World's Richest Governments Aid Big Carbon's Efforts to Delay Climate Reckoning
One of President Obama's main climate policy thrusts was to persuade the world that since you often get what you pay for, the world should stop paying for more extreme climate disruption by subsidizing fossil fuels. Both the G7 and the G20 accepted Obama's lead—at least nominally.
Some countries did something. Revealingly, both rich and poor countries which were helping energy consumers get cheaper fuel reformed. The United Arab Emirates has dismantled its subsidy regime for gasoline. Indonesia eliminated its gasoline subsidies and capped diesel supports. India has moved very aggressively, first eliminating diesel supports, and now phasing out even the subsidized kerosene intended to help the off-grid poor pay for lighting their homes. (Dealing with electricity subsidies has proven a heavier lift).
But most richer countries, including the U.S. and China, the nations who started the clamor to get prices right haven't done so well. Their subsidies are mostly aimed at well-connected fossil fuel producers. Recent analysis shows that $60 billion a year is still flowing from 12 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development members to oil, gas and coal producers, in a variety of forms, particularly export credits to encourage emerging markets to purchase oil, gas and coal technologies and equipment. This is four times as much subsidy as those same countries provide to clean energy.
So the world's strongest economies are handing out more than $60 billion in public funds to the world's biggest polluters, including some of the world's richest companies, aiding and abetting Big Carbon's effort to postpone the climate reckoning. At the same time they are pleading that their Treasuries are so depleted that they cannot keep their much less expensive long-standing promises to help finance the clean energy transition in developing countries.
Australia, for example, which was just chosen to lead the primary vehicle for climate aid, the Green Climate Fund, has provided $200 million for that agency. But Australia's Queensland State is proposing to spend $1 billion—five times as much—helping to build a single new railroad to enable an Indian mining company, Adani, to develop its Carmichael mine, a decision which caused one of Adani's competitors, Glencore, to snipe at "risky ventures that rely on taxpayer subsidies to get across the line and which will bring on massive volumes of additional coal supply into the market, which could undermine existing operations." (The Carmichael coal project is also expected to receive significant financial concessions on royalty payments).
The U.S., under President Trump, has become something of a caricature of what this fossil subsidy end game might look like. Trump campaigned with strong support from coal, oil and natural gas nationally—but messaged around his promise to bring back coal mining jobs in Appalachian states like Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Elected, he moved promptly to reverse a series of Obama administration regulations which would have improved environmental standards for oil, gas and coal extraction. Coal industry executive and even Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell conceded that these roll-backs, while good for coal company pocket books, would do nothing to bring back Appalachian jobs, which were being lost because of competition from cheaper strip-mined western coal, natural gas and renewables.
Trump next reversed a series of Obama reforms designed to ensure that companies mining fossil fuels from public lands paid fair royalties, and that leases were bid competitively. The roll-back added another billion dollars a year to the taxpayer give-away to public lands producers, but also made it even more difficult for labor intensive Appalachian coal miners to compete—speeding the loss of jobs. (The new administration's moves to lower environmental standards for gas drilling also hampered eastern coal).
How did Appalachian coal interests respond to the Trump administration giveaways to its competitors, western coal and natural gas? Predictably, they pled for even bigger subsidies for themselves. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who just bolted the Democratic Party to join the GOP, asked Trump for a $15 federal subsidy for each ton of Appalachian coal, and claimed Trump had expressed support for the idea. If Congress were to appropriate these funds, it would add another $4.5 billion to the total U.S. government pay-off to fossil fuel producers.
But while these outrageous political payoffs waste taxpayer money and keep uncompetitive coal projects alive for a few more years, they don't change the underlying market realities. Last month the CEO of CSX railroad, founded to haul coal, and still getting a fifth of its revenue from the fuel, told analysts "Fossil fuels are dead….That's a long-term view. It's not going to happen overnight. It's not going to be in two or three years. But it's going away, in my view." And he backed up that prediction by revealing that his company would no longer make capital investments in its coal hauling business—no more locomotives designed to haul coal, no more investments in additional trackage—CSX is just going to let its coal business gradually wither. This week a Houston based energy trader told Bloomberg, "All the power market people that I know, we all think coal is going to zero."
So when you read claims that renewable energy isn't competitive yet with fossil fuels, or that it is economics that is slowing down the transition to clean energy, remember—the world's richest governments are throwing taxpayer money at well connected oil, gas and coal companies, cosseting these giants from the grim realities of true market costs—they represent a no-longer competitive past, and our health, our security, our climate and our economy will be better off the faster we move to the future of clean, low-carbon and cheaper energy sources.
By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
- Sweden to Become One of World's First Fossil Fuel-Free Nation s ... ›
- These Countries Are Leading the Transition to Sustainable Energy ... ›
- Sweden Shuts Down Its Last Coal Plant Two Years Early - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
- Oxford Endowment Ditches Fossil Fuels in 'Historic' Decision ... ›
- Fossil Fuel Divestment Debates on Campus Spotlight Societal Role ... ›
- London and New York Mayors Call on Other World Cities to Divest ... ›
By Jacob Wallace
This story is published as part of StudentNation's "Vision 2020: Election Stories From the Next Generation" reports from young journalists that center the concerns of diverse young voters. In this project, working with Dr. Sherri Williams, we recruited young journalists from different backgrounds to develop story ideas and reporting about their peers' concerns ahead of the most important election of our lives. We'll continue publishing two stories each week over the course of September.
In the speech she gave at the People's Climate March in Washington in 2017, Jansikwe Medina-Tayac, then 15, told a crowd of thousands, "This [climate change] is not just an environmental issue. This is a race issue, this is an immigration issue, this is a feminist issue."
- Youth Activists Urge Presidential Candidates to Address Climate ... ›
- Young Republican Climate Activists Split Over November's Election ... ›
- Activists Launch Youth 'Power Vote' Campaign to Turn Out Climate ... ›
The United States passed 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19 Tuesday and experts warn that number may double before the end of the year as an autumn surge in cases starts, according to USA Today.
- Thom Yorke of Radiohead Releases Song With Greenpeace to Help ... ›
- Patti Smith, Thom Yorke, Flea and More Featured on Just Released ... ›
- Musicians and Activists Unite at 'Pathway to Paris' - EcoWatch ›