What if the financial sector moved away from fossil fuel investments?

On September 17, Bill McKibben, a leader of the divestment movement, wrote Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns , published in The New Yorker. The essay traces the progress of the divestment movement and asks, What if the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?. On the same day came the announcement that “ University of California drops fossil fuels from its $80 billion portfolio”.   An article in Rolling Stone  quotes the UC representatives, stating “it wasn’t moral or political pressures that convinced them to phase UC’s hundreds of millions of dollars in fossil-fuel investments. Instead, they say, it was the growing realization that fossil fuel investments no longer made financial sense and weren’t a worthwhile investment.”

Investment performance of Fossil fuel companies

In what has been seen as an historical turning point, ExxonMobil lost its spot on the S&P Index list of “Top Ten Companies” in August 2019 –  the first time it had not appeared since the Index launched in 1957.  In 1980,  the energy sector as a whole represented 28% of the S&P 500 Index; as of August 2019, it represents  4.4%.  According to a summary by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the energy sector claimed last place in the S&P rankings of sector performance in August 2019, following similar results in 2018 and 2017.“This is not some temporary aberration. The oil and gas sector is in decline, profits are shrinking and investment options problematic …. This is true even for companies like ExxonMobil that historically have deep pockets.”

The full Briefing Note,  ExxonMobil’s Fall From the S&P 500 Top Ten: A Long Time Coming (August 2019) also includes discussion of the role Canada’s oil sands have played in the decline of the industry.  Carbon Tracker Initiative provides further information in Exxon’s New Clothes – the tale of why Exxon lost its prized position in the S&P 500 .

Are the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moving  away from fossil fuels?  

New initiatives launched at U.N. Climate Summit in New York in September point in that direction:

  1. 130 banks from 49 countries signed on to the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRBs), committing to align their business operations with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the fact that the Bank of Canada issued a report flagging the investment risks of climate change in May, the only signatories from Canada were the National Bank of Canada and the Desjardins Group . Hardly surprising, given the April 2019 Fossil Fuel Report Card from Banktrack , which showed that Canada’s big banks rank 5th, 8th, 9th and 15th in the world for fossil fuel invesment since the Paris Agreement in 2015. In response to the PRI pledge, civil society groups issued a statement, “No More Greenwashing: Principles must have Consequences ”  which highlights the lack of concrete plans and the slow time frame: signatory banks are allowed up to four years to demonstrate their implementation of the principles.  A thorough discussion published by Open Democracy asks “The UN banking principles are welcome – but do they go far enough to stop climate destruction?
  2. A new Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance  was launched, convened by the U.N. Environmental Program’s  Finance Initiative and the Principles for Responsible Investment, and supported by WWF as part of its Mission 2020 campaign. The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance signatories are insurance and pension fund management companies which hold approximately $2.3 U.S. Trillion. Their commitment document  pledges to re-balance those investment portfolios to make them carbon neutral by 2050, with intermediate targets set for 2025, 2030 and 2040. Founding members include   German insurer Allianz, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), Swedish pension fund Alecta, PensionDanmark, Swedish pension manager AMF, Nordea Life & Pension, Norwegian insurer Storebrand, and Swiss RE.
  3. European investment bank-logo-enThe European Investment Bank strengthened its climate commitments at the U.N. Climate Summit  pledging to “ position the EIB as an incubator for climate finance and expertise to mobilise others, helping our societies and economies transform to a low carbon future.” Specifically, the bank pledged that 50% of new investments will be for climate action and environmental sustainability by 2025 (previously the target had been 30% by 2020). Also,  “we aim to align all our financing activities with the principles and goals of the Paris agreement by the end of 2020. As an important first step, we will phase out energy projects that depend solely on fossil fuels.”
  4. financing the low carbon futureThe Climate Finance Leadership Initiative (CFLI) , chaired by Michael Bloomberg, released  Financing the Low Carbon Future  , a thorough but readable analysis of how clean energy investment works globally, with practical recommendations . The CFLI is composed of  senior executives of seven major private-sector financial institutions– Allianz Global Investors, AXA, Enel, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) and Macquarie.
  5. Over 500 environmental and advocacy groups from 76 countires supported the Lofoten Declaration at the U.N. Climate Action Summit. The Lofoten Declaration , (named after the Lofoten Islands of Norway where it was first drafted in 2017) states in part: “It is the urgent responsibility and moral obligation of wealthy fossil fuel producers to lead in putting an end to fossil fuel development and to manage the decline of existing production.”  Canada is one of those countries, and Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada was one of the supporters, stating: “True leadership in response to the climate emergency means having the courage to commit to ending the expansion of oil and gas production and make a plan to transition communities and workers to better opportunities.”  A summary  appears in “If a House Is on Fire, You Don’t Add Fuel’: 530 Groups Back Call to Rapidly Phase Out Fossil Fuels Worldwide” in Common Dreams (Sept. 23); Background to the Lofoten Declaration here  .

Much remains to be done:  Consider the September 2019 report by Carbon Tracker Initiative.  Breaking the HabitWhy none of the large oil companies are “Paris-aligned”, and what they need to do to get there. The report examines oil company investment activities , and concludes:

  • Last year, all of the major oil companies sanctioned projects that fall outside a “well below 2 degrees” budget on cost grounds. These will not deliver adequate returns in a low-carbon world. Examples include Shell’s $13bn LNG Canada project and BP, Total, ExxonMobil and Equinor’s Zinia 2 project in Angola.
  • No new oil sands projects fit within a Paris-compliant world. Despite this, ExxonMobil sanctioned the $2.6bn Aspen project last year – the first new oil sands project in 5 years.
  • The oil and gas in projects that have already been sanctioned will take the world past 1.5ºC, assuming carbon capture and storage remains sub-scale.

And Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 , commissioned by the United Nations, was published in September, reporting the good news that  global investment in new renewable energy capacity, led by solar power, “ is set to have roughly quadrupled renewable energy capacity (excluding large hydro) in the decade ending in 2019. Renewables accounted for 12.9 percent of global electricity in 2018—and if hydropower is also included, the renewable’s share of global electricity production is  measured at 26.3%.  Cost-competitiveness of renewables has “risen spectacularly over the decade, as the levelised cost of electricity has been steadily decreasing, down 81 percent for solar photovoltaics and 46 per cent for onshore wind since 2009.”

Yet despite this good news, the report states: “Overall, we note that these figures represent a small share of the overall economic transition required to address climate change…. global power-sector emissions are likely to have risen by at least 10 percent between the end of 2009 and 2019.”

 

International clean energy experts discuss investment levels, zero emissions vehicles, building emissions, gender equality in Vancouver meetings

CEM10-MI4_LogoIn the week of May 27, representatives from global government, industry, and NGO’s met as Canada hosted the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver. Several announcements were made against that backdrop:

Investment support for clean energy: The federal government announced it will contribute up to $30 million to Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada (BESC),  a public-private initiative to support “cutting-edge companies to deliver game-changing clean energy innovations to the market.” This Canadian program will be administered by Natural Resources Canada – in collaboration with Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion investment fund launched in 2016 by billionaires such as Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.  The Canadian press release quotes Gates: “ We are hopeful that this Breakthrough Energy partnership with Canada will be a model for developing more collaborations…” A summary appears in “Canada launches homegrown version of Bill Gates-led clean energy fund”   in the National Observer (May 27).

The National Observer hosted a panel discussion on clean energy investment on May 28. The panel included the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, and Céline Bak, president of Analytica Advisors and author of the 2019 report,  Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in CanadaA summary and video of the panel’s discussion is hereThe discussion revealed that, unbeknownst to Canada, the  European Commission and the European Investment Bank  have also reached agreement with Breakthrough Energy Ventures on a new €100 million fund to support clean energy investments – described in a May 29 press release.

Clean energy investment trends are worrying, as reported by the International Energy Agency in  World Energy Investment 2019 (May 14) : “Global energy investment stabilised in 2018, ending three consecutive years of decline, as capital spending on oil, gas and coal supply bounced back while investment stalled for energy efficiency and renewables.”  In May,  BankTrack and others published  Fool’s Gold – the Financial Institutions Bankrolling Europe’s Most Coal-dependent Utilities , naming the financial institutions behind almost €16 billion in support to the coal industry since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015.

electric truckZero emissions  vehicles: The International Energy Agency released the 2019 edition of one of their flagship publications, Global EV Outlook, which provides historical analysis, projections to 2030, and insights on electric vehicle and charging infrastructure deployment, ownership cost, energy use, carbon dioxide emissions and battery material demand. As part of the discussions on electrification of transportation at the CEM10, Canada became the first national government to endorse the Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero (Drive to Zero) campaign, with British Columbia and the City of Vancouver also signing on . A press release explains “Drive to Zero is a strategic international initiative designed to catalyze the growth of the zero-emission (ZE) and near-zero-emission (NZ) medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sector (MHDV), which includes everything from transit buses to eighteen wheelers to box trucks to school buses. Pledge partners promise to collaboratively put in place supporting mechanisms to speed the early market for these vehicles and equipment.”  Drive to Zero is a program of CALSTART,  a nonprofit consortium with offices in New York, Michigan, Colorado and California, and international partners which include Clean Energy Canada.  As Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources stated in the press release, this is in line with Canadian priorities: the Final Report of the Advisory Council on Climate Action  ( May 28) recommends policies concerning zero-emissions vehicles, including “The Government of Canada, working with partners and stakeholders, should develop an integrated strategy to reduce emissions across modes of transportation, including actions to support modal shifts.”  Related: on May 2, the Pembina Institute published Fuel Savings and Emissions Reductions in Heavy-Duty Trucking : A blueprint for further action in Canada  . 

Gender Equality in Clean Tech:  Over 100 organizations have now signed onto the Equal by 30 initiative, an international campaign begun in 2018. It “ encourages companies and government to adopt gender-equal principles, advance the participation of women in the clean energy transition and take concrete actions to support women in the sector.” A summary of the Gender Diversity participants and events is here . 

Hydrogen as a source of clean energy: A new “Hydrogen Initiative was announced  under the leadership of Canada, the United States, Japan, the Netherlands and the European Commission, with the International Energy Agency as co-ordinating body. The initiative is intended to drive international collaboration on policies, programs and projects to accelerate the commercial deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies across all sectors of the economy, especially industrial and transportation applications.

Building efficiency: Heating and cooling strategies in the clean energy transition: Outlooks and lessons from Canada’s provinces and territories is a report released at the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings on May 27. It is the result of collaborative research between the International Energy Agency and the National Energy Board of Canada. Using Canadian provincial data, it examines energy demand patterns and energy policies regarding  heating and cooling services in buildings, urging policies to move from natural gas to existing, cleaner technologies.  The National Observer summarizes the report in “Cutting fossil fuels could save Canadians  $24 billion a year by 2050”  .

Clean energy investment declining in Canada; and a profile of Calgary’s clean energy economy

clean energy transition takes hold coverClean Energy Canada has released the 2017 edition in its Tracking the Energy Revolution series, on March 30.   The Transition Takes Hold  analyzes clean energy markets around the world, with an emphasis on investment trends.  The report states that global clean energy investment in 2016 totalled C$348 billion, with China, the U.S. and India collectively responsible for half of that amount.  This C$348 billion global clean energy investment represents a 26% decrease from 2015; in Canada, investment fell by 53%, from C$4 billion  to C$2 billion. The decrease, for the second year in a row, sees Canada fall from 9th to 11th place in the world for clean energy investment. To provide context, the report states that Canada already derives 80% of its power from emissions-free sources, and that fact, coupled with relatively stable demand for electricity, limits the need or opportunity for new investment. The opportunities for growth clearly lie in export markets.

The Transition takes Hold provides some estimates for employment in clean energy, based mostly on the 2016 Renewable Energy and Jobs publication by the  International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).  Since Canada is not an IRENA member, the report states only that in 2015, Canada was home to 10,500 jobs in wind and 8,100 in solar PV – but no source for that information is provided.  Based on figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, the report states that  the solar industry created one out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. in 2016,  with wind turbine technician as the country’s  fastest-growing occupation.

At the local level, and  providing a window into the growing green culture of Alberta, is Calgary Region’s Green Energy Economy: Summary Report , published by the Calgary Economic Development department.   It states that the city’s green energy economy was responsible for generating $1.78 billion in gross domestic product, and employed approximately 15,470 jobs in 2015, equal to 1.8% of all workers in the Calgary Economic Region.  The report points out that “Calgary is a well-established ‘talent hub’ of high-value added, service-oriented workers that are experienced in the energy industry”, with the suggestion that the traditional energy sector provides a talent pool for the growing green sector. For this report, the green energy economy is categorized into four sub-sectors: renewable power supply and alternative energy; energy storage and grid infrastructure; green building and energy efficiency; and green transportation, and for each sub-sector, the report provides statistics as well as “on the ground” information about existing companies , supply chains, policies and programs . Green building and energy efficiency account for the largest GDP and number of jobs.   Interesting Appendices include a SWOT analysis, and a brief comparative look at policies of other cities around the  world.   Research and analysis was conducted by The Delphi Group.

Calgary_skyline _Kevin_Cappis

Calgary Skyline by Kevin Cappis.  Creative Commons 4.0 license.

Clean Energy is unstoppable – and China is in the lead

January 2017 began with an attention-getting report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “Solar Could Beat Coal to Become the Cheapest Power on Earth” .  Similarly, the Renewable Infrastructure Investment Handbook published  by the World Economic Forum states:   “ renewable energy technology, especially solar and wind, has made exponential gains in efficiency in recent years, enough to achieve economic competitiveness and, in an increasing number of cases, grid parity.”   A January 5 post by Clean Energy Canada,  “Clean Energy is too good a deal for Trump to Pass up ” , documents the economic and political  forces driving clean energy in the U.S., and offers this chart comparing the number of jobs in solar to the fossil fuel industries.

jobs-in-solar-vs-oil-and-gas-jan-2017

from Clean Energy blog post, “Clean Energy is too good a deal for Trump to pass up” (January 5, 2017)

And in an unprecedented move for a sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama has written “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy”  in Science (Jan. 9), with an overview of his energy policy legacy, and making the case that market forces in the U.S. will carry it on.

A general consensus is that the clean energy train  has left the station, and China is driving that train.  A January 2017  report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) is the latest to document the growing dominance of China in the renewable energy industry in   China’s Global Renewable Energy Expansion: How the World’s Second-Biggest Economy Is Positioned to Lead the World in Clean-Power Investment.  The report  states:   “The change in leadership in the U.S. is likely to widen China’s global leadership in industries of the future, building China’s dominance in these sectors in terms of technology, investment, manufacturing and employment. ” According to the IEEFA,   Chinese global investment in clean energy exceeds $100 billion annually, (more than twice that of the U.S.), and is expanding beyond Asia to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America. It cites the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 report ( Nov. 2016) to state that China holds 3.5 million of the 8.1 million renewable energy jobs globally. Small wonder when five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms, and five of the ten top wind-turbine manufacturing firms are owned by  Chinese companies.  Between 2015 – 2021,  “China will install 36% of all global hydro electricity generation capacity … 40% of all worldwide wind energy and 36% of all solar.”See a summary of the details of the IEEFA report in “China cementing Global Dominance of Renewable Energy and Technology”   in The Guardian ;  the Globe and Mail  summary   “U.S. and Canada falling behind China in race for renewable energy” (Jan. 6) rather badly understates the case .

The trend  seems set to continue.  On January 5, the Chinese National Energy Agency announced its plans for the next phase of energy investment: see “China Aims to Spend at Least $360 Billion on Renewable Energy by 2020 ” in the New York Times.

In Canada, the latest major report tracking clean energy investment was published by Clean Energy Canada in June 2016.   Tracking the Energy Revolution    reported reduced investment in 2015 (from $12 billion to  $10 billion), although renewable generation capacity grew by 4% in that time.  Even before the announcement of the Pan-Canadian Framework, Clean Energy Canada called this a “pivotal time” for renewables, and sets an optimistic tone.  That boosterism is also apparent in   “Challenge 2017: Rays of hope shine on solar industry despite ‘Trump digs coal’ mantra” in the Financial Post (Jan. 3) – a mostly anecdotal story of Canadian solar manufacturers, and  “Canada can cash in on a cleantech boom“, in the Toronto Star (Jan. 5). The Star article  applauds  a recent clean energy-focused trade mission to China by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the clean-tech incentives announced in the December 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on  Clean Growth and Climate Change, and recent federal and provincial policies that set aggressive targets for renewable energy use in government buildings and operations.

U.S. Fossil fuel workers need early retirement, guaranteed pensions, and clean energy futures

A Just Transition program of income and pension-fund support for workers in fossil fuel–dependent communities could be provided for approximately $500 million per year, according to the Just Transition proposals by Robert Pollin and Brian Callaci. “A Just Transition for U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry Workers” was published in American Prospect in July and re-posted to Portside on July 11. It estimates the numbers of jobs at risk in the fossil fuel industry, contrasting coal and the oil and gas industry, and assumes  that displaced workers will be re-employed in a growing clean energy industry. The Just Transition proposals focus on: Retirements at age 64 with full compensation; Guaranteed fully-funded pensions; and Community transition.  For coal workers, pension funds are managed through the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds, which is currently underfunded by $1.8 billion. The authors call for the federal government to  bridge that gap with funding from  companies and the government. In the oil industry, the authors call on the U.S.  Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to use its legislated  power to prohibit the oil companies from paying dividends or financing share buybacks until the pension funds are fully funded, and to place liens on company assets if pension funds are underfunded.  Acknowledging that the decline of the fossil fuel industry, already underway, will bring hardships to entire communities, they point to past experience: the Worker and Community Transition program operated by the Department of Energy from 1994 to 2004 to cushion the impact of nuclear decommissioning. Once example from that program:  a successful economic diversification program in Nevada, which repurposed a nuclear test site to what is now a solar proving ground.  Another previous community assistance program, the Defense Reinvestment and Conversion Initiative,  is deemed less successful.  The authors conclude that a Just Transition program is eminently affordable at approximately  1 percent of the $50 billion in overall public spending needed to build a U.S. clean energy economy. And they state,  “ It is also an imperative—both a moral and strategic imperative.”