Hope for an end to fossil fuels
Publish date: 22 October 2019
Issue Number: 628
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
The world’s rising reliance on fossil fuels may come to an end decades earlier than the most polluting companies predict, offering early signs of hope in the global battle to tackle the climate crisis. According to a report in The Guardian, the climate green shoots have emerged amid a renewable energy revolution that promises an end to the rising demand for oil and coal in the 2020s, before the fossil fuels face a terminal decline. The looming fossil fuel peak is expected to emerge decades ahead of forecasts from oil and mining companies, which are betting that demand for polluting energy will rise until the 2040s. But energy experts are adjusting their forecasts as clean energy technologies, including wind and solar power, emerge faster than predicted and at costs that pose a direct threat to coal-fired electricity and combustion-engine vehicles. The UK Labour Party has promised a Green Industrial Revolution to create almost 70 000 new jobs while working to create a carbon-neutral economy by 2030. In the US, the Green New Deal, spearheaded by the congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aims to virtually eliminate the US’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade. Michael Liebreich, the founder of the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: ‘Over the next decade we’ll see a far quicker than expected rollout of a number of clean energy technologies, which will almost certainly mean global emissions plateau.’
UK renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels for the first time, according to an analysis of energy use for the third quarter of this year. According to a report in The Independent, wind farms, solar panels, biomass and hydropower generated 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy for the months of July, August and September, compared to 29.1TWh from fossil fuels, according to Carbon Brief. In 2010, 10 times more energy came from burning fossil fuels than renewable energy, but the cost of renewables has tumbled, with onshore wind and solar power frequently cheaper. This marks the latest milestone in the rapid decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity system. Dr Simon Evans, deputy editor of Carbon Brief, said: ‘The UK has made significant progress in cutting its CO2 emissions over the past decade. Almost all of that progress is thanks to the electricity sector, which as our analysis shows has seen fossil fuel generation halve since 2010 and renewables increase more than fourfold.’
The European Investment Bank (EIB) has balked at a proposal to halt new investments in fossil fuels, raising concerns that Germany and other nations are plotting to water down what would be one of the financial sector’s most ambitious climate moves. A report in The Guardian notes that the EIB, the largest public bank in the world, announced this year that it would end lending to new gas projects, having already curtailed funding for coal and oil. This would free up more money for renewable energy developments. The details of the plan were expected to be confirmed by a board meeting of EU Finance Ministers last week but last-minute lobbying has forced a postponement. Executives of the bank, which is owned by EU member states, said the plan was still on course and would probably be approved next month. ‘This delay is a direct result of Germany and the European Commission pushing to add more fossil fuels back into the policy. This is the opposite of the leadership demanded by millions of climate strikers and activists around the world,’ said Alex Doukas of the NGO Oil Change International. ‘We are in the middle of a climate emergency, so it shouldn’t be hard to say no to more public money for fossil fuels.’
Environmental groups have warned the banks linked to Saudi Aramco’s planned market float that they risk financing the destruction of the planet by supporting the public listing of the world’s biggest oil producer. According to a report in The Guardian, the eight green groups, including Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth, warned that the world’s largest IPO would be ‘the biggest single infusion of capital into the fossil fuel industry’ since global governments signed the Paris climate accord in 2015. In a letter to the banks’ chief executives, including the bosses of HSBC and Goldman Sachs, the green groups warned that the listing would undermine efforts to cut carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. The letter also raised concern over the banks’ eagerness to help raise billions of dollars for Saudi Arabia ‘given the horrendous human rights record of the Saudi regime’. Saudi Arabia’s state oil company has reportedly hired at least nine international banks to help arrange its $2tn market debut. ‘If you go ahead as lead coordinators in raising tens of billions of dollars for the world’s biggest climate polluter … it will be clear that your words of environmental and social concern are devoid of all sincerity, and that when push comes to shove your concerns for short-term profit outweigh all else,’ the groups said.