Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Why the Climate Panic About Africa Is Wrong

Africa is bigger than you think:

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As climate pledges pile up, a worrying theme is emerging that bold efforts by rich nations to decarbonize the global economy will be ruined by hordes of new consumers in the developing world buying cars, installing air conditioning, and taking planes. China’s and India’s rapid development and steep emissions trajectories have been central to these fears, but Western governments and climate activists have found little traction there.

Instead, the focus of attention has now shifted to Africa, where energy use is still very low—and where rich countries see an opportunity to apply pressure by leveraging development aid and cutting off finance. This is already leading to harmful policies that will hurt millions of poor Africans by slowing down their continent’s economic development while doing little, if anything, to help fight climate change.

Fears of a fossil fuel boom in low-income but fast-growing regions such as Africa are cited as the rationale for imposing new bans on financing for such investments. At this year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference, or COP26, the United States, Britain, and other countries pledged to end international financing of fossil fuel projects. The key word here is “international.” While barring public finance for oil and gas projects in other countries, Britain continues to subsidize its own fossil industry, while the United States—already the world’s biggest oil producer—plans to increase its own domestic production. But even if we ignore Western hypocrisy and take their promises of rapid carbon reduction at face value, is there any rational reason to worry about African nations blowing up the world’s carbon budget? A closer look suggests no.

Scaremongering about Africa points to a disturbing undertone in rich-world debates. On climate change, as on so many other issues, many in the West seem to see Africans as a mass of passive victims lacking agency and requiring charity—the quintessential “white man’s burden”—or a looming threat to civilization. To save the planet, this thinking goes, Africans can’t enjoy a high-energy future that people in rich countries take for granted. The climate just can’t afford Africans to be prosperous.

Blaming Africa takes several classic forms. The first is to rattle off big scary numbers without background or context. Bill McKibben—one of the world’s most prominent climate activists—recently declared that the world can’t fight climate change if it doesn’t stop Uganda from building an oil pipeline, citing the project’s planned transport of 210,000 barrels per day, which sounds like a lot. McKibben never mentions that Uganda is one of the world’s poorest countries, that its people suffer from severe energy shortages, that it emitted a mere 0.01 percent of global carbon dioxide last year, and that the pipeline’s capacity will be equivalent to only 1.8 percent of crude oil output in the United States, where McKibben is based.

The second form of activist fearmongering about Africa is to brandish frightful but improbable scenarios. In a recent report from the Wilson Center with the headline “The Battle for Earth’s Climate Will Be Fought in Africa,” the author rightly wrote that Africa’s energy needs must be considered in future energy planning. But then he speculates wildly: If, in 2060, every African were to emit at the same level as Indians or Egyptians today, it would wipe out many of the gains from reductions elsewhere. But is such a scenario even plausible? Almost certainly, no. Africa is starting from such a low-energy base that even rapid increases in oil and gas use could not possibly have much global impact. We calculate that if the 1 billion people living in sub-Saharan Africa tripled electricity consumption using natural gas—the most widely available fossil fuel in Africa—the additional emissions would equal just 0.62 percent of global carbon dioxide today. And of course, no country is remotely planning an all-fossil-fuel future. As in most emissions projections, the scenario makes worst-case assumptions and ignores future changes in technology.

A third factor has been alarm over planned and potential projects to extract fossil fuels and generate electricity in Africa. A widely cited recent study in Nature Energy predicts more than 30 gigawatts of new power capacity from coal and 85 gigawatts from natural gas in Africa by 2030. But the authors’ suggestion of a gargantuan, continentwide buildout of coal and gas does not stand up to a simple smell test. Rather than 30 GW of new coal, our analysis of every potential coal project on the continent suggests only one 0.3 GW project will likely reach completion. If Africa’s pipeline of coal projects was already all but dead, China’s recent pledge to halt support for overseas coal projects is the final nail in the coffin. Similarly, the gas predictions are wildly high. For instance, the study authors’ forecast for new gas generation in West Africa by 2030 is five times the region’s total gas potential as identified by the U.S. government’s Power Africa team.

A final source of unjustified fear is when experts cherry-pick a single example to create the false appearance of a coal-heavy future: South Africa. The country skews all views on African emissions because it accounts for nearly half of Africa’s total power capacity and nearly all the continent’s coal use. A model from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, for example, predicts steep increases in African coal and gas use. The problem: The study assumes the continent is an integrated power market (it’s not) and thus greatly overstates fossil fuel growth based on the far-fetched theory that South Africa will be Africa’s main electricity provider via coal-fired power exports. In reality, South Africa’s coal is already on its way to being phased out, and any power exports will likely come from renewables. South Africa’s past is not the continent’s future.

Naturally, all these apocalyptic narratives promoted by experts and activists are irresistible to the media. The Nature Energy study generated dramatic headlines, including “Africa Could Be Locked Into Fossil Fuel Future” (Forbes), “Renewables Need ‘Shock’ to Push Ahead of Fossil Fuels in Africa” (Bloomberg), and “Climate change: Africa’s green energy transition ‘unlikely’ this decade” (BBC).

More importantly, rich countries’ concerns about a carbon-intensive future for Africa have encouraged drastic policy decisions. Britain, Canada, France, Italy, the United States, and others signed a pledge at COP26 to end public support for overseas fossil fuel projects, including natural gas. The U.S. Development Finance Corp. (DFC), a new $60 billion agency created to support infrastructure in low-income countries, will soon halt all investment in natural gas projects. The World Bank, a leading financier of infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries, has stopped all investment in coal, oil, and gas exploration and production, leaving only narrow space for some downstream uses of existing gas supplies. European shareholders are already pressing the World Bank to end even this limited exception.

The principal justification for banning finance for all fossil fuels—including gas for cooking, heating, fertilizer, and electricity—is the potential for future emissions and the desire to encourage a “climate-friendly” future. The DFC justifies its exit from gas on the grounds of avoiding future emissions. The agency’s alternative is to invest only in renewables, a position already taken by the European Investment Bank and nearly every institution financing African infrastructure.


Shell pulls out of a U.K. oil field targeted by climate activists

Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday that it had decided not to invest in a British oil development off the coast of Scotland that has become a test of the government’s environmental credentials.

The field, known as Cambo, is in deep water northwest of the Shetland Islands. It is seen as a bellwether for the future of Britain’s declining but still large North Sea oil industry.

The British government is considering whether to approve the project, which environmental groups and some politicians have said should be rejected because it would produce carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change.

Shell, which owns 30 percent of Cambo, said it had “concluded the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time.”

The company also said there was “potential for delays,” apparently referring to the possibility that the drilling would draw protests from environmental groups and possibly legal actions trying to stop it. Shell said recently that it planned to move its headquarters from the Netherlands to Britain.

Shell’s decision to decline to invest in developing Cambo is a serious blow to the project. Siccar Point Energy, a private equity-backed firm that is Cambo’s main owner and developer, said that while “disappointed” by Shell’s decision, it remained “confident about the qualities” of the project, saying it would create 1,000 jobs.

Siccar Point has said that it plans to invest $2.6 billion in Cambo and that it has already spent $190 million in the four years since it acquired the rights to the field, which was discovered in 2002.

The oil industry argues that as long as Britain consumes more oil and natural gas than it produces, it is preferable for those fuels to come from the North Sea, where emissions regulations can be set, instead of from places with potentially fewer controls.

The environmental group Greenpeace UK said letting Cambo go ahead “would be a disaster for our climate and would leave the U.K. consumer vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel markets.”


Coming to Terms With the Labyrinthine World of Climate Change

As the Glasgow Conference of Parties (COP26)—countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1994—fades into history, it is timely to assess the success, or lack of it, of this intergovernmental summit.

Delegates at the Glasgow summit reviewed the progress made by 196 countries that embraced the legally binding and enforceable Paris Agreement, a multilateral agreement adopted in 2015 that entered into force on Nov. 4, 2016. The Paris Agreement claimed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels—a rather ambitious aspiration.

The member countries of UNFCCC are expected to produce “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) that indicate their proposals to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere—yet there is no empirical proof that this drives the temperature.

In this context, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, committed his government to the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050.

By then, the coal, fossil fuel, and gas industries would have been decimated, electric cars would have taken over the Australian highways, and the high priests of climate change would govern the world.

Cynics will claim that it is easy for the prime minister to make such a promise of net-zero emissions because he will not be Australia’s prime minister in 2050 and, therefore, he will not be accountable for the consequences of the pursuit of this commitment.

But a governmental commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 does not satisfy the powerful climate change lobby.

This lobby agitates in favour of a significant reduction of greenhouse emissions by 2030, which, according to present government predictions, would be around 25 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

There is no doubt that people are responsible for local environmental degradation. We only must visit our cities to see the debris, the plastic containers and cartons, some factory chimneys that poison the air we inhale, the deforestation, and the degradation of the environment.

Even in fashionable suburbs, people have illegally removed trees from their properties if they threaten the integrity of a house or block a view. Also, in some parts of the world, notably Brazil and Indonesia, there is an excessive amount of deforestation, fuelled by tree burning, to create agricultural land.

The list of environmental ravages wrought by people could be lengthened ad infinitum, as is the list of environmental improvements—well-managed forests, flood mitigation.

While environmental degradation is a serious concern, it does not lead to the conclusion that, therefore, climate change is entirely man-made and that it is already too late to save the planet.

It is useful to remind readers of the cyclical nature of climate change: warming and cooling cycles have always followed each other in history. For example, the Medieval Warm Period, which occurred in the 11th and 12th centuries, recorded temperatures in the North Atlantic region, not unlike those experienced today. At present, Antarctica experiences a cold period.

A perceptive climate change observer, a civil engineer with port design experience, John McRobert, has followed the climate change debate for a long time. In addressing the labyrinthine climate change maze, he states that mass hysteria, media hype, and indoctrination demean solid science.

He refers to a report published by the respected Mauna Loa Observatory, located in Hawaii. This observatory has concluded that “There is no statistical evidence for the claim by the U.N. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that a rise in CO2 concentration causes a rise in the temperature of the lower troposphere, but there is highly significant evidence that the temperature determines the rate of change of CO2 concentration.”

The report further states confidently that “an important factor in the Earth’s climate change arises from the continually changing position of the moon and the planets relative to the Earth and the sun, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere as this is a consequence of the climate change.”

Nevertheless, invariably, the assumed high concentration of carbon dioxide is blamed for increased global warming.

But McRobert points out that carbon dioxide, together with methane, are insignificant greenhouse gases. Indeed, carbon dioxide only accounts for 0.04 percent of all the gases in the atmosphere.

The principal greenhouse gas is water vapour, namely those clouds that stop the sun from reaching our solar panels.

McRobert concludes that “Humans, animals, and plants simply recycle the gases of life, and to pretend we can regulate the climate by holding our collective breaths is fantasy land.”

Although there have been annual climate change conferences since 1994, the parties have achieved little progress in their commitment to reducing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is because major economic powers, such as the People’s Republic of China, India, and Russia, fail to participate enthusiastically in these conferences.

It is no wonder that, in the labyrinthine world of climate change, individual businesses have taken over the baton from governments to achieve the goals of the climate change gurus.

Indeed, businesses have now taken over the mantle of achieving measurable results, replacing governments in the pursuit of carbon neutrality.


Australian Labor party sets up a clash with the Greens on climate change

Labor has set up a clash with the Greens on climate change in a bid to assure voters it will not change its 43 per cent target to cut greenhouse gas emissions if it wins the election, insisting the Parliament would have to pass the goal or vote it down.

Anxious to quash a scare campaign about a higher target, Labor climate spokesman Chris Bowen ruled out a negotiation with the Greens on the figure in the event of a hung Parliament despite Coalition claims he would have to overhaul his policy.

Mr Bowen also rebuffed calls from the Greens to close coal-fired power stations and phase out coal exports by arguing nothing in the Labor policy would bring forward closures or hurt exporters who were exposed to competition from overseas.

The Labor pledge is to introduce a bill to Parliament that specifies the 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 on the levels of 2005 and to refuse to accept changes by the Greens, with the lower house rejecting amendments to the target in the Senate.

The Labor stance seeks to avoid repeating the party’s deal with the Greens in 2010, when the Gillard government legislated a price on carbon after ruling out a carbon tax before the election, and challenges the Greens to avoid a repeat of a pivotal vote in 2009 when the minor party vetoed an emissions trading scheme because it wanted a more ambitious policy.

Asked if Labor would negotiate on the target to secure support from the Greens, Mr Bowen said: “No.”

Labor is promising to make its target a formal commitment to the United Nations if it wins power, saying it is willing to legislate the goal while the Coalition could not do the same because conservatives would block a bill that cemented increasing the government’s 26 to 28 per cent target to its forecast 35 per cent emissions reduction by 2030.

But with Greens leader Adam Bandt calling for a 75 per cent cut in emissions by that year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed a Labor government would have to give in to the Greens on climate.

“For Labor to legislate if they were to form government they would have to do that with the support of the Greens,” he said, while campaigning in the seat of Wentworth in eastern Sydney.

“So 43 per cent is just the opening bid for Labor. And you know what the Greens’ target is, it’s 75 per cent. So vote Labor, you vote Greens and you vote for the Greens targets.”

Mr Morrison was reminded of the disagreements within his backbench, however, when a journalist asked if he backed a call from Dave Sharma, the Liberal member for Wentworth, to cut emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2035.

“That’s not the government’s policy. I respect Dave’s commitment to this area,” Mr Morrison said.

In the first lengthy explanation of the Labor plan since it was announced last Friday, Mr Bowen said the modelling for the policy assumed the government could only achieve a 30 per cent reduction by 2030 and the additional Labor measures would take the figure to 43 per cent and no further.

Mr Bowen rejected speculation the Labor target would rise to 48 per cent in the event the government was able to reach the upper range of its stated 30 to 35 per cent forecast.

While Greenpeace and the Greens have dismissed the goal as too low, Australian National University professor Mark Howden said the number was in line with the agreement at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow last month to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 on the levels of 2010.

Professor Howden, the director of the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, said the 43 per cent reduction against the 2005 numbers meant a total reduction of 267.84 million tonnes since 2005. The UN goal meant a total reduction of 269.59 million tonnes from 2010.

“So the amount of reduction in emissions in absolute terms that these two policies/goals require is almost identical, and so it is fair to say that the Labor Party emission reduction policy is in accord with the Glasgow Pact of 45 per cent reductions against 2010 emissions by 2030,” he said.

The modelling for the Labor policy, conducted by economics firm RepuTex, says the policy would create 64,000 direct and 540,000 indirect jobs by 2030 and triggered a claim from former ACTU president Jennie George in The Australian that the figure was “so high as to make it unbelievable” because the multiplier effect was too great.

Mr Bowen rejected that complaint and said the modelling applied a multiplier in each sector of the economy rather than across the board.

“There’s direct jobs, there’s indirect jobs and of course there’s job impacts from just the improved energy supply,” he said. “But that modelling stands up to scrutiny from anyone.”

Asked how many jobs would be lost, Mr Bowen said the modelling showed a total gain.

“As a result of Labor’s policies, not one,” he said. “The modelling makes clear Labor’s policies create jobs. The modelling also accepts the government’s modelling that global decarbonisation is going to have an impact on Australia.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the difference in the two goals, from the government’s 35 per cent forecast to Labor’s 43 per cent target, required “very significant” policies including a carbon tax on industry. Labor has ruled out a carbon tax.




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