Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Report comes under fire for claims about negative outcome of nuclear exit

A report published on Thursday, which warned that the closure of all nuclear power plants in Belgium could result in energy prices rising and possible blackouts, has been criticised by energy experts.

Belgium reached an agreement on the country’s exit from nuclear energy in December last year and decided to close all nuclear power plants by 2025. In March, the Federal Government is expected to make its final decision on the matter.

Research published on Thursday reported the potential impacts of complete closure, warning that this could put energy supplies under pressure and further increase the price of electricity, according to a simulation carried out by three researchers associated with the University of Antwerp (UAntwerpen).

However, these claims have now been criticised by energy experts for being incomplete and not including sufficient data, while one UAntwerp professor pointed out that the authors did not consult with the engineering faculty for their research.

Elia, Belgium’s Electricity System Operator, said the study was very brief considering it reported a major impact on the outcome (blackouts). “This study only models Belgium while our country is part of a European integrated system,” the company wrote in a statement to The Brussels Times.


How climate activists are taking over Dutch industry

A new initiative by environmental organization Friends of the Earth (“FoE,” called “Milieudefensie” in The Netherlands) threatens to plunge the Dutch economy into a green abyss. Last Thursday, FoE sent a letter to the 30 largest companies in the Netherlands demanding that those companies submit a “climate plan” by April 15. To support its demands, FoE relies on the verdict it won in a case against Shell, in which the District Court of The Hague ordered Shell to accelerate its emission reductions to solve the “climate crisis.”

With that verdict in hand, FoE is now trying to bring the entire Dutch business community to its knees. Thus, an activist private organization that represents only a minuscule part of the Dutch citizenry has been appointed legislature, executive, judge, and bailiff all in one.

“The climate case of the century”

The omens were not favorable for Shell. Urgenda, another Dutch NGO that promotes “sustainability” – in its case against the Dutch state – had succeeded in three instances in deceiving the judiciary, up to and including the Dutch Supreme Court, with extreme climate–alarmist scenarios disguised as “climate science.” With the help of these deceptions, Urgenda secured an order for emissions reduction against the state. Now that the judiciary had been willing to supersede the authority of the national legislature in the Urgenda case, it seemed like a small step to persuade a judge to supersede the authority of a private firm’s chief executive officer.

The District Court of The Hague did indeed set aside Shell’s leadership and set policy goals for the entire global group. Shell was ordered to adopt corporate policies to reduce the CO2 emissions from the group’s activities by net 45% by the end of 2030 compared to 2019. This reduction obligation relates to the Shell Group’s entire global energy portfolio. Shell must not only reduce its own emissions but also must ensure that the emissions of its suppliers and customers (Scope 3 emissions) fall drastically.

Reputational damage

Shell could hardly defend itself against the alarmist statements put forward by FoE because the company had previously made similar statements. Nowadays, a large, publicly traded company cannot publicly deny the “climate crisis.” If a company were to do so, it would have the media, activists, and a large number of politicians all condemning it. No public company can afford such reputational damage. Climate activists exploit the inability of corporations to defend themselves. When there is no microphone nearby, one can hear business leaders complain about these abuses, but they cannot do so in a court of law.


US flood risk is about to explode — but not for the reasons you think

Extreme flooding has struck almost every corner of the country over the past year, from rural areas in Tennessee and California to the Michigan suburbs and the streets of Brooklyn, New York. Floods have always been by far the most widespread and costliest weather disaster in the U.S., and they have only gotten worse as climate change has accelerated. Total damages from floods and hurricanes last year eclipsed $100 billion, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

A new study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change projects that the number of people in the U.S. who are exposed to flooding will almost double over the next 30 years — but not for the reasons you might think. Most new risk will come not from climate change but from population growth in areas that are already vulnerable to flooding. The findings underscore a hard truth with dire implications for climate adaptation policy: The lion’s share of U.S. flood risk does not stem from the changing nature of storms and seas, but instead from our decisions about where to build and where to live.

That’s not to say climate change isn’t playing a major role: The study’s authors found that climate change will render around 700,000 more people vulnerable to flooding by 2050, mostly as a result of rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes. The lion’s share of current flood risk is borne by low-income white communities in places like Appalachia, but the new climate-driven risk that will arrive by 2050 will fall hardest on Black communities. (People of color are more likely to live in flood zones overall.) Many of these are located in coastal cities or hurricane-vulnerable Southern states, which puts them right in the crosshairs of rising seas and whopper storms.

When the authors measured the role of future population growth on flood vulnerability, though, they found an even stronger effect. The report finds that population growth in flood-prone areas will put over 3 million more people at risk of flooding by 2050 — four times the increase that will result from climate change. Unlike the new risk that results from climate change, most of the new risk from population growth will come in places that don’t have very much exposure to flooding right now, from Arkansas to Kansas to Idaho. As cities and suburbs in these areas sprawl out onto untouched land, more people will put themselves in the water’s way.

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“Yes, climate change will intensify floods on average across America,” said Oliver Wing, a researcher at the University of Bristol and the lead author on the study. “But the much more sensitive component is where people are going to be living. Because ultimately, a flood is only risky if there are people and property in the way of it.”

This study complements other recent research about the relationship between climate change and population dynamics, though it adds a concerning twist. A landmark study published last year in Nature found that more people are moving into flood-prone areas across the globe, ratcheting up risk levels worldwide; the study concluded that the world’s flood-prone population grew by as much as 25 percent between 2000 and 2015. Population data from the recent U.S. census shows that Americans are still rushing to vulnerable coastal cities like St. Petersburg and Fort Myers, Florida, and that more people than ever are living in the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico. The long-term demographic shift toward Sun Belt cities has yet to slow down.

According to a recent survey by the real estate company Redfin, almost half of Americans say climate change is a factor in their moving decisions, which suggests that people are growing more cautious about moving to places that have suffered the worst climate disasters. Even if Americans begin to move away from these places, though, they may only be laying the groundwork for future disasters.This danger is exacerbated by the fact that U.S. flood mapping is widely believed to underestimate risk: A 2020 New York Times analysis found twice as many flood-vulnerable properties nationwide as appeared on the official government flood maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

The study points to a gaping hole in existing climate adaptation policy. In the past few decades, the federal government has pumped more and more money into adaptive measures such as home buyouts and living shorelines, which use natural materials to absorb flood impacts. The infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden last year contains billions of dollars more for such measures. If executed well, such projects could reduce risk in areas that are already vulnerable to flooding or stand to suffer from a changing climate. By erecting coastal storm surge barriers or buying out neighborhoods in the floodplain, the federal government can counteract some of the new climate-driven risk that Wing’s paper projects.

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When it comes to forestalling future population growth, though, the policy solutions are much trickier. The federal government doesn’t have direct authority over local zoning codes, which means it’s up to local towns and cities to choose whether they permit development in flood-prone areas. From an economic perspective, most municipalities have strong incentives to allow this kind of development: More houses means more people, which means more jobs, which means more revenue from sales taxes and property taxes.

“There’s not really an established practice by which a town or village or city can say, ‘well, we’re going to lose population from a particular area based on this increasing hazard, so what does that look like?’” said Mathew Sanders, a manager of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Flood-Prepared Communities initiative. In other words, governments don’t have much practice moving beyond a narrowly-focused pro-growth mentality.

Still, added Sanders, more development doesn’t have to mean more flooding.

“It’s not a fait accompli,” he told Grist. “We have enough landmass to accommodate everyone, so it’s about strategic decision-making.”

Sanders pointed to measures like the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, an investment guideline just reinstated by the Biden administration that sets standards for what can be built in floodplains with federal money, as an example of how the government can channel resources toward safe development. He also said that new tools like the First Street Foundation’s Flood Factor mapping tool should help developers make decisions about flood risk without relying on outdated FEMA maps.

“The conclusion that the study draws — that is a possible outcome,” says Sanders. “I don’t think that has to be the ultimate outcome.”

But the risk posed by future growth means that climate adaptation is far more complicated than just moving to high ground. Reducing flood risk will require not only intensive federal investment but also a sea change in local policy. There are examples of such policies already, such as the resilience-based zoning code implemented in Norfolk, Virginia, but in most of the country it’s still business as usual. For as long as that’s the case, said Wing, the cost of flooding is going to keep going up.

“The majority of [flood] risk is historical risk — risk that has failed to be dealt with right across decades of policy failure,” he told Grist. “The compound risk [of climate change] is interesting, but the bigger problem is not adapting to the problem in front of us.”


Green investing changes nothing

Green investing promises a financial route towards a cleaner planet, built around the idea that big, future-minded institutions like pension funds and insurers should exclude from their portfolios carbon-intensive assets like oil, gas and coalmining companies. That line of thinking has had enormous mileage in recent years, so much so that today the value of sustainable investments amounts to $35trn, or about a third of all managed assets. But recent numbers suggest there may be a flaw in the reasoning.

Take a look at the ballooning profits that Big Oil has been reporting, after a year of humbling losses. Soaring energy prices are one cause. But the trend also captures proceeds from divestments as listed energy firms rush to sell their most polluting assets, often as a result of pressure from activists, regulators and governments. The West’s six biggest majors have shed $44bn of mostly fossil-fuel assets since the start of 2018.

As we report this week, many of these “brown” assets end up in the hands of private-equity funds, which in the past two years alone have spent $60bn on oil, gas and coal assets—a third more than they have invested in renewables. That is not surprising: despite the stigma, high energy prices mean those assets are extremely profitable. But private investors argue that, because they typically have controlling stakes in those assets and are holding on to them for several years, they alone have the patience and focus to manage carbon footprints down.

Are they right? It is impossible to know. Private equity’s carbon reporting is patchy and inconsistent. And with a record $3.3trn of unspent private capital looking for investments, the onus for many asset managers is probably on doing deals fast rather than crafting carefully thought-through decarbonisation plans.

Part of what is going on is a raid by private-equity firms on “midstream” assets—oil pipelines, gas grids and fuel-storage tanks. Because their revenues are contracted and paid for by big clients—energy majors and utilities—they are deemed very safe. They are often sizeable pieces of infrastructure, so that private funds can deploy a lot of money in one go. In July Brookfield, an asset manager based in Canada, agreed to pay $6.8bn for the country’s fourth-largest pipeline company. And they can be lucrative. A banker I spoke to predicts the latest mega-deals will produce “extraordinarily high returns”.

All this sits uncomfortably with the credo of many institutional investors, 1,485 of which, representing $39trn-worth of assets, have pledged to get out of fossil fuels. Our research suggests that investors in eight private vehicles that closed fossil-fuel deals in the past two years include 53 pension funds, 23 universities and 32 foundations—and this only comprises those institutions that disclose such investments.

There is probably much more in the pipeline (so to speak): Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy, reckons the oil-and-gas industry is preparing to offload another $128bn in assets in the coming years. Eventually such institutions may come to realise or acknowledge the discrepancy and decide to opt out of private fossil-fuel investments, too. But other would-be buyers are standing in the wings: state-owned companies and sovereign funds from countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia that pay little heed to sustainable investment. Until carbon disclosures and taxes apply to the whole economy, the fossil-fuel hunt will carry on.

https://www.economist.com (via email)


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)


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