Bill McKibben has a New Yorker article out where he describes how banks could hasten the transition to decarbonization by increasingly refusing to lend to the fossil fuel industry:

So what would happen if, tomorrow, Chase announced that it was going to phase out lending to the fossil-fuel industry—probably first by restricting loans for particular projects, and then by ending general corporate lending and banning the underwriting of new debt and equity for fossil-fuel companies? “Wells Fargo and Citi would follow within days,” according to Tim Buckley, a former managing director at Citi, who now serves as the director of energy-finance studies for Australasia at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (I.E.E.F.A.), a Cleveland-based nonprofit research group. In fact, “they’d look to go one step further, so as to pretend they weren’t really sheep. And this would have global ramifications—the music would stop, very suddenly.” Wall Street, Buckley said, “can be very deaf to warnings for years, but the financial-market lemmings will suddenly act in unison” once the biggest players send a signal. Everyone knows that the fossil-fuel era will come to an end sooner or later; a giant bank pulling back would send an unmistakable signal that it will be sooner. The biggest oil companies might still be able to self-finance their continuing operations, but “the pure-play frackers will find finance impossible,” Buckley said. “Coal-dependent rail carriers and port owners and coal-mine contracting firms will all be hit.”

A few of the big European banks have begun taking steps away from fossil fuels already. In June, the French giant Crédit Agricole announced a change that Disterhoft calls the “gold standard to date”: the bank said that it would no longer do business with companies that are expanding their coal operations, and that, by 2021, its coal-business clients in the developed world would have to produce a plan for getting out of the business by 2030; its clients in China by 2040; and its clients everywhere else by 2050. BankTrack, an N.G.O. headquartered in the Netherlands, called the announcement a “welcome first step,” and, indeed, the restrictions have clearly begun to bite. In late June, an Indonesian power-company executive said, “European banks have said they don’t want to finance coal projects for a while. Japanese followed and now Singapore. About eighty-five per cent of the market now don’t want to finance coal-power plants.” He added, “Coal-power-plant financing is very challenging.” According to the I.E.E.F.A.’s Buckley, Crédit Agricole’s move helps explain why, for instance, Vietnam, which was supposed to be a key market for new coal-fired power plants, instead grew its “solar base tenfold in the twelve months to June, 2019.” At this point, the coal business is already on its heels, so campaigners are increasingly focussed on gas and oil, but C.A.’s move shows that big, quick shifts are possible.

The prospect is appealing and seems to hold promise. It’s also interesting from the perspective of liberal versus anti-capitalist environmentalism. If the global banking industry provides substantial help in pushing the world economy off fossil fuels, what would that imply for analyses that hold capitalism itself to be the root cause of climate change?

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The Guardian is reporting that G20 countries have tripled their subsidies for coal:

The figures, published in a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and others, show that Japan is one of the biggest financial supporters of coal, despite the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, having said in September: “Climate change can be life-threatening to all generations … We must take more robust actions and reduce the use of fossil fuels.” The annual G20 meeting begins in Japan on Friday.

China and India give the biggest subsidies to coal, with Japan third, followed by South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia and the US. While the UK frequently runs its own electricity grid without any coal power at all, a parliamentary report in June criticised the billions of pounds used to help to build fossil fuel power plants overseas.

The material from the Overseas Development Institute being reported on is online: G20 coal subsidies: tracking government support to a fading industry. The executive summary explains: “G20 governments continue to support coal through US$27.6 billion in domestic and international public finance, US$15.4 billion in fiscal support, and US$20.9 billion in state-owned enterprise (SOE) investments per year across the G20. This includes support through a wide range of instruments to prop up coal production, coal-fired power production, and other consumption of coal and coal-fired power, as well as support which is justified as a means of facilitating the transition away from coal.”

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U.S. coal trends

by Milan on January 4, 2019

in Economics, Power plants

The Economist reports:

[A]ccording to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in America dropped by 2.7% in his first year of office. This was the biggest reduction anywhere in the rich world.

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who now heads the EPA, has been quick to praise “President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda” for this. In fact, the decline has little to do with the president’s policies. America’s carbon dioxide emissions have been on a downward trajectory since 2007, mostly because power plants have been switching to cheaper, cleaner natural gas and away from Mr Trump’s beloved rock. According to the Energy Information Administration, a government agency, America guzzled nearly equal quantities of coal and natural gas in 2007. Today natural gas provides twice as much energy as coal. Energy from renewable sources, like wind and solar, now make up just over 10% of America’s energy consumption.

Since 2010 nearly 40% of the country’s coal-generating capacity has either been shut down or designated for closure. This is mostly because rival fuels were cheaper, rather than the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was much derided but never actually went into effect. Even under Mr Trump, coal plants are expected to shut down 11.4gw of capacity this year, the most since 2015. No American utility plans to build a new coal-fired plant; most of the existing ones are at least 40 years old. The environmental regulations that the Trump administration is trying to undo will not restore the coal industry to its glory days, though they might slow its decline.

As always, the fight against climate change isn’t just about moving in the right direction, but moving fast enough to avoid disaster.

Still, every setback for coal is welcome for those hoping for a safe and prosperous future.

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No end of bad news

by Milan on October 8, 2018

in Climate change, Updates

The IPCC has issued a new warning about how we have a stark and immediate choice between abandoning fossil fuels or dangerously destabilizing the Earth’s climate.

If anything, we seem less well prepared than ever to respond. Instead of a brave experiment in cooperation and moving beyond narrow notions of national sovereignty, the EU is fracturing into bickering sub units. The United States is run by incompetents. Canada’s government is scrupulously committed to fighting climate change, just as long as that doesn’t actually require reducing domestic or global GHG pollution. And meanwhile Indian and Chinese fossil fuel demand keeps galloping upward.

There’s the increasingly abstract hope that as global conditions continue to worsen somehow governments will get seriously, and then there is the sealed envelope hope/fear that we will contain the worst via geoengineering.

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Good news from Finland

September 5, 2017

A Finnish government representative is saying they will introduce legislation to phase out coal and bring in a carbon tax in 2018. Their efforts to build new nuclear reactors are less promising.

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Jeyakumar on phasing out coal

July 9, 2017

The Pembina Institute’s Binnu Jeyakumar recently wrote an op-ed about the future of coal: In the midst of all the recent colourful political events south of the border, you might have easily missed an irony that Alberta would be wise to pay attention to. Even as the U.S. administration promised to roll back environmental regulations […]

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Two things Canada’s oil industry needs to understand

January 23, 2016

First — any expectation that ‘business as usual’ in the sense of rapid growth in production will return is ill-founded. Most importantly, this is because an effective global transition to low-carbon energy requires countries like Canada to stop investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure as well as to develop serious plans to phase out fossil […]

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Why divest from fossil fuels?

April 16, 2015

Campaigns at universities especially can benefit from this document, prepared for the University of Toronto: The Fossil Fuel Industry and the Case for Divestment: Update, by Toronto350.org Contributors to original brief: Milan Ilnyckyj, Emily Barrette, Stuart Basden, Tim Berk, Tamara Brown- stone, Mie Inouye, Neal Lantela, Amy Luo, Monica Resendes, Jessica Vogt, Miriam Wilson, Cameron […]

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Germany and Japan reverting to coal

May 3, 2014

Disheartening news: America’s gas boom has prompted its coal miners to seek new export markets, sending prices plunging on world markets. So long as consumers do not pay for coal’s horrible side-effects, that makes it irresistibly cheap. In Germany power from coal now costs half the price of watts from a gas-fired power station. It […]

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IPCC AR5, Working Group I summary video

December 28, 2013

Working Group I of the IPCC has released a nine-minute video summarizing the science in the first part of the latest assessment report:

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