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Hullabaloo


Monday, December 07, 2015

 

Fossil fuel companies like Exxon risk wasting $2 trillion at least of investors' money

by Gaius Publius



Alan Cumming tells you why you can't have nice things


The reason we won't have nice climate — until we fight for it — is money. Rich people's money. And frankly, the money of mainly old, soon-to-be-dead, rich people, like this one from Exxon, or these two from god knows where. People, in other words, with no future of their own and a pathological reason to sacrifice ours.

Because it turns out, if humans ever wrest control of the climate-fix process and kick the moneyed bottoms out of the decision room, those moneyed bottoms stand to lose a ton — by this news account, trillions. From Damian Carrington in The Guardian:
Fossil fuel companies risk wasting $2tn of investors' money, study says

Paris climate deal could render oil, gas and coal projects worthless with US, Canada, China and Australia most vulnerable to losing billions

Fossil fuel companies risk wasting up to $2tn (£1.3tn) of investors’ money in the next decade on projects left worthless by global action on climate change and the surge in clean energy, according to a new report.

The world’s nations aim to seal a UN deal in Paris in December to keep global warming below the danger limit of 2C. The heavy cuts in carbon emissions needed to achieve this would mean no new coal mines at all are needed and oil demand peaking in 2020, according to the influential thinktank Carbon Tracker. It found $2.2tn of projects at risk of stranding, [i.e.] being left valueless as the market for fossil fuels shrinks.

The report found the US has the greatest risk exposure, with $412bn of projects that could be stranded, followed by Canada ($220bn), China ($179bn) and Australia ($103bn). The UK’s £30bn North Sea oil and gas projects are at risk, the report says, despite government efforts to prop up the sector. Shell, ExxonMobil and Pemex are the companies with the greatest sums potentially at risk, with over $70bn each.

The failure of the fossil fuel industry to address climate change is laid out in a second report on Wednesday, in which senior industry figures state there is “a significant disconnect between the changes needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the [2C] level and efforts currently underway”.

Lord John Browne, former BP boss, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former Shell and Anglo American chair and others say there must be “fundamental reassessment of the fossil fuel industry’s business models” and that companies should seize commercial opportunities in low-carbon energy.
Here's why that number — $2.2 trillion in stranded-asset losses — is too low (my emphasis):
The Carbon Tracker report looked at existing and future projects being considered by coal, oil and gas companies up to 2025 and determined which could proceed if carbon emissions are cut to give a 50% chance of keeping climate change under 2C. Many high-cost projects, including Arctic and deepwater drilling, tar sands and shale oil are unneeded and therefore uneconomic in the 2C scenario, the report found, although some are required to replace fields that are already depleting.

“Business history is littered with examples of incumbents – like Kodak and Blockbuster – who fail to see a transition coming,” said Anthony Hobley, chief executive of Carbon Tracker. “Our report offers these companies a warning [about] avoiding significant value destruction.”
You read that right. Those are losses from stranding only part of their assets and agreeing to let them monetize and burn the rest. (The amount "allowed to be burned" under a given scenario is called our "carbon budget.") In other words, what happens if humans agree to burn just enough to give them a 50% chance of keeping global warming under 2°C. In other words, what happens if humans agree to play Climate Russian Roulette with a gun with just two chambers, one of them loaded.

If We Increase the Odds of Success to 90%, There's No "Carbon Budget" at All

But what happens to oil and gas reserves if humans decide to up the odds of success, to, say, 90%? Answer: There's no carbon budget left at all. 100% of carbon reserves must be stranded. If you can't wrap your head around that fact, you're not seeing the problem, and without seeing the problem, you won't recognize the solution.

You can see the relationship between the carbon budget and the odds of success in this chart:


Source: David Spratt at the invaluable Climate Code Red


To read this, let's first get oriented:
  • The Y-axis represents cumulative carbon emissions since pre-industrial times.
     
  • The gray area under the 515+ level represents emissions through 2011 — a part of the “budget” we’ve already spent. Everything above that, as shown by the green, orange and red arrows, is "allowed future emissions" — our remaining "carbon budget" — under a number of scenarios.

    Two notes: First, we're burning carbon worldwide at the rate of more than 10 GtC per year, so for cumulative emissions through 2015, add 40 GtC to that 515 number and mentally raise the top of the gray area. Second, about the units on the Y-axis above — 1 petagram (1 Pg) of carbon is the same unit, the same amount, as 1 gigaton (1 Gt) of carbon. This is two ways to say the same thing.
     
  • The X-axis shows odds of success from 0% to 100% for the emissions scenarios shown in the Y axis. In other words, for each amount of cumulative emissions (on the Y axis) there's a corresponding "chance of success" (on the X axis).
     
  • The blue line plots those points that connect Y-axis emissions to X-axis odds of success. The result shows that, as cumulative emissions (and the "carbon budget") become smaller, the odds of “success” increase.
Note that at the 90% success point, the blue line crosses below 515 GtC. In other words, if we want to improve our chance of failure to 1-in-10 — to play Climate Russian Roulette with a ten-chambered gun — we must stop emitting carbon, completely, now.

Do you see why people like me are sounding urgent, and why climate scientists, when you get them alone, are freaking out? (Be careful, by the way, when listening to news out of Paris and their expressed "carbon budget" number. The IPCC is using a 60% chance of success — Russian Roulette with a three-chambered gun — to derive their recommended carbon budget. Even Clint Eastwood offers a six-chamber chance.)

Again, this isn't over, but we've got just five years maybe, and at most ten, by my estimation, to stop, something that's entirely possible if the mass of people want to. Will they want to? They're starting to wake up. Let's see what the next Hurricane Haiyan brings, say, if it appears in the Atlantic this time.

What You Can Do

As I wrote recently, you can help in two ways. These are things you can do now. First, contribute to Bernie Sanders campaign, and optionally, to the campaigns of all candidates who have endorsed him. (Adjust the split any way you like at the link.)

Second, understand that moving quickly means just that — a World War II-style national mobilization. Consider adding your name, voice and effort to this group and signing the pledge to mobilize. We've done this before, and when enough people want to — something that's well within imagination — we'll do it again.


Beautiful Miami Beach. If the "big one" hits here next and developers flee like rats from the wreckage of their property values, will "let's mobilize" be the cry of the day? It's not unthinkable.


Even the right wing will beg for "daddy" to save them, because, well, that's what they do. And we'll be glad to have them on board.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)

GP



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