In recent years, “stranded assets” have attracted a lot of interest, as climate-driven changes to our physical environment amplify the calls for a seamless transition to low-carbon pathways.
More than 185 countries have agreed to leave two-thirds of proven fossil fuels in the ground, in order to meet the Paris Agreement climate target of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
“Stranded assets” are natural resources, like minerals, that have suffered from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluation or conversion to liabilities even before their exploration, causing potential market failure.
In 2017, the International Energy Agency warned that oil and gas assets worth $1.3 trillion could be left stranded by 2050, if the fossil fuel industry does not adapt to greener climate policies. The risk of stranded assets presents a major policy issue for the African continent due to the dependence on natural resources.
Ninety percent of African countries depend on primary commodities, either for state revenues or exports, and two-thirds are dependent on minerals. The continent needs a long-term strategy on the future of exposed fossil fuels and minerals, yet the discussion has been relatively absent to date.
The risk of stranded assets
Most African countries are still increasing their oil production. New discoveries of oil and gas signal possible fortunes. Earlier this year, French oil firm Total made public its discovery of a large “gas condensate” in South Africa. The gas condensate – effectively a liquid form of natural gas – is a more prized fossil fuel than crude oil. In Kenya, British oil company Tullow Oil projected 2024 as the earliest likely date by which Kenya can expect to start reaping gains from its Turkana oil.
More so, Africa’s grasp on coal is, in part, the result of its acute power shortage. Strong economic growth since 2000 has sparked a notable increase in demand for energy from the private sector to drive the expansion of job-creating industries. For the continent, a latecomer to the fossil fuel boom, arguments for “asset stranding” have the potential to influence development gains and even interrupt economic transition.
There are certain nuances to consider – some assets will be stranded due to changes in markets and investment flows, as global extractive companies and investors adjust their portfolios to meet new, low-carbon regulations. Other extractive assets are at risk due to changing consumer demand, such as the growing use of solar energy and electric vehicles in developed countries.
Climate change is equally affecting Africa’s renewable resources – forests, land, fisheries and water resources – although this deviates from the classic case of asset stranding, which is a potent threat for the non-renewable sector.
The renewable resource sector is witnessing a rapid depletion or degradation of various ecosystems – from land, water, forests, fisheries and oceans – due to the twin pressures of urbanisation and industrialisation, underwritten by high population growth. This presents a dangerous situation.
It is crucial for the African Development Bank to raise awareness of the potential impact of asset stranding for resource-dependent countries, as well as mitigating actions that could create new jobs and resilient economies in the low-carbon transition.
Renewable energy offers opportunity
A renewable energy revolution could unlock Africa’s social and economic development. However, a change in the political economy is needed to move away from the current preoccupation with big power projects, centralised electricity production and a heavy reliance on coal. More attention, for example, can be given to localised and resource-efficient energy options like decentralised, community-owned local solar, wind and biomass projects.
It is on this premise that the African Development Bank’s African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC) developed a flagship project to analyse the risks and opportunities facing the natural resource sector in Africa under various low-carbon development pathways. The centre has conducted studies on low-carbon regulatory options for the petroleum sector in Nigeria, and the mining sector in South Africa. Research shows that mining companies in South Africa are increasingly adopting energy-efficient techniques to reduce their carbon footprint, as part of the country’s national climate strategy. Similarly, Nigeria has also introduced innovative climate-friendly initiatives such as the National Gas Flare Commercialisation Initiative, which aims to capitalise flared gas through a trading scheme, while increasing power generation.
The Bank is also supporting policy reforms to minimise the risks and impact of asset stranding in general, and the low-carbon transition by:
- Ensuring complementary policies and institutional coordination among African countries in order to meet Paris climate commitments (e.g. by financing the implementation of nationally determined contributions through the Africa NDC Hub), and national extractive sector policy and regulation, as part of a broader green growth strategy.
- Leveraging existing funding to countries to attract sustainable and green financing opportunities (such as carbon emissions trading and green bonds) for climate adaptation in countries with high carbon risk.
- Introducing green components into existing Bank funding vehicles (such as natural capital and biodiversity conservation) to reduce the risks and transaction costs of accessing climate financing by regional member countries and private actors in the extractive sector.
- Climate-screening countries’ extractive sector development strategies to ensure that carbon risks are fully addressed and mitigated, as part of broader technical advisory support provided by the Bank on resilience and green growth.
The bottom line is that there will be winners and losers from asset stranding, according to the nature of the resource (fossil fuels vs “green” minerals), the level of mineral or extractive dependence, and institutional preparedness (markets, policies and skills/labour force). Policy actions by African governments in the next decade will be critical to mitigating this risk. Therefore, there is a need for regional cooperation through existing mechanisms on mineral-based development, trade and economic integration, such as the Africa Mining Vision (AMV) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Hydrogen in North-Western Europe: A vision towards 2030
North-West Europe has a well-developed hydrogen industry that could be at the edge of an unprecedented transformation should governments keep raising their ambitions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new joint report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Clingendael International Energy Programme (CIEP).
The report, Hydrogen in North-Western Europe: A vision towards 2030, explores hydrogen developments, policies and potential for collaboration in the region. It was commissioned to inform discussions among governments from North-West Europe about the potential development of a regional hydrogen market. This intergovernmental dialogue was established at the Clean Energy Ministerial Hydrogen Initiative in 2020.
The report finds that the current policy landscape provides some momentum for the transformation of the hydrogen industry in North-West Europe towards 2030, but that it is insufficient to fully tap into the region’s potential to develop a large-scale low-carbon hydrogen value chain. More ambitious policies in line with the targets defined by the EU Green Deal or the UK Climate Change Act would drive a faster transformation.
If such a supportive policy framework were to be adopted, hydrogen demand in the region could grow by a third and low-carbon hydrogen could meet more than half of dedicated production, up from about 10% today, according to the report.
North-West European countries have already made significant progress developing their vision for the role hydrogen should play in their long-term energy strategies. These countries now face the challenge of moving beyond national discussions to establish a regional dialogue, an indispensable condition to develop the fully integrated hydrogen market the region needs.
With the aim of informing this dialogue, the report identifies four priorities that should be addressed:
- Build on the large unused potential to co-operate on hydrogen in the north-western European region.
- Identify what is needed to develop an integrated regional market.
- Develop supporting schemes with a holistic view of the hydrogen value chain.
- Identify the best opportunities to simultaneously decarbonise current hydrogen production and deploy additional low-carbon supply.
Seven Countries Account for Two-Thirds of Global Gas Flaring
In an unprecedented year for the oil and gas industry, oil production declined by 8% in 2020, while global gas flaring reduced by 5%, according to satellite data compiled by the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR). Oil production dropped from 82 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2019 to 76 million b/d in 2020, as global gas flaring reduced from 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2019 to 142 bcm in 2020. Nonetheless, the world still flared enough gas to power sub-Saharan Africa. The United States accounted for 70% of the global decline, with gas flaring falling by 32% from 2019 to 2020, due to an 8% drop in oil production, combined with new infrastructure to use gas that would otherwise be flared.
Gas flaring satellite data from 2020 reveals that Russia, Iraq, Iran, the United States, Algeria, Venezuela and Nigeria remain the top seven gas flaring countries for nine years running, since the first satellite was launched in 2012. These seven countries produce 40% of the world’s oil each year, but account for roughly two-thirds (65%) of global gas flaring. This trend is indicative of ongoing, though differing, challenges facing these countries. For example, the United States has thousands of individual flare sites, difficult to connect to a market, while a few high flaring oil fields in East Siberia in the Russian Federation are extremely remote, lacking the infrastructure to capture and transport the associated gas.
Gas flaring, the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction, takes place due to a range of issues, from market and economic constraints, to a lack of appropriate regulation and political will. The practice results in a range of pollutants released into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon (soot). The methane emissions from gas flaring contribute significantly to global warming in the short to medium term, because methane is over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide on a 20-year basis.
“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, oil-dependent developing countries are feeling the pinch, with constrained revenues and budgets. But with gas flaring still releasing over 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year, now is the time for action. We must forge ahead with plans to dramatically reduce the direct emissions of the oil and gas sector, including from gas flaring,” said Demetrios Papathanasiou, Global Director for the Energy and Extractives Global Practice at the World Bank.
The World Bank’s GGFR is a trust fund and partnership of governments, oil companies, and multilateral organizations working to end routine gas flaring at oil production sites around the world. GGFR, in partnership with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Colorado School of Mines, has developed global gas flaring estimates based upon observations from two satellites, launched in 2012 and 2017. The advanced sensors of these satellites detect the heat emitted by gas flares as infrared emissions at global upstream oil and gas facilities.
“Awareness of gas flaring as a critical climate and resource management issue is greater than ever before. Almost 80 governments and oil companies have committed to Zero Routine Flaring within the next decade and some are also joining our global partnership, which is a very positive development. Gas flaring reduction projects require significant investment and take several years to produce results. In the lead-up to the next UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow, we continue to call upon oil-producing country governments and companies to place gas flaring reduction at the center of their climate action plans. To save the world from millions of tons of emissions a year, this 160-year-old industry practice must now come to an end.” said Zubin Bamji, Program Manager of the World Bank’s GGFR Partnership Trust Fund.
IEA supports Indonesia’s plans for deploying renewable energy
The IEA is carrying out a large work programme on power system enhancement with the Government of Indonesia to help it modernise the country’s electricity sector, including support for overcoming challenges inherent in integrating variable renewables like wind and solar PV.
As part of the work programme, the IEA hosted a series of webinars in early 2021 where Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and national power utility PLN could learn from other countries’ experiences of integrating and setting targets for variable renewable energy.
An introductory session on the principles of integrating renewable energy was held ahead of the country specific sessions. In this session, the IEA presented its framework for renewable integration phases to the Ministry and PLN, highlighting the different challenges often faced during renewable integration as well as what flexibility options can be deployed to tackle these challenges.
In the first country session, IEA presented the main findings of the Thailand flexibility study that the Agency carried out in cooperation with EGAT, the Thai electricity utility. The study shows that Thailand has the technical capability to integrate larger shares of variable renewables, but that the lack of commercial flexibility is a major barrier for operating the power system in a more flexible way and thus is the main obstacle for integrating large amounts of renewables.
In the second country session, the Danish Energy Agency presented its work programme with the Government of Viet Nam. The sessions focused on important aspects for integration of renewables, such as the assessing the needs and implications of reserves and forecasting. The session also included a discussion on the main learning points from the boom in rooftop solar that Viet Nam has experienced in 2020.
The third and last country session was on India. The IEA presented both national as well as state-level modelling in order to show some of the contextual differences between national models and models that focus on specific geographical regions. In India, the spot market accounts for only 10% of electricity generation, which shows that India, like Thailand, has some issues with commercial flexibility. The discussion also covered India’s level of dependency on physical power purchase agreements and its impacts on the flexibility of the power system.
All sessions were held behind closed doors to allow for an open discussion between the participating organisations on the issues of renewable integration and possible ways of addressing barriers. The IEA will continue the work with the Indonesian Ministry and PLN on this topic in order to facilitate a path towards a clean, affordable, secure and modern power sector in Indonesia.
This work in Indonesia is undertaken within the Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme.
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