Bailouts Must Support Workers And Incentivize Environmental Innovation

It seems almost inevitable that the Canadian government will bail out (once again) the oil and gas sector. But should governments around the world give bailouts to the wealthiest and most polluting industry in our economy?

Bailouts Must Support Workers And Incentivize Environmental Innovation, Below2C

“A smart response to this emergency could go a long way to addressing the larger ecological crisis looming on the horizon,” writes The Narwhal. Worldwide, the International Energy Agency is calling for governments to take into account climate challenges when designing stimulus and support packages. “This situation is a test of governments and companies’ commitment to clean energy transitions,” wrote executive director Fatih Birol.

Does a Fossil Bailout Make Sense?

In his recent article (first published in Policy Options and The Energy Mix) Mitchell Beer shows how the pandemic response must mobilize around low carbon solutions.

With the coronavirus pandemic devastating the global economy and pushing world oil prices over a cliff, the federal government has two potential options in dealing with the oil and gas industry. It can give in to the predictable lobbying from fossil fuel interests, or it can use the virtual shutdown of the economy for industry mobilization.

[Recently] Prime Minister Justin Trudeau passed a package of “extraordinary” measures, including $55 billion in business supports, aimed at keeping the Canadian economy afloat while the country largely shuts down to slow the spread of the virus. Right on cue, the prospect of a massive oil and gas bailout emerged as a widely touted, seemingly inevitable next step.

Calls for a fossil bailout began circulating, with the Alberta government and 65 of that province’s CEOs pitching Ottawa on a $15-billion industry relief plan, including share purchases for distressed oil and gas companies and a suspension of the federal carbon tax.

Wisely, federal officials signaled that Ottawa’s priority was to help out unemployed oil and gas workers, while directing funds to rehabilitate a backlog of abandoned oil wells that would otherwise take up to 2,800 years to clean and cost $260 billion in Alberta alone.

“We know the oil and gas sector has been particularly affected, and specific help is needed,” said Carlene Variyan, communications director to Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan. “We’re looking at all options—including helping maintain jobs in the industry by enabling workers to put their skills to use remediating the environmental liabilities associated with orphan wells.”

Should bailouts be linked to net-zero 2050 target?

The government appears to know what to do. December’s Throne Speech, which has been eclipsed by the pandemic, set a 2050 deadline for Canada to achieve net-zero emissions, supported by new initiatives on energy-efficient buildings, zero-emission vehicles, “clean, affordable power”, cleantech investment and climate adaptation.

Before the 2019 election, a two-member Advisory Council on Climate Action urged federal action on a zero-emission vehicle mandate and deep energy retrofits. One of the council co-chairs, Steven Guilbeault, now sits at the cabinet table as Minister of Canadian Heritage.

None of this is to suggest that Ottawa can or should be distracted from its most immediate priority: “flattening the curve” on the spread of the coronavirus.

But protecting the country and stabilizing the economy is not synonymous with shoring up a declining industry that has lost the confidence of international investors, currently loses money on every barrel of oil it produces, and accounts for a massive proportion of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s where Ottawa’s other option comes in. It begins with the industrial mobilization Trudeau has already announced, to deliver the rapid testing capacity, ventilators, masks and gowns the health system needs to confront the immediate crisis. But after that, there are other legitimate needs and important supply chains that can stabilize jobs in every region of the country, while setting the economy up for a quick rebound after the pandemic is under control.

Ottawa can begin tapping into those opportunities by:

Staying the course: O’Regan and Finance Minister Bill Morneau should stand their ground on directing any new oilpatch funding to workers and environmental remediation, not company buyouts. Politicians of most partisan stripes like to argue that governments shouldn’t pick winners and losers in a free market. This isn’t the time to bail out small and medium companies that have already enjoyed years of outlandish government subsidies and tax breaks.

Designing an orphan well program that works: Canadians rightly expect value for money when investing public funds. That means dollars for the orphan well program need independent oversight to deliver real jobs and real results. In the best of worlds, delinquent fossil producers would have cleaned up their own mess rather than leaving as many as 343,000 abandoned wells behind. As it stands, it might take a creative federal response to a solution that really falls (and, so far, fails) under provincial jurisdiction to get the work done and the jobs created.

Investing in low-carbon jobs: In the fall 2019 election that now feels like ancient history, the Liberal Party platform promised interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to support energy retrofits in 1.5 million homes. The intent was good, but the numbers may have been off—we need far more retrofits, and the cost could be much lower. Nearly a decade ago, builders in Windsor, Ontario brought costs down from $85,000 to $10,700 per home, by combining 95 retrofits in a single project. In the age of coronavirus, social distancing has shut down most construction sites. But deep energy retrofits require new skills for a small army of contractors and tradespeople and quickly ramping up e-training creates worthy, needed jobs for community colleges and construction teams. A period of social isolation is exactly the right time to double down on that work.

Fighting two epidemics at once: Rural communities are hurting as badly as urban ones and many of them were in more tenuous shape before the pandemic hit. In February, the co-founder of Canada’s first mental health organization run by and for farmers was shocked to see more than 400 people show up for a public meeting in Edmonton — and to learn that most of them knew a farmer who had taken their own life. The farm mental health crisis is often about deep economic uncertainty made worse by climate-driven weather extremes. Investing now in agriculture extension services and income supports for proven, sustainable, less carbon-intensive practices will make farms more resilient and food supplies more secure, help stabilize rural economies and protect Canadians whose lives were already at risk before COVID-19 arrived.

All these measures deliver cash infusions to help stabilize jobs and incomes during the pandemic. They all strengthen essential building blocks for a more stable, diversified, resilient economy which will be with us long after oil and gas enters its inevitable managed decline.

In the end, putting carbon solutions and community resilience at the heart of Canada’s pandemic response is about value for money. It’s a reliable path to investing in Canadians, especially the most vulnerable among us and not corporate bailouts. As much as any other moment in living memory, this pandemic demands solidarity. Ottawa has an opportunity to meet today’s urgent need, while taking a significant step towards the future economy it already wants to build. SOURCE

The Greed of the Oil Giants Is a Total Betrayal of the Future

The fossil industry could take important measures to mitigate climate change, but devotes itself to the opposite. The real scandal is the companies’ unwillingness to redirect new investments into renewable energy. It is a huge betrayal of the future — where the Murdoch press but, as well, some Swedish Media play along, writes Anders Wijkman.

When historians answer the question in the future which actors or factors were the biggest obstacles to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the 2000s, the candidates are many: the reluctance of accepting supranational decision-making by countries such as the US and China, the reluctance of political leaders such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro to cooperate internationally, the attempts of conventional economists such as William Nordhaus to downplay the risks, the disagreement between rich and poor countries about the responsibility for historical emissions or the constant attempts to disrupt the negotiations by oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia.

However, a special place must be reserved for the big oil, gas and coal companies for the disgraceful role they played and play. First, by obfuscating their own research data that at an early stage showed the risks of increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Then by investing hundreds of millions of dollars annually on lobbying in parliaments around the world, not least the US Congress, to torpedo or delay legislation aimed at limiting emissions.

The real scandal

The real scandal today is the companies’ unwillingness to diversify their operations and redirect new investments in energy production into renewable energy. Instead, companies continue to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into new oil and gas production. It is a huge betrayal of the future.

The coal companies are in a league of their own. The coal should stay in the ground and every newly opened coal mine — as in Australia recently — is a crime against the future. However, coal companies generally differ from oil and gas companies to the extent that their profit margins are small. Many coal companies have also gone bankrupt in recent years and the future of the industry is shaky in many countries.

The oil and gas producing companies, on the other hand, have so far had very good profitability. This means that companies such as BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon Mobil invest tens of billions of dollars each year on new energy extraction. Of this, only an average of just over one percent currently end up in alternatives to oil and gas. In Exxon Mobil’s case, it is even smaller, in fact only 1/5 of this percentage, which is invested in renewable energy (the Carbon Disclosure Project). Instead, the money ends up being used to develop new oil and gas deposits. Still, we know that already the oil and gas fields that are under production in the world contain several times more oil and gas than can be used to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals. Further investments mean that the industry becomes even more firmly embedded in the fossil economy. The result can only be a disaster for the climate or that large parts of the investments become stranded (lost) assets.

The Greed of the Oil Giants Is a Total Betrayal of the Future, Below2C

What happened to “Beyond Petroleum”

But the managers who have succeeded him, among them the Swedish Carl-Henrik Svanberg, have primarily focused on continued extraction of oil and gas.

BP coined the term “Beyond Petroleum” twenty years ago. They then had a forward-thinking chief, Lord John Browne. But the managers who have succeeded him, among them the Swedish Carl-Henrik Svanberg, have primarily focused on continued extraction of oil and gas. I remember a statement from Svanberg a few years ago where he described it as BP would “go back to its roots”. BP did make a statement recently promising zero emissions from the company’s operations by 2050, but how to accomplish this remains yet unclear.

A few companies in the oil industry have taken small steps towards diversification, such as Total, Shell and Equinor, but their efforts outside the fossil market are still modest. However, Equinor — which has changed its name from Statoil to highlight a changed focus in its operations — has still a long way to go. Although the company has made good investments in offshore wind power, the commitment to oil and gas remains dominant.

The company is also a leader in the new oil field, Johan Sverdrup, which was inaugurated in mid-January. The field is said to contain reserves of 2.7 billion barrels of oil and is expected to generate a total revenue of at least $ 100 billion. Equinor’s management said in a statement “that Johan Sverdrup is good for Equinor’s shareholders, for Norway but also for climate emissions”. The latter claim is based on the fact that Equinor has electrified the oil recovery itself. It reduces emissions by a few percent. But the dominant emissions occur when the oil is used. An environmental representative in Norway pointed out: “Equinor’s statement is the same as a tobacco manufacturer that boasts that none of the company’s employees smoke while significantly increasing cigarette sales.”

Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish Oil Company, is also deeply involved in Norwegian waters. The company has recently decided to change its name to Lundin Energy. The motive is to show that the climate issue is taken seriously and that the company intends to invest in other energy sources than fossil energy. By 2030, they want to be climate neutral in their extraction of oil, mainly by adding green electricity to their oil platforms. But as for Equinor, the entirely dominant climate impact comes from the use of the oil.

In parallel, the big banks continue to pump money into various fossil projects. In total, close to $ 2,000 billion has been spent on new oil, gas and coal projects since the Paris Agreement was signed (Fossil fuel finance report card, 2019). JP Morgan Chase is, not surprisingly, at the top of the banks.

However, discussions are ongoing about the role of the financial industry in climate change. A growing number of banks and financial companies have gone out of coal, oil and gas. But still a large majority continue to support fossil companies and thus make the transition to a fossil-free energy system difficult.

One thing is clear

If companies such as BP, Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Equinor, Aramco and others do not continue to invest heavily in new extraction, lending to the fossil extraction would be significantly lower. However, large investments are still being made by the oil-producing states.

To meet the Paris Agreement’s goals, global annual investments in renewable energy would at least need to triple

No one can demand that fossil companies stop selling oil and gas from one day to another. Most of the development in the world would stop. Nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy supply is still fossil fuels. However, given the seriousness of the situation, oil and gas companies need to take rapid steps to diversify their operations and aid the energy conversion. Companies such as BP, Exxon Mobil and Chevron are energy companies and should of course help develop alternative energy sources, just as the electricity companies have been forced to do.

To meet the Paris Agreement’s goals, annual global renewable energy investments would at least need to triple. If the oil and gas companies invested their investment funds in renewables instead of in oil and gas, they could in one go increase investments in solar, wind, geothermal energy and climate-smart bioenergy by close to 50 percent. It would give momentum to an industry that must soar if we are to have a chance to stop the heating below 2 degrees.

One can speculate as to why diversification has not come off. Comments from people in the industry mainly point to three reasons. On the one hand, companies are quite simply speculating that tough political measures will be delayed in most countries and that they can therefore look forward to a growing market many decades to come. Partly it is greed that governs. The profitability of selling oil and gas has been very high, which has led to good returns for shareholders and high salaries for people working in the companies. Profitability in the electricity sector has been significantly lower and thus less attractive. Finally, it is possible that the culture in the companies is not suitable for anything other than oil and gas. If true, these companies could refrain from operating solar and wind energy plants themselves and limit themselves to being part owners.

In addition, parts of the media, such as the Murdoch press and, in Sweden, the leader page in Svenska Dagbladet, have gone along

Another factor that comes into play is, of course, the forces that do their best to play down the importance of climate issues, such as the oil-producing countries and economists with William Nordhaus at the forefront. In addition, parts of the media, such as the Murdoch press and, in Sweden, the editorial page of Svenska Dagbladet, have gone along. The SvD has for many years been giving plenty of scope to Björn Lomborg, who repeatedly claims that sun and wind are still too expensive to invest in — a free pass to the oil and gas companies.

Sooner or later…

Oil and gas companies will be forced to rethink. Concerns about stranded assets are growing in the financial industry and a “tipping point”, when a majority of financial institutions ditches the fossil industry, need not be far away. At the same time, time is short.

The oil and gas companies could make important contributions to the transition, but devote themselves mostly to maintaining the status quo. Responsibility rests heavily on both those who own and those who run them. The situation is not getting any better because, according to an analysis of Influence Map, many of the companies continue to invest big money on political lobbying every year to delay tough measures against emissions. SOURCE

UN climate negotiations end in ‘demoralizing, enraging’ failure

U.N. security try to clear protesters during a protest at COP25 to draw attention to the climate emergency.. Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. AP Photograph / Paul White

The United Nations climate talks went into record overtime and then ended in failure on Sunday. The countries gathered in Madrid for COP25 were unable to agree on the main objectives of the negotiations and kicked the most important decisions down the road to next year’s meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.

A coalition of countries seeking higher ambition were blocked by a group of big polluters insisting on accounting tricks such as “hot air” credits, opposing help for nations suffering the impacts of climate change, and demanding that human rights protections get removed from the main sections of the agreement that COP25 was intended to resolve. One of the main breakdowns centred on Article 6 which covers international accounting for climate pollution and credits between countries. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers along with politicians like Jason Kenney and Andrew Scheer, had been making misleading suggestions that Article 6 could be used to give Canada credit for exports of LNG and other fossil fuels.

The “High Ambition Coalition” includes island countries like the Marshall Islands which are threatened by rising sea levels as well as European countries which, just this week, dramatically strengthened their own climate plans.

Simon Stiell, a minister from Grenada who spoke for the coalition, put blame for COP’s failure squarely on the United States, Brazil and Australia. “Lives are at risk here,” Stiell told National Observer. “We know what actions need to be taken but there are a few voices dictating the agenda of the many.”

The European Union’s lead negotiator said “there is no way we could accept a compromise that jeopardizes environmental integrity. We need to be ambitious and get to net-zero emissions by 2050, and we can only get there if we start now.”

Youth climate advocates have galvanized a worldwide surge in climate concern in 2019. “Our future is literally at stake. We don’t have any other choice than trying through all possible means,” said Catherine Gauthier, Executive Director, of ENvironnement JEUnesse. Gauthier is leading a class action lawsuit by Canadian youth against the federal government and was in Madrid as an accredited observer of COP25.

The 2019 UN climate negotiations were widely expected to be little more than a stopover on the way to 2020 where countries agreed to announce new, more ambitious plans to limit climate pollution.

Despite those low expectations, there was some hope that the world’s governments would feel compelled to respond to the explosion of public concern in 2019 and frightening new scientific findings. In the end, they did not even live up to the meager expectations.

Catherine Abreu, the lead Canadian watchdogging the UN process, also laid blame for the failure on big polluting countries which “have been able to ruthlessly advance the fossil fuel industry’s profit agenda over our collective futures.”

“While Canadian negotiators were largely constructive on the ground, Canada has a lot of work to do at home to address the gap between its climate goals and its ongoing commitment to expand the fossil fuel industry, which got a lot of international attention here in Madrid,” said Abreu. She called on Canada’s environment minister to “increase Canada’s climate finance contributions and deliver on his government’s election promise to bring a new, more ambitious Paris pledge to COP26 in 2020.”

.@Cat_Abreu, the lead Canadian watchdogging the UN process, laid blame for failure on big polluting countries which “have been able to ruthlessly advance the fossil fuel industry’s profit agenda over our collective futures,” @zerocarbon

The United States, Brazil and Australia were the main obstructionists. The United States’ role was particularly galling because Donald Trump had already pulled out of the Paris agreement.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro, the “Trump of the Tropics,” turned his arsonism onto the international stage, a brief detour from torching the Amazon rainforest.

Australia’s delegation blatantly did the bidding of its coal industry. They return home to a country ablaze in bushfires and a population choking in smoke.

But even outside that triad of obstructionists, the negotiations were poorly handled. Much of the blame goes to Chile who held this year’s COP presidency. Shockingly little work had been done to line up the issues and troubleshoot predictable sticking points in advance. Even once the negotiations were underway, it was virtually impossible to track the goings-on. “The most opaque COP I have ever seen,” said Elizabeth May.

May said there was an upside in punting Article 6. “No decision at all is preferable to a bad decision here. We did not end up with … rules that would have damaged the whole Paris effort to hold global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees.”

Representatives from Indigenous and climate groups said the failure of world governments to respond to the climate crisis means that citizens will have to step up action.

It’s been made clear that there is no room for ethics in these international negotiations. The people need to carry the work that negotiators can’t,” said Deputy Grand Chief Jordan Peterson of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

“It wasn’t just that the COP25 outcome was a disaster. It was also demoralizing and enraging to see countries erase human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples… It will be up to people in Canada and around the world to continue to mobilize,” said Environmental Defence’s Dale Marshall.

It is particularly unfair to Spain that the Madrid talks will be remembered as a failure. Spain valiantly offered to host the negotiations after riots against austerity measures forced Chile to abandon the COP in Santiago. Chile maintained its role managing the negotiating process but the talks themselves moved to Madrid. The Spanish capital had just a month’s preparation before welcoming every country in the world — less time to prep than the average office holiday party.

When the heads of state arrived along with federal and subnational ministers, thousands of negotiators, experts and observers, the entire city was ready. Madrid’s elegant buildings and avenues were festooned with creative artwork highlighting the climate challenge. Enormous LED signs lit the Gran Via. Delegates were given passes to an impressive metro system, its subway cars decked out in climate wraps and stations covered with billboards. The massive conference centre was highly organized as if plans and preparations had been underway for many months if not years.

When Canada’s negotiators return, exhausted, to Ottawa, they will soon have to decide whether or not to approve Teck Resources Limited’s mega mine in the Alberta oil sands. That will be the next big test of whether our federal government’s commitment to climate action leaves us energized or enraged. SOURCE


COP25 derailed as polluters prioritized over people and planet
With the exclusion of science COP25 was designed to fail
Europe has unveiled a plan to eliminate climate emissions by 2050

The big polluters’ masterstroke was to blame the climate crisis on you and me

Fossil fuel giants have known the harm they do for decades. But they created a system that absolves them of responsibility

 Illustration: Eva Bee

Let’s stop calling this the Sixth Great Extinction. Let’s start calling it what it is: the “first great extermination”. A recent essay by the environmental historian Justin McBrien argues that describing the current eradication of living systems (including human societies) as an extinction event makes this catastrophe sound like a passive accident.

While we are all participants in the first great extermination, our responsibility is not evenly shared. The impacts of most of the world’s people are minimal. Even middle-class people in the rich world, whose effects are significant, are guided by a system of thought and action that is shaped in large part by corporations. 

The Guardian’s polluters series reports that just 20 fossil fuel companies, some owned by states, some by shareholders, have produced 35% of the carbon dioxide and methane released by human activities since 1965. This was the year in which the president of the American Petroleum Institute told his members that the carbon dioxide they produced could cause “marked changes in climate” by the year 2000. They knew what they were doing.

BP’s oil refinery complex in Grangemouth, central Scotland. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A paper published in Nature shows that we have little chance of preventing more than 1.5C of global heating unless existing fossil fuel infrastructure is retired. Instead the industry intends to accelerate production, spending nearly $5tn in the next 10 years on developing new reserves. It is committed to ecocide.

But the biggest and most successful lie it tells is this: that the first great extermination is a matter of consumer choice. In response to the Guardian’s questions, some of the oil companies argued that they are not responsible for our decisions to use their products. But we are embedded in a system of their creation – a political, economic and physical infrastructure that creates an illusion of choice while, in reality, closing it down.

We are guided by an ideology so familiar and pervasive that we do not even recognise it as an ideology. It is called consumerism. It has been crafted with the help of skilful advertisers and marketers, by corporate celebrity culture, and by a media that casts us as the recipients of goods and services rather than the creators of political reality. It is locked in by transport, town planning and energy systems that make good choices all but impossible. It spreads like a stain through political systems, which have been systematically captured by lobbying and campaign finance, until political leaders cease to represent us, and work instead for the pollutocrats who fund them.

In such a system, individual choices are lost in the noise. Attempts to organise boycotts are notoriously difficult, and tend to work only when there is a narrow and immediate aim. The ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on “the Chinese”. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.

A protester is detained during an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Whitehall, London. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters Pinterest 

The power of consumerism is that it renders us powerless. It traps us within a narrow circle of decision-making, in which we mistake insignificant choices between different varieties of destruction for effective change. It is, we must admit, a brilliant con.

It’s the system we need to change, rather than the products of the system. It is as citizens that we must act, rather than as consumers. But how? Part of the answer is provided in a short book published by one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, called Common Sense for the 21st Century. I don’t agree with everything it says, but the rigour and sweep of its analysis will, I think, ensure that it becomes a classic of political theory.

It begins with the premise that gradualist campaigns making small demands cannot prevent the gathering catastrophes of climate and ecological breakdown. Only mass political disruption, out of which can be built new and more responsive democratic structures, can d

By studying successful mobilisations, such as the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 (which played a critical role in ending racial segregation in the US), the Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig in 1989 (which snowballed until they helped bring down the East German regime), and the Jana Andolan movement in Nepal in 2006 (which brought down the absolute power of the monarchy and helped end the armed insurgency), Hallam has developed a formula for effective “dilemma actions”. A dilemma action is one that puts the authorities in an awkward position. Either the police allow civil disobedience to continue, thereby encouraging more people to join, or they attack the protesters, creating a powerful “symbolism of fearless sacrifice”, thereby encouraging more people to join. If you get it right, the authorities can’t win.

Among the crucial common elements, he found, are assembling thousands of people in the centre of the capital city, maintaining a strictly nonviolent discipline, focusing on the government and continuing for days or weeks at a time. Radical change, his research reveals, “is primarily a numbers game. Ten thousand people breaking the law has historically had more impact than small-scale, high-risk activism.” The key challenge is to organise actions that encourage as many people as possible to join. This means they should be openly planned, inclusive, entertaining, peaceful and actively respectful. You can join such an action today, convened by Extinction Rebellion in central London.

Hallam’s research suggests that this approach offers at least a possibility of breaking the infrastructure of lies the fossil fuel companies have created, and developing a politics matched to the scale of the challenges we face. It is difficult and uncertain of success. But, he points out, the chances that politics as usual will meet our massive predicament with effective action are zero. Mass dilemma actions could be our last, best chance of preventing the great extermination. SOURCE


How do we rein in the fossil fuel industry? Here are eight ideas

Individual action alone won’t solve the climate crisis. So what political changes might help?

Lindsey oil refinery in north Lincolnshire. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Put climate on the ballot paper

Individual actions, such as flying less or buying electric cars, are helpful, but they will be futile without collective political action to slash emissions on a corporate, national and global scale. Politicians need to feel this is a priority for the electorate. That means keeping the subject high on the agenda for MPs with questions, protests, emails, social media posts, lobbying by NGOs and most of all through voting choices. Politicians need to know the public is behind them if they are to take on the petrochemical industry.

End fossil fuel subsidies

The coal, oil and gas industries benefit from $5tn dollars a year – $10m a minute – according to the International Monetary Fund, which described its own estimate as “shocking”. Even direct consumption subsidies for fossil fuels are double those for renewables, which the International Energy Agency says “greatly complicates the task” of tackling the climate crisis. The biggest subsidisers, the G20 nations, pledged in 2009 to end the handouts, but progress has been very limited. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, attacked the incentives in May, saying: “What we are doing is using taxpayers’ money … to destroy the world.” Any change has to include provisions for social justice. Cuts in fuel subsidies should not be used as an austerity measure that hurts the poor most.

Put a price on carbon

The idea of putting a price on carbon has been around since the early 1990s and a cap-and-trade system was incorporated into the 1997 Kyoto protocol. Under cap-and-trade, a limit is set on emissions and businesses issued with permits to emit carbon. Those cutting their emissions fastest can sell spare permits to laggards, while the cap is ratcheted down over time. But success depends on a strict cap and a scarcity of permits, and the EU’s scheme has been widely criticised. An alternative is a tax, which forces companies to factor the damage caused by climate change into their business decisions, and should encourage them to cut waste, cut emissions and use clean technology. The danger is of carbon leakage: that the extra cost in one country might encourage businesses to look elsewhere to site their factories. This can be dealt with by a border adjustment tax, as the EU’s new commissioner pledged this week. Carbon taxes don’t have to create economic losers, either – revenue neutral taxes redistribute the money to the people and are advocated by many.

Scale back demand for fossil fuels

Oil companies will sell oil for as long as there are buyers. Public shaming and social and political pressure can work to force companies to own up to their activities but most oil and gas around the world is produced by national oil companies, and they need no social licence to operate beyond that granted by their governments, which are often autocratic or unresponsive to public opinion. All companies are responsive to economic pressure, however. The only way to cut emissions from oil in the long term is to stop using oil. Reducing demand is driven by government regulation and by technological development (also driven by regulation), such as cheaper solar panels, offshore windfarms, electric cars and improved public transport.

Stop flaring

If oil and gas are to be extracted, the least oil companies can do is extract efficiently. The World Bank has estimated that the amount of gas wastefully flared globally each year, if used for power generation instead, could supply all of Africa’s electricity needs. The FT reported earlier this year that flaring in Texas was lighting up the night sky as producers let off the gas to get the oil to market quickly, to turn a faster buck regardless of the environmental consequences. The World Bank wants an end to routine flaring globally by 2030 – yet in 2018 it increased.

Roll out large scale carbon capture and storage

Trapping and burying the CO2 from fossil fuel burning is possible but not yet deployed at scale. Without this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says tackling the climate crisis will be much more expensive. Oil companies have the expertise to roll out CCS but say that without a price on carbon emissions there is no commercial incentive. CCS could be used to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere by growing trees and plants, burning them for electricity, then sequestering the emissions. But the IPCC has warned that doing this at large scale could conflict with growing food.

Halt investment in fossil fuels

The energy transition poses many risks and opportunities for investors, but it cannot be that well-intentioned savers seeking to use their money to support renewable energy businesses and divest from fossil fuels are still inadvertently investing in oil, gas and coal companies. Green investing must be regulated to ensure it really is green.

Establish market metrics on climate change

Nearly three years after the Paris agreement, world markets still have no mandatory, comparable data to measure the risks posed by the climate crisis at a company level. Regulators must act urgently – slow-moving voluntary schemes are not enough. Last week, the governor of the Bank of England warned major corporations that they had two years to agree rules for reporting climate risks before global regulators devised their own and made them compulsory. If markets do not understand what climate change really means for car manufacturers, fossil fuel companies and energy firms, a climate-induced financial crisis is just a matter of time. Investment in fossil fuels must end. The fossil fuel divestment movement now has $11.5tn of assets under management committed to divestment. SOURCE


Ecocide Should Be Recognized As a Crime Against Humanity, But We Can’t Wait for The Hague to Judge

Image result for Darren Woods climate villan
People gather and march during the Global Climate Strike march in Washington, DC on September 20, 2019. – Crowds of children skipped school to join a global strike against climate change

THE IMAGE OF Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil, loomed over the climate strike in New York last Friday afternoon. Rendered in cardboard, 15 feet tall and clutching a bag of fake, bloodied money, the puppet of Woods wore the label “Climate Villain.” It bobbed among the 250,000-strong crowd, joined by cutout versions of BP CEO Bob Dudley and Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden. By the time the puppets were set down in Battery Park, the terminus of the New York protest, the faces of the fossil fuel executives had been daubed with marker-pen devil horns.

As millions of workers and students filled city streets around the world last week, there was no shortage of bold and inventive protest signs. While many expressed broad concerns about the burning planet and an imperiled future, a number, like the CEO puppets, were unambiguous in their antagonism towards the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. With the stakes of global heating intolerable, and the fanglessness of international climate agreements undeniable, it is little wonder that activists are calling for the major perpetrators of environmental decimation to be seen as guilty parties in mass atrocity, on a par with war crimes and genocide. The demand that ecocide — the decimation of ecosystems, humanity and non-human life — be prosecutable by The International Criminal Court has found renewed force in a climate movement increasingly unafraid to name its enemies.

The push to establish ecocide as an international crime aims to create criminal liability for chief executives and government ministers, while creating a legal duty of care for life on earth. Its strength, however, lies not in the practical or likely ability of The Hague — a profoundly flawed judicial body — to deliver climate justice. The demand that ecocide be recognized as a crime against humanity and non-human life is most powerful as a heuristic: a framework for insisting that environmental destruction has nameable guilty parties, perpetrators of mass atrocity, against whom climate struggle must be waged on numerous fronts.

“There are situations in which framing a specific enemy is not useful and obscures more than it reveals — for example, when the systematic violence of policing is blamed on ‘bad apple’ cops,” said political scientist Thea Riofrancos, co-author of the forthcoming book “A Planet to Win.” “Here, we seem to have the opposite. Fossil fuel companies have sown confusion, and we need clarity about who our opponents and our allies are.” While warning about the “judicialization of politics” potentially wasting activists and lawyers’ time and resources on legal proceedings, Riofrancos noted that she has observed powerful examples of communities deploying the language of legal rights as a tactic outside courtrooms and state houses.

“Fossil fuel companies have sown confusion, and we need clarity about who our opponents and our allies are.”

Image result for Thea RiofrancosIn another forthcoming book, Riofrancos explores the case of indigenous communities in Ecuador who have invoked legal rights established in the country’s progressive 2008 constitution as a tool and weapon to use in and out of court. These groups enacted legal norms in Ecuador through various creative, interpretative strategies, which “took place in a wide variety of venues, consisting not only, or even primarily, of courtrooms, but also of ministry offices in the capital and in the provinces, state and corporate information centers in affected communities, social movement organization headquarters, anti-mining and anti-oil demonstrations, popular assemblies in repurposed auditoriums and soccer fields, and texts of various genres.”

Other terrains of social justice struggle, such as #MeToo, have also shown the potential uses of criminal justice lexicon and narrative, necessarily deployed outside of a problematic criminal justice apparatus. Those of us who believe that no lasting justice can come from carceral solutions (given the inherent violence of that system) see the intolerable risks of relying on, or bolstering, criminal justice as a path to social justice. The strength of #MeToo revelations lay not in their ability to convince a judge, but to build consensus around the need to unseat powerful perpetrators of sexual violence.

Legal norms and rights can and do take on political life through direct action, community consultation and protest…. Collective action — like last week’s mass climate strike, like voting for leaders pushing a Green New Deal, like fighting for our lives against capitalism — must be pursued with vigor. This is how we take the fight against ecocide to its perpetrators. MORE


Fossil Rebellion

In the midst of climate breakdown, governments around the world are funding and protecting the fossil fuel industry

Climate activists from the Extinction Rebellion group demonstrate during protests outside the Bank of England in London last week © Bloomberg

The tragedy of our times is that the gathering collapse of our life support systems coincides with the age of public disservice. Just as we need to rise above self-interest and short termism, governments around the world now represent the meanest and dirtiest of special interests. In the United Kingdom, the US, Brazil, Australia and many other nations, pollutocrats rule.

The Earth’s systems are breaking down at astonishing speed. Wild fires roar across Siberia and Alaska, biting, in many places, deep into peat soils, releasing plumes of carbon dioxide and methane that cause more global heating. In July alone, Arctic wildfires are reckoned to have released as much carbon into the atmosphere as Austria does in a year: already the vicious twister of climate feedbacks has begun to turn. Torrents of meltwater pour from the Greenland ice cap, sweltering under a 15°C temperature anomaly. Daily ice losses on this scale are 50 years ahead of schedule: they were forecast by the climate models for 2070. A paper in Geophysical Research Letters reveals that the thawing of permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic now exceeds the depths of melting projected by scientists for 2090.

While record temperatures in Europe last month caused discomfort and disruption, in Southwest Asia they are already starting to reach the point at which the human body hits its thermal limits. Ever wider tracts of the world will come to rely on air-conditioning not only for basic comfort but also for human survival: another feedback spiral, as air-conditioning requires massive energy use. Those who cannot afford it will either move or die. Already, climate breakdown is driving more people from their homes than either poverty or conflict, while contributing to both these other factors.

recent paper in Nature shows that we have little hope of preventing more than 1.5° of global heating unless we retire existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Even if no new gas or coal power plants, roads and airports are built, the carbon emissions from current installations are likely to push us past this threshold. Only by retiring some of this infrastructure before the end of its natural life could we secure a 50% chance of remaining within the temperature limit agreed in Paris in 2015. Yet, far from decommissioning this Earth-killing machine, almost everywhere governments and industry stoke its fires.

The oil and gas industry intends to spend $4.9 trillion over the next 10 years, exploring and developing new reserves, none of which we can afford to burn. According to the IMF, every year governments subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of $5 trillion: many times more than they spend on addressing our existential predicament. The US spends 10 times more on these mad subsidies than on its federal education budget. Last year, the world burnt more fossil fuels than ever before.

An analysis by Barry Saxifrage in Canada’s National Observer shows that half the fossil fuels ever used by humans have been burnt since 1990. While renewable and nuclear power supplies have also risen in this period, the gap between the production of fossil fuels and low carbon energy has not been narrowing, but steadily widening. What counts, in seeking to prevent runaway global heating, is not the good things we start to do, but the bad things we cease to do. Shutting down fossil infrastructure requires government intervention.

But in many nations, governments intervene not to protect humanity from the existential threat of fossil fuels, but to protect the fossil fuel industry from the existential threat of public protest.

In the US, legislators in 18 states have put forward bills criminalising protests against pipelines, seeking to crush democratic dissent on behalf of the oil industry. In June, Donald Trump’s government proposed federal legislation that would jail people for up to 20 years for disrupting pipeline construction. MORE


Public security and public interest: which public? Who decides?

This blog is part two of a series looking at corporate interference in democracy and quashing of public protest. Read the first one here.

We’re seeing a number of questionable actions coming from different arms of government under the guise of ‘public security’ and ‘public interest’, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s “war room” and the RCMP handing information with Enbridge about land and water protectors blocking pipelines in BC.

Premier Jason Kenney (left, photo: The Star) and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (right, photo: CBC). These two are at the helm of different public institutions that inappropriately use public resources to support the unjust and unsustainable fossil fuel industry.

‘Public security’ is a tricky phrase. Canada has treaty responsibilities that it is not living up to, and CSIS is actively supporting the suppression of Indigenous land defenders to the benefit of private interests like Enbridge and a broad network of fossil fuel companies. Canada has consistently for 152 years tried to quash the full realization of a treaty-based relationship with Indigenous nations, and consistently removed Indigenous nations from their land through legislation, culture of dispossession, and force (and before confederation Canada’s predecessors were doing the same). Black communities have been criminalized and surveilled since slavery – even in Canada. Two great reads on these topics include Policing Indigenous Movements by Andrew Crosby and Geoffry Monaghan, which captures modern surveillance and criminalization of Indigenous land and water protectors, and Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard, which is a “comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.”

I am generally skeptical of the phrase ‘general public’ because there are so many diverse communities with particular histories, needs, and visions. When the government uses this term to justify its actions we should be equally cautious. Whose interests are they really protecting? Whose are being set aside in favour of a particular public? Are the interests being served even public at all?

There are loads of communities and groups that are not being served by the surveilling of climate justice movements – primarily the people who are trying to have their needs met through that movement, like Indigenous peoples, fishers, farmers, women, coastal communities, and beyond. Just last week the joint review panel for the massive Teck tar sands mine said the project would be ‘in the public interest’ even though the report says the mine would likely “significantly” and “irreparably” harm Indigenous communities and local ecology.

When governments and government institutions use their power to decide which public gets to be secure, we need to look deeply at whose interests are being served and use our power as a movement to name those interests. In these cases, CSIS, the RCMP, and the Premier of Alberta are using their power to serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of everyone and their ability to participate in democracy.

What can we do? Be on guard for corporate rhetoric

We’re seeing that politicians, police forces, and just about any democratic institution in Canada is susceptible to manipulation by corporate interests. The way these institutions describe Canada’s current reality and the actions we must take to address our challenges matter a lot – these are the stories of who we are as a society and who we can become.

Please help us see the RCMP investigation report released – send an email to Minister Ralph Goodale and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki!

If these stories are always tainted with industry interests, the only stories available to the masses will be those that include fossil fuels, mass exploitation of Indigenous lands and resources, and continued social division, racism, and xenophobia. MORE

Green Party unveils plan to transition oil, gas workers to renewable energy jobs

Leader Elizabeth May says workers should not fear for their future as she ramps up pre-election campaign

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May held a press conference Wednesday to unveil the party’s plan to support workers in the fossil fuel industry as they transition to a renewable energy economy. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has unveiled a multi-pronged plan to help workers in the gas and oil sector transition to a renewable energy economy, working to allay fears that her climate action plan would bleed jobs as she ramps up pre-election campaign efforts.

The Green worker transition plan, which includes skills retraining programs and massive retrofit and cleanup projects designed to create employment, fleshes out details from the Green Party’s climate action plan called Mission: Possible, that was released in May.

Making the announcement in Vancouver on Wednesday, May said she understands the anxiety among workers in the fossil fuel industry and wants to take an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to transform Canada’s economy.

“It’s critical that workers in fossil fuel industries and fossil fuel-dependent communities not fear for their future. We are not at war with fossil fuel workers. We are not at all willing to leave any part of Canada or any community behind.”

Platform priorities

Along with climate action, she said the key platform priorities will be democratic reform, pharmacare and real conciliation with Indigenous people.

The Green Party plan to transition fossil fuel workers includes:

    • Investing in retraining and apprenticeship programs to refocus the skills of industrial trade workers for jobs in the renewable energy sector.
    • Start a massive cleanup of “orphaned” oil wells; some of which can be transformed to produce geothermal energy.
    • Create a national program to retrofit all buildings to optimum energy efficiency.
    • Establish a transition framework to factor in the unique resources and circumstances of each province.
    • Form partnerships with Indigenous people to ramp up renewable energy development in First Nations communities and on Indigenous lands.


Vast subsidies keeping the fossil fuel industry afloat should be put to better use


(MENAFN – The Conversation) Capitalism has often been identified as the underlying cause of theclimate crisis . A leading voice on the subject is Naomi Klein, one of the climate movements most influential thinkers, whose seminal book onclimate changewas subtitled Capitalism vs. the Climate. She is one of many voices identifying capitalism as the cause of climate change.

Often central within the capitalism versus the climate framing is the idea that the heart of capitalist ideology – free market fundamentalism – has fuelled the climate crisis. But this line of argument often glosses over the fact that energy markets are not free from government intervention. In fact, the fossil fuel industry is deeply and increasingly reliant on government support to survive.

Ina forthcoming book chapter , I detail case studies from the world’s worst climate polluting countries. I show that the fossil fuel industry depends on an egregious amount of government support, which makes the public foot the bill for a harmful – and increasingly uncompetitive – industry.

Polluters market

In my chapter, I show that governments the world over favour fossil fuel interests throughpublic financing ,financial subsidies , andbailouts . In addition, the fossil fuel industry is helped bycorrupt governance systems . Together this forms what I call a system of fossil fuel welfare and protectionism.

To hide this reality, the fossil fuel industry has invested ina massive public relationsscheme (read: propaganda campaign) to paint itself as the defender of the free market. In the US, the fossil fuel industry has even,quite successfully , duped Evangelicals into associating the fossil fuel industry with free markets, and free markets with God’s will. Thus, attacks on the fossil fuel industry become attacks on God’s will. But if God’s will was really aligned with the free market, then the fossil fuel industry would be doing the devil’s work.

Take South Africa, for example, the biggest carbon polluter on the African continent. It used to be home to the world’sfastest growing renewable energy sector , but government intervention to protect polluting coal interests set back these advances. Under President Cyril Ramaphosa the government is now taking steps to allowsmall amountsof new renewable energy into the market. But government actions continue to slowthe immense potentialSouth Africa has for a low-cost, renewable energy revolution.

Arecent studyreported that South Africa subsidises coal by R56,6 billion per year – propping up a polluting industry with taxpayer money. South Africa continues to subsidise coal despite studies showing that renewable energy was helpingto prevent energy blackouts , wassaving South Africa billions on energyand that a renewable energy future is the country’slowest costenergy pathway.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) study showed that the US, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas emitter, givesten times more to fossil fuel subsidies than it does to education . Without such subsidies half of future oil production in the USwould be unprofitable .

As for coal, even the Wall Street Journal admits that US coalsimply can’t compete on a level playing field , and is losing out despite its major subsidies.Studies revealthat without regulation to shield them from market forces, about half of the coal plants in the US would be going bankrupt.

The fossil fuel industry is increasingly relying on the heavy hand of the government to protect fossil fuels from competition. Subsidies and protective policies shield fossil fuels from the reality that renewable energy has become the cheapest energy sourceworldwide.