Like zombies to fresh brains #FossilFreeEIB
Please don’t think we’re anywhere near shutting down the fossil industry in EU just because of #FossilFreeEIB
Update: Feb 12 2020, yes this is exactly what is happening. Read on.
To make it clear: I think it’s amazing that the European Investment Bank (EIB) is trying to stop fossil fuel funding. I want to personally kiss each board member on the mouth for taking this fight. From the bottom of my heart — thank you! I hope this ushers an era of banks and other financial institutions starting to be responsible about their investments.
This blog post is only to highlight two issues that I don’t think are getting enough attention and those are:
- The 250g pr kwh limit
- The Projects of Common Interest list
Quick recap of what the EIB has decided
The EIB board has decided to stop lending money to fossil fuel projects from 2021. With two caveats:
- All projects will have to demonstrate lower carbon emissions than 250g CO2 per kWh generated to get funding averaged over their lifetime.
- Projects that end up on the Projects of Common Interest (PCI) list before 2022 will be funded.
From a quick look at it, this looks pretty tight! It should make it pretty clear that coal, oil and gas should be gone, right? Not so fast though.
The 250g limit or Peeing to keep your pants warm
Let’s look at which fuel sources could be used with this limit. The table below (IPCC, 2014) shows grams of CO2 equivalent emitted per kWh for well known power plant fuel sources.
Clearly, coal, oil and gas are gone in their regular form. But look at the bottom. If we add CCS, short for Carbon Capture and Storage, to the fossil sources — they’re all back in the game. When I read MIT’s Howard Herzogs otherwise great book on carbon capture technology I was appalled by the fact that he motivates the book and carbon capture technology with being the only technology that can keep fossil fuel sources alive and kicking. Now I see that unfortunately he’s right. From the looks of it, CCS is the only way forward for the fossil industry and the EIB decision has just made that path even more clear.
Prediction nr. 1: In EU we’re going to see (i) a skyrocketing number of fossil projects that claim to get CCS attached in the next decade and are thus eligible for EIB funding as well as (ii) we’ll see increased fossil investment in CCS research hereby (iii) muddying investments in a potential planet saving technology.
But Michael, you may ask, why does it matter if they’re using CCS if they’re below the limit set forth by the EIB?
Well.. three reasons:
- Let’s just deploy those renewables already!: While surely a step in the right direction, why would we continue burning these fuels when they’re at least 10x more CO2eq intensive than renewable sources? I really wonder what the motivation for setting the limit exactly at 250g was? Because it sure as hell looks like it was tailored specifically to CCS technology. Effectively, what EIB has helped doing is to reduce the carbon emission level of fundable fossil fuel projects in the EU by 4x from about 1000g-ish per kWh (as this is the most polluting kind of coal power) and down to 250g per kWh. Why not go all the way to renewables?
- Peeing to keep your pants warm: Remember when the hole in the ozone layer was discovered? Rapid political action ensured that those ozone destroying pollutants was removed from global markets but, alas, replaced with F-gases. A kind of gas that’s 1000s of times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. To me, this 250g limit poses the same threat. We’re replacing something bad with something slightly less bad depending on how you look at it. If that’s not peeing to keep your pants warm, then I don’t know what is.
- Enhanced oil recovery: One important and highly profitable CCS technique uses the captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. One of the most successful carbon capture companies, Carbon Engineering, have even announced that they’re going to build a plant for exactly this purpose. The idea is that you inject CO2 into an oil reservoir and in this way can get more of the oil out. Plus since you just stored CO2 underground (maybe forever as long as nothing bad happens like accidents, earthquakes, terrorist attacks etc.) the fossil industry can claim that they’re CO2 negative when they start burning that oil. What’s even worse, it might even give the fossil industry access to carbon credits (if we’re not careful), which just seems straight out deranged.
In its essence the EIB has not forced the fossil industry to do anything except adopt CCS in the EU, which they might just use for enhanced oil recovery and potentially carbon credits for big profits. While you can only hope this may shut down some smaller players, the larger one’s are just going to jump on it like zombies to fresh brains. Why wouldn’t they? CCS is their ticket to EIB money to keep that dinosaur fire burning.
The PCI List or The dawn of the lobbyists
The Projects of Common Interests list is a list of energy infrastructure projects of — you guessed it — common interest to EU member countries. It deals mainly with the transportation of energy between countries. You would think that no EU politician today with the climate crisis being so top of mind of the public would risk putting a project on that list if it’s a fossil project, right?
Well… think again. This is a screenshot from the European Commision website that shows all the fossil projects that are currently on the PCI list:
As can be seen there’s a lot of gas and oil projects there. Each of which will make it cheaper and easier to burn and utilise fossil fuels in the EU. Isn’t this a step in the wrong direction, then? Shouldn’t we start get those fossil fuel assets stranded instead of enabling the better usage of them? The fossil fuel industry need to start bleeding cash. And these pipeline projects sure aren’t going to help with that.
In addition to the list being riddled with fossil supporting projects, a draft from July 2019 did not contain this fossil fuel loophole. So who dug it? Oh it seems likely that the wonderful German and Italian lobbyists did! The fossil industry uses 200M USD every year on lobbyism and apparently they have been busy in these negotiations as well. In fact, EIBs decision was already postponed once because of lobbyists.
Prediction nr 2: (i) Increased lobbyism spending from fossil and (ii) all 50 mentioned current projects on the PCI list are approved and (iii) natural gas plants FTW in EU.
Why wouldn’t they use lobbyists? Lobbyism has worked before. I’m sure it will work again! We’re so far behind on this front. The fact that these two holes were even put in EIB’s decision is proof that of course the fossil lobbyists are going to swarm these holes like zombies to fresh brains.
WTF do we do?
Let me just take this time again to stress that I love what the EIB is doing. This is not a problem with their decision, but a systemic issue on a global political level — that we keep letting those damned fossil lobbyists and fossil fuel companies destroy our world. We must be vigilant and start planning for how to prevent the predictions above from becoming true. Should we ban CCS companies for doing enhanced oil recovery? How can we deal with the lobbyists?
There’s a danish saying that goes: “If you give the devil your little finger, he’s going to take the whole arm”. And you know what? I wanna bet that the fossil industry is going to do just that. We have to be totally and utterly uncompromising when we shut this industry down. We have to run a stake straight through its cursed black heart and bury it deep underground where it will never ever come back.