Tag Archives: Cap and Trade

A New (Emissions) Trade Deal Environment

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
September, 2016

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivers his opening remarks at the Paris Agreement signing ceremony on climate change at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivers his opening remarks at the Paris Agreement signing ceremony on climate change at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

In the 1980s, I was involved in the first flush of free trade enthusiasm. Ronald Reagan had mused about having a free-trade zone from Alaska to Cape Horn and Macdonald Commission in Canada, under Pierre Trudeau’s government, proposed a free trade agreement with the United States. The CUSTA, as it was called, was signed in 1988, followed up by the inclusion of Mexico in NAFTA in 1993. All kinds of other initiatives were taken elsewhere, notably in the creation of the EU. I never lost my interest in the subject, as freer trade brought millions, maybe billions, of people out of terrible poverty.

Now these arrangements are under threat. The UK wants out of the EU, Candidate Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and almost everyone except President Obama wants to turn down the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trade is ‘out’. Global warming is ‘in’.

But wait a minute. This month, the Canadian province of Quebec, along with the Western Climate Initiative, made up of the State governments of California, Oregon and Washington, announced an agreement with Mexico to have it join their trading club. This trade zone will deal in what is called a cap-and-trade (C&T) system. As well, the EU has a similar system, the EUETS, which presumably will lose a member with Brexit, though I’d bet this bit, amongst others, will stay in place.

As a trade deal, presumably, Quebec could sell surplus emission rights to California, for instance—or Mexico. We could call this NAETA, the North American Emissions Trading Agreement, to distinguish it from NAFTA. It is fascinating to see these new international trading agreements go on without the large national profile players at the negotiating table.

What seems to be going on is a concerted effort to link all kinds of jurisdictions around the world in C&T systems, a kind of global trade zone for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. And this kind of trade seems to be on the side of the angels, where buying and selling stuff is not. Weird.

The logic behind a C&T system is that the jurisdictions set an emissions cap for the territory under their control. Generally, this would be based on statistics about the emissions levels for some past years. Then, different emitters would have their shares identified and capped. Over time, violators would be fined, unless they bought emission rights from others who under-emitted that year. An alternative way to distribute permits would be for the jurisdiction simply to auction them off, like some places do with the electromagnetic spectrum.

Excess rights could also be traded amongst those jurisdictions that are parties to a given agreement. Then, over time, the overall cap levels in each jurisdiction would be reduced and eventually we’d get to lower levels of global warming. Keep in mind the world has been warming slowly since the Ice Age ended. All we’ve been doing is to speed up a natural process.

You may have noticed that the C&T system is based on a kind of regulatory control that just might be prone to lobbyists and voter pressure. Can’t meet your cap? Then maybe you’ll have to close down your company or move elsewhere; this being a rough equivalent in free trade lingo to moving to a low-wage country. Then, Voila!, there is a miscalculation discovered in the capping numbers and problem solved.

The alternate popular approach to controlling emissions is a carbon tax. This is a straight tax on the production of materials that have varying degrees of emissions by final users. It is usually expressed in terms of a tax on tons of potential emission-producing materials mined, pumped or otherwise made available, if the focus is on the raw materials, or on the tons of gases produced by final users. Normally, the first is preferred because there are fewer raw material producers than there are consumers and so collection is easier.

The expectation is that such a tax would make everyone less prone to use greenhouse gas producing products and for producers to move to more efficient production processes. The tax is easier than a C&T system to administer—add it to the GST in varying amounts, for instance—but it is prone to tax competition between jurisdictions. Move your plant here; our carbon tax is lower than yours.

The anti-trade people are dismissive of the economists who use their models and data to show that there are gains from trade and that technological change accounts for more disruption than foreign competition. Yet these same people can justify ‘carbon pricing’ mechanisms by using the same general logic as is used in goods trade.

That is, if you raise the price of emissions high enough, the rational consumer will look to alternatives. You can ‘starve the beast’ by making it too difficult for people to feed it with their purchases. Countries benefit from carbon pricing. The opposite is found in free trade; the beast gets fatter if you lower the price for feeding it. Countries benefit from free trade. Both logics share the same base.

The problem is that we live in a democracy, where people are unlikely to behave in accord with the rational model. There is a whole area of behavioral economics devoted to this. All the ‘fast thinking/slow thinking’ research also points up how different people really are from those models we commonly rely upon.

Applying carbon pricing models to human behavior may be appealing at the start, as was free trade in the 1990s, but as people think they are being hurt by these public policies in the short run or in an economic slowdown, and react at the ballot box, there will come a backlash and entrepreneurial politicians will take advantage of this.

By and large, I guess that carbon pricing has, on the outside, a generation to spread and run before someone declares the problem ‘solved’ or C&T drops off in popularity, or corporate exemptions and carbon taxes get hit in some party’s low-tax platform.

Having said that and sounding like a cynic, my practical suggestion is that we all get on with one or both of these, in order to get as much technological and behavioral benefit as possible from them before the reaction sets in.

There is a lot of material on this subject, though a good starting point that is clear and succinct is Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission: https://ecofiscal.ca*

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

*Jim McNiven has no connection with the Ecofiscal group.

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Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

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If carbon pricing is so great, why isn’t it working?

Political hurdles and low prices have made carbon pricing a low-impact affair. But there’s still hope it can help limit climate change.
Canada's Oil Sands capital of Fort McMurray, Alberta Photo by Greg Locke, Copyright 2007

Canada’s Oil Sands capital of Fort McMurray, Alberta. F&O Photo by Greg Locke, Copyright 2007

By Peter Fairley 
July, 2016

Earth’s atmosphere has long served as a free dump for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases generated by humans. That is changing as policy-makers embrace economists’ advice that the best way to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to charge an atmospheric disposal fee. As a result, governments are increasingly tacking on a price for carbon when fossil fuels are sold and/or consumed, allowing their economies to internalize some of the social and economic costs associated with burning coal, oil and natural gas.

In theory, billing polluters for every ton of carbon they unleash should drive emissions reductions with great economic efficiency, since each player is free to choose its optimal response to the carbon price. Those who can cut affordably do so. Those who can’t, pay the price.

“Carbon pricing is the most effective policy for reducing emissions,” says Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund. IMF official portrait

“Carbon pricing is the most effective policy for reducing emissions,” says Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund. IMF official portrait

Carbon pricing is the most effective policy for reducing emissions,” says Christine Lagarde, managing director of the Washington, D.C.–based International Monetary Fund, which is a global cheerleader for carbon pricing.

Schemes turning theory into practice applied a carbon price to the equivalent of about 7 billion metric tons (7.7 billion tons) of CO2 emissions worldwide last year, according to the World Bank (another carbon pricing booster). That represents about 12 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. And the World Bank and IMF have set a goal to extend carbon pricing’s footprint to 25 percent of global emissions by 2020.

What carbon pricing pioneers have yet to prove, however, is that it can deliver on its potential. To date most carbon prices remain low — “virtually valueless” is how Bloomberg put it in a recent review of carbon pricing. That has led even some economists to question whether carbon pricing’s theoretical elegance may be outweighed by practical and political hurdles.

Trade vs. Tax

Although there are many variations on the theme, carbon pricing basically takes two forms.

In most cases, carbon prices are set by national, regional or municipal carbon markets. Governments create these markets by putting an upper limit on total annual greenhouse gas emissions for given sectors of their economies, then issuing tradable allowances” or “credits” for those emissions. More than a dozen carbon markets are now operating, putting a price on 8 percent of global GHG emissions. In the past five years new carbon markets have been launched in California, Quebec, South Korea, and major Chinese industrial centers such as Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangdong.

A simpler option, a carbon tax, currently puts a price on about 4 percent of global GHG emissions. Instead of conjuring up markets to set carbon prices, carbon taxes impose direct levies on industries for every ton of CO2 they release, or on consumers for every ton of CO2 in the fuels they use.

Carbon taxes present a challenge for politicians facing tax-averse publics, but a number of jurisdictions have adopted them, including the U.K., British Columbia and South Africa. Carbon taxes also appear to be gaining some traction in the U.S.: Senator Bernie Sanders made them a central plank in his recent presidential bid, and Washington State voters will get a vote on the first state-level carbon tax ballot initiative in November.

Experts say the two approaches to carbon pricing share more similarities than differences. Unfortunately, their similarities include chronically low prices — prices too low to drive substantial emissions reductions or to inspire low-carbon investments. Most carbon markets and taxes are well below US$15 per metric ton (1.1 ton), whereas members of the International Emissions Trading Association recently estimated that €40 (US$44) per metric ton (1.1 ton) pricing was required to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Carbon pricing is a mantra for experts, but none of these people needs to get reelected says Mark Jaccard. Photo: Simon Fraser University

Carbon pricing is the mantra for many experts, but none of them needs to get reelected, says economist Mark Jaccard. Photo: Simon Fraser University.

The problem, Jaccard says, is that carbon pricing is as politically inexpedient as it is economically efficient.“It is politically difficult to get carbon prices to levels that have an effect,” says Mark Jaccard, an energy economist at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University. The problem, Jaccard says, is that carbon pricing is as politically inexpedient as it is economically efficient: While carbon pricing has become a mantra for economists, environmentalists, academics, celebrities, media pundits and even corporate heads, none of these people needs to get reelected,” he notes.

Tough Trading

Carbon markets have been a work in progress ever since the European Union launched the first one in 2005 to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, under which the EU pledged to cut emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The EU’s Emissions Trading System is vast and complex, covering nearly half of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, including those from over 11,000 cement plants, power stations, refineries and other polluting installations as well as CO2 from air travel within Europe.

The ETS releases 1.74 percent fewer allowances for industrial emissions every year, so emissions should be 21 percent lower in 2020 than they were in 2005. In practice, emissions are dropping, but not because of the market, which suffers from a chronic glut of allowances.

Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank, says the ETS allowed polluters to make generous use of carbon offsets — allowances generated by emissions reduction projects in developing countries. At the same time, economic recession gripping Europe since 2008 and European regulations promoting renewable energy and efficiency both cut fossil fuel consumption, reducing demand for ETS allowances.

The result is rock-bottom pricing for carbon. In late June 2016, European allowances were trading at €4.50 (US$5.00) per metric ton (1.1 ton), less than one-third their initial price in 2005. “The ETS price is below expectations, and below the level that could spark transformational innovation and investments,” says Burtraw.

Some newer markets have sought to avoid Europe’s troubles, with qualified success. Academic researchers concur. A 2013 research survey by the U.K.-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, for example, estimated that the ETS was having a “small but non-trivial impact” on European carbon emissions. It found no evidence that carbon pricing was driving investments in new equipment or innovation needed to meet the EU’s long-term emissions targets.

Some newer markets have sought to avoid Europe’s troubles, with qualified success. One launched in 2012 by California (and pooled with Québec’s carbon market in 2014) fights oversupply by allocating most allowances via auctions with a floor price that rises every year, instead of handing them out for free.

Despite this strategy, the California/Québec carbon price also crashed after a few years. It currently sits near the latest auction floor price of US$12.73 — a price level that puts little downward pressure on emissions. Jaccard argues that policies such as California’s renewable portfolio standard, which has fueled aggressive deployment of utility-scale solar and wind farms, are driving California’s emissions reductions. “The cap is not actually forcing down emissions. Regulations are,” he says.

The market, meanwhile, is proving a wild ride for public finances, despite its floor price. Most allowances did not sell at California’s May 2016 auction, thanks at least in part to a legal challenge by manufacturers that spooked traders’ confidence in the market. The state put 43 million allowances to auction and sold just 785,000, all at the floor price. The results were a rude surprise for state agencies promised auction proceeds to fund climate and energy programs. The agency designing a high-speed rail network for California, for example, expected at least a US$150 million infusion from last month’s quarterly auction and instead netted just US$2.5 million.

The Emissions Trading System price is below the level that could spark transformational innovation and investment,”says Dallas Burtraw. Official portrait, Resources for the Future

The Emissions Trading System price is below the level that could spark transformational innovation and investment,”says Dallas Burtraw. Official portrait, Resources for the Future

China is preparing to start a national carbon market next year that will eclipse the EU’s as the world’s largest, covering roughly 4 billion metric tons (4.4 billion tons) of CO2. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the 2017 carbon market launch last fall to reinforce the country’s promise under the Paris Agreement for its CO2 emissions to peak by 2030.

There is no evidence yet that China’s market will produce stronger carbon prices than its predecessors. While the rules are still being decided, experts expect that it will launch with free distribution of allowances. “There will be mostly free allocation, but auctioning — presumably with a reserve price — will play an increasingly important role over time,” predicts Clayton Munnings, a colleague of Burtraw’s and a China expert at Resources for the Future.

Munnings led a study of China’s regional pilot carbon markets (to be published soon in Energy Policy) that identified enforcement and transparency concerns that could also undermine the national market.

“Credibility is important to cap-and-trade markets,” he says. “Firms must believe that allowances are scarce if they are to fully participate in trading.”

Taxing Strategy

Carbon tax advocates favor forgoing the vagaries of carbon markets altogether. Rather, they recommend governments tax greenhouse gas production at a rate that will create sufficient incentive to significantly reduce emissions while generating steady revenues that can be put to good use.

The quintessential example is British Columbia’s carbon tax, which adds C$30 (US$23) per metric ton to fossil fuels sold and combusted in the province (which account for over 70 percent of its total greenhouse gas emissions). It is generally accepted that the tax is reducing emissions in British Columbia without harming the provincial economy.

Yoram Bauman, the Seattle-based economist behind Washington State’s ballot Initiative 732, says he modeled the carbon tax ballot measure after British Columbia’s. Bauman says he fell in love with the “simplicity” of environmental taxation as an undergraduate at Reed College in Portland, and found the province’s carbon tax elegant enough to capture in haiku:

Fossil CO2  /  30 dollars for each ton  /  Revenue neutral

British Columbia’s policy returns revenues from the carbon tax to taxpayers in the form of cuts to existing taxes — and that’s the plan for Initiative 732 as well. Both also offer tax benefits for low-income families, who are disproportionately hurt by rising energy costs.

In British Columbia, this revenue neutral formula drove a rapid reduction in CO2 emissions at little cost to the economy during its first four years, with per capita use of fossil fuel dropping up to 19 percent. Several studies suggest that British Columbia’s economy may have actually accelerated as a result thanks to the stimulative effect of cutting income and business taxes. A 2015 working paper from the University of Calgary, for example, estimates that employment in the province grew 2 percent between 2007 and 2013 due to the carbon tax.

That double dividend is attracting politically diverse interest in the U.S. Former Cato Institute official Jerry Taylor, who now runs the libertarian Niskanen Center, issued a report last year titled The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax. More recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders has been trying to convince the Democratic Party to endorse carbon taxes.

Republican leaders in Congress who oppose climate action passed a nonbinding resolution in June stating that carbon taxes “would be detrimental to American families and businesses.” But Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, bemoaned the Republican’s resolution this month, telling Politico that “instead of relying on dozens of federal and state regulations that themselves are costly, a carbon tax would be transparent and cost-effective.”

Yet the political hurdles facing carbon taxes cannot be overstated. Representatives of U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton opposed including Sanders’ carbon tax plank in the Democratic Party’s official 2016 platform. And even supporters of Initiative 732 say it faces an uphill battle.

“We have a very tax-sensitive electorate in Washington,” acknowledges Joe Fitzgibbon, chair of the Washington State legislature’s environment committee. Others have expressed concerns that the initiative could leave the state with less revenue. And environmental groups are rallying instead behind cap and trade, with revenues to be redirected to environmental programs (including ones protecting the state’s forestry jobs) rather than tax cuts.

Even British Columbia’s much-lauded carbon tax is unpopular at home and losing ground. Annual increases in the tax were frozen in 2012, when Premier Gordon Campbell, who launched the tax, left office. And the province’s greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise again. Seven members of current Premier Christy Clark’s Climate Leadership Team recently urged her in an open letter and op-ed to strengthen the tax. The advisors have recommended C$10 (US$23) per metric ton (1.1 ton) annual increases from 2018 to provide “enough incentive to reduce carbon pollution.”

The Regulation Option

Jaccard, who advised Campbell on the original tax plan, claims to have lost faith in the political viability of carbon pricing. He is providing advice to Canada’s federal government, and suggesting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau focus on regulations that have direct and proven impact.

Modeling by Jaccard’s research group suggests that Canada would need carbon prices rising to C$160 (US$124) per metric ton (1.1 tons) in 2030 to meet its pledges under the Paris agreement. Instead of risking political careers with such a proposal, he advises politicians to strengthen carbon-cutting regulations. For example, he suggests mandating a phase-out of coal-fired power plants and requiring automakers to sell mostly electric vehicles by 2030.

“Difficult as this might be, it would be far less difficult than defending a rapidly rising carbon tax that attracts hostile media attention with each increase,” Jaccard wrote recently in the Canadian online magazine Policy Options.

[R]esearch indicates that carbon pricing policy is consistently undermined by lobbying from commercial interests. Steffen Böhm, an expert in carbon markets at the University of Exeter Business School in the U.K., has come to the same conclusion. He says that his research indicates that carbon pricing policy is consistently undermined by lobbying from commercial interests.

“What we need is policy-makers taking responsibility to put legislation in place to phase out fossil fuels,” says Böhm.

Others expect carbon markets to deliver in the end, with prices rising as lower-cost emissions reductions are exploited and declining carbon caps force increasingly tougher action.

Burtraw at Resources for the Future offers an alternate and rather unorthodox possibility: Low carbon prices may reflect factors like innovation that are impossible to fully anticipate. He notes the plummeting prices for solar and wind power and energy efficiency measures. Whereas the fossil fuels that have dominated economies for centuries tend to rise in cost as they are depleted, renewables are dropping fast and they could keep on dropping. As a result, climate mitigation could turn out to be less expensive than economists have assumed.

“My view is that a carbon price is imperative,” says Burtraw, “but in the end it will not have to be high.”

Creative Commons, republished from Ensia magazine
View Ensia homepage

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ENERGY

~~ Energy and persistence conquer all things — Benjamin Franklin ~~

The Law of Conservation in physics says energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. But lawless politics have no such constraints — and here the role of energy has ceaselessly expanded, to dominate economics and polarize politics.  Here is a collection of select F&O stories about how we harness energy to run our material world — to feed, clothe, transport and shelter ourselves — and the ways in which our choices enrich and shackle our lives and prospects.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions survives with an honour system. Try one story at no charge. If you value no-spam, no-ads, non-partisan, evidence-based, independent journalism, help us continue. Details.  

MAGAZINE

Greg Locke © 2015

Greg Locke © 2015

Wanted: A new story of humanity’s place in the world. By Philip Loring

It goes without saying that humans are good at causing problems. Climate change, overfishing and widespread environmental contamination from chemical toxicants are all creations of our own making. But are we destined to create such problems? Many people believe so, and argue that our capacity for self-interest, avarice and ecological shortsightedness make us inherently unsustainable as a species. Not only is this way of thinking built on long-disproven myths about human nature and human origins, it also constrains how we think about solutions and alienates us from the rest of the natural world. We need to abandon this belief and not allow ourselves to be defined only by our most recent history. The truth of the matter is that we belong here, and belonging is a much more powerful narrative for sustainability than isolation.

Landmannalaugar with glacier Vatnajökull in background. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

© Mattias Klum

Big World, Small Planet: book excerpt. By  Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum

Big World, Small Planet is a book both alarming and hopeful, a work of science and art that arrives as world leaders prepare — at last? — to address climate change at the summit in Paris. “We need a new way of thinking about our relationship with nature, and how reconnecting with the planet can open up new avenues to world prosperity,” state authors Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum.

© Ed Struzzik 2015

© Ed Struzik 2015

In Northern Canada’s Peaks, Scientists Track Impact of Vanishing Ice. By Ed Struzik

That a cluster of glaciers in the Northwest Territories is melting is hardly earth-shattering news. What makes the Brintnell/Bologna and nearby glaciers unique is that they comprise the last extensive icefield remaining in the interior of Canada’s Northwest Territories. And because temperatures are rising so rapidly here, the icefield appears to be melting at a rate three times the global average.

Risky Business: The facts behind fracking. By Chris Wood

Bouncy music and colouring book graphics introduce A Look Underground, a short video uploaded to YouTube1 by the Calgary-based Encana Corporation “to educate children about natural gas development.” In the demonstration, engineer Mark Taylor explains the principles of hydraulically fracturing shale and recovering natural gas to a dozen kids ranging from toddlers to preteens. The children stand gathered around a structure built from cupcakes arranged in a horseshoe, its top iced a vivid green and decorated with plastic trees and farm animals. A thick layer of white icing represents the shale layer below. Taylor shows how drillers push steel pipe down deep through the chocolate “earth” to the coveted shale, an operation depicted with plastic tubing. Next, he says, “we basically load it up with explosive charges like big firecrackers, and we blast holes into spots all along the way, so the gas can come out of the white shale here and into our well.”

Mexicans with Sweaters: On the road with Newfoundland’s migrant workers. By Greg Locke

Newfoundlanders running the Salvation Army shelter in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Greg Locke Photo © 2013

© Greg Locke 2013

Contrary to what mainland North Americans may think of us, a plane-full of Newfoundlanders heading to well-paying jobs in Alberta’s oil sands was never going to be a “Party Plane” full of happy people heading to a new, bright future. They might have been surprised that most passengers on Air Canada’s new direct 7:00 AM flight from St. John’s to Fort McMurray were middle-aged men with grey hair, in a somber mood for having to leave behind wives, children, grandchildren, and homes, because there is no room in the new Newfoundland economy for them and their primitive resource and trades-based skills. No, this was not a party plane. It was a plane filled with people resigned to a new life they don’t want.

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DISPATCHES

 

Muskrat Falls hydroelectric – Who buried the risk assessment report?  by ROGER BILL

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland — The man in charge of finishing the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project on the Churchill River in remote central Labrador calls the venture a “boondoggle”. The Newfoundland and Labrador government has established a commission of inquiry to determine why the project is wildly over budget and years behind schedule. A good place for the Commissioner, Judge Richard D. LeBlanc, to start is to find out who buried the warning that there was a “very high risk” of a multi-billion dollar cost overrun barely four months after the massive project was green-lighted in December, 2012.

Newfoundland’s fourth offshore oil project set to sail, by Greg Locke

The Hebron offshore oil production platform awaits tow out to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2017 -www.greglocke.comThe Hebron offshore oil production platform awaits tow out to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2017 -www.greglocke.com

The Hebron offshore oil production platform awaits tow out to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2017 -www.greglocke.com

While Canada’s oil sands projects and the North America fracking companies are under scrutiny and financial distress, Newfoundland prepares to bring its fourth major offshore oil project online.

Trump’s Hot Air Far From Greatest Climate Threat, by Andrew Revkin, ProPublica

The real risk for climate change in a Donald Trump presidency, according to close to a dozen experts interviewed for this story, lies less in impacts on specific policies like Obama’s Clean Power Plan and more in the realm of shifts in America’s position in international affairs.

If carbon pricing is so great, why isn’t it working? by Peter Fairley

Carbon pricing has yet to deliver on its potential. To date most carbon prices remain low — “virtually valueless.”  That has led even some economists to question whether carbon pricing’s theoretical elegance may be outweighed by practical and political hurdles.

Paris Agreement: landmark accord, turn from fossil fuels, By Alister Doyle and Barbara Lewis

 The global climate summit in Paris agreed a landmark accord on December 12, setting the course for a historic transformation of the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy within decades in a bid to arrest global warming.

Climate: Paris Agreement at a glance
The Conversation  Report

Paris Agreement massive “take-back” scheme, by Myles Allen, University of Oxford

How many of the delegates in Paris realise that they have just created the mother of all “take-back schemes?”

Catastrophe will result if climate summit fails — Pope. By Philip Pullella and George Obulutsa

World leaders must reach a historic agreement to fight climate change and poverty at upcoming Paris talks, facing the stark choice to either “improve or destroy the environment”, Pope Francis said in Africa on Thursday.

World at “breaking point” as Paris summit begins. By Bruce Wallace and Alister Doyle

World leaders launched an ambitious attempt November 30, to hold back the earth’s rising temperatures, with French President Francois Hollande saying the world was at “breaking point” in the fight against global warming.  After decades of struggling negotiations and the failure of a summit in Copenhagen six years ago, some form of landmark agreement appears all but assured.

Catastrophe will result if climate summit fails — Pope. By Philip Pullella and George Obulutsa

World leaders must reach a historic agreement to fight climate change and poverty at upcoming Paris talks, facing the stark choice to either “improve or destroy the environment”, Pope Francis said in Africa on Thursday.

Are countries legally required to protect from climate change? By Sophia V. Schweitzer, Ensia

On June 24, 2015, a court in The Hague ruled that greenhouse gas reduction is a state obligation. This marks the first time the issue has been legally declared a state obligation, regardless of arguments that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend on one country’s efforts alone. Here’s what that could mean for the rest of the world.

 

 

Global oil industry slipping into the red. By Ron Bousso, Karolin Schaps & Anna Driver

The oil sector is slipping into the red after years of fat profits as the steep slump in oil prices shows little sign of ending, with this quarter shaping up to be the worst since the downturn started. The world’s top oil companies have struggled to cope with the halving of oil prices since June 2014. They have cut spending repeatedly, made thousands of job cuts and scrapped projects.

Fracking: it’s everywhere (at least in America). By Peter Dykstra

Forget, for the moment, whether you think fracking is an energy godsend or an endtimes disaster. Just consider how it’s everywhere. In the long run, fracking will impact our lives far more than four of its fellow inductees into the Merriam-Webster dictionary this past year: Hashtags, selfies, tweeps, and turduckens all have their place in society. But none touch everyone’s lives like fracking will, and already has.

Canadian Court Expands Aboriginal Rights. By Deborah Jones

Canada’s top court greatly expanded aboriginal rights in Canada’s westernmost province, in what may stand as a landmark decision affecting control of a vast swath of land and resources, in British Columbia and beyond. The case, Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, was sparked in 1983 when the provincial government licenced a commercial company to log the Chilcotin. The licence was disputed by the Chilcotin residents who lived there long before the mid 2800s when — without their consent — England claimed the land as a colony, and named it British Columbia.

Aggressive Tactic on the Fracking Front. by Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica

For the last eight years, the American state of Pennsylvania has been riding the natural gas boom, with companies drilling and fracking thousands of wells across the state. And in a little corner of Washington County, some 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, EQT Corporation has been busy – drilling close to a dozen new wells on one site. It didn’t take long for the residents of Finleyville who lived near the fracking operations to complain — about the noise and air quality, and what they regarded as threats to their health and quality of life.

Landowners often losers in deals with U.S. energy companies.  By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica (Public access)

At the end of 2011, Chesapeake Energy, one of the United State’s biggest oil and gas companies, was teetering on the brink of failure. Its legendary chief executive officer, Aubrey McClendon, was being pilloried for questionable deals, its stock price was getting hammered and the company needed to raise billions of dollars quickly. The money could be borrowed, but only on onerous terms. Chesapeake, which had burned money on a lavish steel-and-glass office complex in Oklahoma City even while the selling price for its gas plummeted, already had too much debt. In the months that followed, Chesapeake executed an adroit escape, raising nearly $5 billion with a previously undisclosed twist: By gouging many rural landowners out of royalty payments they were supposed to receive in exchange for allowing the company to drill for natural gas on their property.

Drilling for Certainty: The Latest in Fracking Health Studies, by Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica (Public access)

For years environmentalists and the gas drilling industry have been in a pitched battle over the possible health implications of hydro fracking. But to a great extent, the debate has been hampered by a shortage of science. The science is far from settled — but there is a growing body of research to consider. ProPublica offers a survey of some of that work, in air quality, birth outcomes, and other health risks.

Report says 90 companies cause 2/3 of climate change, past and present. By Deborah Jones

International debates about climate change, such as the United Nation talks now underway in Warsaw, have lately focused on blaming nations and which of them should pay the bills. That changed today, with new research that claims just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of emissions linked with human-caused global warming. Researcher Richard Heede is upfront about his purpose: to change the game — and to name and shame.

Are humans too selfish to fix climate change? By Deborah Jones

Chilcotin burn

© Deborah Jones 2012

In the perpetual debate about whether humans are good, greed scored another point. Researchers in Europe and North America invented a game in which players had to cooperate to receive both individual cash and a reward for achieving a public-good (the example used was avoiding climate change). The longer players were willing to wait for their pay-off, the bigger the reward. Each player could defect at any time and claim at least some cash.

Frack Fluids can Migrate to Aquifers: Study. By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica

A new study has raised fresh concerns about the safety of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, concluding that fracking chemicals injected into the ground could migrate toward drinking water supplies far more quickly than experts have previously predicted. Scientists have theorized that impermeable layers of rock would keep the fluid, which contains benzene and other dangerous chemicals, safely locked nearly a mile below water supplies. This view of the earth’s underground geology is a cornerstone of the industry’s argument that fracking poses minimal threats to the environment. But the study, using computer modeling, concluded that natural faults and fractures in the Marcellus, exacerbated by the effects of fracking itself, could allow chemicals to reach the surface in as little as “just a few years.”

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COMMENTARY

Depiction of mass bomber raid on Cologne, by The National Archives, UK. via Wikimedia Commons

PENNEY KOME: Climate watch: the world cannot afford a war

War, the most costly and damaging human activity, is outside the scope of Paris climate talks. “If the war was ranked as a country in terms of emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world’s nations do annually, more than 60 percent of all countries, said one report.

CHRIS WOOD: The Climate Models are Wrong!  (Just not the models you think)

A common line of attack for the propagandists, and the misled who imagine we are not altering Earth’s climate, is that climate projections rely on models. Models! But it turns out there are models, and models. And now economists Simon Dietz and Nicholas Stern have published some startling findings about the DICEy current models used to estimate the social price of carbon.

1200px-Marsh_Arabs_in_a_mashoofCHRIS WOOD: Let Nature’s Geography Trump Westphalian View

Millennia of not-always-wise irrigation, a century of water seizures for national ends, and decades of conflict including that now in Iraq, have not been kind to the once-lush basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. “Recovery” might yet be possible, in the unlikely event that environmentalists, who are without a name let alone an army, unify the Levant under a Green banner. But the point we all need to grasp is that the former Mesopotamia is merely a little ahead of the rest of us, on the road to bankrupting our natural security.

CHRIS WOOD: What’s a World Worth? We now have a very precise idea

If you have ever spent a night under the canopy of stars undimmed by city lights, in a place where the only sounds are those unmade by man that have whispered and lapped and knocked and called out through the dark hours in that place since the last big ice released its grip on the Earth, you may share the view of many who have been so blessed that the essence of our planet’s nature and worth cannot possibly be reduced to the grasping calculi of dollars or pounds or Euros. You would be only partly right. An American economist has done just that, sort of.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: The Ugly Oil Sands Debate. 

I have family who work in Canada’s oil sands. They know that I have been a vocal critic of current oil sands operations and plans for expansion, yet they didn’t hesitate to welcome me into their homes and to invite me to a family gathering in Canmore, Alberta. We had a wonderful time. We shared some memories, laughed a lot and even tackled some hard stuff. The conversations were rich and surprisingly easy. Perhaps in part because although we have different opinions there already was a basis of trust and shared experiences.

CHRIS WOOD: The point of no return

If there were before some footing left for doubt, narrow and slippery though it might have been, there is none left now. The world as it has been for the entirety of human history is on its way to the exits. What makes this certain is a pair of studies of the behaviour of a glacier most of us have never given much thought to. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is a vast ice-scape at the bottom of the world, nearly half again larger than Canada. And it is breaking up. Indeed, the scientific teams that gathered the evidence of the ice-sheet’s retreat say its collapse is now “irreversible.”

CHRIS WOOD: Planet Insurance. Seriously

Acidifying oceans. Desertifying fields. Liquifying glaciers and icecaps. Toxifying lakes and rivers. Our species has a nature problem. Or to put it another way: nature has a human economy problem. Before this century is over — more likely before it’s half over — that problem will be resolved, one way or another. Either we’ll be bright and change the way our economy works, or — and also more likely — we’ll carry on until either our economy or nature or both break beneath our weight. What we need here is a little insurance. Seriously.

CHRIS WOOD: A Reflection On Easter, Math and Judas

Where I live, in the most Catholic part of old Mexico, the entire week and weekend to come are turned over to a passionate mix of Christian and not-so-Christian rituals: an overnight pilgrimage of the faithful in their hundreds bearing a life-size effigy of a suffering Christ, an entire afternoon devoted to the satisfaction of blowing up life-size paper Judases (although some bear a suspiciously strong likeness to certain political figures. It is Easter. Which turns out to have nothing to do with Ishtar, a Canaanite goddess of war, fertility and something called “sacred prostitution.” What it does have to do with is the hope that comes with spring time, with the return of life after the little death of winter, that is celebrated by different names in different ways everywhere we are on the planet. I am not a Christian, but we need that hope just now.

512px-Archbishop-Tutu-mediumDESMOND TUTU: An Argument for Carbon Divestment. (Public access)

Scientists and public representatives gathered in Berlin are weighing up radical options for curbing carbon emissions contained in the third report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The bottom line, a draft of the report warns, is that we have 15 years to take the necessary steps to affordably reduce emissions to attain the targeted 2°C over pre-industrial times. The horse may not have already bolted, but it’s well on its way through the stable door.

Who can stop it? Well, we can, you and I. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so.

CHRIS WOOD: The End of the Century is Now, in Northern Canada

The 1,000-gun salute in the realm of natural security these past weeks has been for the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report. So let me talk (mostly) about something else instead. The IPCC’s latest synthesis of science mainly confirms widely known trends and risks and warns, yet again, that our business-as-usual is leading us to the extreme end of the range of climate forecasts by the end of this century. So instead of dwelling on that, let me take you to one specific place where the climate hasn’t waited for the end of the century, the Mackenzie River delta on the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea.

CHRIS WOOD: Our Rube Goldberg World

Rube Goldberg is long dead, but the figurative machine to which he gave his name lives on. It’s that whimsical confection where a rolling marble tips a lever that sends a toy plane whizzing down a wire to bump into a scissors that cuts a string that drops a water balloon on a sleeping victim … Earth’s climate is a lot like a Rube Goldberg machine: a vast assembly of invisibly connected parts, pushing and pulling each other around the spherical planet to achieve, for the last 12,000 years at least, a lot of movement of heat and wind and water, but very little change in the overall state of affairs.

CHRIS WOOD: On the Fiction of Averages and Meaning of Marbles: It’s extremes that kill

North America’s recent wintry blast, and one unfortunate crew of ice-detained eco-cruisers in the south polar sea, have stirred the blood of the science deniers. According to well-paid propagandists working for media outlets, small-time municipal councillors, and a certain spotlight-seeking New York City property magnate and game-show host, the occurrence of cold and — OMG! — snow, is sufficient to overlook millions of other data points meticulously collected around the globe over the last 40 years, and conclude, ever hopefully, that this whole climatey, changey, thing is a hoax. If only it were so.

CHRIS WOOD: We’re All In This Together: ecosystems as life-support systems.

We’re all in this together. That is not a moral sentiment. Nor is it the wooly-headed utopiate of some bleeding-heart liberal. In fact, it is a statement about biology. Nonetheless, this clearly unoriginal insight has implications for everything from agriculture to medicine to business. It should resonate across our social, inter-personal and economic realms as well. Here’s the deal: That splendid, solitary, neurotically cultivated and over-examined individual of pop cultural celebrity, of too many moody novels, of philosophy, and more recently of Darwinian economic ideology, turns out to be just another of those enterprises’ many fantasies. In reality, we are not individuals, we are collectives.

CHRIS WOOD: The Shakedown of the Century? Will trade deals let energy companies shake us down for $55 trillion?

Oil and gas companies plan to spend $700 billion searching for fossil energy next year—even when four-fifths of the reserves they already own may end up ‘stranded’ to stabilize the climate. Why? Because international trade and investment rules will allow fossil fuel companies to demand trillions of dollars in compensation for abandoning locked-in carbon assets. Every additional barrel in reserve is another potential claim. The total bill could rival the size of the world economy.

CHRIS WOOD: Say Hooyah for Natural Defence: U.S. military identifies climate change as security threat

Gavin's Mexican windmills

© Gavin Kennedy 2013

Say what you will about the United States military, no organization on earth is more focused on maintaining its capabilities no matter what. As a result, its upper echelons spend a fair amount of time considering what that ‘what’ might actually look like. Recently at a conference in Halifax, Canada, the top figure in that military, United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, described what he and his top-brass colleagues see when they look around the globe for the biggest looming threats to America’s security. Significantly, it wasn’t men with guns.

CHRIS WOOD: Give Disaster a Chance: Brute force will make us change our ways

Where I live, in Mexico, screens have been filled with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ingrid and tropical storm Manuel along the country’s coasts. Mexico is in no doubt about the reality of climate change, and is instituting a national strategy to respond to it. Meanwhile those relative few in the Canadian and US media who pay attention to such things have jumped on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to comfort skeptics with the idea that global warming has slowed down or perhaps even paused over the last 15 years.  A pause! Why, it’s the next thing to global cooling and a complete collapse of that whole, human-caused climate-change hoax conspiracy!

CHRIS WOOD: Australia follows Canada to elect a hard-core fossil fuel pusher

The Majuro Declaration. Ever heard of it? I thought not. The two-page document was released Sept. 5 by a group of 15 small Pacific island nations, and two somewhat larger Pacific island nations — New Zealand and Australia. It was promptly hailed by the few climate cogniscenti who were aware of it as a breakthrough in candor, if nothing else, about the gravest crisis facing the world. No, not Syria. The crisis that is on a trajectory to exterminating most of Earth’s life forms and sharply reduce humanity’s numbers. That crisis.

CHRIS WOOD: Natural Security is the central question of our age

With apologies to Charles Dickens, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.  We are surrounded by miracles and wonders that would have dazzled the most indulged monarch of any earlier era. And we are preparing for ourselves a tribulation commensurately greater than any in our species’ record. A time of disruption which may, indeed, bring that record to an end (really, this time). What to do? What to do? These are the defining facts and central question of our age.

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EXPERT WITNESS

Mark Carney: The tragedy of the horizon. By Mark Carney

mark_carneyA tragedy looms on the horizon, warns Mark Carney, one of the world’s most influential central bankers. “Our societies face a series of profound environmental and social challenges,” he said in a speech to Lloyd’s of London. “The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity. While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking.” With permission, F&O  publishes an excerpt of the speech.

 The Banality of Ethics in the Anthropocene. By Clive Hamilton

Among the great crimes of the 20th century the most enduring will surely prove to be human disruption of the Earth’s climate. Duty to the truth and the obligation to avoid actions that harm others are powerful principles firmly rooted in the universal framework of legal and ethical codes. Yet before the enormity of what humankind has now done, I cannot help feeling that these grand constructions are frail and almost pathetic. Let me explain why.

The Pointy End. By Tzeporah Berman

The effects of human-caused climate change are already evident on all continents and waters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its latest report, released March 31. The report is, undeniably, grim: agriculture, human health, water and land-based ecosystems, water supplies, and some livelihoods are already affected. But the report also held out hope: there are opportunities, it said, to take action — albeit challenging ones. How to summon the hope needed to meet the challenges? Canadian environmental activist Tzeporah Berman is an expert on finding hope, gleaned from years on the front lines as co-director of Greenpeace International’s Global Climate and Energy Program, Executive Director and Co-founder of PowerUp Canada and Co-founder and Campaign Director of ForestEthics.

On Geoengineering: a case for sophisticated thinking. By Brad Allenby

The failure of the Kyoto Protocol and the underlying process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has led to substantial interest in geoengineering technologies …  The response of falling back on ideological certainties, romantic visions, and over-simplistic worldviews at some point becomes simply a form of irresponsible denial, because the complexity of the systems within which we are embedded mean that there is no home base, no golden age to return to — and our network of systems continues to evolve, and to reflect the growing dominance of human influence. And it will do so regardless of what stories we tell ourselves to try to avoid our responsibilities. What we can do is, to the best of our ability, rationally and ethically respond to the challenges we face. Geoengineering technologies are a part of the technology response that must be developed, but they are only a part, and as we explore them and their implications we need to be far more sophisticated in how we think about them as technologies, and manage them as part of an increasingly engineered planet.

The Changing Arctic Ocean. by Kevin R. Arrigo

For some, the loss of Arctic sea ice is a unique opportunity: the development of a viable Arctic commercial fishery, for exploration for fossil hydrocarbons, as an ice-free Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For others, the loss of Arctic sea ice looks to be a disaster in the making, especially  indigenous populations. Yet the consequences of Arctic sea ice loss extend far beyond the subsistence and commercial activities of humans – there will be profound ecological implications as well.

Biodiversity in the Anthropocene. By Bradley J. Cardinale

Claquot Sound

Claquot Sound, British Columbia. © Deborah Jones 2006

Imagine a hypothetical scenario. Imagine you are traveling through space and come across Earth for the first time … what would you be most struck by? Would it be the water that gives our planet the nickname ‘blue-marble’? I doubt it. We’ve now found water on the moon (Saal et al., 2008), on several other planets in our own solar system (Carr et al., 1998; Malin and Edgett, 2000), and a single survey of the Milky Way found >270 planets in the so-called “habitable zone,” warm enough for liquid water (Borucki et al., 2011). Would you instead be struck by the mountains, canyons and other geological features that are most visible from space? Again, it’s doubtful. Geologists tell us there are few, if any, landforms that are wholly unique to Earth (Baker, 2008; Dietrich and Perron, 2006), and you probably would have seen them all before. Based on our current understanding of the universe, the only thing a space-traveler is likely to be struck by, and the one thing that appears to be fundamentally unique to Earth, is its remarkable variety of life.

FRONTLINES BLOGS

Environmental Assessments Include Climate, by Chris Wood

How wide to cast the net when examining the environmental damage a proposed industrial development might do, is a contested issue.

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