Bullying COP, buying the World Cup
Both events are, in many ways, the Trekkie dream for humanity, gathering people from all corners of the world to rub shoulders, hash out differences and celebrate. This year, both exemplify the power of fossil fuel interests at capturing governments and thwarting that tantalizing vision of who we might become.
Walking the halls of a climate summit is a remarkable experience. Delegates from Africa in deep discussion with Scandinavians, Pacific islanders with Indigenous leaders from the Amazon, activists from Bangladesh strategizing with Japanese and Canadians. Many thousands of people who fully grok the climate crisis, earnesty, skillfully, training those big sapiens brains on our common climate predicament.
It’s hard not to come away thinking we are so close to realizing our potential as a species. And then … news that the governments cannot even agree to name the cause of the problem. Thirty years of meetings and governments are still balking at words like oil and gas, still haggling over coal, still fearful of fossil fuels.
It’s even more bizarre because those same governments have all agreed elsewhere that phasing down fossil fuels is necessary. The IPCC reports are clear on this point and those reports are commissioned by the governments of the world who then debate every word of the summaries for policymakers and ultimately sign off.
But making a clear statement at the climate summit is too much for those governments afraid of angering the fossil fuel industry or those that have become pure petro-states themselves. And the climate summits operate by consensus — providing a rare platform for vulnerable nations to assert themselves but also veto power to the petro-states.
The World Cup kickoff in Qatar this weekend is such an outrageous flex of petro power that it’s veered into the absurd and the grotesque. The “beautiful game,” the world’s biggest event, reaching over a billion people, and utterly captured.
Qatar has spent over $300 billion of its oil and gas wealth on stadiums and infrastructure to host the World Cup — coincidentally, the amount climate-vulnerable nations have been unsuccessfully appealing for in loss-and-damage at COP27.
Qatar and FIFA proclaim it will be a net-zero event, a carbon-neutral World Cup. Among the many absurdities are eight open-air stadiums in Arabian desert, all fully air-conditioned.
This isn’t the first World Cup to claim carbon-neutrality but it’s making an absolute mockery of net-zero. The tiny desert peninsula promised to build seven new stadiums, 20,000 new hotel rooms, a new metro, thousands of kilometres of new pavement, and bring in over a million fans — all without adding a single gram of carbon to the world’s emissions.
One mechanism to pencil out this assault on mathematics was to create a state-owned carbon offset regulator to approve offsets that even the sketchiest of existing certifiers wouldn’t touch. That offset certifier is likely to become an ongoing “legacy” project, granting indulgences for years to come.
How much Qatar spent to get the World Cup is unknown but the tale of corruption has been well-documented elsewhere, not least by the FBI and Swiss police. It ranges from the traditional — suitcases of petro-dollars — to the high-tech — weapons deals for fighter jets. You can learn more than you might ever want to know in the four-part Netflix documentary FIFA Uncovered.
“This is truly going to be a World Cup soaked in blood,” says Roger Bennet of the always-irreverent, wildly popular Men In Blazers podcast. More than 6,500 workers have died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded, according to an investigation by The Guardian.
The people brought in to build the facilities are often called “migrant workers” but labour organizations and human rights groups say the conditions were more accurately described as “modern-day slavery,” until Qatar agreed to reform its most barbaric policies in 2019.
The Danish team will play in special uniforms, fudging FIFA’s refusal to let them wear shirts emblazoned with “human rights for all.” The U.S. team will sport a redesigned rainbow logo in support of LGBTQ+ rights while 10 European captains plan to wear “One Love” armbands — earlier this month, a Qatari World Cup ambassador called homosexuality “damage to the mind,” and it is illegal to be gay in that country.
Another tragedy of this fossil-fuelled bender in Qatar is the stain over truly inspiring stories of human potential.
Alphonso Davies is one Canada’s star players, a wicked-fast, creative dribbler and the face of the men’s national team in our first World Cup since 1986. Today, he is one of the most-valued full-backs in the world. Twenty-two years ago, his mother gave birth to him in Buduburam — a refugee camp in Ghana.
Phonzy’s parents fled civil war in Liberia. The family eventually immigrated to Canada and settled in Edmonton where he played soccer after school with Free Footie, a program for inner-city kids, although he often missed practice to babysit his siblings. Picked by the Vancouver Whitecaps youth program at the age of 14, he now plays his club soccer in Germany for Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich.
Davies is now an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: “For me joining the UNHCR was a big moment in my life because I wanted to show not just myself on the podium but that refugees are human beings and, given opportunities, we can be footballers, doctors.
“I feel like people have a negative (reaction) when they hear the word refugee. I want to change that to a positive thing.”
Beyond Oil and Gas
Not every government at COP27 is allergic to naming fossil fuels as the cause of climate change. The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) welcomed new members. John Woodside reports from Egypt on the updated roster:
“Its core members are (now) Quebec, Denmark, Costa Rica, France, Ireland, Sweden, Greenland, Wales, Washington state, and Portugal, which was previously an associate member. Now the associate members are California and New Zealand. Its friends are Fiji, Tuvalu, Kenya, Chile, Italy, Finland and Luxembourg.”
Upon announcing it would join BOGA, the Washington state governor’s office said that “Russia’s war in Ukraine is a call to action: speed up climate and energy security across the world. A just, orderly transition out of oil and gas is imperative.”
Canadian banks, insurers pour nearly $2 billion into new fossil fuel projects in Africa
RBC and Sun Life top the list of Canadian companies financing a wave of fossil fuel expansion in Africa. “Between them, since 2019, they have pumped nearly $2 billion into the sector at a time when the scientific consensus demands a complete phaseout of all fossil fuels to stay within the Paris Agreement’s goal of holding global warming to 1.5 C.”
“We are not your gas station,” says Mohamed Adow from Powershift Africa. “The pro-gas rhetoric of governments is in no way intended to help the African continent ‘develop’. It is once again a trap to lock us into the role of ‘gas station’ so that we’re useful to the Global North.
“What Africa needs is a decentralized and democratic energy system based on our rich renewables potential. This is the real solution to end energy apartheid in Africa and put the world on the path to a just transition.” Adow was speaking at the release of Don’t Gas Africa’s new report, The Fossil Fuelled Fallacy.
But wait, there’s more!
“Fossil fuel expansion is hijacking humanity,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said this week. After all, the world already has enough fossil fuel projects to blow through the limits agreed to in the Paris Agreement. But even more oil and gas extraction was sanctioned this year.
Oil Change International tallied all the “Final Investment Decisions” made in 2022 and found the projects could “lock in enough new oil and gas production to cause an additional 11 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. That is equivalent to the lifetime emissions of building 75 new coal power plants.”
The tally only includes projects where companies have made Final Investment Decisions — so projects like Bay du Nord don’t show up on Canada’s tab even though the government has given its approval.
But wait, there’s more! There’s also a pipeline of new projects nearing investment decisions over the next few years. By 2025, “if approved and operated for their full expected lifetimes, these new projects could lock in a further 59 Gt of carbon pollution.”
That would be “equivalent to building almost 400 new coal plants.”
Partnerships for just energy transitions
One promising development that’s spun off from global climate talks has been “Just Energy Transition Partnerships” (JETPs). The idea is to pool funding from rich countries and partner with a specific middle-income nation to shut down coal plants. The first JETP was inked at last year’s COP — an $8.5-billion deal between South Africa and the United States, the U.K, France, Germany, and the European Union.
This year, Indonesia signed a $20-billion JETP. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada would partner with other G7 countries as well as Denmark and Norway. The deal would stop any new coal plants and accelerate the transition to clean energy.
And Vietnam also looks likely to land a JETP. If so, that would mean coal phaseout financing for three of the top 10 coal countries.
Canada leapt to second place in a global ranking of supply chains for lithium-ion batteries. China dominates the field but a couple of years of big announcements and investments caused Bloomberg to boost Canada’s ranking.
Earlier this month, the federal government ordered three Chinese companies to divest from Canadian firms working in lithium and other critical minerals.
And this week, the RCMP arrested a battery researcher and charged him with espionage, alleging he was sending trade secrets to China.
The accused spy worked for Hydro-Québec’s Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage. He was charged under the Security of Information Act, “the first time this charge has been laid in Canada,” said Insp. David Beaudoin.
An ‘oil-free future’ for California
California — the fourth-largest economy in the world — released its roadmap to cut greenhouse gases 85 per cent by 2045. The specifics and official messaging are remarkable coming from a state that’s still a significant oil and gas producer.
The plan proposes to “invest $54 billion to forge an oil-free future while building sustainable communities throughout the state.”
And Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t shying away from the F-word: “California is drastically cutting our dependence on fossil fuels and cleaning our air — this plan is a comprehensive roadmap to achieve a pollution-free future.
“While big polluters focus on increasing their profits at our expense, California is protecting communities, creating jobs and accelerating our transition to clean energy.”
Some of the key markers include:
- Reducing fossil fuel consumption to less than a 10th of what (Californians) use today;
- 94 per cent drop in demand for oil;
- 86 per cent drop in demand for all fossil fuels;
- Cutting air pollution by 71 per cent;
- Building at least 20 GW offshore wind capacity;
- Three million climate-friendly homes by 2030 and seven million by 2035;
- Six million heat pumps deployed by 2030.
For that special person
Big congratulations to Geoff Dembicki, whose book, The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change, was named one of the 10 best books of the year by The Washington Post:
“A dark tale of money corrupting politics and paralyzing the public will. He shows how oil companies were studying climate science as a top priority during the 1970s. Executives were briefed and advised to act quickly to solve the problem. Instead, the fossil fuel industry acted to deceive the public, fighting a long war against the science of global warming — a science, ironically, that it had been instrumental in creating. For those who want a no-frills account of how we ended up on the climate precipice, this is an essential read.”
We dug into Dembicki’s book and the key role the Alberta oilsands played in the global machinery of climate denial this September: The pipeline of climate denial.
The demon river
This week marks one year since an atmospheric river flooded B.C., cutting off every road to Vancouver and many other communities. I’ll leave you with an amazing long read by J.B. MacKinnon, who you may know as the author of The 100-Mile Diet and The Day the World Stops Shopping.
MacKinnon’s The Demon River is not only beautifully written but wonderfully produced by Hakai Magazine, along with powerful photography and graphics. We follow an off-duty police officer desperately trying to warn his colleagues and government officials about the growing disaster and the people he meets along the way. A few snippets:
“What happens, though, when an event is stretching beyond the experience of the team, beyond living memory, and beyond what is known from history?”
“Schmidt trudged onward into what was now the darkness of night. The scene soon turned from shocking to surreal. The roar of the river filled the valley. From under the water came the thunder of boulders rolling in the deep, and the whoomp of hillsides collapsing.”
Towards the end, MacKinnon quotes Niistaxo’ok, also known as Walter Wright “Great disasters are the landmarks of a people who are wise,” Wright said. “They mark the ending of a time of error. They set a starting point for a better mode of life.”
That’s all for this week. Wishing you wisdom and a better mode of life. Thanks for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write with feedback or suggestions at [email protected]
Support for this issue of Zero Carbon came from The McConnell and Trottier foundations and I-SEA.