The World at 1°C — Positive Energy (June ‘17)

Part 3 of our essential climate justice summary of the past month

A Bhutanese woman installs a solar panel. Credit: ADB

We have some good news: coal is dead.

If you need a white man in a suit to tell it to you, here it is from the mouth of Jim Barry of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment group with $5 trillion in assets.

Barry even directly spoke out against the Adani Carmichael coal mine which we brought up as an example of the bad Australian government pursuing a bad idea to the literal end of the earth in Part 2 of this month’s “The World at 1C.”

According to BP (yes, you read that right), global demand for coal is in decline for the second year in a row. Coal production dropped by 7.9% in China and a whopping 19% in the U.S. despite “coal man” Trump being in charge.

With coal dead, things are not looking good for oil either, with France committing to cease oil and gas exploration later this year and raise certain fuel taxes.

Cities such as Melbourne are moving away from cars altogether. Credit: Jes

As electric vehicles fall in price and cities move away from cars altogether the demand for oil will fall further.

The collapse of coal has of course been hastened by another year of surging renewable energy, which contributed 40% of the total increase of world energy power generation last year.

The total global solar capacity has increased from 6GW to 303GW in the last 10 years. Credit: REN21

In the UK renewable energy contributed more to the grid than fossil fuels on several days in June. This itself is nothing compared to the Netherlands, where all trains now run 100% on wind energy.

In other 100% good news, Qinghai province in China ran entirely on renewables for a week. 5.8 million people live in Qinghai.

Fewer people live on the small Greek island of Tilos, but it is no less impressive that it is poised to go 100% renewable by installing wind and solar and creating a micro-grid to shift away from a dependence on imported fossil fuel-generated electricity.

Other feel good stories came from Vietnam, which this month installed 800MW capacity of onshore wind, and Tanzania and Ghana, which installed 30MW and 48MW of solar and wind capacity respectively.

China installed more than double the amount of additional solar capacity as the United States last year. Credit: REN21

And now in some not-so-good news, the dogmatic pursuit of hydrocarbons continues with Statoil taking up BP’s licence to drill an exploratory bore in the Great Australian Bight.

European readers should not feel any sense of superiority: EU ministers are doing their best to water down energy saving legislation which would undermine the EU’s already weak pledge to the Paris Agreement. There are also a slew of unnecessary and risky gas infrastructure projects in the pipeline from Northern Ireland to Estonia.

These types of bad energy projects are being protected by bad governments and propped up by bad banks to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Worryingly, even multilateral banks such as the World Bank continue to subsidise fossil fuel exploration and extraction, and even the Green Climate Fund risks being polluted — as the Board meets in South Korea this month, activists have been demanding that the Fund not accredit notorious coal-pushers like the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi (MUFJ).

G20 countries talk the talk on climate change, but their energy policies give them away. Credit: OilChange International

Given the persistent political support for and vested interests in the carbon economy, it is clear that market changes and tech developments alone will not wash away the oil stains we have left behind.

Rather, much more drastic steps are needed to transform the energy system, and the world, to be fairer, cleaner, and more equitable. Yes, fossil fuels might soon be replaced but some of the supposed solutions are actually more socially and ecologically damaging: mega-hydro and biofuels are killing the Amazon, for example.

There are 1 billion people without energy access. Their needs must be met as part of the global energy transformation. Credit: Patrick Bentley/SolarAid

The failure to accept that the era of fossil fuels is over will really hurt workers in those industries. But the details of the new energy system are still up for debate.

Under the current system, the energy sector is the biggest contributor to climate change yet 1 billion people lack electricity. Clearly, there is a problem not only with the energy source but with the way both electrical and political power are distributed.

Campaigns for true energy transformation take aim at the system not merely the sources it relies on. Reclaim Power will return in autumn.

Which is why it is sometimes disappointing to read, as we did this month, about renewable energy revolutions which merely replace coal with wind and so on, rather than build alternate approaches to ownership and management.

New research shows that many cities around are doing just this by turning their back on privatization of all public services and reclaiming them for the public good.

In Germany the similar idea of Energiewende, or “energy transformation” has gained much traction in recent years. Though not without challenges, as this new paper notes, it gives hope and “to give hope is more radical than to despair convincingly.”

Make sure to follow us so you don’t miss out on Part 4, which will highlight the movements struggling to stop climate change and protect life.