Friday 13th. Bad news for some, but generally the world goes on much the same.
Many of the stories that I cover in the Sustainable Futures Report come from the Guardian newspaper. Wherever possible I aim to find the original source behind their articles and bring you the original detail as well as a link to the paper or press release or organisation concerned. This week the Guardian published a special report by its own journalists, “Revealed: the ‘carbon bombs’ set to trigger catastrophic climate breakdown”. I shall quote from it unashamedly and you’ll find a link below so you can read the whole article yourself. I recommend you do.
Also this week, more greenwash; elections, floods and climate controversy in Australia; retrofitting - how they do it in Italy, mining for gold (and other minerals) in e-waste dumps, and the effect of the moon on the climate.
The Guardian team reminds us that COP 26 was the first of the COP events to mention coal. Even then, a commitment to phase out coal was watered down at the last minute to just phase it down. Gas and oil were not mentioned at all in the final deal, even though they account for 60% of global emissions.
We have had several reports from the IPCC over recent months. At the end of last year António Guterres described the latest report as code red for humanity.
The IPCC states that carbon emissions must fall by half by 2030 to preserve the chance of a liveable future, yet emissions show no sign of declining. To limit global temperature increase below 2°C half of known oil reserves and a third of gas must stay in the ground, along with 80% of coal. Other studies raise that to 60% of gas and 90% of coal.
The International Energy Agency has concluded that no more oil or gas fields or coal mines can be opened if we are to achieve Net Zero by 2050.
Guterres went so far as to say "Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness. Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. “
It is against this background that the Guardian has found what it describes as carbon bombs. These are plans by international energy companies to invest $103 million per day in new fossil fuel projects. They have already committed to projects which will deliver 116 billion barrels of oil, and projects at the design stage will bring that to 192 billion. This includes exploiting unconventional reserves, including fracking, deep-sea drilling and Arctic operations, with risks to the environment beyond the emissions that these fossil fuels will produce.
These projects are described as carbon bombs as they will take the Earth way beyond safe emissions levels: way beyond the so-called carbon budget. The conclusion must be that big oil and its political supporters either do not believe the climate science or think that their extreme wealth can somehow protect them and their children from the devastating consequences. There is no doubt about the wealth. A BP executive has described its company as a moneymaking machine. Just in the last few months, since oil prices rose in response to the Ukraine conflict, oil majors have posted windfall profits.
Governments are accused of hypocrisy for adopting net zero targets while permitting fossil fuel expansion which will make them impossible to reach.
The Guardian’s report says:
“If governments act on the scientific advice to rapidly reduce carbon emissions by boosting clean energy and cutting fossil fuel burning, the companies will have to write off colossal investments as losses, hitting shareholders, pension funds and public finances. If governments do not act the companies could cash in as the world burns.”
"The world is in a race against time,” said António Guterres. "It's time to end fossil fuel subsidies and stop the expansion of oil and gas exploration.”
Generally, governments will only do what people want them to do, but some people are far more influential than others. Of course, there are General Elections. One is coming up in Australia next week. Australia is not a massive oil producer on the world scale, but the Guardian highlights the fact that it, too, has plans for significant expansion. Climate is a live issue in Australia and was a major issue in the last election, although the environmentalists ended up on the losing side. “There will be no jobs on a dead planet,” rings as true as an election slogan now as it did then. Climate for Change Australia is mailing its supporters and urging them to contact their election candidates and make sure they fully understand the issues. They have published a graphic which shows the environmental consequences of the various parties. At the risk of plagiarism, here it is.
Australia is used to wildfires. More recently it’s experienced devastating floods, and apparently more are on the way this week. Could someone join the dots?
Meanwhile in the UK, pressure group Open Democracy is mounting a campaign against lobbying: specifically lobbying by organisations which do not declare their financial backers. One group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, refuses to reveal its backers, although its US arm is known to have received over $1 million from donors with connections to the fossil fuel industry. Open Democracy warns that US-funded organisations could put pressure on the PM to soften British plans for tackling the climate emergency. The government has already re-opened the fracking debate after saying that fracking was banned indefinitely. Support for on-shore wind farms has been very half-hearted.
Legislation announced this week will go a long way to criminalise protest and in particular will outlaw tactics used by XR, Just stop Oil and Insulate Britain.
Is this new legislation a case of eyes tight shut, fingers in ears, chanting la la la to block out reality, or simply a strategy to protect the interests of the rich and powerful?
Remember, there will be no jobs on a dead planet. There will be nowhere to spend your vast wealth either.
In Other News
The BBC has carried out a wide review of forestry projects intended to sequester carbon and found that in many cases the promises have not been fulfilled. It starts with a sea grass plantation in the Philippines. This was a government initiative but to save money they chose a variety of seagrass which is easy to plant. However it was not suitable for the chosen site and 88% failed.
Worldwide challenges for tree planting are not well monitored, and it’s not clear how successful they have been. In some parts of the world local inhabitants claim that speculators have cut down existing forests and planted new trees to get the government subsidy. It’s difficult to verify these claims. In other places plantations designed to capture carbon have been felled for timber. The owners claim that they will plant new trees, but the actions of felling, transporting, burning offcuts and processing the timber all have a carbon footprint. The carbon embedded in the trees will be sequestered for as long as the timber products remain in use. They could end up in anything from furniture to constructional timber, with varying lives. Young trees take time to start absorbing significant amounts of carbon.
Planting trees is a valuable step on the road to Net Zero. If you want to help by sponsoring a tree, choose a project which is verified by international organisations such as The Gold Standard. As I’ve mentioned before, carbon offsetting through forestry projects is a worthwhile activity, but it should be seen as a last resort. Forestry alone will never get us anywhere near Net Zero.
Musicians Coldplay have been branded as useful idiots by some in response to their alliance with oil firm Neste. Coldplay have announced their intention to minimise the impact of their latest tour and have found just how difficult it is to be seen to be green and to verify the claims. This latest row comes from their arrangement with Neste which claims to be the world’s largest producer of sustainable biofuels. The shine came off the deal when it was revealed that these fuels use palm oil and Neste’s suppliers are accused of clearing thousands of hectares of forest so that they could extend their plantations.
Last week I chaired a cafe-style information session on domestic insulation retrofit for York Community Energy. It was encouraging to see just how many people came to learn or to share their experiences. With some of the worst-insulated houses in Europe, the UK needs all the extra insulation it can get.
It’s not just domestic property that needs to conserve energy. Last week the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) published a guide to support the industry to retrofit the UK’s poorly performing commercial buildings. The Government has proposed that all commercial properties being let have a minimum EPC rating of at least ‘B’ by 2030 and is considering a possible interim requirement of level ‘C’ by 2027. Buildings which fail to meet these new standards would require owners and landlords of commercial buildings to upgrade their stock.
UKGBC’s new guide, Delivering Net Zero: Key considerations for Commercial Retrofit, provides industry with a common approach to commercial retrofit through the lens of net zero carbon. It begins by providing much needed clarity on retrofit types such as “light retrofit” and “deep retrofit”, enabling built environment practitioners from varied backgrounds to speak with a common language and improve cross-industry communication.
At Home in Italy - the 110% Superbonus
In Italy the government has stepped up the fight against cold homes and wasted energy, announcing the 110% super bonus scheme. As the name suggests, homeowners are entitled to a tax credit of up to 110% on the cost of upgrading their home, such as installing insulation systems, heat pumps and solar panels or replacing an old boiler, or undertaking works that reduce the risk of damage from seismic activity. The only condition is that the project must include improving the property’s energy efficiency. So far the government has spent over €20 billion.
“The EU said we need to become a zero-emission society by 2050, and to do that, the entire property stock, private or public, needs to be restructured,” said Riccardo Fraccaro, the deputy and senior member of the Five Star Movement who first proposed the superbonus. “This was a way to incentivise people and companies to do it.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had been approached by a specialist in mining who wanted to do an interview for the Sustainable Futures Report. His specialism appeared to be sustainable mining, which I think to many people sounds like a contradiction in terms. I don't consider that I am sufficiently qualified to discuss that sort of thing with him in detail, so I asked if there was anybody else who would like to debate it with him. No takers, I'm afraid so I've passed on that one. Staying on the theme of mining, the BBC reports that we should not be mining the earth, rather mining electronic waste or e-waste. The Royal Society of Chemistry is running a campaign to raise awareness of the shortage of precious elements needed for our electric and electronic devices. It reminds us that almost every one of us has at least one obsolete or unused phone or computer or tablet. Each of these contains components with these vital minerals. The challenge is to get people to return them for recycling and also to develop sophisticated techniques so that each mineral can be extracted with a process which does not damage or destroy all the others in a device. Designing for recycling is essential for all new products, but of course it’s too late for the tonnes of e-waste already sitting in landfill.
Looking at the Moon
Recent research reveals that it's not just the Sun which influences global warming and the state of the Earth. Surprisingly, the moon has an effect as well. A new paper, currently open for discussion, starts from the 18.6 year lunar nodal cycle.
The authors say,
“We examine the global effect of the lunar nodal cycle in multi-centennial climate model simulations of the pre-industrial period. We find cyclic signals in global and regional surface air temperature having amplitudes of O (0.1 K), ocean heat uptake and ocean heat content. The timing of anomalies of global surface air temperature and heat uptake are consistent with the so-called slowdown in global warming in the first decade of the 21st century, also displaying warmer than average Arctic surface temperatures at the same time. The lunar nodal cycle causes variations in mean sea level pressure exceeding 0.5 hPa in the Nordic seas region, thus affecting the North Atlantic Oscillation Index during boreal winter. Our results suggest that the contribution of the lunar nodal cycle to global temperature should be negative in the mid-2020s before becoming positive again in the early-2030s, reducing the uncertainty in time at which projected global temperature reaches 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.”
So there you have it. Remember, you heard it first on the Sustainable Futures Report.
Next week my guest on the Wednesday Interview is Anthony Day. No, really. I’m Anthony C Day, he’s Anthony J J Day. He’s an expert on blockchain, I’m not. I think we’ll all know a lot more about it after the interview, and of course there will be a transcript if you want to go over it afterwards more slowly.
And that’s it for this week, but before I go let me thank the patrons who loyally support me every month with contributions which cover some of the costs of keeping the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad-free. You’re stars, every one of you.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.
You see, Friday 13th wasn’t that bad, was it?Sources