Fossil Fuels Get $550 bn Christmas Present from Taxpayers

by Zachary Shahan.

Fossil fuels have dominated the global energy market and even the global economy for a long time. You would think that such mature industries wouldn’t need government subsidies — their annual revenue and profits are mind-boggling. However, with money comes power. And that money-power has a stranglehold on governments of the world such that it convinces governments to give them even more money in subsidies.

Another recent study comes to the conclusion that the total annual subsidies fossil fuel companies get from governments in the developed world comes to about half a trillion dollars. This follows a 2010 study from the International Energy Agency that found fossil fuel industries got $550 billion in annual subsidies.

It almost sounds like a joke — some of the richest companies in the world get $500 billion in government handouts. Just picture the rich, old, white men laughing their buns off about the way they have the most powerful governments in the world wrapped around their pinkie finger… or at least wrapped around the fingers that sign checks for our politicians’ election campaigns.

The latest study on this matter, Time to change the game, finds that the average resident of the world’s richest countries donates $112 a year to fossil fuel companies in the form of subsidies.

What are those subsidies for?

Well, as a press release about the new study notes, “these subsidies create perverse incentives favouring investment in carbon-intensive energy.” Yep, we’re encouraging the use of fossil fuels that harm our health, our climate, and our environment rather than using that money to transition away from these harmful sources and towards a truly clean energy economy.

The proposal from study author Shelagh Whitley is that G20 nations phase out fossil fuel subsidies completely by 2020. Whitley states:

The rules of the game are currently biased in favour of fossil fuels.

The status quo encourages energy companies to continue burning high-carbon fossil fuels and offers no incentive to change. We’re throwing money at policies that are only going to make the problem worse in the long run by locking us into dangerous climate change.

Here are just a few of the staggering statistics from Time to change the game:

  • The average subsidy provided by rich governments for every tonne of carbon is $7. This is the same as the current cost of carbon in the EU carbon trading system – meaning the carbon price may as well not exist.
  • Domestic subsidies in rich countries outstrip international climate finance provided to help address climate change in developing countries by a ratio of 7:1.
  • In some countries – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – fossil fuel subsidies are more than double the level of spending on health services.
  • In countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh, fossil fuel subsidies outweigh the national fiscal deficit.

Yep, you’ve got coal in your stocking, thanks to subsidies that have no place in a free market. Oddly, “free market idealists” never seem to complain about this matter.

Notably, G20 countries have agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, with leadership on this matter actually coming from President Obama. An agreement made in September regarding the methodology for a new peer-review process of evaluating fossil fuel subsidies. This followed a 2009 agreement to phase out such subsidies. Obviously, though, they aren’t rushing through the process… 4 years and we’ve got an agreement on a peer-review process?

For more uplifting fossil fuel info, check out: Top 10 Toxic Ingredients Used In The Fossil Fuel Industries.

All images via the Overseas Development Institute

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This article, Fossil Fuels Get Half-A-Trillion-Dollar Christmas Present From Taxpayers, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Who Are The Big 5 In The Carbon Trade?

Originally published on Shrink That Footprint by Lindsay Wilson

When we talk about a country’s carbon emissions we generally only consider those that occur within its borders. But where does the fuel for those emissions come from? And where do the products a country makes go?

In this second part of our series The Carbon Trade we look at who the big traders of carbon are. We’ll analyze the major importers and exporters of fuels and products and in doing so explain much of how carbon moves around the world, both before and after its combustion.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

The Regions Fueling the World

In the first piece of this series, The Globalization of Carbon, we noted that in 2007 traded carbon totaled 17.6 Gt CO2, or 60% of total carbon emissions. More than half of this traded carbon was in the form of fuels, in particular oil and gas.

The big exporters of fuel carbon are those regions and countries that produce more fossil fuels than they use at home.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

The big five fuel exporters are the Middle East, Russia, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Australia. Together these five regions export 63% of carbon in traded fuels.

Indeed they are each so rich in fossil fuels in the form of oil, natural gas and coal that each of them export more carbon in fuels than they create through combusting fuels within their borders.

Each tonne of oil, natural gas or coal that is exported by these regions is imported somewhere else. So let’s see where they go.

Living On Foreign Fuel

It is widely known that the US is dependent on foreign oil, so much so they banned crude exports back in the seventies oil shocks. But the US isn’t the only region living off fossil fuels from other regions.

This fact is plain to see when we look at who the big importers of carbon in fuels are.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

When taken together the countries that make up Europe (EU27) import more carbon in the form of fuels than the US. These two regions are the big fuel importers followed by Japan, China and South Korea, based on 2007 data.

Together these five regions import a staggering 71% of all carbon traded as fuels.

China is the World’s Factory

Now that we have seen how carbon is traded before it’s combusted, it is worth looking a how it is embodied in the trade of products after its combustion. For clarity’s sake products in this case means both goods and services though the former dominates.

In the last two decades exports of Chinese made products have exploded, driven on by cheap labour, capital controls and government subsidies. This phenomenon is plain to see in the data for carbon in exported products.’

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

In 2007 the carbon embodied in China’s exports of goods and services totalled 1,556 Mt CO2. About the same as the exports of the United States, Europe and Russia combined.

Although these five regions accounted for a healthy 58% of the trade of carbon embodied in products it is as a general rule less centralized than is the case for fuels.

Europe and the US Buy the World’s Stuff

If China is the big exporter of carbon embodied in products it will surprise few that the US and Europe are the big buyers.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

In 2007 there was 1,514 Mt of carbon dioxide emissions embodied in European imports of goods and services, a quarter of which came from China. The US was the other major importer, followed by Japan, China and the Middle East.

The fact that so much European and American consumption is supported by emissions that occur in other parts of the world highlights the perils of focusing solely on terrestrial emissions for climate policy. The increased outsourcing of carbon intensive production to regions with weaker climate regulation risks undermining the effectiveness of national climate policies.

Such risks also exist regarding carbon in fuels. If factors reducing terrestrial emissions result in increased exports of fuels this can undermine the effectiveness of national action. The more than doubling of US coal exports since 2006 in reaction to the shale boom is a good example of this.

Join us for the final post in the series tomorrow when we Mind the Carbon Gap between country’s extraction, production and consumption totals.

All the data used in this series is based on the recent, and freely downloadable, paper ‘Climate policy and dependence on traded carbon‘ by Robbie Andrew, Steven Davis and Glen Peters. Many thanks to Robbie in particular for providing the data.

This article, Who Are The Big 5 In The Carbon Trade?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

US Uses 11 Times More Energy Than UK

California High-Speed Rail To Have Net Zero Emissions

By Guest Contributor – Roy L Hales

This article was first published on San Diego Loves Green
By Roy L Hales

california high speed rail

Construction on the first 65 miles of California’s high-speed rail project is about to beginThat is despite a new bill from Congress’ transportation committee, which has blocked funding in 2014. The Republican-controlled House was too slow, they already provided $3.5 billion and the money cannot be taken back. Now the California’s High Speed Rail Authority has released a report stating the project will produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our commitment is to make positive environmental contributions from day one.” — Authority CEO Jeff Morales

This does not allay concerns about the impact this project would have on 11 endangered species along the route, but does address the problem of air pollution from the diesel machinery that will lay down the tracks.

“High-speed rail will transform the state’s transportation system while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing environmental benefits for years to come.” — Jeff Morales

The CO2 produced during construction is to be offset by a tree planting program. Only recycled concrete and steel is to be used and contractors will be required to divert 75 % of their non-hazardous waste from landfills.

“The contractors will also be directed to explore methods to reduce the amount of potable water used onsite. These practical activities, including anti-idling programs, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and the use of fuel-efficient vehicles are among those that have been proven effective for reducing both GHG emissions and costs on many infrastructure projects.” — Jeff Morales.

The system is to run on 100% clean energy.

“To estimate GHG emissions associated with the electricity purchased by the Authority for traction power, which is the power needed to propel the train along the rails, and facilities operations, the Authority assumed a mix of 20 percent solar, 30 percent wind, 45 percent geothermal, and 5 percent biogas (methane capture).” Jeff Morales.

Thus the GHG emission reduction is calculated in terms of the number of passengers that choose to ride the high-speed rail system rather than use a car or airplane.

The Report’s Summary of Findings
The Report’s Summary of Findings.

“This analysis of greenhouse gas reductions clearly demonstrates that the high-speed rail project is an integral part of California’s overall climate goals,” said California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols. “This project will serve in the near term as the backbone of a more sustainable growth strategy in the San Joaquin Valley, and over time will provide a climate-friendly transportation option linking southern and northern California.”

“This report details important steps that the High-Speed Rail Authority is taking to curb greenhouse gas emissions in California and embrace renewable energy during operations,” said Brian Kelly, Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. “High-speed rail is a key part of meeting the state’s mobility, safety and sustainability objectives.”

In Europe, where high-speed rail systems have been is use for decades, they also have a track record of stimulating local economies.

“Lille diversified into knowledge-intensive, service-producing activities once it was connected via high speed rail to London, Paris and Brussels. High-speed rail investment helped the city turnaround from depopulation and declining economic sectors. After being connected to high-speed rail in 1981, Nantes has evolved from an industrial port to a major service sector hub and one of the world’s most livable cities.”

California high speed rail map complete

If the high-speed rail system proceeds according to plan, by 2029 it will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles. The cost for this first phase of construction is estimated at $68 billion. Phase two, which will extend the system to cover the 800 miles between Sacramento and San Diego, is to come later.

Yet there may be opposition in the Republican dominated House, which has just axed the funding for a similar project connecting Las Vegas to California.

“At a certain point, they have made it very clear that they are going to need $38 billion in federal funds,” said Jeff Denham, Chairman of the House Railway Committee.“

(Read “San Diego and the hoped for Resurgence of passenger trains“)

Graphs and images taken from the California High Speed Rail Authority Report, Contribution of the High-Speed Rail Program to Reducing California’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels (June 2013).

Air quality forecast to get worse until 2060 – then improve

Air quality forecast to get worse until 2060 – then improve | 03/06/2013
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Every year, large amounts of man-made (anthropogenic) greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and other, more deadly gases, are added to the Earth’s atmosphere

air pollution 2
Most of the world’s energy supply is fossil fuel based (86.2%). However, recent successes in renewable energy foretell a ‘cleaner’ future energy mix. Image courtesy of: http://www.drsoram.com

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, mankind has been adding evermore CO2, coal soot, wood smoke, and other airborne emissions to the atmosphere. But in recent decades have we been adding more greenhouse gases to the planet’s natural systems than they can absorb.

For example, last year, human beings contributed a total of 37 Gigatons of CO2 (and CO2 equivalent) gases to the atmosphere.

Less than half of this total was absorbed by what is termed ‘The Commons’ – which is manifested in this case, as the combined ability of the world’s oceans, forests and grasslands to absorb those emissions.

In brief, ocean plankton, the world’s forests, and grasslands, take in CO2 – and produce life-giving oxygen in return. All the world’s ocean plankton, the millions of square miles of forests and grasslands combined, remove less than 18 Gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year.

Next year, we will contribute 38 Gigatons of CO2 and equivalent gases to the Earth’s atmosphere, and in 2015 we will contribute even more CO2 to the atmosphere. In 2016, and 2017, humans are projected to add even more CO2 to the air blanket surrounding the Earth.

Soon enough, ‘the commons’ will only be absorbing a third of all man-made CO2 production.

Which is why we have global warming and the negative consequences associated with global warming.

THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS (excerpt)
by Garrett Hardin

The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.

This dilemma was first described in an influential article titled “The Tragedy of the Commons,” written by Garrett Hardin and first published in the journal Science in 1968.” — Princeton University

The present upward trend of CO2 production is expected to continue until 2060, when anthropogenic global CO2 levels will begin to fall dramatically according to the world’s major energy companies — which have predicted that solar, wind and other renewable energy will take the place of oil and gas.

The present renewable energy production is small when measured against the total amount of conventional energy. One bright spot, is that half of all new electrical energy production comes from renewable energy. And, due to aggressive clean air regulations in countries around the world (Denmark, Germany, the U.S., Japan, and others) soon, more of the world’s new or under construction, energy power plants will be powered by renewable energy.

Some may think that we are putting ‘too much effort’ into the change-up to renewable energy, but they must remember that CO2 lingers for up to 100 years in the atmosphere — while some toxic airborne pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, H2S, and CFC’s, stay in the atmosphere for up to 50,000 years.

GWP2

Much of the CO2 and other, much longer-lived toxic gases produced during the Second World War era, are still with us — we are breathing it now and will be for some time to come.

Think about all those Gigatons of as yet unabsorbed greenhouse gases which have been piling-up — some of which last for 100 years, while other greenhouse gases last up to 50,000 years.

And we keep adding to it. Tick, tick, tick…

Why are Environmentalists excited about the Natural Gas boom?

Why are Environmentalists excited about the Natural Gas boom? | 18/03/13
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which is the cleanest fossil fuel of all?

You guessed it! Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel – and by significant margins as data from the Environmental Protection Agency illustrates in the chart below.

Fossil Fuel Emission Levels in pounds per billion Btu of energy input. Source: EPA Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998
Fossil Fuel Emission Levels in pounds per billion Btu of energy input. Source: EPA Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998

Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, can be used in many ways to help reduce the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere.

Burning natural gas in the place of other fossil fuels emits fewer harmful pollutants, and an increased reliance on natural gas can potentially reduce the emissions of many of the most harmful pollutants. — naturalgas.org

After investigating the externalities associated with conventional sources of energy and cognizant of their commitments towards clean air, many nations have begun to embrace natural gas as a stepping stone towards a cleaner energy future.

In the U.S.A., as far back as 2003 when coal supplied more than 50% of America’s electrical power, coal-fired plants have been retired more quickly than new ones have come online. By 2012, coal supplied only 38% of U.S. electricity.

Nine gigawatts of U.S. coal-fired power generation was shut-down in 2012 alone, and replaced by an almost equal amount of natural gas power generation. Emission levels from those comparably-sized replacement natural gas power plants are less than half of those retired coal-fired plants!

Many more U.S. coal-fired power plants are scheduled for complete shutdown, or conversion to natural gas over the next few years totalling 35 GigaWatts (GW) according to the experts.

Chart courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Administration — shows carbon emissions dropping as a result of switching from coal to natural gas,  2005-2012.

U.S. Carbon Emissions by Sector. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
U.S. Carbon Emissions by Sector. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Carbon emissions of all end-use Sectors have decreased since 2005 in the United States.

The largest reductions appear to be due to the Electric Power and Transportation sector’s emissions, followed by the Industrial, Residential and Commercial sectors.

[Of all sectors] “the largest reduction to carbon emissions is due to coal-to-natural gas ‘fuels switching’ and construction of higher efficiency power plants. 

Expansion of renewable power, overwhelmingly due to expanded wind power, has been the second largest factor to reduced Power Sector carbon emissions.” – theenergycollective.com

Many expert studies show CO2 emissions dropping as a result of the combined effects of many countries switching from coal to natural gas and/or renewables, 1990-2100.

Chart depicts probable CO2 levels, depending on the choices we make. Image courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell 'New Lens Scenarios'
Chart depicts probable CO2 levels, depending on the energy choices we make. Image courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell ‘New Lens Scenarios’

The change-up to renewable energy will vary by country as OECD nations continue to take the lead in renewable energy between now and 2100. Even so, total worldwide emissions will drop dramatically and the switch from coal to natural gas is one big step towards a cleaner environment.

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