Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Great Climate Backslide: How governments are backtracking worldwide

From the U.S. to China, in Europe, India and Japan, fossil fuels are staging a comeback, clean energy stocks are taking a hammering, and the prospects for speeding the transition to renewable sources of power are looking grim.

At the conclusion of COP26 in November, summit chairman Alok Sharma praised the “heroic efforts” by nations showing they can rise above their differences and unite to tackle climate change, an outcome he said “the world had come to doubt.”

Turns out the world was right to be skeptical.

Three months on, a toxic combination of political intransigence, an energy crisis and pandemic-driven economic realities has cast doubt on the progress made in Scotland. If 2021 was marked by optimism that the biggest polluters were finally willing to set ambitious net-zero targets, 2022 already threatens to be the year of global backsliding.

From the U.S. to China, in Europe, India and Japan, fossil fuels are staging a comeback, clean energy stocks are taking a hammering, and the prospects for speeding the transition to renewable sources of power are looking grim.

That’s even as renewable energy costs have fallen rapidly and investment in clean technologies is soaring, while voters across the world demand stronger action.

“We’re going to have a multi-year stress test of political will to impose costly transition policies,” said Bob McNally, president of Washington-based consultant Rapidan Energy Group and a former White House official.

He accused governments of showing “Potemkin support” for the necessary policy steps, a sham display of action that’s being exposed by the energy crisis.

Emissions rose last year, when they needed to decline if the world is to stay on track to hit climate goals. National interest was always going to run up against the kind of painful measures scientists agree are needed to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. But even this early in the year, the headwinds to aggressive climate action are ferocious.

Oil is on a roll as the world economy picks up from its pandemic-induced swoon, nearing $100 a barrel just two years after the price collapsed. That’s swelling the coffers — and influence — of fossil fuel giants like Saudi Arabia and Russia, while reinvigorating an industry that had been shifting its focus to clean energies. Exxon Mobil Corp. has just given a vote of confidence in the U.S. shale industry with plans to boost output by 25% this year in the Permian Basin.

And with gas prices hitting records, utilities have been turning to coal instead, despite it producing about twice the carbon, according to Kit Konolige, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Even the U.K. host of COP26 risks regressing, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the ropes and some members of his Conservative Party pushing back against his green agenda.

Little wonder that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has seemed increasingly glum, repeatedly warning that the world is falling behind. “We’re in trouble,” Kerry said during a Chamber of Commerce event last month. “We’re not on a good track.”

For many, the highlight of COP26 was the surprise agreement by Kerry’s team and their Chinese counterparts to look beyond U.S.-China rivalry and jointly raise climate efforts this decade.

That deal still stands, but both nations have since backtracked in their respective actions.

The U.S. was the world’s top LNG exporter in January, taking the No. 1 spot from Qatar for a second month running. Coal consumption has surged, while production climbed 8% in 2021 after years of declines. It’s expected to inch upward through 2023, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In Washington, President Joe Biden is struggling to get his signature “Build Back Better” bill and its core climate measures through the Senate. An initial proposal, which would have devoted some $555 billion to climate and clean energy, has collapsed amid objections from all of the chamber’s Republicans and a key Democrat, Joe Manchin of coal- and gas-rich West Virginia.

Those climate provisions — including some $355 billion in multiyear tax credits for hydrogen, electric vehicles and renewables — are essential to fulfilling the U.S. Paris Agreement commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions 50% to 52% by 2030. Without them, that pledge is in jeopardy, an analysis by the Rhodium Group found.

Rather than the leadership role that Biden has claimed, that makes the U.S. look like a climate straggler. Enacting the key provisions is needed “to empower us diplomatically,” Kerry acknowledged in a January interview. “Credibility will be in a hard place if we don’t.”

Democratic lawmakers are still hoping to revive the legislation, though there’s little time with November’s midterm elections looming large. And right now Biden is under pressure to confront rising inflation and especially gasoline prices that could weigh on his chances of retaining control of Congress. He’s responded by appealing to OPEC+ producers to boost output, asking domestic oil companies to drill more and rallying nations to join the U.S. in a coordinated release of emergency crude stockpiles.

Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, is feeling similar pressure. Last month, in an effort to keep a lid on prices, his government announced subsidies for oil refiners worth some 3 U.S. cents per liter of gasoline produced. This week, it said it was considering going further to mitigate the impact of rising oil prices amid reports it may triple the subsidy rate.

All of which looks like a free pass to China, the world’s biggest emitter.

In several recent high-level meetings, top Chinese officials have stressed energy security alongside carbon reduction efforts. As the People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, said in an recent commentary: “The rice bowl of energy must be held in one’s own hand.”

While top leaders have repeatedly stressed that its record-breaking build out of solar and wind power is part of the campaign to secure China’s energy future, the push has yet to tangibly shift the nation’s energy mix. China’s share of coal and gas in power generation was still as high as 71% in 2021, the same as 2020.

After an unprecedented power crunch that struck China in the second half of last year, Beijing was forced to raise both coal output and imports to record levels. At a group study session of the Politburo last month, President Xi Jinping said that supply chain security should be guaranteed while curbing emissions, and that coal supplies should be ensured while oil and gas output need to “grow steadily.”

“Cutting emissions is not aimed at curbing productivity or at no emissions at all,” Xi said, stressing that economic development and the green transition should be mutually reinforcing. To illustrate his point, this week China offered its vast steel industry an additional five years to rein in its carbon emissions.

It’s a sentiment shared elsewhere. South Africa’s Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told the heads of mining companies on Feb. 1 that coal will still be used for decades and that rushing to end the country’s fossil fuel dependency “will cost us dearly.”

India’s biggest coal miner, state-owned Coal India Ltd., is ramping up production as the country reduces its dependence on imports. It’s exposing the carbon-dependent model of economic growth that the West used and which India is yet to walk away from, even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a net-zero target of 2070 in Glasgow.

India is the second-biggest coal user after China, and last year coal accounted for 74% of power generation, followed by renewables with a 20% share, according to the latest report by the International Energy Agency.

Yet that ratio is set to shift, with ambitious plans to build out renewable capacity. Billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani helped drive investment targeting alternative energy to a record $10 billion last year, but that’s dwarfed by Ambani’s new clean-energy plan worth a total $76 billion.

“The world is entering a new energy era which is going to be highly disruptive,” Ambani said last month as he unveiled his plans, which include making his Reliance Industries Ltd. — among the world’s biggest oil refiners and plastic producers — net-zero by 2035.

The energy crunch has without doubt cast a shadow on the European Union’s debate about how to implement its Green Deal, an unprecedented economic overhaul to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Many governments are concerned that the spike in prices may undermine public support for the reforms.

“The only lasting solution to our dependence on fossil fuels and hence volatile energy prices is to complete the green transition.”

The political atmosphere is not helped by the West’s standoff with Moscow over Ukraine, a situation that raises the threat of disruption to Russian gas supplies, stoking prices still further. For now, however, flows are intact, albeit more volatile than usual.

Higher fossil fuel and emissions prices may improve the relative economics of renewables. EU leaders have in any case already thrown their weight behind the Green Deal. And with polls consistently showing climate to be among the biggest concerns for the bloc’s voters, the European Commission, the EU’s executive, is doubling down.

Speaking to reporters on Jan. 22, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said that geopolitical tensions are compounding unusually high energy prices in the short term. “But we are also at a crucial point in our long-term effort to tackle the climate crisis and ensure a just clean energy transition,” she said. “The only lasting solution to our dependence on fossil fuels and hence volatile energy prices is to complete the green transition.”

China meanwhile added a record amount of solar power last year, and is likely to break that again in 2022, driven by a nationwide push for more rooftop installations and a mammoth build-out of renewables in the northern deserts.


Worst-Case Climate Change Scenarios are highly implausible, argues new study

Back in the bad old days of the 2010s, folks like David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019) warned, "The UN says we're on track to get to about 4 degrees or 4.3 degrees of warming by the end of the century if we continue as we are." Or you may remember author Gaia Vince asserting in 2019 in The Guardian that "experts agree that global heating of 4C by 2100 is a real possibility."

Before rushing to kit out your climate prepper bunker, you might want to take a look at the new study by University of Colorado climate change policy researcher Roger Pielke that confirms what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in August 2021, namely that the worst-case climate scenario is increasingly unlikely, and that while our future will be warmer, it will not be catastrophically so.

These dire predictions were based on calculations derived from a scenario of the future in which fossil fuel and agricultural emissions over the course of this century would boost atmospheric carbon dioxide to nearly 1,400 parts per million (ppm) by 2100. The current level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is just under 420 ppm, and that is up from the pre-industrial level of about 280 ppm.

Largely as a result of this increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, global average temperature has risen to around 1.1°C above the pre-industrial level.

Climate researchers labeled this worst-case scenario "RCP8.5," and it has been somewhat updated in the new Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report (IPCC AR6) on the physical science basis of climate change and given a new moniker of SSP5-8.5.

The IPCC's AR6 report, released in August 2021, now acknowledges that "the likelihood of high emission scenarios such as RCP8.5 or SSP5-8.5 is considered low in light of recent developments in the energy sector."

The recent developments in the energy sector to which the AR6 report refers are that fossil fuel usage is likely to be fairly flat for the next 50 years. One of the main ways that the RCP8.5 scenario goes off the rails of plausibility is that it projects a six-fold rise in global coal consumption per capita by 2100. Since future coal consumption is likely to remain flat or decline, that means that global carbon dioxide emissions will be "approximately in line with the medium RCP4.5, RCP6.0 and SSP2-4.5 scenarios."

For some years now, University of Colorado climate change policy researcher Roger Pielke, Jr., and his colleagues have been pointing out that the development of the global economy is highly unlikely to trace the high emissions pathways that led to the worst projected outcomes. Nevertheless, climate studies based on the RCP8.5 scenario are the ones being relied upon by people making their predictions of dire climate calamity by the end of this century.

Pielke and his colleagues have published a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters that argues that these intermediate emissions scenarios are much more plausible than the high end scenarios that engendered fears of climate catastrophe.

"These scenarios project between 2 and 3 degrees C of warming by 2100, with a median of 2.2 degrees C," they conclude. They do, however, acknowledge that "these scenarios also indicate that the world is still off track from limiting 21st-century warming to 1.5 or below 2 degrees C."

These new calculations are based on the future energy use and energy policy projections found in the International Energy Agency's latest World Energy Outlook report. That report concludes that, instead of rising six-fold, global coal consumption will peak during this decade. On the other hand, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that world coal consumption will continue to rise slightly through 2050, but that's still far from the sixfold increase entailed in the RCP8.5 scenario.

To assess plausibility of most of the IPCC scenarios, Pielke and his colleagues ask which of the scenarios have projected carbon dioxide emissions growth errors and divergences of less than 0.1 or 0.3 percent per year over the observed growth rates between 2005 and 2020. That is, which scenarios tracked what actually happened with carbon dioxide emissions over the last fifteen years? Next they further parse how well the scenarios similarly track actual emissions beginning in 2005 through the IEA's projections of future emissions to 2050.

The chart above displays the plausibility of the various IPCC emissions scenarios by tracking how well they match likely cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide over the course of this century. The scenarios that closely track actual and projected IEA emissions are marked with blue dots (0.1 percent) and triangles (0.3 percent).

"All of the plausible scenarios," explains Pielke in his Substack newsletter The Honest Broker, "envision less than 3 degrees Celsius total warming by 2100. In fact, the median projection is for 2100 warming of 2.2 degrees Celsius." He adds that that "is within spitting distance of the Paris Agreement goal of holding temperatures to a warming of 2.0 degrees Celsius."


A critical assessment of extreme events trends in times of global warming

The evidence does not support those who claim we are already suffering greatly from changing climate


This article reviews recent bibliography on time series of some extreme weather events and related response indicators in order to understand whether an increase in intensity and/or frequency is detectable. The most robust global changes in climate extremes are found in yearly values of heatwaves (number of days, maximum duration and cumulated heat), while global trends in heatwave intensity are not significant. Daily precipitation intensity and extreme precipitation frequency are stationary in the main part of the weather stations. Trend analysis of the time series of tropical cyclones show a substantial temporal invariance and the same is true for tornadoes in the USA. At the same time, the impact of warming on surface wind speed remains unclear. The analysis is then extended to some global response indicators of extreme meteorological events, namely natural disasters, floods, droughts, ecosystem productivity and yields of the four main crops (maize, rice, soybean and wheat). None of these response indicators show a clear positive trend of extreme events. In conclusion on the basis of observational data, the climate crisis that, according to many sources, we are experiencing today, is not evident yet. It would be nevertheless extremely important to define mitigation and adaptation strategies that take into account current trends.


UK set to ‘torpedo climate action’ by approving six new North Sea oil and gas fields

Environmental groups have accused the UK of “torpedoing climate action” and “disregarding science” amid reports six new oil and gas fields are to be approved in the North Sea this year.

Rishi Sunak - who said last week he wanted to encourage more investment in new fossil fuel drilling - is reported to have pressed the business secretary to fast-track applications.

A new oil and gas field in the North Sea has already been given the green light this year - just two months after the UK held the global climate Cop26 summit. Green groups fiercely criticised the move, accusing the government of hypocrisy and taking action that “only worsens the climate crisis.

It is set to be followed by half a dozen more approvals for fossil fuel drilling this year, according to The Telegraph. The sites have reportedly already been given a preliminary licence by ministers and are expected to be approved by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), the UK regulator.

The Telegraph reported there were fears in the Treasury over how the move to net-zero could impact the economy, while a Whitehall source told the newspaper the business secretary was “pushing for more investment in the North Sea” during the transition for “domestic energy security” as well.

Philip Evans, oil campaigner at Greenpeace UK said: “This would represent a stunning retreat from the pro-climate posturing we saw from the government at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.”


My other blogs. Main ones below

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM )

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)


No comments: