Last call for oil and gas
The most influential energy outfit in the world “called time” on the fossil fuel industry and spelled out the immense challenge facing the climate movement.
One simple sentence reverberated around the world: if we’re going to make it down the “narrow path” to net zero, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says, “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply.”
Bloomberg reported "the world has a choice — stop developing new oil, gas and coal fields today or face a dangerous rise in global temperatures."
Bill McKibben thinks it’s a “crucial turning point in the climate era.”
It’s potent ammunition for campaigners pressuring governments and banks to live up to their climate promises. “Keep it in the ground” suddenly doesn’t sound radical at all.
The International Energy Agency might not be a household name, but it affects every household on the planet, along with every government and business. “What the IEA says matters,” the Financial Times explains. “Its forecasts are used by oil companies to shape investment strategies, by governments to create energy policies and by stock market investors who want to understand the future.”
That’s certainly true in Canada. The federal government is one of the agency’s member countries and has been since the 1970s when it helped set up the IEA to secure the world’s oil trade. The Alberta government has routinely promoted the agency’s data as “proof” oil and gas can grow even while the world tackles climate change. (The Kenney government is suddenly less keen — Energy Minister Sonya Savage told National Observer this week that the agency’s new report is “driven by activists.”)
The new Net Zero by 2050 roadmap is definitely awkward for governments and companies intent on continuing fossil production.
“Junk investments” is how the IEA’s executive director described new money going into fossil fuels.
Fatih Birol was refreshingly blunt: “Some investors, some governments can still go ahead and make investments in ... new oil fields or opening new coal mines.
"This is up to them to decide. But this is not in line with reaching our climate targets."
For the record, Birol is an energy economist who rose through the ranks at the IEA after a stint at OPEC. The report itself was a collaboration with the activists at the International Monetary Fund.
And here’s how they see the future for oil and gas.
That transition program promised to oil and gas workers by the feds can’t come quickly enough. The IEA anticipates five million jobs will be lost in fossil fuel industries around the world. The good news is that by 2030 the agency forecasts 14 million new jobs in clean energy as well as another 16 million created by putting heat pumps into homes, retrofitting buildings, building electric vehicles and other transition work.
Provinces like B.C. are betting big on liquefied natural gas (LNG) — exporting fossil gas in tankers. That’s a bet against the climate, too.
Nothing in the IEA’s roadmap is science fiction. We already have all the tools for big cuts over the next decade. Anything beyond that is already being developed. If we decide to do it, we can build out clean energy and make all the changes to industry, transportation and other sectors.
Which brings us to the big, lurking “if” — there’s no future in fossil fuels if we get serious about tackling climate change.
And there’s the immense challenge to the climate movement, because 60 per cent of the emissions cuts require buy-in from the public.
To its great credit, the IEA got really practical. Most decarbonization studies are exasperatingly abstract — broad generalities punctuated by charts with seductive curves. Not tangible enough to hold governments accountable or concrete enough for the public to understand what needs to happen.
Are your neighbours ready to phase out gasoline and diesel cars in all large cities in the next nine years?
A ban on any new gas heating within four years?
Building renewables so quickly the world installs the equivalent of the largest current solar farm every day?
50 per cent of car trips in cities shifted to buses, walking and bikes? A global deadline of no new fossil-fuelled cars by 2035?
The IEA even provided a handy poster we can all put up on the wall.
There are 400 milestones in the full report, just for the energy system. Changes to farming and other sectors would come on top.
The IEA scenario doesn’t use any forest offsets at all. But you might notice there’s a pile of carbon capture on its poster. That’s not the only big item that most environmental groups oppose. There’s bioenergy covering an area the size of India and Pakistan combined. There’s a doubling of nuclear power (mostly outside richer nations).
I think it’s important for all of us “listen to the science” types to recognize that the IEA is actually building in less carbon capture and storage (CCS), bioenergy and “negative emissions” tech than most pathways laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
For a sense of scale, if CCS doesn’t fly, the IEA estimates we’d need even more clean electricity — equivalent to the current power use of India and China combined.
Let’s move on to some of the week’s news. I’ll keep it light for the long weekend. We’ll focus on some forward momentum.
Vietnam is rocking solar
In just the last two years, Vietnam has boosted solar power 100-fold, leaping to seventh in the world for solar capacity.
“What Vietnam’s solar boom shows is how much capacity you can build in a short period of time,” says Caroline Chua at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The only countries that beat Vietnam at installing solar last year were China and the U.S.
Big school strikes are back
Thousands took to the streets in 47 different parts of Australia on Friday. Just take a look at some of the huge crowds marching Down Under.
Ottawa puts up $10M to train home energy specialists
The feds are aiming to train as many as 2,000 new energy advisors to work on Canadian homes and buildings. It’s part of the government’s $2.6-billion green retrofit program.
“There are currently 936 energy advisors in the country, so this is a big ramp-up,” says Brendan Haley of Efficiency Canada, based at Carleton University.
Canadian authors urge Trudeau to “change the climate story”
167 writers, including Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, are calling on the federal government to strengthen the Climate Accountability Act (Bill C-12) now making its way through Parliament.
“As writers we often write into the heart of discomfort. We can chronicle a world in flames. Or tell a story of what might have happened if we had only come together… But these aren’t the stories we want to tell,” they write in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Biden orders action on climate finance
The new executive order starts a whole-of-government process to develop new oversight and mandates for banks and the rest of the finance sector.
“Our financial system was built on the assumption that the world’s climate is stable. We no longer live in such a world,” says Brian Deese, the head of Biden’s National Economic Council.
It’s a really wonky issue, but the New York Times does a good job making it real.
Big players like Airbus and NASA have big plans for futuristic electric planes. Meanwhile, Vancouver’s Harbour Air is just getting it done, retrofitting classic de Havilland Beaver seaplanes. The company has been doing test flights since 2019 and wants to start carrying passengers next year if regulators sign off. It’d be the world’s first certified electric commercial aircraft.
There’s something really heartwarming about this story of a local company whose CEO, Greg McDougall, is even test-piloting the planes himself.
Washington state is electrifying its ferry fleet. The largest ferry system in the U.S. (it claims to be the second largest in the world) announced 13 new ships and six conversions to plug-in hybrids.
There’s lots of buzz around Ford's new F-150 Lightning. The F-150 has been the bestselling vehicle in Canada for 11 years in a row. If you’re a Rachel Maddow fan, you already know this one truck makes more money than McDonald’s or CocaCola. Here, she makes the case that the Lightning is the most important cultural change possible in the U.S. of A.
Joe Biden took one for a spin: “This sucker’s quick”
All very cool, but Ford’s actual production plans still show “a growing reliance on ever-larger gas-powered vehicles.”
Is the Lightning a sign that we’re hopelessly off the plot or an encouraging shift in the zeitgeist?
Let me know what you think: [email protected]. I hope you have a good long weekend, and thanks for reading Zero Carbon. I know you have lots of outlets, media feeds, podcasts and newsletters to choose from. If you know people who might be interested, please forward this email along.