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Daily Briefing

23.10.2019
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING ExxonMobil faces trial over allegations of misleading investors on climate crisis
ExxonMobil faces trial over allegations of misleading investors on climate crisis

News.

ExxonMobil faces trial over allegations of misleading investors on climate crisis

Many publications cover the ExxonMobil trial in New York City. The local attorney general is taking the fossil fuel giant to court due to the company allegedly obscuring from investors the costs it will incur as a result of government emissions rules. The Guardian notes this is “just the second time” a climate-related case has gone to trial in the US. In the court room’s “opening salvos”, the Financial Times reports Exxon’s argument that New York has “hunted in vain” for proof the company made “material misstatements about its climate change risks”. In return, the paper says the attorney general alleged internal estimates for future greenhouse gas costs differed from the company’s public statements. The New York Times says the trial comes after a “sprawling investigation” that drew in millions of pages of documents and allegations of a chief executive’s secret email account. The paper includes a comment from the attorney general’s lawyer Kevin Wallace, who argues that “the gap between what Exxon said it was doing and was actually doing was significant, and had an impact on the bottom line”. According to the Wall Street Journal, the oil company’s attorney described the case as “sad, bizarre and twisted”. InsideClimate News concludes that, whatever the outcome, the case is “sure to be cited in major climate cases to come” concerning energy companies contributing to the costs imposed by rising seas and extreme weather linked with climate change.

Meanwhile, a report by a team of academics that explains how Exxon “deliberately misled Americans about climate change” is discussed in a DeSmog piece, which says the report walks readers through “what Exxon knew, what it did, and most importantly, what we can do about it”. Vice also features the report, and mentions the involvement of former US secretary of state and former Exxon executive Rex Tillerson.

Another climate case, reported by the Hill and involving a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore against a group of 26 major oil companies that includes Shell and Chevron, will now proceed after the Supreme Court rejected their request for a stay.

Additionally, former BP chief executive John Browne tells the Financial Times that energy companies will need to transition away from fossil fuels faster as public opinion has turned strongly against the oil and gas industry in the past 18 months. A piece in DeSmog reports on the creation of “a new dark money group” called The Empowerment Alliance that has launched with the goal of promoting “America’s energy independence” by pushing natural gas.

The Guardian Read Article
Trudeau’s likely pact with pipeline foes spurs oil sector angst

Bloomberg reports comments by an array of representatives from the Canadian energy industry who are concerned by the prospect of the newly elected Liberal government being forced to share power with “parties that are more stridently in favour of fighting climate change”. The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) under Jagmeet Singh is expected to work with the Liberals, as combined the two parties have “more than enough seats to form a majority’, the piece notes. It recalls statements made by Singh that the federal government should not be allowed to push through pipelines in provinces that do not want them. “This result brings a significant amount of uncertainty for the industry for a significant amount of time,” Whitecap Resources Inc. CEO Grant Fagerheim said in an interview, quoted by Bloomberg. “These results will be perceived as a negative for all businesses across Canada, but especially for the oil and gas sector.” A piece in Reuters quotes Tim Pickering, chief executive of Auspice Capital Advisers, which manages a Canadian crude oil exchange-traded fund, who describes the election result as “the worst possible outcome”. “We have got a Liberal minority and the balance of power shifts to the NDP and the Greens, who are completely opposed to any progressive energy policies,“ he says.

Another piece in Reuters notes that the Liberals did not win any seats in either of the two western provinces of Alberta or Saskatchewan, the “heart of the struggling oil industry”.

Bloomberg Read Article
Fracking 'years behind schedule' despite £32m cost

Several UK publications cover a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) examining the progress that has been made by the nation’s fledgling fracking industry in recent years. According to BBC News, the government spending watchdog found that while £32.7m has been spent supporting fracking since 2011, only three of the 20 wells expected by the middle of next year have materialised. The Financial Times notes that of that money more than £13m in less than two-and-a-half years had gone on police forces in the north of England providing security at shale gas sites. ITV News notes that protesters and public concern over environmental impacts have “long thwarted” the ambitions of companies trying to extract shale gas in the UK. The Times focuses on the NAO’s statement that the government “made false assurances” that the Environment Agency would be able to pursue fracking companies and landowners for restoration costs at shale sites. The paper’s coverage also notes that the report questions government claims that fracking would yield economic benefits and be consistent with the UK’s climate targets. Under the headline “fracking farce”, the Daily Mail reminds readers that David Cameron’s government predicted the development of a £33bn fracking industry with 64,500 jobs.

Meanwhile, a Guardian piece reports that the UK to use £1bn intended for green energy to support Argentina’s “controversial” fracking industry. According to records obtained by Friends of the Earth via a freedom-of-information request, loans intended to support “infrastructure, green energy and healthcare” are instead part of a government plan “to prioritise support for major oil companies, including Shell and BP”.

BBC News Read Article
Extinction Rebellion 'autumn uprising' protests cost Met police £21m

Policing Extinction Rebellion’s latest London climate protests cost £21m, more than the annual cost of the city’s violent crime taskforce, according to comments made by Met commissioner Cressida Dick and reported by the Evening Standard. According to the Daily Telegraph, this includes £3.5m for overtime, nearly £6m for officers drafted in from other forces and £11.8m in staffing costs. The Guardian reports that the autumn figure comes on top of the £16m spent on policing XR protests in April, bringing the total spent to £37m so far. The paper also quotes group spokesman Rob Cooper, who says the government “should look at how they spend money”, citing £10.5bn spent each year subsidising fossil fuels by the UK government, according to European Commission figures. An editorial in the Sun attacks London mayor Sadiq Khan for supporting the protests and says the violence against activists at Canning Town tube station “showed what the public really thinks of this eco cult”. MailOnline reports that the group plans more protests in the two week run-up to Christmas, with actions targeting Trafalgar Square and Oxford Circus.

Separately, a piece by Dr Oz Gore in the Conversation explores how changes to the UK justice system in the wake of austerity have “boosted” the state’s ability to counter Extinction Rebellion’s protests.

Evening Standard Read Article
China feeds coal addiction with 17 new mines this year

The Times reports on analysis showing the amount of money allocated to large infrastructure projects by the Chinese government has doubled this year. Among the schemes given a total of £83.9bn are airports, high-speed rail lines and 17 new coal mines, “despite Beijing’s pledges to reduce reliance on the power source”, the paper notes. It adds that while seven more mines were approved last year, China – the world’s biggest coal consumer – has vowed to cap carbon emissions by 2030. Reuters says China’s coal imports have already risen 9.5% in the first nine months of 2019 to 250.57 million tonnes, according to customs data.

Meanwhile, analysis reported by US-based climate research and advocacy group Global Energy Monitor reported by the Guardian finds the number of new coal-fired power plants starting construction across Southeast Asia has fallen over the past two years. This comes as Australia has looked to expand its coal exports to the region, the paper notes, an ambition dismissed by one expert as “delusional”.

The Times Read Article

Comment.

Canada’s election results are a victory for the planet

An editorial in the Washington Post highlights the key role that climate discussions played in the Canadian election – and particularly the carbon tax pushed by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. It notes past elections in places such as Australia where the discussion around carbon pricing is understood to have cost politicians dearly. “The narrative of political suicide now has a Canada-sized hole in it,” the editorial notes. “In this challenging political environment, the prime minister made big promises on climate change. He had already imposed a carbon tax system on Canada’s provinces and, after Monday’s results, there is little doubt it will fully phase in early next year. He pledged to plant 2 billion trees and to adopt substantially more ambitious greenhouse emissions goals — to net-zero emissions by 2050, the direction scientists say the world must go.” It notes that while the election “was not a referendum on a single policy” – the Conservatives “relied on the conventional wisdom that carbon taxes are political poison, and they lost”. “As other states and countries impose carbon prices of various kinds, that conventional wisdom increasingly looks due for revision,” it concludes.

The Guardian editorial addressing the election also mentions the importance of climate change.“The defeat of the Conservatives is good news, not only for Canada but for a world that needs a liberal counterbalance to a rightwing surge, and needs governments that will take action on the climate catastrophe, even if it falls short,” it says.

For more information on Canadian climate politics, Carbon Brief had produced a country profile that includes a section discussing the carbon tax.
Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article

Science.

The greenhouse gas impacts of converting food production in England and Wales to organic methods

Shifting to entirely organic food production in England and Wales would increase overall emissions for the sector by 70%, a new study suggests. Using life-cycle analysis, the researchers find that a shift to 100% organic methods would see “major shortfalls in production of most agricultural products against a conventional baseline”. While direct emissions would decline – by 20% for crops and 4% for livestock – when “increased overseas land use to compensate for shortfalls in domestic supply are factored in, net emissions are greater”, the study says.

Nature Communications Read Article
Public perceptions of how to reduce carbon footprints of consumer food choices

A new study uses a national survey of the UK to investigate public understanding of how to reduce the carbon footprint of their diet. The study finds that rather than “effective rules”, such as eating seasonal produce and replacing dairy and red meat with plant-based products, the respondents gave “few and estimate GHG emission reductions associated with pre-selected rule relatively less effective rules, including ambiguous ones like ‘Buy local’”. In addition, when asked to estimate greenhouse gas emission reductions associated with existing rules, respondents “were less accurate…in grams rather than in percentages”, the study adds.

Environmental Research Letters Read Article
Mid-20th century warming hole boosts US maize yields

The “globally anomalous” decrease in annual temperatures in the Corn Belt of the US – known as the “warming hole” – has boosted annual maize yields by 5-10%, a new study suggests. The region experienced a “decrease in annual temperatures and a concurrent increase in precipitation during the mid-to late-20th century”, the researchers say. This “increased yields through two complementary mechanisms: slower crop development which resulted in prolonged time to maturity, and lower drought stress”, they note. The study concludes: “Our results underscore the relative lack of climate change impacts on central US maize production to date, and the potential compounded challenge that a collapse of the warming hole and climate change would create for farmers across the Corn Belt.”

Environmental Research Letters Read Article

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