end of 2020 may not be met. One could argue that knowledge about the severity of climate change has deepened since 2011 and that countries should do everything they can to shift away from fossil fuels — yet there’s no sign that Ms. Merkel might change her mind about scrapping nuclear.

A return to nuclear appears to be completely unthinkable for the Green Party, the probable future coalition partner of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The Greens have their roots in the antinuclear movement of the early 1980s: Resistance against nuclear power is in the party’s DNA. But so is the fight against climate change.

Confronted with these competing convictions, the Greens seem to have no good answer. When Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the party, was asked on national television if the country should stick with nuclear power longer to allow a quicker shutdown of coal plants, she rejected the idea emphatically. “No one in this country wants nuclear waste buried in his neighbor’s garden,” she said.

That is certainly true. It is also true that nuclear energy enriches companies while shifting the risk of atomic waste and technological failure onto society. But this calculus is true for heavily carbon-dioxide-emitting coal power, too.

The tragedy about Germany’s energy experiment is that the country’s almost religious antinuclear attitude doesn’t leave room for advances in technology. Scientists in America, Russia and China believe that it is possible to run nuclear power plants on radioactive waste — which might solve the problem of how to store used fuel elements, one of the core arguments against nuclear. Certainly, these so-called fast breeder reactors have their dangers too. But as we transition to a completely renewable energy supply, wouldn’t they be a better alternative to coal and gas plants?

By shutting down its entire nuclear sector in a rush, Germany loses more opportunities than dangers. It forfeits the capacity to connect to a technology that might prove the safest and most climate-friendly mankind has yet seen. At the very least, using Germany’s existing nuclear plants would make an expeditious move away from fossil fuels possible.

Is it irrational not to do so? Maybe, maybe not. But letting this chance slip away could turn out to be one of the gravest mistakes of the Merkel era. SOURCE

 

We Can’t Slow Climate Change Without the Energy Companies

Bigger and faster emissions reductions are possible if environmentalists and industry work together.

Ina Fassbender/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

There is a real danger that the climate debate is deteriorating into a game of name-calling, with oil and gas companies all too often portrayed as opponents of climate progress. But polarizing the debate in this fashion will not get us any closer to solving the problem. We can achieve far greater and faster emissions reductions if environmentalists and energy companies work together.

Most oil and gas companies recognize the threat of climate change and want to be part of the solution. As a sign of their seriousness, five of the largest — BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total — have joined a broad coalition, convened by the Climate Leadership Council, which I run, in backing a concrete plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the United States by half by 2035. These oil and gas companies are not only lending their names to this environmentally ambitious solution; they are putting their money and lobbying muscle behind it.

This marks a turning point for American climate policy and the politics surrounding the issue, because the energy majors are an indispensable part of any successful clean-energy transition. It is important to understand why the industry’s technological, economic and political support is so essential in achieving climate progress.

For starters, oil and gas companies have the scale, research and development budgets, expertise and infrastructures needed to expand low-carbon energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels and hydro, and to pioneer new technological breakthroughs. Their research and development budgets are many times larger than those of companies focusing only on renewables, and their venture capital divisions help finance many of the nation’s clean tech start-ups.

For example, 13 of the largest oil and gas companies have joined forces to launch the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative, which has committed $1 billion to an investment fund to finance the development of technologies to reduce their emissions. Several of the companies in this group have invested considerably more on their own in a range of clean tech ventures.
Active participation from the energy majors is also essential in ensuring a smooth transition to a low-carbon future that avoids major supply disruptions or price spikes. The majors cannot — and should not — abandon their core oil and gas business overnight, when nearly 60 percent of current world energy use comes from oil and gas. Nothing would be more harmful in the drive to reduce emissions — or create a faster public backlash — than blackouts, gas station lines or price spikes in electricity and transportation fuels. The public wants a green future, but not one that disrupts their lives or puts their economic well-being at risk.
Oil and gas companies cannot move faster than technology, the market and public policy permit. Markets are driven as much by demand as by supply, and it is not as if the industry’s products are sitting on the shelves. In fact, global energy demand is still increasing, up 2.3 percent in 2018.
Most importantly, producers and consumers can only do so much in the absence of supportive government policy. Energy majors need stable public policies and predictable pricing signals to accelerate long-term investments in low-carbon products and technologies. That is why a number of executives in the industry have advocated for carbon pricing, some for more than a decade.
Last year, the C.E.O.s of 10 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies issued a joint statement — following a meeting organized by the Vatican — calling for meaningful carbon pricing. The five companies mentioned above, as founding members of the Climate Leadership Council, have worked with us over the last two years to refine the details of our bipartisan carbon pricing plan.
This coalition includes corporate sector leaders from a wide range of industries, top environmental organizations and opinion leaders from across the political spectrum. The framework of the council’s plan for carbon dividends is also supported by a large and prominent group of economists. To date, more than 3,500 economists have signed a statement endorsing the outlines of our proposal, including 27 Nobel laureates in economics.

The council’s bipartisan carbon dividends plan calls for a national carbon fee starting at $40 per ton and increasing at 5 percent per year above inflation. This would establish the highest carbon price of any major emitting country. If enacted by Congress and signed by the president in 2021, it would enable the United States to exceed its 2025 commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement by a wide margin.

The plan’s environmental ambition is matched by equally strong pro-consumer, pro-business and pro-competitiveness provisions. Specifically, its other pillars include returning all the revenue directly to the American people (a family of four would receive about $2,000 a year), adjustments for carbon-intensive imports and exports to level the economic playing field, and regulatory simplification. By the latter, we mean that in the majority of cases where a carbon fee offers a more cost-effective solution, the fee would replace regulations. For example, all current and future federal stationary source carbon regulations would be displaced or pre-empted.

The corporate financial backers of an advocacy campaign to promote this plan range from oil, gas and nuclear interests to solar, wind and geothermal businesses to prominent auto and tech companies. If such a diverse group can agree on a breakthrough solution, political leaders on both sides of the aisle should be able to as well.

Movements for positive change often fail not just because of the resistance of entrenched interests but also because of divisions within the movement itself. It is time to overcome unnecessary divisions and work together in promoting an ambitious and politically viable climate solution. SOURCE