FFI Perspectives

Energy and Climate Stories That Caught Our Attention in March

If you follow us on Twitter, you know that we keep a close eye on news stories about the energy transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. We’ve summarized the ones we found particularly notable in the past month. Did we miss any? Let us know by tweeting at us (@FossilFreeIndxs).

Investments

Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil and natural gas company of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the world’s largest oil and gas company in the world by revenue, revealed that it may delay its IPO date to 2019, as its desired $2 trillion valuation was brought in question. In other news, the month ended with two notable international energy deals: Masdar, also known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Korea Energy Agency on renewable energy collaboration and investment; and Saudi Arabia and Japan’s SoftBank signed an MOU to build a $200 billion solar development, which would make it “exponentially larger than any other project” in the world.

In shareholder engagement news, Pensions and Investments, citing a report by As You Sow, Sustainable Investments Institute, and Proxy Impact, reported that the environment and, more specifically, climate change, was one of the top issues that shareholders voted on during proxy season.

Divestment

March brought a significant number of divestment announcements in the UK. Three universities, Durham University, The University of Bristol, and Cardiff University, pledged to stop investing in fossil fuels. In the London area, the Hackney City Council moved towards its goal of cutting its pension fund’s fossil fuel investments in half by 2023 – by approving a £325 million investment (approximately 22% of its assets) in two environmentally-responsible funds.

Energy Transitions

There were a number of stories in March that further signaled the energy transition away from fossil fuels.

Royal Dutch Shell, our number 4 oil and gas company on The Carbon Underground 200TM (CU200) list, unveiled what they refer to as the “Sky Scenario,” which, according to the company, “illustrates a technically possible, but challenging pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.” This is an ambitious “what if” scenario designed for the purposes of achieving “net zero” emissions by the year 2070—opening up the possibility of limiting average temperature increases below the 2oC benchmark and staying within Paris’ aspirational goal of a 1.5 oC warming. It incorporates, among other factors, the relatively rapid surpassing of peak fossil fuel use combined with the aggressive expansion of renewables; the employment of carbon pricing and carbon capture; net-zero deforestation and widespread reforestation; and even takes into account major necessary changes in people’s everyday habits when it comes to energy use. While the realization of Shell’s combination of factors in this scenario has been debated, it is undeniable that the public acknowledgment of the breadth of actions required to achieve net zero emissions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement is a significant step for one of the world’s largest fossil fuel owners to take. If you’re looking for analyses of the Sky Scenario, there are several out there. We found Vox’s and Carbon Brief’s to be thoughtful and thorough.

UK-based Rio Tinto, the number 29 coal company on the CU200, completed the sale of its last Australian coal mine for $2.25 billion.

Another company on the CU200, Norway’s Statoil (number 17 oil and gas), announced that it would rebrand itself as “Equinor,” in an effort to move beyond its primary identity as an oil and gas producer.

In Denmark, Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy) has transitioned from an oil and natural gas firm to an energy utility focusing on renewables. In the process, it has reduced its carbon emissions by 67%, “which accounts for over half of Denmark’s entire CO2 reduction over the same period”—a dramatic transition, indeed.

US-based Duke Energy revealed plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 40% by the year 2030 by investing roughly $11 billion between now and 2026 into natural gas-fired, wind, and solar generation.

And finally, Bosnia, a country that has historically relied on coal for much of its energy supply, brought its first wind farm online in March, in an effort to curb its emissions and to meet the standards of the European Union, which Bosnia aspires to join.

Policy

Policy changes and developments are always useful to track, and we saw some significant ones in March. Early in the month, the White House announced that it would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Given the subsequent series of exceptions and caveats announced throughout the month, it remains unclear what the impact of these tariffs will be overall. However, it has been reported by Bloomberg and Reuters, among others, that the proposed tariffs could have a detrimental effect on the US coal, oil, and gas industries.

Meanwhile, the US Congress passed a spending bill in March that, despite White House attempts to the contrary, actually preserves funding for clean energy.

On the other side of the world, China focused its efforts on standardizing the electric vehicle (EV) industry. According to Reuters, China “is seeking to engineer a dramatic shift away from conventional gasoline cars with strict production quotas for the so-called new energy vehicles (NEVs), prompting a flurry of deals as both foreign and domestic automakers race to ensure they do not fall short.”

Research

The Royal Dutch Shell Sky Scenario and shareholder engagement reports cited above were just two of several pieces of energy-related research released in March. Here are some additional reports that caught our attention:

Leave a Reply