Editor's Note: "Fossil fuel companies are having a big reckoning with climate change this week. Shareholders for Exxon and Chevron voted for measures that could force them to take more responsibility for their emissions, while a Dutch court is forcing Shell to slash its pollution." - The Verge, May 26, 2021
It is too early to tell the long-term impact, of course, but May 26, 2021 might just prove to be a turning point in the difficult and urgent fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to have a chance of avoiding a severe escalation of the climate crisis. Pressure on corporations is growing on many fronts, as illustrated also by the June 9 announcement that the Keystone XL pipeline has been definitely cancelled by the developer TC Energy.
And now climate protesters led by indigenous people are ramping up the campaign against a new oil pipeline projected to run from Canada's tar sands to northern Minnesota. The StopLine3 campaign, calling for President Biden to cancel the permit for the project, is also mobilizingprotesters blocking construction, leading to mass arrests earlier this month.
Measured by the "production gap" calculated by the UN Environment Programme with allied research agencies at the end of last year, the immediate impact on actual emissions levels of these recent victories is likely to be minimal. The stated commitments by governments and corporations are falling far short of the minimum necessary to avoid catastrophic consequences, and their actions are even more limited.
Nevertheless, this is a signal that corporations themselves must and can be held accountable. The same applied to governments, the policies of which are still overwhelmingly biased towards fossil fuels by inertia and by current fossil-fuel interests. In the United States for example, Republican opposition and Democratic timidity threatens to eviscerate the ambitious climate actions in the Biden administration's infrastructure bill.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin, in addition to the links just below, includes (1) excerpts from a New York Times article on the significance of the Exxon board meeting outcomes; (2) a press release on a new essay by Donna Katzin, entitled "From Disinvestment to Reinvestment;" (3) excerpts and a short video from the Production Gap 2020 report; (4) a summary essay on a new expert study on a "Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy," and (5) brief excerpts from a MSNBC interview with U.S. Senator Ed Markey, who notes that the Republican Party (GOP) now effectively stands not for "Grand Old Party" but for "Gas and Oil Party."
I know that is a lot to absorb in one 25K document, and I don't expect very many of you to read it all. But I hope you will skim some of it, save it for later reference, and share it. If you are reading this in email, to http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/clim2106.php to get a URL to share.
Or you can break up your reading by going to the music video selections at the end of the bulletin, now a regular feature for AfricaFocus.
For additional related news coverage and commentary see
https://cleantechnica.com/2021/05/27/a-bad-day-at-black-rock-for-big-oil/ Another useful and well-written summary, in addition to the one cited above.
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/09/business/exxon-mobil-engine-no1-activist.html Analysis of long-term significance (see excerpt below)
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jun/07/its-time-to-nationalize-shell-private-oil-companies-are-no-longer-fit-for-purpose Argues that private companies will never really get out of fossil fuels and the governments should nationalize them to do that. The catch is that that depends on the politics of the governments!
https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/keystone-is-xl-is-dead "OMG! It's official," Dallas Goldtooth, Mdewakanton Dakota and Diné, wrote on Twitter regarding Keystone XL's termination. "We took on a multi-billion dollar corporation and we won!!"
https://www.iisd.org/publications/natural-gas-finance-clean-alternatives-global-south Step Off the Gas: International public finance, natural gas and clean alternatives in the Global South. Extensive study of options based on case studies of Argentina, Egypt, and India.
For a powerful 3-minute video on the climate crisis by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, released in 2014 but still relevant almost 7 years later, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlh_ptOljkg
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate change and the environment, visit http://www.africafocus.org/intro-env.php
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Exxon's Board Defeat Signals the Rise of Social-Good Activists
The energy giant's stunning loss was the work of a tiny hedge fund that believes investing for social good is also good for the bottom line.
The strategy of Engine No. 1 hinged on getting votes from Exxon's three largest shareholders, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, on its side, an uphill climb since such firms often side with management.
Engine No. 1 held only 0.02 percent of Exxon's shares, giving it a similar portion of proxy votes, while those three institutional investors together accounted for nearly 20 percent of the voting shares.
. . .
Analysts say it's hard to overstate the impact that Exxon's defeat will have on corporations across the country.
In 2018, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street cast an average of about 25 percent of the votes in elections for directors of all of the companies in the S&P 500, according to academic research. The mere threat that some of those votes are more likely to be cast against management will force executives to think long and hard about how to address their concerns, analysts say.
"You've seen that kind of shift dramatically overnight," said Lyndon Park, managing director at ICR, a firm that advises corporate boards on investor relations issues.
Mr. Park, who formerly worked at BlackRock, added: "The days are over where you could think, you know, these guys would give the benefit of the doubt to management."
From Disinvestment to Reinvestment
US-Africa Bridge Building Project
Press Release June 7, 2021
Activist campaigns to force corporations and governments to shift resources away from unjust and destructive systems can make a difference, Donna Katzin contends in the essay "From Disinvestment to Reinvestment." The essay was published on May 30 by the US-Africa Bridge Building Project, a Washington DC-based nonprofit geared toward fostering transnational solidarity primarily around economic justice. Katzin's essay cites evidence from the transnational anti-apartheid movement in the mid-20th century to later social justice movements, including the movement to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy and the Black Lives Matter demands to shift resources from policing and incarceration to investment in underserved communities.
In her essay, Katzin notes that racism, poverty, climate change, and pandemics know no borders. This makes it increasingly clear that the rallying cry "An injury to one is an injury to all" applies to a host of global as well as national issues.
Katzin recently retired as the founding executive director of Shared Interest, which she led for 26 years. She previously directed the South Africa and International Justice Programs of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility from 1986 to 1994. Since 1994, Shared Interest has benefited 2.3 million people by issuing $30 million in guarantees unlocking more than $125 million in credit to South and Southern African borrowers who would otherwise be considered "unbankable."
The strength of her argument was strikingly confirmed just before its publication in what news stories and leading climate justice activist Bill McKibben called "A Bad, Bad Day for Big Oil." At the Exxon Mobil board meeting on May 26, a dissident slate of candidates for the board calling for action on the climate crisis won 3 out of 4 contested seats against the company's opposition.
On the same day, Chevron shareholders approved a resolution for tighter limits on greenhouse gas emissions. And a court in the Netherlands ruled that Shell Oil must drastically cut its emissions over the next ten years.
When asked about this news, Katzin noted that such massive shifts require mobilization over years and decades, and that it is too soon to tell the impact of this development. But, she said, "The May 26 victories may be a turning point in the campaign to press Big Oil to put the brakes on fossil fuels - before climate change becomes irreversible. It mirrors the moment when captains of industry recognized apartheid as a motor for crimes against humanity, and underscores the lesson that reinvestment in solutions is not only essential to our shared future - it is also possible."
Similarly today's activists can confront current challenges like those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic through a combination of boycott, divestment, sanctions, and reinvestment strategies.
"A global reinvestment coalition could coordinate campaigns to pressure companies that use public funds for the development, manufacturing, and production of vaccines, but fail to make their vaccines accessible where they are needed most," Katzin suggests. "They could further require them to "reinvest" by pricing vaccines affordably and delivering them equitably to low-income countries and communities."
Among the tactics deployed by transnational solidarity activists to end apartheid, according to Katzin, campaigns to pressure multinational corporations to withdraw their investments and sever economic ties to South Africa proved especially effective. "These campaigns for disinvestment of resources, mobilizing massive support across the globe, set precedents and provide touchstones for today's solidarity movements," she writes.
Economic pressure through boycotts, divestments and sanctions have been and remain powerful tools to change corporate and national policies that harm and hinder social and economic mobility. However, for these efforts to have a lasting impact, they must be paired with strategies that reinvest resources in disadvantaged communities and countries.
The same message comes through clearly from the Movement for Black Lives and their allies. The message is clear. Organizing to defund entities exploiting, threatening, and imprisoning Black, indigenous, and communities of color. But reducing these destructive uses of resources must be accompanied by positive reinvestment in communities, including housing, education, health, and criminal justice.
The fight against injustice can only succeed if it is linked with a vision of justice. The reallocation of resources is both a means to realize that vision and a measure of its success.
Katzin's essay is the second original essay in a series of essays for a Playbook for Transnational Solidarity. The Project also published a companion essay on May 30, reposted with permission from the Sierra Club magazine, entitled "Redefining the Possible," by Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement.
The Production Gap: 2020 Report
UN Environment Programme
A digital copy of the full report is available at: http://productiongap.org/2020report
Between 2020 and 2030, global coal, oil, and gas production would have to decline annually by 11%, 4%, and 3%, respectively, to be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway. But government plans and projections indicate an average 2% annual increase for each fuel.
To follow a 1.5°C-consistent pathway, the world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2020 and 2030.
Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 would result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit.
Pre-COVID plans and post-COVID stimulus measures point to a continuation of the growing global fossil fuel production gap, locking in severe climate disruption.
To date, governments have committed far more COVID-19 funds to fossil fuels than to clean energy. Policymakers must reverse this trend to meet climate goals.
Countries with lower dependence and higher financial and institutional capacity can undertake a just and equitable transition from fossil fuel production most rapidly, while those with higher dependence and lower capacity will require greater international support.
Policymakers can support a managed, just, and equitable wind-down of fossil fuel production through six areas of action.
. . .
Six main areas of action for governments could help ensure a managed, just, and equitable transition away from fossil fuels that "builds back better" from the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Ensure COVID-19 recovery packages and economic stimulus funds support a sustainable recovery and avoid further carbon lock-in. Many countries have begun to make investments in areas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, green hydrogen, and improved pedestrian infrastructure. But if this is accompanied by significant support for high-carbon industries, COVID-19 recovery measures still risk locking in high-carbon energy systems and development pathways for decades into the future. Governments that choose to invest in high-carbon industries to boost economies and safeguard livelihoods in the short term — perhaps because they see few near-term alternatives — can nonetheless introduce conditions to that investment to promote long-term alignment with climate goals.
2. Provide local and international support to fossil-fuel dependent communities and economies for diversification and just, equitable transitions. Each country and region faces unique challenges in a transition away from fossil fuels, depending on their dependence on production and their capacity to transition. Inclusive planning is essential, as is financial, technical, and capacity-building support for communities with limited financial and institutional capacity.
3. Reduce existing government support for fossil fuels. Many long- standing forms of government support to fossil fuels — including consumer subsidies, producer subsidies, and public finance investment — stand in the way of a sustainable recovery to COVID-19 and need to be ended.
4. Introduce restrictions on fossil fuel production activities and infrastructure. Restricting new fossil fuel production activities and infrastructure can avoid locking in levels of fossil fuel production higher than those consistent with climate goals. It can also reduce the risk of stranded assets and communities.
5. Enhance transparency of current and future fossil fuel production levels. A key barrier to aligning energy and climate plans is the lack of clarity on levels of fossil fuel production and planned or expected growth. To improve transparency, countries could ensure that relevant production data are more readily and publicly accessible. They can also provide information on how their fossil fuel production plans align with climate goals, and on their support for the production of fossil fuels. Governments can also take steps to disclose their level of exposure to fossil fuel asset stranding and associated systemic risk, and to require companies within their jurisdiction to do so.
6. Mobilize and support a coordinated global response. Policies to transition away from fossil fuels will be most effective if supported by countries collectively, as this will send consistent, directional signals to energy producers, consumers, and investors. International cooperation, both through established channels and in new forums, can support a just and equitable wind down of fossil fuels. The Paris Agreement's global stocktake, nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LEDS) offer opportunities to facilitate a transition away from fossil fuel production through the UN climate change process. International financial institutions can help shift financial support away from fossil fuel production while scaling up support for low-carbon energy.
'Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy' Shows Transition to Renewable Future Totally Doable
"The hurdle is no longer economic nor technical; our biggest challenges are political. A cleaner future is within reach."
Ditching fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy in order to keep warming below the 1.5ºC threshold is both "necessary and technically feasible."
That's the conclusion of an analysis released Thursday entitled Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy. Produced by the University of Technology Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Futures in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, the report states clearly that "there is no need for more fossil fuels" because the world is overflowing with renewable energy capacity.
"The world has more than enough renewable energy resources that can be scaled up rapidly enough to meet the energy demands of every person in the world without any shortfall in global energy generation." —Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy
Such a pathway, said Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia, would avert a "criminal waste of money" that would "have devastating climate and humanitarian consequences."
A key point in the analysis is that simply stopping the industry's planned expansion of fossil fuel projects is insufficient to meet the Paris climate agreement's temperature goal and would actually "push warming well above 1.5ºC."
With this angle, the new analysis goes beyond the International Energy Agency's report last month calling for no oil and gas expansion in order to meet a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That's because even if there were no expansion, the report's projections show, the world would produce 35% more oil and 69% more coal than is consistent with meeting the 1.5°C target.
As such, Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy lays out a dirty energy phaseout with an annual decline of 9.5% for coal, 8.5% for oil, 3.5% for gas from 2021-2030.
A further difference between the new report's 1.5ºC scenario and the IEA report is its rejection of carbon capture technology and bioenergy as well as nuclear energy going forward.
Leaving those sources aside is no problem because expanding efficiency measures will lower overall energy demands, even amid increased electrification. That's because wind and solar power—sectors that are accelerating —are in a position to take over for fossil fuels.
"Our analysis shows that even applying a set of robust, conservative estimates that take into account environmental safeguards, land constraints, and technical feasibility, solar and wind energy could power the world more than 50 times over," the report states. "This is the case even for Africa and India with their growing energy demand."
"With this report, it is even clearer to everyone that world leaders have no excuse. We must act now." —Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Youth Advocates Climate Action Philippines
The report points also to previous estimates showing Africa's potential as a renewable "superpower" because "the solar and wind potential across the continent far outstrip every other region of the world."
There are also global financial benefits to be considered. The report notes that renewable costs are becoming at least cost- competitive with fossil fuels. What's more, investments in dirty energy are becoming "stranded assets ."
The good news is that "the world has more than enough renewable energy resources that can be scaled up rapidly enough to meet the energy demands of every person in the world without any shortfall in global energy generation," according to the report.
Rebecca Byrnes, deputy director for the Fossil Fuel Non- Proliferation Treaty Initiative, welcomed the new publication as providing evidence "that a practical pathway exists where there are no new fossil fuel projects, existing projects are phased out, emissions are kept within a 1.5°C budget, and energy access becomes universal, all while using existing and increasingly cost- competitive technologies."
"The hurdle is no longer economic nor technical; our biggest challenges are political," she added. "A cleaner future is within reach and, while international cooperation is essential for innovation and investment, nation-states can and should act now to regulate fossil fuel production decline."
Referencing the record number of extreme weather events that have battered her home country, Mitzi Jonelle Tan of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and Fridays For Future Philippines called the "current level of warming... already hell for us in the Global South."
Tan sharply criticized the possibility of further fossil fuel expansion, saying it "will clearly put us past the 1.5°C limit [and] is a death sentence to the most marginalized people."
"With this report," she added, "it is even clearer to everyone that world leaders have no excuse. We must act now, the science and the people are united in calling for justice."
Chris Hayes with Senator Ed Markey, MSNBC, June 10, 2021
Excerpts: Full transcript available at https://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/transcript-all-chris-hayes-6-10-21-n1270438
HAYES: But when Senator Romney was asked yesterday about how the Democrat's climate agenda fits in the bill, he responded, "The Democrats climate agenda is probably something they pursue by and large outside of an infrastructure bill."
OK, here's the thing. An infrastructure bill that is not climate- focused is quite literally not worth passing, probably worse than nothing. Because climate is the central infrastructure challenge we face obviously.
. . .
Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts who cosponsored the resolution for Green New Deal told The New York Times, "The planet cannot survive another successful Republican obstructionist strategy. We have to have climate at the center of any infrastructure package in order to have my vote. No climate, no deal." And Senator Ed Markey joins me now.
SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): Well, it sounds to me that they have a package which is climate denial masquerading as bipartisanship. We can't have an infrastructure bill in 2021 that doesn't have climate at its center. And any other bill that we are going to consider that does not have aggressive solutions to the climate crisis will just have that response which I've been giving which is no climate, no deal. That's the only way in which we can respond.
This bill has to meet the magnitude of the challenges which the climate crisis is presenting to our country and to the planet.
. . .
HAYES: Well, you tick through some of the things that are in the sort of initial Biden American Rescue Plan proposal. You know, there's money for battery storage and research on that. There's money for electric vehicle charging stations. There's some talk about that moving to the surface transportation bill, although that's in the weeds. There's a lot of stuff for the electric grid. There's some stuff on clean energy in terms of, you know, renewable portfolio standards, if I understand.
Do you have a sense of what is or isn't out? It's just a weird thing where these 10 senators in a room trading this stuff away. Like, do you -- are you read in on what is in the package or not?
MARKEY: Well, I don't know what's in the package except what you just read about Senator Romney's commentary on it which is that this package will not be dealing with the climate crisis in any significant way. And, you know, the bottom line is, the GOP used to stand for Grand Old Party, now it's -- GOP stands for the gas and oil party.
We know that the fossil fuel industry is the largest single contributor to this party. And so yes, we do need new highways, we do need new bridges, but we also have to have an infrastructure revolution for the energy sector so that we are the global leader, so that the rest of the world says the United States is back and we believe in science, and we know that we can solve this problem by unleashing this revolution.
So that President Biden can go to Glasgow later on this year and say, we're back. We are no longer the laggard, we are the leader again, and we must solve this problem for future generations. That is what this bill must have so that President Biden will have the credibility he needs meeting with the rest of the world later on this year.
AfricaFocus Music Break
Beginning in May, I started adding an embedded short music video at the end of each bulletin. When working on a bulletin, I find it essential to take breaks to listen to such videos, because the topics I cover often reflect more grim realities than hopes for change. I choose videos that I like and I hope that you will also enjoy them.
Blitz the Ambassador: Remembering the Future
Musician and film director Blitz (the Ambassador) Bazawule, who splits his time between Brooklyn and Accra, is probably best known now for collaboration with Beyoncé in Black is King. But he has also long been known to his fans around the world for his powerful music and creative short films such as the trilogy below.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter. For an archive of previous Bulletins, see http://www.africafocus.org,
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