COP 21: dead on arrival?Published by MAC on 2015-12-09
Source: Statements, Common Dreams, Middle East Eye, AFP (2015-12-07)
With just a few days to go before the end of the Climate Change conference in Paris, earlier predictions are being borne out that it would fail to yield a binding effective agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
To quote a statement by Pablo Solon, Bolivia's former chief climate negotiator: “One of the key things… that is not being discussed at the negotiations at all is to put a limit to fossil fuel extractions. [But] there is not one single leader, one single country that has put text to be negotiated that says you have to leave 80 percent of fossil fuels under the ground. And if you don’t leave fossil fuels under the ground, how are you going to limit greenhouse gas emissions that come mainly from fossil fuel extraction?”
Halfway Through Paris... And a Very Long Way from World-Saving Deal
'I refuse to go home without an agreement that I can look my grandchildren in the eye and be proud of my contribution.'
Jon Queally, staff writer
5 December 2015
The COP21 climate talks in Paris reached their halfway point on Saturday, but a deal that experts and global justice campaigners would consider acceptable remains a long way off as the fossil fuel industry and wealthy nations maintain their powerful grip on the direction of the international summit.
Given the troubled history of the UN-sponsored talks, most members of civil society headed to Paris acknowledging the two-week gathering was unlikely to yield the kind of agreement that either the science of global warming, or the movement for climate justice, would find acceptable.
"At the core of this failure are the obstinate negotiating positions of the US and other Global North governments who are bent on deregulating the global rules applying to them and advancing the financial needs of big business over the survival needs of people." —Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, Corporate Accountability International
However, in the wake of released draft texts by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body governing the talks, environmental campaigners and rights groups are expressing contempt for the negative influence that powerful corporations and the fossil fuel industry—backed by the world's wealthiest and most polluting nations—are having on the progress towards reaching an ambitious and transformative deal.
“The enemies of a decent deal know they have one week to kill words in the text that commit the world to ‘full decarbonization,'" said Martin Kaiser, head of the international climate negotiations for Greenpeace. "They know that would set us on a path towards 100% renewables by the middle of the century. Those regressive forces will fight instead for words that call for a 'low emission transformation,' knowing that such a watered down phrase will do almost nothing to keep fossil fuels in the ground."
At speech inside the conference hall on Saturday, Tony de Brum, the Foreign Minister for the Marshall Islands, gave what was described as a "rousing speech," touching on the vulnerability of low-lying nations and the world's poor as he vowed to press for ambitious emissions targets as well as adequate levels of financial assistance to pay for the damage already triggered by greenhouse gases.
"We cannot leave Paris with a minimalist agreement, we must build a coalition of high ambition," declared de Brum. "I refuse to go home without an agreement that I can look my grandchildren in the eye and be proud of my contribution."
Also on Saturday morning, the UNFCCC released the latest draft text (pdf) of the chapter focused on national financial commitments designed to deal with the impacts of global warming in the decades to come. As Fiona Harvey reports for the Guardian:
"The world’s least developed countries face the greatest threat from climate change as they lack the technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions and their infrastructure is too fragile to cope with extreme weather. Under the proposed wording, developing countries with rapidly growing economies, such as China, would be included alongside established developed nations in being regarded as potential donors to poorer nations".
Rich countries argue that the wording merely reflects current reality, as at least eight governments classed as developing have already made “climate finance” contributions that will aid those poorer than them. China pledged $3bn (£2bn) to the Green Climate Fund in September, and has made further pledges to help Africa.
But some developing countries see the attempt to bracket them with the rich as a threat. They think it could be used in the future to force them to become donors alongside countries such as the US and the EU.
Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, associate research director for the U.S.-based Corporate Accountability International, responded to the latest draft by describing it as an affront to the "historical responsibility of the Global North" and said it offers only more proof that rich nations remain the key blockers of the urgently needed transition away from dirty energy.
"Not only are we seeing an ambition deficit, but we are seeing a fundamental lack of justice." — Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth International
Speaking on behalf of Friends of the Earth International, spokesperson Asad Rehman, said: "Rich, developed countries, led by the United States are negotiating in bad faith here in Paris – they are refusing to even discuss proposals brought by developing countries. The poorest, most vulnerable nations are being bullied behind closed doors and their issues are being railroaded out of this process. It is simply unacceptable that the USA won’t live up to its legal and moral responsibilities. At the same time civil society observers, the eyes and ears of global citizens, are being shut out of negotiating rooms. Not only are we seeing an ambition deficit, but we are seeing a fundamental lack of justice."
"While the draft outcome released this morning for negotiation next week will likely be met with applause by Global North governments and their corporate board room backers," explained Lawrence-Samuel, "it fails to deliver meaningfully toward the systemic transition climate change requires. At the core of this failure are the obstinate negotiating positions of the US and other Global North governments who are bent on deregulating the global rules applying to them and advancing the financial needs of big business over the survival needs of people."
She continued by saying that even as the U.S. delegation and President Obama, who spent two days in Paris talking about climate earlier in the week, are framing their commitments at COP21 as grand and far-reaching, the contents of this latest draft betray such claims.
"The chasm between rhetoric and action continues to grow," she said. "Whether it’s finance or technology, loss and damage or differentiation, the positions reflected in this text are heavily biased towards the US, Japan, EU and other Global North countries, and the emissions-intensive industries they represent."
Highlighting the widely-held sentiment that corporations and the individually powerful continue to have an outsized and negative influence when it comes to the UN-sponsored climate talks, activist filmmakers debuted a short film in Paris on Friday night, entitled "La Fête est Finie (The Party is Over)." The black-and-white short depicts a private gathering of powerful members of industry and government officials in shadow of the Eiffel Tower as they indulge and celebrate. (Watch here)
In a statement released alongside the film, Mark Donne, one of the co-directors, said: "As with any party, the skill is in knowing when to leave. For decades fossil fuel extracting trans-nationals and western governments have continued to dance and partake long after the bright lights of climate science evidence were switched on and the deafening music of denial had its plug pulled."
"The lack of progress in the halls is in complete contrast with the vibrancy and creativity of people on the streets and in alternative gatherings throughout Paris." —Lucy Cadena, Friends of the Earth International
Meanwhile, and despite evidence showing the deal reached in Paris will ultimately prove inadequate, Kaiser said Greenpeace remains "optimistic about the process" though "less so about the content," though indicated room remains for negotiators to prove campaigners wrong. "At this point in Copenhagen we were dealing with a 300 page text and a pervasive sense of despair," he said. "In Paris we’re down to a slim 21 pages and the atmosphere remains constructive. But that doesn’t guarantee a decent deal. Right now the oil-producing nations and the fossil fuel industry will be plotting how to crash these talks when ministers arrive next week."
And according to Lucy Cadena, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth International, it remains important to remember that what happens outside of the halls of power—whether in Paris or around the world—is ultimately more important than what happens inside conference centers and meeting rooms.
"It is still unclear whether the warm words and half promises we’ve heard this week will yet lead to firm commitments," Cadena said. "Will we really see a commitment to a more ambitious temperature threshold? There have been piecemeal pledges for finance for vulnerable countries to adapt, but nothing consistent or in line with rich nations’ fairshare of effort. Nor is there clarity on support to enable the poorest to recover from unavoidable impacts of climate change. Those who grew rich through a dirty climate-changing system and addiction to carbon pollution are leaving poorer countries to foot the bill as if they carry equal responsibility."
She concluded, "The lack of progress in the halls is in complete contrast with the vibrancy and creativity of people on the streets and in alternative gatherings throughout Paris."
Paris climate negotiations won’t stop the planet burning
Middle East Eye
5 December 2015
Government negotiators in Paris are looking at banal details of how and when countries should commit to improving their voluntary pledges
The much-vaunted COP21 negotiations in Paris are, despite the claims of world leaders, dead on arrival.
Emissions reductions targets are not up for discussion. Those pledges are already on the table, having been put forward voluntarily by each country.
Government negotiators in Paris are instead looking at banal details of how and when countries should commit to improving their voluntary pledges, and ensuring "transparency" and "accountability".
But current emissions pledges already guarantee disaster. A report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) released in October calculated that: “Compared with the emission levels consistent with the least-cost 2 °C scenarios, aggregate GHG emission levels resulting from the INDCs [intended nationally determined contributions] are expected to be higher by 8.7 (4.7–13.0) Gt CO2 eq (19 percent, range 10–29 percent) in 2025 and by 15.1 (11.1–21.7) Gt CO2 eq (35 per cent, range 26–59 percent) in 2030.”
The targets set in stone before Paris, in other words, are already insufficient to avoid a global average temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius – accepted by policymakers as the safe limit beyond which the planet enters the realm of dangerous climate change.
According to the UNFCC report, “much greater emission reductions effort than those associated with the INDCs will be required in the period after 2025 and 2030 to hold the temperature rise below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.”
But pushing forward even more ambitious reductions for the post-2030 era is “not realistic anymore,” according to Tommi Ekholm, senior scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, which has just undertaken a comprehensive analysis of emissions targets from 159 countries. “Therefore it is critically important to make the current emission targets for 2030 more ambitious.”
Writing in Nature four years ago, one team of scientists concluded that we could breach the two degree danger zone shortly after mid-century, after 2060.
Two decades to go
But the more scientists learn, the more they realise we keep underestimating the risks. Last year, an analysis in Scientific American by Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University explained that new research showed the two degree danger zone could be breached at our present rate of emissions within just 20 years.
This means limiting global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations to around 405 parts per million (ppm).
Even this, Mann explained, is based on “a conservative definition of climate sensitivity that considers only the so-called fast feedbacks in the climate system, such as changes in clouds, water vapour and melting sea ice. Some climate scientists, including James E. Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, say we must also consider slower feedbacks such as changes in the continental ice sheets.”
That implies that a safe level of atmospheric CO2 is actually less than 350 ppm.
“We are well on our way to surpassing these limits,” wrote Mann. “In 2013 atmospheric CO2 briefly reached 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history – and perhaps for the first time in millions of years, according to geologic evidence. To avoid breaching the 405-ppm threshold, fossil-fuel burning would essentially have to cease immediately.”
Terraforming the Earth
Teetering on the edge of the 400 ppm threshold as we are now may well already mean a “radically-altered” planet in the long-term, according to geoscientist Jeff Severinghaus of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
During the Pliocene between three and five million years ago, CO2 levels reached around 415 parts per million (ppm). At this time, global average temperatures were around 3-4 C higher, and sea levels between 16 and 131 feet higher than today.
An earlier UNFCC report summarising the conclusions of 70 scientific experts noted that avoiding dangerous climate change requires “a fundamental transformation of the energy system and global GHG emission levels towards zero by 2100.” The report emphasised:
“Limiting global warming to below 2C necessitates a radical transition (deep decarbonisation now and going forward), not merely a fine tuning of current trends.”
Yet deep carbonisation is not even being mentioned in Paris.
“One of the key things… that is not being discussed at the negotiations at all is to put a limit to fossil fuel extractions,” said Pablo Solon, former chief climate negotiator for the Bolivian government, and a former ambassador the UN. “There is not one single leader, one single country that has put text to be negotiated that says you have to leave 80 percent of fossil fuels under the ground. And if you don’t leave fossil fuels under the ground, how are you going to limit greenhouse gas emissions that come mainly from fossil fuel extraction?”
The accord will also not contain legally binding provisions where it really counts: enforcing commitments to promised emissions reductions. Countries will be legally bound to provide their targets. They just won’t be legally bound to meet their target. This is so that as many countries as possible can be encouraged to sign up to what can be described as a “legally binding” agreement – however toothless it might be in practice.
Militarising the planet
Meanwhile, as French authorities have exploited the draconian enhancement of anti-terror powers to ban the main climate rally, crackdown on smaller climate protests, and arrest and detain dozens of climate activists, Europe is rallying to participate in US-led coalition air strikes in Syria.
After 13/11, France accelerated its air strikes on Islamic State (ISIS) targets in Syria, swiftly followed by Britain on Wednesday, and now Germany, which plans to send six Tornado jets and 1,200 troops to support coalition forces.
There is a cutting irony here. It’s now increasingly recognised that before the "Arab Spring", a cycle of droughts induced by climate change drove migrations of a million predominantly Sunni farmers in Syria into Alawite-dominated coastal cities.
The sudden influx strained sectarian tensions, and heightened pressure on a regime already suffering from flagging revenues due to declining oil exports and rocketing food prices. The latter were exacerbated as the years leading up to 2011 saw successive crop failures across major food basket regions, triggered by extreme weather events.
In May, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a scientific study concluded that climate change amplified Syria’s drought to record levels, catalysing civil unrest into a full-blown uprising.
In 2011, the West’s initial response was to hope that President Bashar al-Assad would be able to brutalise the uprisings into non-existence.
“My judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it,” announced John Kerry, who had met Assad several times the preceding year.
Hillary Clinton described him as a “reformer”, even as his security forces repressed peaceful protests, encouraging him to escalate to shooting people in the streets.
Scoping Syrian fossil fuels
Which “economic opportunity” was Kerry talking about?
It is not widely known that US, British, French and Israeli oil companies have had a range of overlapping interests in exploiting Syria’s unconventional oil and gas resources, which are believed to be considerable.
A document for the Syrian Ministry of Petroleum reveals that just months before the uprising, British oil major Shell was about to “devise a master plan for the development of the gas sector in Syria, following an agreement signed with the Ministry of Petroleum. The agreement includes an assessment of the overall undiscovered gas potential in Syria, potential for upstream gas production, need for gas transmission and distribution networks…”
CGGVeritas, a firm backed by the French government, had conducted seismic surveys estimating Syria’s total offshore hydrocarbon potential to represent “billion-barrel/multi-TCF [trillion cubic feet]” levels. A study by the firm was published in 2011 by GeoArabia, a Bahrain-based petroleum industry journal sponsored by Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Total, and BP.
Total, another French major, also worked with Assad at this time.
More recently, another US firm with interests in Syria is Genie Oil and Gas, an Israeli subsidiary of which was granted a licence by the Israeli government in 2013 to explore the Syrian Golan Heights, which has been controlled by Israel since capturing the territory from Syria in 1967.
In early November, Prime Minister Netanyahu personally asked Barack Obama in a private meeting if Israel’s right to the Golan could be accepted by the US, to which the American president apparently said nothing.
Genie’s board consists of an interesting mix, including former former CIA director James Woolsey, former vice president Dick Cheney, global media baron Rupert Murdoch, Obama’s former economic advisor Larry Summers, and Obama’s nomimee for secretary of commerce Bill Richardson, among others.
“We want a new Syrian state including some of those who are fighting it helping on the ground,” said British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
No doubt, US, British, French and Israeli oil firms hope to be well positioned to take advantage of the “new Syrian state” in a post-conflict Syria.
This, however, will not even serve the deeply compromised climate accord to be ratified by their governments in Paris.
- Nafeez Ahmed PhD is an investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author who tracks what he calls the 'crisis of civilization.' He is a winner of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian reporting on the intersection of global ecological, energy and economic crises with regional geopolitics and conflicts. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
At the COP 21 sidelines: Pinoy makes case for global coal moratorium at International Rights of Nature Tribunal
Kalikasan PNE press release
7 December 2015
Speaking on behalf of all Southeast Asian peoples, a Filipino environmental leader from the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) called for a global coal moratorium in a collective presentation at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, held in parallel to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21).
“We the Filipino people, and the people of Southeast Asia at large, are forwarding the Kiribati Proposal to declare a global moratorium on coal mining…Doing this in Southeast Asia will keep 19 billion tons of coal under the ground. Imagine if we can do the coal mine moratorium: millions of hectares of forests will be preserved,” said Mr. Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE and coordinator of Oil Watch Southeast Asia, in his speech.
“The present and future generations will be able to breathe clean air. Our people will have better health and livelihoods. We will able to further develop clean and affordable energy sources and technologies for the people,” Bautista added.
The Kiribati Moratorium is a proposal made by the national government of Kiribati, a small Pacific island nation, which calls on all countries to adopt a moratorium on new coal mining projects. Bautista was joined by fellow activists from Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Alaska, Nigeria, Columbia, South Africa, and France in the presentation.
The coal mining moratorium proposal is premised on the scientific consensus that 80 percent of all remaining coal reserves must be kept in the ground by 2050 if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate shifts.
Coal power plants, too
Bautista also made the case to expand the moratorium proposal’s coverage to the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
“On top of the mining moratorium, we also propose a moratorium on the construction of coal power plants in the region. In the Philippines alone, if there will be no new coal plants we will avoid the release of 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” Bautista explained.
“If our friends in Ecuador and Nigeria want to keep oil under the soil, we in Southeast Asia want to keep coal in the hole, and to keep operating coal power plants to its remnants,” he added.
According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel use in South East Asia could increase by 80% by 2040 in spite of the projected renewable energy development in the region. Carbon emissions from the power industry in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Indonesia could double, hitting 2.3 gigatonnes by 2035.
In the Philippines, the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives filed House Resolution 787 or the Coal Moratorium Resolution in 2013 to declare a halt on all coal power plant projects in the pipeline, predicated on a just transition towards clean and affordable energy development.
Rights of Mother Earth
The International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which was held in Maison des Métallos in Paris, France from December 4 to 5, is a ground-breaking venue for re-framing and adjudicating prominent environmental and social justice cases within the context of a ‘Rights of Nature’ –based earth jurisprudence.
The ‘Rights of Nature’ concept is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, which was adopted in the 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
“There are a growing number of unique legal precedents across the world that makes for a compelling case for bigger and bolder actions against environmental destruction and climate disruption. In the Philippines, there have been successful Supreme Court decisions that have received future generations and other critical species as plaintiffs. In Bolivia, law recognizes the rights of the voiceless Mother Nature,” Bautista noted.
“Leaders of top polluter countries such as US and China and their lackey countries such as the Philippines, however, are ignoring all compelling scientific and legal precedents for a new and genuine climate protocol. They are making empty climate rhetoric and pursuing ‘more business as usual’ pollution pathways. We must make sure these climate criminals are held to account,” ended Bautista.
Civil society statement in response to the launch of financial sector voluntary climate principles
7 December 2015
Today, on Monday December 7, 11 banks including the World Bank, European Investment Bank and Crédit Agricole, are announcing the launch of 'Five Voluntary Principles for Mainstreaming Climate Actions Within Financial Institutions’ at the UNFCCC COP21 Climate Summit in Paris, France.
BankTrack, Friends of the Earth France and Rainforest Action Network have jointly issued the following statement in response:
These voluntary principles highlight the lack of climate leadership at the world’s largest banks. Not one mention is made of the major role financial institutions have to play in decarbonizing the global economy – first and foremost by signing the 'Paris Pledge to Quit Coal' and publicly committing to phase out financing for coal mining and coal-fired power worldwide.
“The urgency of addressing the biggest drivers of climate change has never been more pressing than it is here at the Paris COP summit, and yet the words ‘fossil fuels’ still don't appear in these new climate principles,” said Yann Louvel, Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator at BankTrack. “While some financial institutions have recently started to cut their financing for coal mining and coal power, the sector still refuses to collectively recognize that the one key climate action they need to take is to phase out their financing of fossil fuels.”
Lucie Pinson, Private Banks Campaigner at Friends of the Earth France, said: “These new principles still focus on the risks posed by climate change for the business activities of banks. What we urgently need is for banks to focus on the risks their business is posing to the climate.”
“The principles are vague, incremental and distracting from the real work that needs to be done by financial institutions to address their role in climate change,” said Amanda Starbuck, Climate & Energy Program Director at Rainforest Action Network. “They represent pure and simple greenwash.”
This is the latest in a series of attempts by the financial sector to adopt a unified approach to climate finance. Already in 2008, just before the Copenhagen COP climate summit, a consortium of European private sector banks announced ‘The Climate Principles’. Those principles also lacked the necessary ambition to create a fundamental shift in business practice and quickly faded into obscurity.
Also, the Equator Principles, a framework which guides bank management of environmental and social risk, only adopted language referencing climate change in 2013, after ten years of deliberation and still hold no requirement for banks to reduce their financing of carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
A new report published at COP21 last week by BankTrack, Friends of the Earth France, Rainforest Action Network and urgewald notes that between 2009, the year of the Copenhagen climate summit, and 2014, the world’s biggest commercial banks put only 40 percent as much financing into the renewable energy sector ($104.59 billion) as into coal alone ($257.02 billion).
The voluntary principles for mainstreaming climate actions within financial institutions can be downloaded at: www.ebrd.com/documents/comms-and-bis/mainstreaming-climate.pdf
For more information, contact:
Yann Louvel, BankTrack, +33 688 907 868, yann[at]banktrack.org
Blair FitzGibbon, +1-202-503-6141, blair[at]soundspeedmedia.com
Ben Collins, Rainforest Action Network, +1-617-697-0277, ben[at]ran.org
Lucie Pinson, Friends of the Earth France: +33 6 79 54 37 15, lucie.pinson[at]amisdelaterre.org
Banking sector's climate leadership claims undermined by coal billions – New report
New data benchmarks biggest global banks, finds seven ‘front runners’ but no ‘true leaders’
Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Friends of the Earth-France, and urgewald joint release
2 December 2015
The report can be downloaded at - http://www.ran.org/coaltest
Paris, France - A new report released today analyzes the coal financing of the world’s largest banks. As the UN climate conference convenes in Paris, the report, The Coal Test: Where Banks Stand on Climate at COP 21 finds that seven ‘front runner’ banks have taken recent steps to reduce and stop financing coal mining or coal-fired power. However, coal policies at several other banks fail to adequately address the challenge of climate change, and none of the global banks assessed are considered ‘true climate leaders’, as not one has yet pledged to end financing for the coal sector entirely.
The report also describes the alarming scale of the banking sector’s support for the coal industry in the years between the Copenhagen and Paris climate summits: $257 billion in coal financing has flowed from big banks between 2009 and 2014. The top five coal-financing banks since COP 15 in Copenhagen are Citigroup ($19.65 billion), JPMorgan Chase ($18.80 billion), Royal Bank of Scotland ($15.86 billion), BNP Paribas ($14.84 billion), and Bank of America ($14.44 billion).
Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Friends of the Earth-France, and urgewald released the report as part of the global Paris Pledge campaign, which is calling on banks to end financing for coal.
“In the run-up to Paris we’ve heard many banks insisting that they are leaders on climate,” said Catalina von Hildebrand, Paris Pledge Campaign Coordinator at BankTrack, “as if the $257 billion they’ve poured into dirty coal in the years between the Copenhagen and Paris COPs is an irrelevant accounting error. It’s time they start making amends by dumping coal and rapidly boosting their finance for clean energy.”
“As COP 21 begins, some major European financial institutions have begun to transition away from financing coal mining and power,” said Ben Collins, Senior Campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. “However, Wall Street dominates the top of the list of the world’s biggest coal banks, and it is past time for laggard banks in the U.S. and around the world to cut ties to the fuel.”
The Coal Test analyzes coal policy strengths and weaknesses, highlights where non-committal banks fall short, and spotlights a pervasive lack of climate leadership at the world’s largest banks. The report also compares coal financing commitments from 15 of the world’s biggest private sector banks in France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Katrin Ganswindt of the German NGO urgewald noted: “Even Germany, a country in a remarkable energy transition, has a major climate killer bank ranking in the top 10 coal banks. Deutsche Bank’s dirty coal portfolio is just one of many scandals damaging its reputation.”
Lucie Pinson, campaigner at Friends of the Earth France added: "This year, we have seen some banks, particularly French banks, adopt policies to reduce their coal financing. But while these commitments do not go far enough, several other global banks have yet to commit to reduce their support for coal at all. Banks in France and other countries must recognize that climate science calls on them to cut all, and not just some of their financing for coal. NGOs will continue to monitor energy financing by banks after COP 21 to make sure they shift their financing from coal to renewable energy.”
Catalina von Hildebrand concluded: “With the world convened to take real climate action in Paris, it is urgent that banks demonstrate true leadership on climate and commit to end their financing for coal once and for all.”
For more information, contact:
Blair FitzGibbon, 1-202-503-6141, blair[at]soundspeedmedia.com
Ben Collins, Rainforest Action Network, 1-617-697-0277, ben[at]ran.org
Catalina von Hildebrand, BankTrack, +31 654942649, catalina[at]banktrack.org
Lucie Pinson, Friends of the Earth France: +33 (0) 6 79 54 37 15, lucie.pinson[at]amisdelaterre.org
Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo Cut Coal Financing, Join Growing Movement by Banks in U.S. and Europe
Rainforest Action Network Calls on Banks to End All Financing for Coal
Rainforest Action Network (RAN) press release
30 November 2015
SAN FRANCISCO — Today, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo released new commitments to cut financing for the global coal industry. Wells Fargo’s policy committed to reduce the bank’s lending to coal mining companies. Morgan Stanley’s policy went further, covering both lending and underwriting, and committing to end financing for coal-fired power plant construction in developed countries.
These policy changes follow similar coal financing cuts at eight other banks earlier this year (Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Crédit Agricole, ING, Natixis, and Société Générale). Morgan Stanley’s commitment followed public pressure from climate activists as part of a campaign launched by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in October, the latest in a series of RAN campaigns to hold U.S. banks accountable for their financing of the coal industry.
"Today Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo announced they are cutting support for the coal mining sector, adding momentum to recent commitments made by Bank of America, Citigroup, and several others," said Lindsey Allen, Executive Director of RAN. "While the policies announced today do not go nearly far enough to realign the banking sector with the reality of climate change, they are a clear indication that major banks agree coal is an increasingly foolish and unacceptable investment."
Notably, Morgan Stanley’s coal policy statement acknowledges that the bank has a responsibility to contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy and commits to report on the bank’s policy commitments to cut financing for coal mining and coal-fired power.
These policy announcements come on the same day that President Obama met with President Anote Tong of Kiribati and other leaders of small island states, who have called for a global moratorium on new coal mines. They also follow calls from the Paris Pledge, a global coalition of over 160 global civil society organizations which has urged the banking sector to phase out financing for coal mining and coal-fired power in the leadup to the U.N. climate conference underway in Paris, COP21.
Links to policy documents:
Morgan Stanley: http://www.morganstanley.com/about-us-governance/pdf/Morgan_Stanley_Coal_Policy_Statement.pdf
Wells Fargo (see pages 3-4): https://www08.wellsfargomedia.com/downloads/pdf/about/csr/reports/environmental_lending_practices.pdf
ING becomes latest bank to stop finance for new coal
Dutch Bank leaps to the front on climate change in run-up to Paris climate conference
27 November 2015
Nijmegen - ING, the largest bank in the Netherlands, has become the latest to announce it is withdrawing from financing new coal power and mining projects. The move "suddenly makes ING a front runner on climate change among the large global banks” according to BankTrack, which has been calling on banks to publicly commit to quit coal in the run-up to the Paris climate summit, which starts next week.
The announcement also included a commitment to avoid financing any new clients generating more than 50% of their business from coal power or mining. ING also said that it is committed to reducing its exposure to coal in the future. 
BankTrack research carried out last year showed that ING was among the 30 banks most heavily involved in financing the coal industry , with finance of over USD4.5 billion for coal between 2005 and April 2014. 60% of its coal finance came from the bank’s lending business, and 40% from underwriting of shares and bonds.
Johan Frijns, BankTrack director, commented:
“After years of delay, today’s announcement suddenly makes ING a front runner among the large global banks on climate change, with a clear and unambiguous statement to immediately end finance for new coal, and reduce its finance going forward. However the new commitment is not comprehensive, and still allows ING to continue its underwriting of billions in bonds and shares for coal companies.”
“We have called on all commercial banks to sign the Paris Pledge to fully phase out their finance for coal. We’ve seen 21 smaller banks step forward and take this pledge . With its position today, ING need only elaborate on their plans to reduce their future coal exposure, and extend this to all its financial service provision, to be among them. In the wake of moves from Allianz earlier this week to divest from mining and utilities companies which generate over 30% of their revenues from coal , it is clear that responsible businesses in the finance sector are finally abandoning coal.”
 ING’s press announcement is available here
 See BankTrack’s profile on ING on the CoalBanks website
 Allianz Says Goodbye to Coal Industry, urgewald, 24th November 2015
For further inquiries and interview requests, please contact:
Johan Frijns, Director, BankTrack: johan[at]banktrack.org , +31 6 12421667
The Turnbull Government fights for coal despite International Energy Agency warning
11 November 2015
Coal is a very important part, a very large part, the largest single part of the global energy mix and likely to remain that way for a very long time. So that is not my forecast but the International Energy Agency’s forecast and many others. So coal is a very important part of the agenda, the energy agenda.
– Malcolm Turnbull on October 27, fending off calls for a moratorium on new coal mines.
Malcolm Turnbull has managed to spectacularly reverse the Coalition Government’s dire position in the polls. The reason why is because so far he hasn’t had to shatter anyone’s expectations about what they hope he will do.
In the incredibly prickly and tricky quagmire that is climate change policy he has played both sides. Conservatives have been told there will be no change in policy with Turnbull replacing Abbott. Meanwhile Environment Minister Greg Hunt is trying to woo those concerned about climate change with optimistic talk about how the Paris agreement will be a prelude to far greater ambitions that will contain global warming to 2 degrees; and how the energy sector is being transformed via a renewable energy and battery revolution.
Yet the real world must inevitably intervene, forcing out into public a clash between these contradictory positions.
We are now beginning to see this play out in a diplomatic show-down between Australia and the US Obama administration.
The Obama administration is pushing the developed nations of the world via the OECD to commit to no longer providing aid or government finance for the construction of new coal power stations in developing nations. The US has already implemented such a policy via its own export development bank and via its control of the World Bank. It also has the EU on side, which has done the same with its own development bank.
Japan had been a blocker because its own companies happen to be pretty good at building steam turbines that are powered by coal, but haven’t been too good at competing against the Chinese in solar panels and the Europeans in wind turbines. But a compromise was reached between the US and Japan to allow financing for coal where it employed ultra-supercritical pressure coal plants – which handily happens to be where the Japanese have an edge over competing suppliers from other nations.
This has subsequently forced Australia out into the open as a blocker of any meaningful restrictions on construction of new coal power stations. Apparently Australia thinks restricting finance to ultra-supercritical coal power plants is much too tough, and instead we should allow finance for everything but sub-critical power plants (which China has already banned and India will ban shortly too).
Think ultra-supercritical is a description for your mother-in-law?
Let me put all this into perspective.
A few weeks back Malcolm Turnbull invoked the International Energy Agency’s forecasts of global energy demand to fend off calls for restrictions on Australia’s coal exports. Now what he left out was some analysis from the IEA detailed in the chart below. The IEA has been busily crunching the numbers to work out what we’d have to do with energy supplies in order to contain global warming to 2 degrees (as well as 4 and 6 degrees). The green line shows that we need to lower the overall emissions intensity of electricity globally from about 500 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour currently, to about 300 grams by 2030 and 100 grams by 2040.
In order to do this any new power plants we build (which typically last several decades) must have emissions well below this, with the required emissions intensity illustrated by the dashed horizontal lines. For this decade they recommend new plants on average emit 200 grams/kWh.
By comparison an ultra-supercritical coal plant still emits above 600 grams. Yet Australia thinks restricting financing to such plants is far too strict?
IEA downgrades its expectations for coal demand
Incidentally Malcolm Turnbull might be interested to learn that the International Energy Agency has just updated its forecasts of global energy demand, releasing the 2015 edition of its World Energy Outlook.
The IEA warns that coal’s “continued use around the world is compatible with stringent environmental policies only if it is used in the most efficient way, with advanced control technologies to reduce air pollution, and if progress is made in demonstrating that CO2 can be safely and cost-effectively captured and stored”.
This is of course not new news, the IEA has been saying this for a long time. But what is new is that it has reversed its previously bullish expectations for coal demand. It observes that while the last decade and a half saw rapid expansion in coal use:
“the momentum behind coal’s surge is ebbing away – and the fuel faces a reversal of fortune. Expectations within the industry of continued strong demand growth, especially in China, triggered major investments in supply in recent years but actual coal use has fallen well short, resulting in over-capacity and plummeting prices.”
I should say it wasn’t just industry expectations that were wrong but also the projections of the IEA, which fed those expectations. The IEA basically missed what Professor Ross Garnaut saw coming a few years ago – a dramatic adjustment and rebalancing of China’s economic development and increased focus on environmental amenity. While the IEA continues to project rapid growth in Chinese energy consumption, it notes:
“structural shifts in the economy, favouring expansion of the services sector rather than heavy industry (both steel and cement production are likely to have peaked in 2014), mean that 85 per cent less energy is required to generate each unit of future economic growth than was the case in the past 25 years. Policy choices also change the face of China’s energy system and the pace at which it expands. China is set to introduce an emissions trading scheme in 2017 covering the power sector and heavy industry, helping to curb the appetite for coal.”
Now it’s not all doom and gloom for coal – the IEA remains bullish about the prospects for growth in coal consumption in India. Yet overall it foresees coal only managing to capture 10 per cent of new energy demand to 2040 compared with 40 per cent in the prior decade.
A financial solution for China's smog problem
1 December 2015
As world leaders gather in Paris to debate how to combat the challenge of the climate change, China's capital city is shrouded in heavy smog. Many of Beijing’s landmarks such as the Forbidden City are not even visible from a short distance. One of the jokes going around Chinese social media is about the Beijing mayor’s promise last year to solve the smog problem, or he will serve his head on a platter. Now many people are asking for his head.
Combating an ever-worsening environmental problem has become one of the top priorities for Chinese policymakers. Even in an authoritarian state, the government cannot ignore citizens’ strong demands for better living conditions forever.
The chief economist of the Chinese central bank, Ma Jun, believes one of the root causes of the country’s worsening smog problem is the structure of the economy. China has a disproportionately large heavy industry sector compared to other major economies, and the heavy industry is nine times more polluting than the services sector.
The industrial sector accounts for 41 per cent of the country’s GDP. By comparison, Australia’s industrial sector comprises only 6.8 per cent of the economy. In China, coal is responsible for two thirds of total energy production, and is ten times more polluting than renewable energy.
Ma argues the key to addressing the structural problem of pollution is through financial innovation. The central bank economist says China needs to develop green finance to channel more money into more environmentally friendly sectors, according to an op-ed piece published on Caixin.
China needs two to four trillion yuan in green investment every year for the foreseeable future. The Chinese government, due to its recent profligacy, can only cough up 300 billion yuan a year. Even adopting the most conservative estimates, the Chinese government can only contribute 15 per cent of the total financing needs of the country. It means the private sector has to contribute another 85 per cent.
How to incentivise private sector investors is one of the key challenges. In September this year, the Chinese government published a policy document on building a better ecological system. Article 45 of the document specifically deals with the issue of developing a green financing system.
For examples, it calls for interest rate subsidies and credit guarantees to encourage more lending for so-called green projects. Beijing also wants to develop a market for green bonds and a stockmarket index for sustainable companies. It also wants listed companies to disclose more environmental-related issues.
All of these measures are designed to incentivise private sector investors to move away from polluting industries and invest in more sustainable sectors.
Ma uses Hebei as an example to talk about the need to develop a green economy. The province is the largest producer of steel, cement and pleat glass in China. All these industries are heavily polluting and contribute to the smog problem in northern China. The province needs to cut 15 million tonnes of steel production, 15 million tonnes of iron production as well as 39 million tonnes of cement. These cuts equate to millions of job losses.
The central bank chief argues that if the government relies on draconian administrative measures to shut up factories and steel mills, it will result in massive unemployment, which will create social problems as well put more pressure on the slowing economy. He says a better way to deal with the issue is through encouraging more private sector investors to put money into more sustainable sectors.
He makes the following suggestions.
He says Beijing needs to support more lending to renewable sectors through interest rate subsidies -- he thinks it should be around about 3 per cent. For every dollar the government spends, it is likely to bring in another 33 dollars from the private sector.
The government should also establish funds that invest directly in green projects. International experience suggests private sector investors are more willing to get involved if the government kicks in money too. In addition, a green bond market could be used to finance long-term projects such as subways and waste water treatment.
COP21: How glacial melt and toxic waste could spell disaster in Kyrgyzstan
By Franco Galdini
2 December 2015
BISHKEK - High in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan Mountains, the twin effects of climate change and gold mining have combined to pose a potential environmental and human health disaster. A melting glacier is feeding a rapidly expanding lake, which experts fear could burst its banks and overrun a mine tailings pond, releasing toxic waste into the region’s water system.
World delegates are now in Paris thrashing out details of a deal to cut emissions to mitigate global warming, which has caused glaciers throughout the world to melt for the past 50 years. Melting icecaps in the poles are causing sea levels to rise, and retreating glaciers in other regions are causing localised flooding in areas along glacier-fed rivers.
A Glacial Lake Outburst Flood can bring more immediate and extreme risks. That’s when rising water in a lake fed by glacial melt breaks through the natural moraine dam, which is made of soil, rock and ice. The frequency of GLOFs has been increasing over the past half century in the Himalayan region, causing the loss of lives and infrastructure.
Due to mining, the prospect of a GLOF at Kyrgyzstan’s Petrov Lake is graver still.
Canada’s Centerra Gold, which is partly owned by the Kyrgyzstan government through a company called Kyrgyzaltyn, runs the biggest open pit gold mine in Central Asia. Centerra does not mine in the Petrov glacier, but it operates on at least two other nearby glaciers at 4,000 meters above sea level. The mine’s tailings pond sits five kilometers below Petrov Lake, which has been expanding rapidly.
A GLOF would wipe out at least part of the tailings pond, spilling cyanide and other chemicals into the Kumtor River, which flows into a water system that millions of people depend on for irrigation, fishing and household use.
William Colgan, a researcher at Toronto’s York University, said Petrov Lake had doubled in size since 1977. As it continues to grow, the moraine dam is coming under increasing water pressure, while melting permafrost within the dam is simultaneously reducing its strength.
“As a tailings pond is located immediately downstream from Petrov Lake, ensuring real-time monitoring… of its stability would be prudent, as would be developing a contingency plan in the event of a partial or full outburst,” Colgan told IRIN.
Kyrgyzaltyn, the state company that owns 33 percent of Centerra, commissioned a British environmental and engineering consulting firm, AMEC Earth and Environmental UK Ltd, to assess the risk and make recommendations. In its 2013 audit, AMEC recommended that Centerra hire an engineering company to suggest and implement options to lower the water level of the glacial lake.
In a follow-up 2014 report that is not publicly available but was obtained by IRIN, AMEC said: “to date, no engineering firm willing to take on the responsibility for the level-lowering works has been found in the country.”
Centerra, which is headquartered in Toronto, said it is taking measures to lower the water level and make sure the lake’s moraine dam does not burst. “Kumtor is lowering the lake level by pumping and is continually monitoring both the lake level and the state of the natural moraine dam,” John Pearson, vice president for investor relations, told IRIN.
However, Kumtor has been pumping water from the lake for years to use in its ore processing operation, but AMEC did not find that to be an adequate measure to mitigate the risk. “AMEC recommends continuing the search for an experienced engineering firm to prepare the design to lower the level of Lake Petrov,” it said in its 2014 report.
Impact on glaciers
Experts say mining activities including Centerra’s practice of dumping waste rock on two other glaciers is causing them to melt at an accelerated rate. The company says it has stopped such dumping, and denies that it contributed to the melting glaciers.
“Kumtor’s impacts on glaciers is immaterial when compared to climate change impacts in the region and across the country,” Centerra said in a 2013 statement.
But experts disagree.
“Kumtor is the largest mining operation interfering with glaciers worldwide,” said Jakub Kronenberg, a researcher at the University of Lodz in Poland. “Its impacts on glaciers are huge in absolute terms.”
He said that other mining operations affecting glaciers to a lesser extent than Kumtor have been met with opposition.
“The best example is Pascua-Lama mine on the Chilean-Argentinian border which has been suspended due to protests against the removal of much smaller glaciers,” Kronenberg told IRIN.
Dumping waste rock has also contaminated water sources and will continue to do so even after the mine shuts down, according to Robert Moran, an expert on water quality issues who has studied the Kumtor mine. The pollution is due to a process known as acid rock drainage, which means waste rocks react to air and water to produce sulphuric acid.
Pearson, of Centerra, denied that acid rock drainage is a problem.
“Studies have demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of the waste rock deposited at site has no acid rock drainage potential,” he said. “Monitoring and evaluation is ongoing and will continue to be a part of closure planning.”
Moran told IRIN he was not reassured by Centerra’s statements.
“Once the mine closes, Kumtor’s contaminated waters will continue to be released into the local ground and surface waters,” he said. “Then the impacts and costs will be left for the citizens of Kyrgyzstan to pay – or to suffer.”
The climate change discussions going on now at the COP 21 conference in Paris between United Nations member states could have an impact on countries like Kyrgyzstan, which will be greatly affected by glacial melt.
The Central and Eastern Europe Bankwatch Network has been monitoring the Kumtor mine because it receives support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Bankwatch's Central Asia officer Vladlena Martsynkevych noted that Kyrgyzstan’s latest submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change estimated that the country would lose 94 percent of its glaciers by the end of the century.
She told IRIN there was a "high need" to protect the glaciers and “to exclude any additional pressures from economic activities… particularly mining."
The World Coal Association’s mission impossible at the Paris climate talks
by Bob Burton
2 December 2015
As lobbyists from the World Coal Association (WCA) – the coal industry’s global lobby group – haunt the Paris climate talks they face an impossible challenge of persuading governments they have a coherent strategy for addressing global warming.
For much of the last twenty years the global coal industry has touted Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as the silver bullet fix for the massive quantities of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by coal power plants. The WCA celebrated loudly when the US$1 billion Boundary Dam CCS plant in Canada was commissioned last year but was silent when recently leaked internal documents have revealed the plant to be hopelessly unreliable.
The only other major coal power station that is deploying CCS is the Kemper plant in the US which has cost triple its original estimate and, at US$6.4 billion and rising by the month, may yet bankrupt its sponsor. The WCA are even less likely to want to talk about that one.
So while the WCA proclaims it wants to “strengthen our influence by engaging global thought leaders and policy makers in rational, data driven debate to position the coal industry as responsible and progressive”, promoting CCS will fail the laugh test in Paris. Even the WCA are much more muted in their enthusiasm for CCS these days.
As the commercial viability of CCS has evaporated in the last couple of years, the WCA has changed tack.
Now it promotes ‘high efficiency’ coal plants as its latest magic fix for coal’s pollution woes.
According to the WCA, high efficiency coal plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they burn coal more efficiently. While the definition is vague, the WCA usually refers to supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal plants, with the former being a mature technology and the latter being a relative newcomer. The WCA recently released a report talking up the potential for such technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in India and globally.
However, tweaking the amount of greenhouse gas pollution per kilowatt hour by a handful or so of percentage points would be an insignificant contribution to limiting the global temperature increase to 2 ̊C. Climate Action Tracker estimates even if none of the 2440 proposed coal plants are built, power sector emissions will exceed the 2 ̊C pathway by 150 per cent.
What is required is the rapid phase-out of existing plants, not the construction of more however ‘efficient’ they are. Just as CCS plants proved too prohibitively expensive to attract much interest from utilities, ‘ultra-supercritical’ also come with a heavy price-tag. Even the WCA acknowledges they can cost up to 40 per cent more than conventional coal plants, making them far less viable than renewables.
With a rapid rollout of solar and wind and ramping up of energy efficiency – complemented by the rapid retirement of old coal and gas power stations and a shift away from fossil fuels – it may just be possible to keep the temperature increase to 2 ̊C.
Just as the WCA’s job is to paint a happy future for coal in a carbon-constrained world, it also has to give the impression that all is well with its own organisation.
In the last year the WCA has lost the US company Alpha Natural Resources, which is bankrupt, and Arch Coal, which could perhaps most charitably be described as cash-strapped. The WCA also lost GE Mining, Adaro Indonesia and the Polish coal miner Katowicki Holding Weglowy. The year before the bankrupt New Zealand government-owned Solid Energy bailed out, as did US gas and coal producer Consol Energy and French oil and gas company Total. (Total has subsequently signalled its intention to exit the coal industry.)
Others might follow soon: while the Managing Director of Rio Tinto Coal Australia, Chris Salisbury, is on the WCA’s Executive Committee, his days may be limited as analysts tip that Rio Tinto is already well down the path to exiting the coal business altogether.
The chronic churn of the member companies and their senior executives has taken its toll on the coal lobby group too. In the year to the end of September 2014, 19 of the WCA’s 40 directors – representing both the member companies and 19 affiliated national coal industry lobby groups – resigned. (Of the 40 directors that year, there was only one woman.)
Since the start of 2010, the WCA has gone through six different Chairman and is now onto its seventh. (I use the word Chairman deliberately.)
The WCA’s remaining 18 member companies at best account for just one-fifth of global coal production and a little under a third of coal exports.
The WCA’s membership roll is dominated by a handful of major companies: Peabody, Glencore, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, mid-level US producer Bowie Resource Partners, the struggling Australian company Whitehaven Coal, a couple of Russian companies, the Chinese coal companies Shenhua and the China National Coal Group.
There’s also a smattering of mining suppliers in the lobby group’s ranks too: heavy machinery supplier Caterpillar Global Mining, the explosives maker Orica, the Australian coal transport company Aurizon and Joy Global, the US manufacturer of underground coal mining and transport systems.
While the WCA has taken to talking up India’s need for coal, it has no members that mine coal there.
Coal India – which accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s coal production – was a member back in 2010, but parted ways with the WCA. What caused the split is unclear but it appears it wasn’t entirely amicable, with the WCA’s 2011 financial statements recording (p.3) a £40,000 (US$60,000) bad debt against the company for unpaid dues.
All round the last few years haven’t been kind to the WCA and its pro-coal agenda.
With little to offer on how the global community can meet the 2 ̊C temperature increase target and a declining membership, the Paris climate conference may well be the WCA’s swansong.
Bob Burton is the Hobart-based Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments.
The Alaska fishing village taking on 'Godzilla'
By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent
25 November 2015
Alaska is a vast wilderness of natural beauty. But it also holds more coal than all the other US states put together. As world leaders prepare to gather for a major climate change summit, plans to build an open coal mine that would cover 78 sq km (30 sq miles) surrounding a valued Alaskan river could be coming to a head.
Al Goozmer is about to take on Godzilla. One more time.
We are standing on the sandy edge of the Chuitna River, and Al, the president of the Tyonek Native Village, is holding some small lumps of coal in his hand.
This is the coal that the indigenous people in his small settlement have collected and used for generations as a fuel source, the coal that emerges on the beach from under the river, part of a huge mother lode that stretches about a dozen miles inland.
Godzilla is what Al calls the proposed development of an open cast, strip coal mine at that site, that would encompass over 5,000 acres. It would be the largest in Alaska.
The ore would then travel along a permanent 18km transporting chute, over the river, out to waiting ships in the Cook Inlet.
Destination? Power stations in China.
Al and many in his community think the development will be a disaster for his village and their way of life.
"I call it my cathedral, an open-air cathedral, I come here to meditate and pray," Al says as we survey the beach littered with tree trunks and other river-borne natural debris.
We have driven the short distance on a rough shingle road from Tyonek village in Al's battered truck.
Tyonek is a gated indigenous community of around 200 people by the edge of the sea. Just 64km or so across the Cook Inlet from Anchorage, there couldn't be more of a contrast with the big city.
In Tyonek there are no open roadways - you have to fly in or come by boat when the sea is calm. You also have to be invited. Tribal regulations permit visitors if someone vouches for them, and they stay less than 24 hours.
Flights from Anchorage take a bare 30 minutes. It's like a cab ride for the locals. Small children sleep in the back of the four-seater plane.
There's an alarming crack in the surface of the strut beside my seat. I decide that Rachel, the young pilot, probably knows about that already, so I don't bring it to her attention.
The plane skims over the water and the flat, muddy tundra. The bleak, dun-coloured landscape stretches away from the busy seaway towards the snow-dusted Todrillo mountains.
A white church in the centre of Tyonek stands out as the aeroplane comes over the village to land on the stony airstrip by the edge of the Cook Inlet.
As we drive around Al tells me the church is Russian Orthodox.
The Russians came to Alaska at the start of the 19th Century, drawn by the fur trade and a desire to thwart Britain's global influence. Ultimately financial difficulties forced them to sell Alaska to the US in 1867.
The Russians, Al says, made his people slaves, gave them Christian names like his, which he tells me is Alfred. Like Alfred the Great.
Development of the type foisted on the tribe by outsiders like the Russians has never been welcome.
The villagers are called the Tebughna - the Beach People. They speak an Athabascan dialect called Dena'ina and can trace their origins in the area back 1,000 years.
Their first recorded encounter with Europeans came when tribe members met Captain James Cook in 1778.
Then as now, many natives of Tyonek subsist by hunting and fishing, with salmon from the rivers being a significant part of their diet.
"I've collected fish since I was a baby, eight or nine years old, and worked with my dad," says 61-year-old Frank Standifer, who lives in the village and works as a heavy equipment operator and a subsistence harvester.
"We've had development here before. We always end up going back to fish."
Sitting in the tribal centre building, surrounded by black-and-white pictures of the village down the years, Frank recalls how commercial fishing, oil and timber industries have all come to Tyonek to exploit natural resources.
It has always ended badly, he says.
"I personally have experience with timber and lumber. They came here in the 1970s and promised us jobs. We ended up being labourers, then they fired us."
Al Goozmer believes it will be the same if the coal project goes ahead.
"Those industries left our shores with their pockets full of money and left behind shattered lives and broken promises. Now we see coal as the Godzilla of development here on the west Cook Inlet."
The Chuitna River is not the only place in Alaska that has considerable resources of coal. Alaska is said to have more reserves than the lower 48 states put together.
The US Geological Survey estimates there are more than 4 trillion metric tonnes of coal as a total resource in the state, though how much of this is recoverable is open to question.
Certainly the low sulphur, sub-bituminous coal that is in the Chuitna basin is attractive for export. It contains less carbon and mercury than other types of coal. Shipping it to China makes economic sense, given that Alaska is closer than Australia, currently China's biggest supplier.
PacRim Coal didn't respond to requests for an interview, but according to their website, the company expects to produce around 12 million tonnes of coal per annum, making it more productive than the biggest mine in Russia.
The company promises to make good any damages to the area of the mine. Their website shows several test pits that have been carefully returned to their natural state over a period of years. They also promise to take care of the salmon.
"Utilising techniques successfully implemented in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska dating back to the 1960s, off-channel salmon spawning and rearing habitat will be constructed below the mine area prior to operations to replace the habitat temporarily lost during mining."
The company says that the re-constructed habitat that will be left after the mining operation will mean there will be more spawning and rearing areas than before the project.
Al Goozmer is not convinced.
He says they will discharge seven million gallons of waste water into the Chuitna River every day. He fears the toxic elements will disorient the salmon returning to spawn. When the salmon go, a vital source of protein and a key part of the village culture could be lost.
From the community centre Al takes me on a tour of the rest of the village, past the school built with some of the money that oil companies paid for leases on Tyonek lands back in the 1960s.
"We've been teaching our kids how to fish their whole lives," says Gwen Chickalusion who is a cook at the school and looks after the bountiful community garden.
"If we don't have the fish, the only option will be to go to Anchorage and go shopping - we can't just jump in our trucks and go down the road.
"They say they could reclaim it and make it just like before, but how many years will it take? How many years will I go hungry for moose or fish, if they ever return again?"
While Al says that the vast majority of village residents are against the coal plan, not everyone in the area is so strenuously opposed to the development.
Native governance in Alaska is complicated. While Al Goozmer represents the Native Village of Tyonek, there is also a Tyonek Native Corporation (TNC) that has openly supported PacRim Coal.
Under a settlement reached in 1971, native corporations were formed to own and administer the resources of tribes and villages.
The TNC was set up in this way. It's grown considerably in that time, owning 190,000 acres of land. It holds a wide variety of interests in businesses including aircraft maintenance, information technology services, construction and oilfield support services. It boasts revenues of around $100m a year and a workforce of 1,000.
But there are also villages that are not part of the corporate structure. Some prefer the more collective tribal ownership model rather than the shareholder approach of the corporations.
"Our tribe is right here in Tyonek. The native corporation is pretty much based in Anchorage," explains Frank Standifer. "They have stockholders. We have tribal members. Of course we are the same people but there are differences."
TNC signed agreements with PacRim Coal back as 2010. In a recent comment to Alaska's Department of Natural Resources, it argued that the developers would balance development with environmental care.
"Ensuring continued subsistence and commercial fishing opportunities for our shareholders is a priority. But TNC must also foster economic development and promote jobs for our shareholders. For these reasons, TNC supports responsible coal development, and has supported the Chuitna Coal project."
Others in Alaska also support the idea of developing the state's natural resources. Ninety percent of Alaska's income comes from oil revenues, and there is a strong awareness that other sources of revenue need to be found.
"For the next couple of generations, for the next 20 to 40 years we are still going to be a natural-resource state," says Kara Moriarty from the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.
"I would argue that no one does it better, no one does it cleaner than the United States, so I think we have a role to play in showing the rest of the world how our resources can be developed in an environmentally safe manner."
The continued use of fossil fuels like coal will form a key part of the negotiations at the upcoming Paris conference on climate change.
Many in the coal, oil and gas industries are waiting to see the text of an agreement to decide on how they proceed with their investments. If a deal is struck that signals a definitive move away from the use of fossil fuels in the future, then big companies may decide to stop spending money on the recovery of these fuels.
And while China will continue to consume coal for many decades, economic forces made lead to a glut of ever-cheaper coal on the market. In that light, the Chuitna project may not proceed.
Back on Tyonek, another small aircraft trundles to a halt on the shingle runway in the cold, spitting rain.
As we watch, Al tells me he worries that if coal exports to China go ahead, they will rebound badly on Alaska.
"Alaska is the most sensitive area in the world for climate change and we see that every day."
The plane door opens to reveal a young man beside the pilot - Al's nephew Steven, who was paralysed in an accident.
Al rushes forward and lifts him from the plane and into the front seat of his truck.
He speaks about the importance of connection, to his family, to the land, to the water.
"The river is named after my grandfather. One of my uncles was a historian and lay preacher here. He taught me all the old stories of who we are and what we are.
"I don't believe that coal is a vital source of power for the world or anyone," he says.
Fort McMurray First Nation launches $16-million lawsuit against coal company
26 November 2015
The Fort McMurray First Nation has launched a $16-million lawsuit against an Alberta coal company after 670 million litres of waste water spilled into the Athabasca River.
Chief Ronald Kreutzer filed the statement of claim on behalf of the Fort McMurray First Nation, stating that anyone who lives near, or has used, the Athabasca River, Plante Creek, Apetowun Creek or Peace-Athabasca Delta since the October 2013 spill are a member of the class-action lawsuit.
The lawsuit follows the spill of contaminated water and sediment Oct. 31, 2013, that flowed out of a broken tailing pond at the Obed Mountain Mine near Hinton. The waste flowed through creeks connected to the Athabasca River.
Coal Valley Resources operated the mine as a subsidiary of Sherritt International. Westmoreland Canada Holding, a subsidiary of a U.S. company, obtained a controlling interest in Coal Valley after the spill. The lawsuit names all three companies.
Statements of claim contain allegations not proven in court.
Kreutzer’s lawsuit claims the spilled waste contained dangerous levels of mercury, selenium and lead. Subsequent tests showed elevated levels of toxicity in the river system, in fish and nearby livestock. “The effluent and resulting increased levels of toxins prevented and continue to prevent class members from safely hunting, fishing or harvesting resources from their historical lands and waterways, including drinking water.”
Exposure to the waste material could lead to an increased risk of certain cancers and reproductive disorders, the lawsuit says.
The spill was a result of Coal Valley’s inability to properly construct and inspect the tailing pond prior to the spill and their failure to warn people and protect waterways afterward, Kreutzer claims.
In October, Coal Valley Resources and Sherritt International were criminally charged in connection to the spill. The companies each face six charges under Alberta’s Environmental Protection Act, Public Lands Act and Water Act. The maximum combined fine for all six charges is slightly more than $2 million
In the weeks following the spill, the province advised downstream communities not to draw water from the river and farmers not to let livestock drink from it.
World’s two biggest miners walking away from coal, but they are not telling
2 December 2015
BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, the world’s largest and second biggest mining companies respectively, have been steadily cutting their exposure to thermal coal over the past two years, but without making any big announcements about it.Pushed by slack demand, prices at multiyear lows, and relentless opposition to new coal projects, the companies are seeking to reduce their investments in coal used for power stations.
But according to analysts interviewed by the Australian Financial Review, they want to do so without making too much noise about it, as they don’t want to jeopardize the sale of some of their coal mines by signalling they think poorly of the commodity.
"Rio and BHP are still out there flying the flag for coal, but I think they are repositioning behind the scenes," Pengana Global Resources Fund analyst Tim Schroeders told the paper.
In fact, the companies have managed to keep a neutral stance by singing coal’s praises when asked about it. A couple of weeks ago, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, Rio Tinto’s chief executive for copper and coal, told a Bloomberg conference in Sydney that coal demand was not going to disappear. But he added later the company had “better options” than to spend money on the commodity.
“There is a future for coal. Now the question is, should it be Rio or not Rio” that owns the mines, Jacques told the audience. “If you have a big checkbook, I’m more than happy to take your name.”Coal assets from North America to Australia have been up for sale by the world’s biggest miners, which are seeking to protect profits from sharply lower commodity prices. Producers have also been a frequent a target for environmental campaigners, who have stepped up campaigns for a moratorium on coal mines and for investors to sell their shares in fossil fuel companies.
Last month, 52 leading scientists, economists and experts from around the world published an open letter calling for a moratorium on new mines ahead of the climate change talks in being held in Paris this week.
This is how they've done it
So far, Rio Tinto seems to be leading the coal exiting game. In February, the company folded its coal operations into its copper division, a step that was widely seen as signalling a reduced focus on the fossil fuel.
Later in the year, it announced the sale of a 40% stake in its Australian Bengalla mine as part of a divestment aimed at ditching coal operations in New South Wales, which could be worth between $3bn and $4bn. When revealing the sale, Rio also said it had restructured one of its main Australian coal businesses —Coal & Allied—, where Mitsubishi Development of Japan previously held a 20% stake, and it is now solely owned by the Anglo-Australian miner.
Rio has also unloaded Mongolian coal miner South Gobi Resources and the unsuccessful Riversdale project in Mozambique.
BHP Billiton has done its part too. While it has kept some major assets such as Mt Arthur mine in the Hunter Valley, Cerrejón Coal in Colombia, and a group of metallurgical coal assets in Queensland, the firm sold its thermal coal business in South Africa after spinning-off assets into a separate company, South32.
The firm has also said it may reconsider its push into coal mining in Borneo, depending on the what comes out of the Indonesian government ongoing review of the sector’s regulations.
The coal business doesn’t look nearly as promising as it did two years ago, when miners were looking for mines to buy hoping to meet China’s demand, the world’s top coal consumer. But with economic growth weakening many power generators shifting to gas or renewable energy, global coal shipments are falling for the first time in 21 years, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said last month.
CRU Group is predicting a fall in coal-fired power generation in Europe through to 2020. (Chart courtesy CRU)
Meanwhile, The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts global coal demand will increase just 0.4% a year to 2040, a marked slowdown from the 4.1% annual growth of the past decade and well behind the expansion of sectors such as renewables, which it forecasts will overtake coal as the largest source of power generation by the early 2030s.
Investors flee fossil fuels, even as some banks back coal: reports
2 December 2015
Institutional investors are fleeing fossil fuels even as some major banks continue to pour money into coal, according to reports released at a UN climate conference Wednesday.
The number of universities, governments and investment funds that have said they will drop at least some fossils fuels from their portfolios has risen sharply to more than 500, according to one of the reports, released on the sidelines of the UN climate meeting outside Paris.
The total value of the assets to be divested cannot be calculated due to disclosure restrictions, but the companies or portfolios under management are worth $3.4 trillion (3.21 trillion euros), climate campaigner 350.org reported.
A little over a year ago, only 181 institutions with assets of $50 billion had announced divestment measures, said the NGO, which maintains an online resource tracking such commitments.
The new figures show “that investors are reading the writing on the wall and dramatically shifting capital away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy,” 350.org said in a statement.
At the same time, a separate report released Wednesday at the conference said banks were still ploughing hundreds of billions of dollars each year into coal mining, with investments in renewables trailing far behind.
“The largest and most powerful financial institutions on both sides of the Atlantic have continued to provide billions of dollars to companies working to entrench global dependance on carbon-intensive energy sources,” according to a report by a coalition of environment groups including Friends of the Earth.
Since 2009, it said, more than a dozen of the world’s biggest banks have poured more than $250 billion into such projects.
The review singled out Credit Suisse and Deutche Bank as the worst “laggards” in the switch from dirty to clean energy.
The 12-day UN meeting, which kicked off with a summit of more than 150 world leaders, is tasked with beating back the threat of climate change and helping poor countries cope with its impacts.
How to engineer the transition away from a global economy powered by coal, oil and gas — which drive global warming — is at the heart of the fraught negotiations.
If the UN-endorsed goal to cap warming at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above mid-19th century levels is to be achieved, at least 60 percent of known fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground, according to scientists.
Many cities around the world have moved towards shunning fossil fuels, 350.org said.
Nearly 20 French municipalities endorsed divestment ahead of the UN conference, including Paris, Lille and Bordeaux. Last week, France’s national parliament adopted a resolution calling on public investors to turn away from dirty energy.
Oslo announced earlier this year that it would divest its $9 billion dollar (8.5 billion euros) pension fund from coal, oil and gas companies, becoming the first world capital to do so.
Why coal's flame will still burn bright
1 December 2015
I see a poll commissioned by GetUp! ahead of the Paris summit on climate change finds that “three out of five respondents believe coal is an energy source of the past and will soon be obsolete”.
I have no idea how widespread this notion is. After all, 45 per cent of those responding to another exercise run by the same polling company have just responded to a question about climate change by saying ‘don’t know’ or opting for what we are witnessing being a ‘normal fluctuation’. Only 56 per cent of those responding to the same poll think technological change will make our lives better. Que?
But the ‘coal is obsolete’ view doesn’t stack up very well against what is actually happening around the world, still less so in our immediate neighborhood.
In evidence whereof, the International Energy Agency has just published a detailed review of energy markets in south-east Asia, an area it acknowledges as being “rather in the shadows” compared with China and India.
If our media are a reflection, Australians tend to only focus on south-east Asia when one of its countries is going through some dramatic event, whether natural or man-made. However, the region is actually moving towards the centre of the global energy stage.
With more and more of Australia’s energy activities being managed or initiated by international companies, one reads the IEA report and wonders how this country will stack up against the ASEAN 10 as investment destinations over the next 15-20 years.
Since 1990, the IEA points out, ASEAN countries have been doubling their energy generation every 10 years. This means power output has risen there from 154 terawatt hours a year to more than 756 TWh.
By comparison, Australian generation has risen from 143 TWh in 1990 to a peak of 225 TWh (in 2010) and is now at 215 TWh.
It’s the further direction of the ASEAN output that’s the eye-opener.
The IEA says its power production will hit 1,104 TWh in 2020 and 2,212 TWh in 2040.
This is on the back of annual average GDP growth of 4.6 per cent a year and the region’s share of global GDP going up from 5.9 per cent in 2013 to 7.7 per cent in 2040.
The human element is that such growth is estimated to raise average income in the region from $US10,000 for 616 million people now to $US27,000 for 760 million in 2040, including a huge shift to the cities. Urban population is calculated to rise 170 million (more than 30 Sydneys) in 25 years.
(The ASEAN countries at present have 120 million people with no access to electricity and 280 million without access to clean cooking facilities. There’s that pesky moral factor about which there is so much argy-bargy in our local debate these days.)
And here’s the bit that will make the GetUp! types writhe: the Paris-based agency does indeed see the use of renewables in the region rise by 240 per cent (quite a lot of it large hydro-power developments) between 2013 and 2040, but it also sees coal-fired production rise by 328 per cent in the same period and generation from gas turbines go up by 65 per cent.
Needless to say, in this environment, the region’s carbon emissions will take off: just for electricity, they rise from 459 million tonnes a year to more than 1,000 Mt in 2040. From all sources, South-East Asia’s emissions double, reaching 2,400 Mt at the end of the ‘30s.
One of the drivers of power generation in the region is expected to be a substantial commitment to high voltage interconnection between ASEAN’s member countries as plant capacity goes up 400 gigawatts (that’s Japan and South Korea combined in today’s terms). Altogether, an investment outlay of $US2.5 trillion in all forms of energy infrastructure is envisaged.
One of the biggest challenges from an environmental perspective is the replacement of inefficient coal technology (90 per cent of the existing plant) with the higher-tech versions now being pursued by the Japanese and others. A factor here is the large-scale available of cheap, low-quality coal (for example, in Indonesia). Countries like Malaysia and Thailand have an incentive to pursue high-tech plants because they import coal and the modern versions are so much more efficient.
A commentary like this can barely scratch the surface of the complex ASEAN energy scene -- it takes the IEA 130 pages. But the report does at least two things.
First, it throws a big bucket of cold water over the much too excited ‘death of coal’ brigade locally (and elsewhere) and, second, it raises some critical questions about what these 10 nations might be able to do to reduce their investment in fossil fuels.
Here, delving in to other work it has done on the potential to shift global power activities by 2030 on to a path more oriented to the global warming goal, the IEA suggests it’s possible to lower ASEAN construction of coal plants by 30 gigawatts (down to 50 GW) and to increase renewables investment by 50 per cent (half of it in more hydro power), thereby slashing emissions by some 230 million tonnes annually from their present trajectory by the end of the next decade.
The natural question from the region’s governments and communities is: where’s the money coming from?
Keith Orchison, director of consultancy Coolibah Pty Ltd and editor of OnPower, was chief executive of two national energy associations from 1980 to 2003. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to the energy industry in 2004.