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Paris Climate Agreement

Decline and Fall: The Size & Vulnerability of the Fossil Fuel System

By Kingsmill Bond, Ed Vaughan, and Harry Benham - Carbon Tracker, June 4, 2020

Renewable costs are below those of fossil fuels. Five years ago, fossil fuels were the cheapest baseload. The collapse in renewable costs means that for 85% of the world, renewable electricity is the cheapest source of new baseload. By the early 2020s it will be every major country. Because of the rise of cheap renewables, the fossil fuel system is ripe for disruption. This disruption will be have profound financial implications for investors as a quarter of equity markets and half of corporate bond markets are ‘carbon entangled’.

Those responsible for our pension schemes should sit up and take notice; but even greater concern should be felt by financial regulators, as they grapple with finding the right tools to manage the risks of a deflating ‘carbon bubble’.

The world faces two contrasting pathways. Either it can secure the ‘trillion dollar green gigafall’, the trillions that can be generated at low cost from the sun and the wind – particularly benefiting the poorest inhabitants of the world currently dependent upon high cost fossil fuel imports. Or it can stay locked into business as usual, tied into a declining industry that both threatens the global economy with the worst effects of a warming planet, and damages investors with losses, low returns and destabilised equity and credit markets.

In Carbon Tracker’s first report, some ten years ago, entitled ‘Unburnable Carbon – are the World’s Financial Markets Carrying a Carbon Bubble’ we highlighted that listed fossil fuel companies have the potential to develop enough reserves to take the world way beyond 3˚C. Our second report, ‘Unburnable Carbon – Wasted Capital and Stranded Assets’, noted that if we can’t burn what we have already found, why continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry’s expansion? Yet today, we know that some $1 trillion is spent annually on expanding supply and this report goes more into these numbers. Before we wind down the fossil fuel system, we need to stop expanding it.

Some argue that ‘fossil fuels will go away of their own accord’ as the result of the rapid progress made by cleaner technologies and the collapse in demand for fossil fuels driven by the terrible COVID-19 epidemic. Unfortunately, as this report makes clear, financial markets are still heavily tied in to the fossil fuel system.

Read the report (PDF).

Equity, Climate Justice, and Fossil Fuel Extraction: Principles for a Managed Phase Out

By Gregg Muttitt and Sivan Kartha - Oil Change International, April 28, 2020

The Paris Agreement goals require most fossil fuel use to be ended within a generation. This paper looks at where and how to equitably phase out oil, gas and coal, and proposes five principles to help democratic actors work through the equity issues that arise from winding down fossil fuel extraction.

Equity issues have long been debated within international climate politics, focused on fairly distributing reductions in territorial emissions and fossil fuel consumption. There is a growing recognition among scholars and policymakers that curbing fossil fuel supply (as well as demand) can be a valuable part of the climate policy toolbox; this raises the question of where and how the tool should be applied.

This paper explores how to equitably manage the social dimensions of a rapid transition away from fossil fuel extraction. Fossil fuel extraction leads to benefits for some people (such as extraction workers) and harms for others (such as pollution-affected communities). A transition must respect and uphold the rights of both groups, while also staying within climate limits, as climate impacts will fall most heavily on the world’s poor.

This paper begins by reviewing how extraction affects economies and communities and the different transitional challenges they face. Based on that review, it then examines three common equity approaches — economic efficiency, meeting development needs, and effort-sharing. Drawing lessons from the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches, the paper proposes five principles as a basis for equitably curbing fossil fuel extraction within climate limits:

  1. Phase down global extraction at a pace consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C;
  2. Enable a just transition for workers and communities;
  3. Curb extraction consistent with environmental justice;
  4. Reduce extraction fastest where doing so will have the least social costs;
  5. Share transition costs fairly, according to ability to bear those costs.

Key policy insights:

  • Fossil fuel extraction is unlikely to be a viable path to development because the Paris Agreement goals require most fossil fuel use to be ended within a generation;
  • Extraction should be phased out fastest in diversified, wealthier economies that can better absorb the transitional impacts;
  • Governments of extracting countries should enact ambitious industrial policy to diversify their economies, alongside economic and employment policies to enable a just transition;
  • The costs of a just transition should be borne by those most able to bear it: poorer countries can reasonably demand financial support.

Download (PDF).

Fighting the wrong battles: how obsession with military power diverts resources from the climate crisis

By Sam Perlo-Freeman - Campaign Against Arms Trade, February 15, 2020

The first duty of government, it is often said, is to provide for the security of its people. But what is security? For whom, and from what? UK governments typically view security through a military lens; but the real threats affecting the security of people in the UK and worldwide, most urgently the climate crisis, are not susceptible to military force, and indeed military interventions by the UK and its allies this century have had an overwhelmingly disastrous impact on peace and security.

The central role of the military in the government’s understanding of security is reflected in budgetary allocations. There is thus a widespread consensus on maintaining military spending at a minimum of 2% of GDP, the NATO target, with many politicians calling for far higher levels. Meanwhile, the climate crisis, the most urgent threat to human security worldwide, receives far less funding.

Military security or sustainable security

This report argues for a shift of focus both in understanding of security and in resources away from military security and towards a concept of sustainable security that prioritises the security of people over that of states and addresses the underlying causes of conflict and insecurity. In particular, the climate crisis needs to be treated as the urgent, devastating and present threat to human security that it is, with resources allocated accordingly.

Arguments for higher military spending typically start from the premise that the world is an ever more dangerous place. While this contains an element of truth, such arguments are based on a narrow and fundamentally flawed understanding of security centred on military power. The conclusion that what is needed is greater military force from the west is fallacious. Indeed, it has often been the actions of the UK and its allies that have made the world more dangerous, as in Iraq.

Non-military security challenges are minimised or ignored. Climate change, for example, is barely mentioned in the Government’s most recent Strategic Defence and Security Review. When mentioned, they are often framed in terms of the impact on national security, and approached with ‘hard’ security responses, such as militarised borders to deal with mass migration. Meanwhile, ambitions for the UK to retain or regain status as a ‘great military power’, able to project military force around the world, are presented as essential requirements for security, on a par with ensuring the survival and sovereignty of the nation.

Read the text (PDF).

Extinction Rebellion – in or out?

By various - New Internationalist, December 5, 2019

In October 2018, Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a series of protests that mobilized thousands of (many first-time) activists and caught the attention of the media.

The rebels had three key demands: that the UK government tell the truth about the climate devastation by declaring an emergency, the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to overview a repeal of climate-negligent laws and the enactment of new policies in line with climate science.

They injected a new sense of energy and urgency into the climate movement. Thousands joined non-violent actions; London bridges were blocked, hundreds arrested. But the group has also come under fire for neglecting more political questions of justice, power and racism.

One month since XR burst on to the UK climate scene, five climate-concerned campaigners – from both in and outside the movement – give their views:

Fossil Futures: The Canada Pension Plan's Failure to Respect the 1.5-degree Celsius Limit

By James K. Rowe, Steph Glanzmann, Jessica Dempsey and Zoë Yunker - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, November 2019

THE WORLD’S LARGEST PENSION FUNDS comprise over half of global investment capital. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) manages one of the country’s largest pools of investments, at $400 billion. How pension funds choose to invest has significant bearing on how we collectively address the climate emergency and the needed energy transition away from fossil fuels. In this report we ask: Is the CPPIB investing with the 1.5-degree Celsius limit on global average temperature rise in mind?

In April 2016, Canada was among 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement, committing to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Our major finding is that the CPPIB is not investing with the 1.5-degree limit in mind. Within its public equities portfolio, it has over $4 billion invested in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel reserve holders (oil, gas and coal). To stay within 1.5 degrees, these companies can extract only 71.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, yet the companies the CPPIB is invested in have 281 billion tonnes in reserve, meaning they have almost four times the carbon reserves that can be sold and ultimately burned to stay within 1.5 degrees. Since reserves are factored into current company valuations, this means the CPPIB has invested billions of dollars in companies whose financial worth depends on overshooting their carbon budget.

This is a moral and ecological failure. It is also a financial risk. As energy generation shifts away from fossil fuels, investors who do not respond could be left with “stranded assets”—investments that are no longer profitable. In its 2019 Financial System Review, the Bank of Canada included climate risk in its analysis for the first time. Canadian fossil fuel companies and their investors are especially exposed to stranded asset risk since the majority of oil produced in Canada is high-cost, carbon-intensive bitumen from the oil sands. And yet, the CPPIB remains exposed to the biggest oil sands majors, with over $1.2 billion invested in Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc. and Cenovus. Canadian pension beneficiaries may therefore be particularly vulnerable to stranded assets and the financial risks they pose.

Read the report (PDF).

Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis

By Darrin Qualman - National Farmers Union, November 2019

The farm crisis is real, as is the climate crisis. Left unchecked, the climate crisis will dramatically deepen the income crisis on Canada’s farms as farmers struggle to deal with continued warming, more intense storms, and increasingly unpredictable weather. It is clear that climate change represents a major challenge to agriculture, but it also represents an opportunity.

Farmers and policymakers are encouraged to recognize that we are facing an existential crisis, which means that all of our options must be on the table for consideration, even if they are uncomfortable to consider. If we commit to an open and honest conversation about the causes and effects of climate change and how they are intertwined with our agricultural sector, we also take the first steps towards a transition that will benefit us all.

Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis does not claim to have all the answers. Both the climate crisis and the farm crisis are so complex that no single report can provide all the answers. However, this report does have many answers — some of which could be implemented right away. Others provide a starting point to opening up the climate conversation in the agricultural sector. Options that will work for different geographic locations, soil types, or types of farms will be explored, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Read the text (link).

Remaking Our Energy Future: Towards a Just Energy Transition (JET) in South Africa

By Richard Halsey, Neil Overy, Tina Schubert, Ebenaezer Appies, Liziwe McDaid and Kim Kruyshaar - Project 90 by 2030, September 19, 2019

A just transition (JT) is a highly complex topic, where the overall goal is to shift to systems that are better for people and the planet, and to do so in a fair and managed way that “leaves no one behind”. A JT is about justice in the context of fundamental changes within the economy and the society.

Both of these areas are extremely contested, consensus is hard to achieve, and people are generally resistant to change. A JT confronts “business as usual” and threatens powerful vested interests in certain economic sectors. In recent years, a vast amount of literature on the subject has been published, and in South Africa the conversation has picked up pace. The urgency of acting now is indisputable.

While a JT can apply to many sectors and industries, this publication focuses on energy. In addition to being a major contributor to climate change, environmental damage and impacts on human health, the energy sector (particularly Eskom), is facing significant challenges in South Africa. We fully acknowledge that energy is linked to other sectors such as transport, agriculture, water and land use, and that a just energy transition (JET) is a part of a wider JT. While the focus of this report is on one sector, we do so recognising that it is linked to other parts of a larger system in many ways.

Our approach was to look at what we can learn from international experience, to combine that with what has already been done in South Africa, and to make recommendations about how to move forward. This publication focuses on the shift from coal to renewable energy (RE), mainly for electricity generation. We are well aware that a movement away from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) is far more than just moving from coal to RE, but as discussed in Chapter 3, this particular transition is the obvious starting point in South Africa. The lessons and recommendations presented here can also be adapted to other fossil fuel sectors. While the focus of this study is on coal, a big picture perspective of the energy system is crucial. South Africa must adopt an integrated planning approach, for energy and other sectors.

Read the text (PDF).

Who is Included in a Just Transition?: Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy

By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, August 2019

As the international community moves to act on the climate crisis, governments are increasingly being forced to reckon with the social and economic costs of climate policies. The production and consumption of fossil fuels is the primary driver of global heating, so shifting to cleaner alternatives is necessary for long-term environmental and economic sustainability. However, the global economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels, so declines in the production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas have the potential to negatively impact large numbers of workers and their communities in the short to medium term. In Canada alone, the fossil fuel industry accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than $100 billion dollars worth of economic output.

Efforts to reduce emissions from the fossil fuel sector have provoked calls for governments to ensure the transition to a cleaner economy is a just transition for affected workers and communities. The concept of a “just transition” for fossil fuel workers has long existed within the North American labour movement, but only in the past few years has it gained mainstream international attention. The 2015 Paris Agreement acknowledged the “imperatives of a just transition of the workforce.” And in 2018, more than 50 countries signed the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, which highlights the essential role of a just transition in the broader fight against climate change.

In Canada, the phrase “just transition” only began appearing in official policy documents around the time of the Paris Agreement, but it is now a formal priority for several governments across the country. Canada’s recent adoption of just transition principles has emerged almost exclusively in the context of the government-mandated phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation. Under a patchwork of provincial and federal policies, nearly all coal power plants and their associated coal mines will be shuttered by 2030.3 To mitigate the costs of the phaseout to coal workers and coal towns, the provincial government of Alberta — home to the largest share of the coal industry — together with the federal government have implemented or announced a variety of just transition policies since 2016. Targeted programs include income support and skills retraining for coal workers as well as infrastructure investments in affected communities. These governments continue to explore initiatives to provide support to coal communities as they undergo the transition to a cleaner economy.

Read the report (PDF).

A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trades Union Congress, July 2019

The trade union movement recognises that there is overwhelming scientific evidence of the need to decarbonise our economy. Energy-intensive industries, including the energy, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors, will be key to achieving this transition, but this is a project that will require change right across our economy, and trade union members have the expertise to deliver it. The voices of workers who are at the forefront of dealing with the challenge of climate change must be at the centre of achieving a successful transition to the economy we will need.

Such a change, if left to solely to the market, could have massive economic and social consequences, in terms of jobs, skills and knowledge lost and communities destroyed. We need a different approach to the failed neoliberal approach of the 1980s, which left workers behind, and communities devastated.

The international trade union movement has called for a ‘just transition’ to a greener economy, where new jobs that are just as good in terms of pay, skills, pensions and trade union recognition replace those that are lost. Following union pressure, the concept of a just transition was included in the preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement and in the Silesia Declaration at the climate talks in 2018.

The move to a low-carbon economy has implications and potential opportunities for industrial policy and the quality of employment. However, the opportunities will not be realised unless the workers most affected have a seat at the table where key decisions are taken. They should be able to contribute to solutions, not be told after decisions have been made.

Read the report (PDF).

Nurses’ Unions, Climate Change and Health: A Global Agenda for Action

By Sean Sweeney, Irene Shen and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 2019

The planet is warming and the climate is changing. With increasing regularity, headlines report record- breaking heat waves, catastrophic storms, floods and fires, and rising numbers of people displaced due to famines, droughts and violence. The world seems to be rapidly becoming a more dangerous and more frightening place.

These changes have profound significance for human health. Indeed, the health impacts of global warming and climate change are already being felt by vast numbers of people around the world. At the same Ame, although certain health risks may actually diminish with increased warming for some people—for instance, risk from exposure to cold in some regions—health risks overall are set to increase significantly. In the medium term, this is especially true for risks related to exposure to floods, droughts and extreme heat; food security issues; and infectious diseases. Longer-term, health risks associated with displacement and conflict are likely to become much more serious.

This paper aims to provide information to nurses and their unions regarding climate-related health risks. It summarizes what is happening now, and what health-related climate science suggests could happen if current trends continue.

Nurses and their unions have been at the forefront of many key struggles to minimize the negative health impacts of current and rising fossil fuel use, and for strong policy responses to the unfolding climate crisis. But it is today clear that addressing climate change will require a radical change at the level of politics and policy. The current policies—which are directed towards ensuring investment opportuniAes for big business—have been a massive failure. Emissions conAnue to rise, and health outcomes and indicators conAnue to worsen.

Read the report (PDF).

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