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Archive for November 2021

Climate, coal, and Glasgow

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The Vista coal mine west of Edmonton

It’s hard not to be depressed at the close of COP26 in Glasgow. Tzeporah Berman, who had earlier posted a few optimistic thoughts, quoted Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a young activist, telling a press conference “They taught us about climate change in a school, polar bears and melting ice caps. No one told us what it would be like when your bedroom flooded.”

Hard to see the silver lining. But I find solace in, of all places, the business pages of the Globe & Mail.

Yes, the business pages, you read that right.  That is because this where news about polluting industries – coal, in this case – are reported; and, if change is indeed too slow, it is at least in the right direction.

For instance, take Tom Westbrook’s article entitled “Coal stocks dip after Glasgow climate deal”. Wetbrook notes that

Big miners China Shenhua Energy and Yanzhou Coal fell 1% and 4% respectively in Hong Kong, where the broader stock market was mostly steady. In Indonesia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, the declines were more marked. Top miner Bumi Resources fell 4% and rival Indika Energy fell 6%. Adaro Energy dropped 4%. Shares in Australia-listed thermal coal miner Whitehaven Coal fell 2% and rival New Hope fell 0.5% in a slightly firmer broad market. Metallurgical coal miners South32 and Coronado Global Resources dropped about 2% and 3% respectively.

That means that any investor in coal has lost some money. This has an entrainment effect: the more the stocks dip, the more it gets sold off.  Indeed, investors see little future in the black stuff. For instance, Jonathan Saul and Simon Jessop report (“shipping companies in the cross-hairs as some investors shun coal”) that:

[i]n a sign of investors taking the initiative, six European firms collectively representing over 5 per cent of the estimated annual US$16-billion capital financing requirements of the dry bulk industry told Reuters they were either reducing their exposure to vessels that transport coal or were considering doing so. Swiss Re [the world’s largest reinsurance company] told Reuters that from 2023 it will no longer cover the transport of thermal coal via reinsurance treaties, where it covers a portfolio of insurers’ policies. It exited the direct insurance of coal cargoes in 2018.

Separately, at least two major ports are making big shifts; Antwerp has turned its back on coal, for example, while Peel Ports is redeveloping its former Hunterston coal import terminal in Scotland to be able to handle offshore wind, dry docking for ships, aquaculture and the recycling of energy.

Monaco-based Eneti has shifted entirely out of dry bulk shipping this year into providing specialist vessels for the offshore wind sector…[M]anaging director David Morant told Reuters “As a publicly listed company, renewable energy through offshore wind is higher growth, environmentally responsible and attractive to our investor base.”

In an earlier editorial, the paper mentioned the progress made by Canada:

Coal is responsible for more than one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. In China, the world’s largest emitter, it generates 60 per cent of the electricity.

In Canada, however, the end of coal is in sight – without need to squint or use binoculars. Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador have long been powered by clean hydro. Ontario, once a big user of coal, shut its last coal-fired plant in 2014. Today, its power mix – mostly zero-emission nuclear and hydro, plus some renewables and natural gas – is far cleaner than Germany or California. And Alberta, which aimed to get off coal by 2030, will achieve that in 2023. Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are next.

This has to be seen as good news, even though our situation is far from something to gloat about.  Alberta, for instance, has a much larger resource of both wind and solar energy than Germany (to say nothing of un-developed geothermal) yet its output is minuscule compared to it (Germany has little hydro to develop; yet this geographically small, cloudy country has shown what was possible with enlightened policies towards wind and solar).

It is indeed difficult to imagine what, exactly, a world conference like COP26 can actually achieve, beyond general agreement.  Island countries may complain, rightfully so, that the final wording on coal was changed from “phase out” to “phase down”. But without clear deadlines and a proper enforcement mechanism, well, it’s pretty much the same: pious wishes, little else.  In a way, there is more hope in agreements like the one between Denmark and Costa Rica, publicized at COP26, that aims to phase out the production of oil and gas.   

But I take even more comfort in the kids that gather around Greta Thunberg, who were quite visible (and loud!) at Glasgow. By themselves, protests create political pressure, and that’s good.  But it goes beyond that; there is a social sea change, one where hundreds of thousands of little girls and boys look up to the likes of Greta and ask their parents “do you really need to keep working for these guys? They are killing the planet, they are killing my future.” Will that make a difference? I’m banking that it will.

Addendum.

Here is a quote from Greta Thunberg:

A reminder after the disappointment at #COP26 : the people in power don’t need conferences, treaties or agreements to start taking real climate action. They can start today.When enough people come together, then change will come and we can achieve almost anything. So instead of looking for hope – start creating it. Now the real work begins, and we will never give up, ever.

Written by enviropaul

November 16, 2021 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized