Global coal use soaring, expected to set new record in 2022
In this newsletter:
1) US and EU outmaneuvered as G20 ministers fail to agree on climate targets
Reuters, 23 July 2021
5) Tilak Doshi: The West’s green energy agenda ignores the reality in Asia
South China Morning Post, 16 July 2021
Graham Lloyd, The Australian, 24 July 2021
7) How science lost the public’s trust
The Wall Street Journal, 24 July 2021
Reuters, 24 July 2021
NAPLES: Energy and environment ministers from the Group of 20 rich nations have failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments in their final communique, Italy's Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani said on Friday.
The failure to agree common language ahead of that gathering is likely to be seen as a setback to hopes of securing a meaningful accord in Scotland.
Cingolani told reporters that the ministers could not agree on two disputed issues which would now have to be discussed at a G20 summit in Rome in October.
"Commitments made today lack substance and ambition. It is now up to G20 heads of state and government to discard this document at the October leaders' summit," said online activist network Avaaz.
Italy holds the rotating presidency of the G20, and Cingolani, as chairman of the two-day gathering, said negotiations with China, Russia and India had proved especially tough.
Cingolani said that in the end China and India had declined to sign the two contested points.
One of these was phasing out coal power, which most countries wanted to achieve by 2025 but some said would be impossible for them.
The other concerned the wording surrounding a 1.5-2 degree Celsius limit on global temperature increases that was set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Average global temperatures have already risen by more than 1 degree compared to the pre-industrial baseline used by scientists and are on track to exceed the 1.5-2 degree ceiling.
"Some countries wanted to go faster than what was agreed in Paris and to aim to cap temperatures at 1.5 degrees within a decade, but others, with more carbon based economies, said let's just stick to what was agreed in Paris," Cingolani said.
The final communique, which had been due to be published on Friday, would probably not now be released until Saturday, he added.
2) EU climate plan in disarray as France opposes proposal for new carbon market
Bloomberg, 21 July 2021
France is pushing back against the European Union’s proposal to launch a new carbon market for heating and road transport, a move that worries some other EU nations and that’s quickly becoming the most controversial part of a new climate plan.
Days after the EU’s ambitious plan to tackle climate change was announced, France began lobbying behind the scenes to water down or delay the new carbon market, a central plank of the bloc’s proposal, people familiar with the matter said. Several countries, including the Netherlands and Hungary, are also concerned about its social impact, according to EU diplomats with knowledge of the talks.
Along with other European leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron is struggling to balance climate targets with his own political constraints, Macron’s government could intensify its push against the carbon plan when France takes over the EU’s rotating presidency in January.
France’s goal, the people said, is to try and build enough support to either scrap the proposal or adjust it to make room for increased financial compensation for people affected by the spike in prices the measure is expected to trigger.
see also EU climate plan dead on arrival as Hungary announces it will veto it
3) Global coal use soaring, expected to set new record in 2022
Robert Bryce, The Hill, 23 July 2021
Call it an inconvenient truth, but the global economy is fueled by electricity, much of it produced from coal, and that will not change anytime soon.
Electricity use and economic growth go hand in hand. And as global electricity demand continues to rebound in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdowns, so, too, will the use of coal in developing countries. Indeed, global coal demand is expected to set a record in 2022, which likely will hamper efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Those are the key takeaways from the latest edition of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, which was released on July 8, and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) July 15 report on global electricity demand.
According to BP, even as the global economy collapsed last year during the pandemic, electricity demand barely wavered. While global gross domestic product (GDP) fell by about 3.5 percent in 2020, electricity use fell by less than 1 percent — 0.9 percent, to be exact. By contrast, global gasoline use fell by about 13 percent, overall oil use plummeted last year by 9 percent, (the biggest decline in history), coal use dropped by about 4 percent, and natural gas use fell by about 2 percent. As noted by BP chief economist Spencer Dale, the decline in electricity use was “the smallest fall across the main components of final energy demand.”
That slight decline shows, once again, that electricity is the world’s most important form of energy. And a look at the countries where electricity demand is growing the fastest — and the fuels those countries are using to generate the power they need — shows why making drastic cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions will be a difficult, or perhaps impossible, task over the timelines that are commonly being used by climate activists and policymakers.
Last year’s decline in global electricity production was only the second time since 1985 that annual electricity generation fell; the other decline occurred in 2009. Since 1985, global electricity generation has been growing by about 500 terawatt-hours per year, which is roughly equal to the amount of electricity generated every year by France.
Electricity demand is soaring in developing countries. Between 2009 and 2019, electricity use jumped by 12 percent in Iraq, by nearly 11 percent in Vietnam, and by about 9 percent in Bangladesh. Over that same period, China’s electricity production grew by an average of 7 percent per year. At that rate, the country’s production will double in the next 10 years or so. In 2020 alone, China’s electricity production grew by 3.4 percent — the biggest percentage increase in Asia. That production was a key reason why China was one of only two countries to see an increase in carbon dioxide emissions last year. (The other was Iran.)
China and other Asian countries are relying heavily on coal for power generation. While coal-fired generation in the U.S. dropped by 20 percent last year, China’s coal-fired output increased by 1 percent. By itself, China accounts for more than half of global coal use. Coal-fired electricity also jumped by nearly 19 percent in Malaysia, nearly 7 percent in Vietnam, and about 3 percent in Indonesia.
The BP report also noted the jump in electricity generated by solar and wind in China and other countries. In 2020, China produced about 727 terawatt-hours of energy from those two sources. But China also generated nearly seven times as much electricity — about 4,918 terawatt-hours last year — by burning coal.
Those numbers reflect broader global trends. Renewables are growing and they are politically popular, but their growth is not keeping pace with the surging demand for power in a world where electricity poverty is rampant. More than 3 billion people are living in places where electricity use is less than what’s consumed by an average American refrigerator, which is about 1,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
The BP report acknowledges this gap, saying that the Energy for Growth Hub, a nonprofit group, “proposes a Modern Energy Minimum of 1,000 kwh per person, per year, which they argue is consistent with countries reaching a lower-middle income status. This is around four times greater than the U.N. definition.” It goes on: “Close to half the world’s population are living below the Modern Energy Minimum. Half the world’s population — it makes you think.”
The IEA, meanwhile, expects global electricity demand “to grow by close to 5 percent in 2021 and by 4 percent in 2022. The majority of these increases will take place in the Asia Pacific region.” It expects more than half of that growth will happen in China and about 9 percent will be related to growth in India. The agency predicts that renewables will continue to “grow strongly” but notes that they “cannot keep up with increasing demand.”
The IEA expects that “fossil fuel-based electricity is set to cover 45 percent of additional demand in 2021 and 40 percent in 2022.” It says coal-fired electricity production likely will “ increase by almost 5 percent in 2021 and a further 3 percent in 2022,” and that “coal-fired electricity generation is set to exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and reach an all-time high in 2022.”
To be sure, these facts will not please those who insist that coal-fired generation must cease to avoid catastrophic climate change. But the data from BP and projections from the IEA show that countries around the world are doing what they need to do to generate the electricity their people demand at prices they can afford.
Call it an inconvenient truth, but the global economy is fueled by electricity, much of it produced from coal, and that will not change anytime soon.
4) Thermal coal prices soar as demand for electricity rebounds
Financial Times, 23 July 2021
Supply disruptions, a drought in China and rebounding electricity demand have fired up the market for thermal coal, making the world’s least liked commodity one of this year’s best-performing assets.
Since the start of the year, the price of high energy Australia coal — the benchmark for the vast Asian market — has climbed 86 per cent to above $150 a tonne, its highest level since September 2008.
Its South African equivalent is also trading at its highest level in more than 10 years, rising 44 per cent in 2021, according to the latest weekly assessment by commodity price provider Argus.
That puts the coal benchmarks ahead of two of this year’s best-performing asset classes: real estate, which is up 28 per cent, and financial stocks, up 25 per cent. Only Brent crude, up 44 per cent, boasts comparable gains.
The resurgence of thermal coal, which is burnt in power stations to generate electricity, highlights the difficulties governments face in trying to make the switch to cleaner forms of energy.
Full story ($)
South China Morning Post, 16 July 2021
Developing countries accounted for 61% of global energy demand in 2020, with energy consumption in China alone exceeding that of the EU and the US combined. The importance of coal – that most demonized of the trio of fossil fuels – to developing countries in Asia is stark. Almost 82% of global coal consumption occurred in the developing world and developing Asia accounted for almost all of it.
The lead stories in newswires and major newspapers focused on two aspects: the impact of the Covid pandemic in drastically reducing energy demand (and hence carbon emissions) and on the continued “good news” of rapid growth in solar and wind energy capacity. The extensive coverage by the leading dailies were lacking in the far more consequential realities of the dominance of fossil fuels and the role of developing countries – which account for over 80% of the global population — in the growth of energy demand.
As energy demand collapsed with the adoption of Covid lockdowns around the world, 2020 registered the biggest fall in carbon dioxide emissions since the Second World War according to the report. Spencer Dale, BP’s Chief Economist, noted in remarks released ahead of the review that this puts the world closer to the path needed for “keeping global warming below 20C this century” but does not reflect the “decisive shift” needed to meet climate goals backed by the Biden administration, the EU and the whole host of multi-lateral agencies including the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.
While total energy consumption worldwide fell by 4.5% in 2020, the oil component fell even more steeply, by 9.3%. This reflected the collapse in demand for transport fuels in particular. In contrast, wind and solar capacity increase was described as “colossal” by Mr Dale who said that “The increase in installed capacity last year was 50% bigger than at any time seen in history, despite the world (being) in turmoil, despite the largest peace-time recession.” Mr. Dale seems heartened when he says “The trends we are seeing here are exactly the trends we’d want to see as the world transitions to net zero…”.
While much of the above seems consistent with the “energy transition” narrative, it is akin to the tail wagging the dog. After decades of government mandates and hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies in Western Europe and North America, renewables (which includes wind, solar and non-traditional biofuels) constituted a mere 5.7% of global energy use in 2020. Fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) accounted for 83% of global energy use. Even for the rich countries, fossil fuels provide an average 78% of their energy needs. Another report published last month found that the share of fossil fuels in the world’s total energy mix is as high as a decade ago despite the pressure on governments to act on climate change.
If fossil fuels dominate the energy mix, developing countries, in particular those in Asia, increasingly determine the geographical distribution of energy use.
Developing countries accounted for 61% of global energy demand in 2020, with energy consumption in China alone exceeding that of the EU and the US combined. The importance of coal – that most demonized of the trio of fossil fuels – to developing countries in Asia is stark. Almost 82% of global coal consumption occurred in the developing world and developing Asia accounted for almost all of it. China alone was responsible for 54% of global coal demand.
Perhaps the role of developing Asia in the evolution of global energy demand is best measured in incremental terms. BP data show that in the 5 years to 2019, developing countries accounted for 88% of the increase in global energy demand. Developing Asia absorbed almost three quarters of the world’s increase in energy demand in that period, with China alone accounting for 41%.
As the world emerges from the economic ravages of the pandemic lockdowns, these patterns of energy demand will re-emerge. Indeed, the early signs are already apparent. Energy demand has rebounded as covid vaccines roll out, governments ease lockdowns and passenger and freight traffic surge.
Global oil consumption is now on track to reach pre-covid levels by the first quarter of next year. The bellwether Brent crude price is now at multiyear highs of over $75 per barrel. The average Brent price for 2020 was just under $42 per barrel.
The Biden administration now faces the supreme irony of pressuring the OPEC+ cartel to open its oil taps while continuing in its quest to shut down domestic oil and gas production in the name of “fighting climate change”. The country now has the highest gasoline prices since 2014, threatening the Democratic administration’s already struggling popularity polls and its green and infrastructure spending agendas.
While Americans and Europeans pay more for oil and natural gas, the Middle East and Russia gain considerable leverage over these markets. But the most important driver of global energy geopolitics goes beyond the self-displacement of the US as the world’s leading oil and gas producer on the supply side. The juggernaut of growing energy demand from the developing countries, above all in Asia, is the elephant in the room.
The plutocrats that regularly converge at the World Economic Forum and the policy makers in Western Europe and the US have been pushing their “Global Reset” and “Build Back Better” agendas in the wake of the covid pandemic. Can they deny 80% of the world’s population from climbing up the very energy ladder that the now developed countries ascended in order to enjoy their higher standards of living and all the privileges that come along with being richer and healthier? Will they be able to block Chinese President Xi’s 2049 centenary vision of a “great modern socialist nation in all respects”, dependent as it is on fossil fuels?
Graham Lloyd, The Australian, 24 July 2021
The decade long battle to list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’ has become a contest over sovereign rights in an age of hyper active environmental globalism.
Snorkel diplomacy has delivered the Morrison government a stay of execution on the Great Barrier Reef being declared in danger. But a fierce campaign waged by opponents has exposed the lengths to which green groups will go in their bid to usurp national control of climate action.
The decade-long battle to list the reef as “in danger” has become a contest over sovereign rights in an age of hyperactive environmental globalism.
Hollywood actors, ocean explorers, business poseurs, green groups and fringe politicians have lined up against national governments seeking to safeguard natural justice in the UN process.
The reef is a potent symbol of a bigger challenge. Like every other of the world’s reefs it has been doomed by scientists as unable to survive global warming.
Australia’s most authoritative reef reports have told UNESCO that despite billions of dollars being spent, water quality targets are not being met and the long-term outlook for the GBR has gone from bad to very bad.
More recent reports from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, that coral cover on the reef is back up to levels of three decades ago, have been dismissed as a blip in an inevitable decline.
For the Morrison government, already struggling to convince the world it is a serious partner in decarbonisation, the stakes are huge. Australia claimed it was blindsided by attempts to put the GBR on the World Heritage in Danger list at the World Heritage Committee’s 44th session in Fuzhou, China.
For UNESCO, the reef is a perfect vehicle to make a larger point.
It is beautiful and internationally significant. Declaring the reef in danger would give the UN a potent rallying focus in its call for action on climate change.
In the end, snorkel diplomacy has bought the Australian government another 12 months.
Publication of a draft recommendation to list the reef as in danger sparked a frantic lobbying effort both for and against.
As lobby groups fired off letters of encouragement to the WHC, Canberra arranged for key ambassadors to visit the reef to see its condition for themselves.
Going into Friday’s meeting, 12 of the World Heritage Committee’s 21 member countries had signed an amendment avoiding an in danger listing this year: Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Hungary, Mali, Nigeria, Oman, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uganda. Australia could not propose the amendment but could still vote.
Countries on the committee that did not support the amendment were Brazil, China, Egypt, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, South Africa and Thailand.
With a two-thirds majority needed for the amendment to pass, Australia needed one other country to change or abstain.
The amendment deleted a phrase saying that the WHC “considers that the property is facing ascertained or potential danger” and it “decides to inscribe the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) on the List of World Heritage in Danger”. The revised statement said Australia “agreed to a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission”.
The amendment extended to December 2022 the timeline for an updated report.
Australia clearly is not out of hot water on the issue yet.
7) How science lost the public’s trust
The Wall Street Journal, 24 July 2021
By Tunku Varadarajan
From climate to Covid, politics and hubris have disconnected scientific institutions from the philosophy and method that ought to guide them.
British science writer Matt Ridley.
‘Science” has become a political catchword. “I believe in science,” Joe Biden tweeted six days before he was elected president. “ Donald Trump doesn’t. It’s that simple, folks.”
But what does it mean to believe in science? The British science writer Matt Ridley draws a pointed distinction between “science as a philosophy” and “science as an institution.” The former grows out of the Enlightenment, which Mr. Ridley defines as “the primacy of rational and objective reasoning.” The latter, like all human institutions, is erratic, prone to falling well short of its stated principles. Mr. Ridley says the Covid pandemic has “thrown into sharp relief the disconnect between science as a philosophy and science as an institution.”
Mr. Ridley, 63, describes himself as a “science critic, which is a profession that doesn’t really exist.” He likens his vocation to that of an art critic and dismisses most other science writers as “cheerleaders.” That somewhat lofty attitude seems fitting for a hereditary English peer. As the fifth Viscount Ridley, he’s a member of Britain’s House of Lords, and he Zooms with me from his ancestral seat in Northumberland, just south of Scotland, in between sessions of Parliament (which he also attends by Zoom).
At Oxford nearly 40 years ago, Mr. Ridley studied the mating patterns of pheasants. His fieldwork involved much crouching in long country grass to figure out why these “jolly interesting” birds are polygamous—unlike most other avians. With the Canadian molecular biologist Alina Chan, he’s finishing a book called “Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19,” to be published in November.
It will likely make its authors unwelcome in China. As Mr. Ridley worked on the book, he says, it became “horribly clear” that Chinese scientists are “not free to explain and reveal everything they’ve been doing with bat viruses.”
That information has to be “dug out” by outsiders like him and Ms. Chan. The Chinese authorities, he says, ordered all scientists to send their results relevant to the virus for approval by the government before other scientists or international agencies could vet them: “That is shocking in the aftermath of a lethal pandemic that has killed millions and devastated the world.”
Mr. Ridley notes that the question of Covid’s origin has “mostly been tackled by people outside the mainstream scientific establishment.” People inside not only have been “disappointingly incurious” but have tried to shut down the inquiry “to protect the reputation of science as an institution.” The most obvious reason for this resistance: If Covid leaked from a lab, and especially if it developed there, “science finds itself in the dock.”
Other factors have been at play as well. Scientists are as sensitive as other elites to charges of racism, which the Communist Party used to evade questions about specifically Chinese practices “such as the trade in wildlife for food or lab experiments on bat coronaviruses in the city of Wuhan.”
Scientists are a global guild, and the Western scientific community has “come to have a close relationship with, and even a reliance on, China.” Scientific journals derive considerable “income and input” from China, and Western universities rely on Chinese students and researchers for tuition revenue and manpower. All that, Mr. Ridley says, “may have to change in the wake of the pandemic.”
In the U.K., he has also noted “a tendency to admire authoritarian China among scientists that surprised some people.” It didn’t surprise Mr. Ridley. “I’ve noticed for years,” he says, “that scientists take a somewhat top-down view of the political world, which is odd if you think about how beautifully bottom-up the evolutionary view of the natural world is.”
He asks: “If you think biological complexity can come about through unplanned emergence and not need an intelligent designer, then why would you think human society needs an ‘intelligent government’?” Science as an institution has “a naive belief that if only scientists were in charge, they would run the world well.” Perhaps that’s what politicians mean when they declare that they “believe in science.” As we’ve seen during the pandemic, science can be a source of power.
But there’s a “tension between scientists wanting to present a unified and authoritative voice,” on the one hand, and science-as-philosophy, which is obligated to “remain open-minded and be prepared to change its mind.” Mr. Ridley fears “that the pandemic has, for the first time, seriously politicized epidemiology.” It’s partly “the fault of outside commentators” who hustle scientists in political directions. “I think it’s also the fault of epidemiologists themselves, deliberately publishing things that fit with their political prejudices or ignoring things that don’t.”
Epidemiologists are divided between those who want more lockdowns and those who think that approach wasn’t effective and might have been counterproductive. Mr. Ridley sides with the latter camp, and he’s dismissive of the alarmist modeling that led to lockdowns in the first place. “The modeling of where the pandemic might go,” he says, “presents itself as an entirely apolitical project.
But there have been too many cases of epidemiologists presenting models based on rather extreme assumption.”
One motivation: Pessimism sells. “You don’t get blamed for being too pessimistic, but you do get attention. It’s like climate science. Modeled forecasts of a future that is scary is much more likely to get you on television.” Mr. Ridley invokes Michael Crichton, the late science-fiction novelist, who hated the tendency to describe the outcomes of models in words that imply they are the “results” of an experiment. That frames speculation as if it were proof.
Climate science is already far down the road to politicization. “Twenty or 30 years ago,” Mr. Ridley says, “you could study how the ice ages happened and discuss competing theories without being at all political about it.” Now it’s very hard to have a conversation on the subject “without people trying to interpret it through a political lens.”
Mr. Ridley describes himself as “lukewarm” on climate change. He accepts that humans have made the climate warmer, but doesn’t subscribe to any of the catastrophist views that call for radical changes in human behavior and consumption. His nuanced position hasn’t protected him from attack, of course, and the British left is prone to vilify him as a “denier.”
Climate science has also been “infected by cultural relativism and postmodernism,” Mr. Ridley says. He cites a paper that was critical of glaciology—the study of glaciers—“because it wasn’t sufficiently feminist.” I wonder if he’s kidding, but Google confirms he isn’t. In 2016 Progress in Human Geography published “Glaciers, gender, and science: A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research.”
The politicization of science leads to a loss of confidence in science as an institution. The distrust may be justified but leaves a vacuum, often filled by a “much more superstitious approach to knowledge.” To such superstition Mr. Ridley attributes public resistance to technologies such as genetically modified food, nuclear power—and vaccines.
If you spurn Covid-19 vaccination, Mr. Ridley says he would “fervently argue” that it is “the lesser of two risks, at least for adults.” We have “ample data to show that—for this vaccine, and for others, going back centuries.” He calls vaccination “probably the most massive and incredible benefit of scientific knowledge.” Yet it’s “counterintuitive and difficult to understand,” which may explain why its advocates have been vilified through the centuries.
He cites the example of Mary Wortley Montagu, a British aristocrat, who pushed for smallpox inoculation in Britain after witnessing its administration in Ottoman Turkey in the early 18th century. She was viciously pilloried, he says, as was Zabdiel Boylston, a celebrated Boston doctor who inoculated residents against smallpox during a smallpox outbreak in 1721.
Vaccines have been central to the question of “misinformation” and the White House’s pressure campaign against social media to censor it. Mr. Ridley worries about the opposite problem: that social media “is complicit in enforcing conformity.” It does this “through ‘fact checking,’ mob pile-ons, and direct censorship, now explicitly at the behest of the Biden administration.” He points out that Facebook and Wikipedia long banned any mention of the possibility that the virus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
“Conformity,” Mr. Ridley says, “is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts, as [the physicist Richard] Feynman put it.” Mr. Ridley reserves his bluntest criticism for “science as a profession,” which he says has become “rather off-puttingly arrogant and political, permeated by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.” Increasing numbers of scientists “seem to fall prey to groupthink, and the process of peer-reviewing and publishing allows dogmatic gate-keeping to get in the way of new ideas and open-minded challenge.”
The World Health Organization is a particular offender: “We had a dozen Western scientists go to China in February and team up with a dozen Chinese scientists under the auspices of the WHO.” At a subsequent press conference they pronounced the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely.” The organization also ignored Taiwanese cries for help with Covid-19 in January 2020.
“The Taiwanese said, ‘We’re picking up signs that this is a human-to-human transmission that threatens a major epidemic. Please, will you investigate?’ And the WHO basically said, ‘You’re from Taiwan. We’re not allowed to talk to you.’ ”
He notes that WHO’s primary task is forestalling pandemics. Yet in 2015 it “put out a statement saying that the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century is climate change. Now that, to me, suggests an organization not focused on the day job.”
In Mr. Ridley’s view, the scientific establishment has always had a tendency “to turn into a church, enforcing obedience to the latest dogma and expelling heretics and blasphemers.” This tendency was previously kept in check by the fragmented nature of the scientific enterprise: Prof. A at one university built his career by saying that Prof. B’s ideas somewhere else were wrong. In the age of social media, however, “the space for heterodoxy is evaporating.” So those who believe in science as philosophy are increasingly estranged from science as an institution. It’s sure to be a costly divorce.
Mr. Varadarajan, a Journal contributor, is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and at New York University’s Classical Liberal Institute.
see also Matt Ridley: The Climate Wars And the damage to science