Recently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a report sketching out a ‘net-zero-by-2050 scenario’ it deems still attainable. Clearly, this and similar proposal will not lead to any true change as long as growth relies on depletable resources. But last week has been an exciting one for energy analysts and environmental campaigners around the developed world. In a short period of time, green activists grew their ranks welcoming activist investors, national courts and international organisations. But is a revolution really in the making?
The IEA’s roadmap
In the last months, many governments vowed to make their economies net-zero, cumulating to a 70% reduction in global emissions. Yet, a number of experts believe limiting global warming to 1.5° by 2099 to be unfeasible as things stand now. In fact, the globe’s temperature has already raised by over 1° compared on preindustrial levels. existing commitments would allow enough CO2 emissions for the world’s temperature to rise by over 2° C.
Unexpectedly, the IEA’s latest report claims that the “a more contained increase of up to 1.5°” is not unreachable. Thus, with its news scenarios and recommendations, the agency has become epicentre of the energy markets’ ongoing seismic changes. Controversially, the IEA suggested that to achieve this goal, the world’s energy system needs an extensive, relentless transformation.
Cities, industries and mobility
According to the agency’s forecasts, the selling of internal combustion engine cars should come to a halt by 2035. Thus, electric vehicles need to jump from 5% of total sales to at least 60% of newly-purchased automobiles in 2030. Furthermore, cities’ landscapes will have to change massively, with 85% of all residential buildings becoming net-zero by 2050.
Nevertheless, the suggested overhaul of the industrial system is even more challenging. According to the IEA, all coal plants must shut down by 2040 if not equipped with carbon-capture technologies. In addition, renewable-energy production, now at about 280GW, must surpass the 1,000GW hit mark. Not to mention that energy efficiency should improve by 4% yearly — thrice as fast as now.
These changes have to go together with a massive growth in green investments from $2tln to $5tln annuum by 2030. The money will help develop experimental technologies like carbon capture, hydrogen electrolysers and high-performance biofuels for ships and airplanes. Moreover, governments should ban all further coal, gas, and oil exploration around the globe. In the words of a European sustainability strategist, at the EIA “they are calling time on the fossil fuel era.”
Meanwhile, the world should build 10 industrial plants equipped with carbon-capture technology, three that are hydrogen-fuelled and start to produce at least two gigawatts of electricity though electrolysis each month in 2030–2050. To put these figures in context, China built 12 industrial facilities a month between 2000 and 2015. Whereas electrolysis for energy and hydrogen production is still at the prototype stage.
Boards and courts turn green
Corporate boards, established investment funds and courts across Europe and in the US are turning greener after the IEA’s report. The first sign of such a shift came from Warren Buffet’s BlackRock, the world’s largest wealth manager, allocating $8.67tln worth of assets. The fund forced London-based British Petroleum to enhance its commitment to climate neutrality and reach net-zero emissions faster. Although rejected, the motion was “a signal that a growing number of investors” want BP to reach net-zero by 2050.
Another news that attracted much attention regards Royal Dutch Shell, a $140bln oil company based in the Netherlands. The eco-friendly group Milieudefensie filed against Shell in a Dutch court along with over 17,000 Dutch citizens. The action also involved other NGOs like Greenpeace Netherlands, ActionAid, Both ENDS, Fossielvrij NL, Jongeren Milieu Actief and the Waddenvereniging. Eventually, the judges decided that the company has until the end of 2030 to reduce its emissions by 45%. This is the first such a judgement worldwide deeming oil companies responsible for their suppliers’ and buyers’ emissions too.
Any recap of those events must mention Engine No. 1, a hedge fund holding a tiny equity in Exxon Mobil. Despite controlling little more than $50mln on the company’s total $250bln capitalisation, the hedge found elected three new board members. Engine No. 1’s nominees won their sears thank to the backing of institutional investors upset with Exxon’s disappointing financial performances. Amongst them stood also BlackRock, the company’s second-largest shareholder, which supported all three of Engine No. 1’s candidates.
Governments’ climate ambiguity
In the meantime, governments are doing their best to make it look like they are following the new green tide. Thus, serious hindrances seem to be hindering Big Oil’s resolve to keep exploiting fossil fuels around the world. Still, there are reasons to doubt the veracity of their commitments.
Between lip services …
Recently, the G7 – a group of affluent liberal democracies – announced that all “international investments in unabated coal must stop now”. This declaration followed previous commitments by almost every leader of the richest economies to keep global warming within 1.5°.
The US will have “a net-zero energy grid by 2035, and a net-zero economy by 2050,” President Biden promised. In the UK, Boris Johnson launched a 10-point plan creating “green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero by 2050”. The European Commission is studying measures for a bloc-wide 2050 net zero emissions target, under the December 2019 Green Deal. Even China is prioritising green energies’ role in the post-pandemic recovery as the virus recedes.
… and prudence
Nevertheless, at best governments have paid lip services to green ideas and the perspective of going net zero by 2050. Nowadays, many of the well-educated, middle-class and wealthier youngsters who defend the energy transition seem not to understand this reticence. But governments’ generalised unwillingness to comply with mounting pressures to decarbonise and reduce their economies’ environmental impact is reasonable. After all, there are many other interests that decisionmakers cannot simply side-line. In fact, the energy transition will put growing scores of workers out of their well-paying, stable jobs in established industries. Since greener economies will provide a few such posts, many will transition to temporary, badly paid, low-skill occupations.
For instance, in the US many are making efforts to safeguard mining, refining and non-renewable electricity production. Most recently, 15 state treasuries across the US menaced to withdraw several billion dollars from institutions divesting hydrocarbon companies. Meanwhile, there are serious doubts on the UK’s plans, and China is building new coal power plants to support growth. And the same foes for the EU’s proposed Green Deal, which according to many “doesn’t live up to its name”.
Conclusion: Going green, but not so fast
That governments and private actors alike are seemingly getting on board a greener energy future is apparent. And, the IEA has just given a perfect assist to those who campaign against the continued use of fossil fuels.
However, some of the targets the report sets are virtually impossible to achieve unless States take on the costs. Boosting the sales of electric vehicles will require more and more localities to install massive recharging infrastructures. Meanwhile, residential buildings’ decarbonisation may be almost impossible in countries where the property registers are outdated — both developed and poor. Finally, the closure of mining, refining and other activities related to fossil-fuel production may come at immense social costs. In the US, the likes of Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia are greatly dependent on these labour-intensive sectors. Abroad, entire countries rely tremendously on oil and gas revenues: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Venezuela, and many others. Even wealthy societies like Norway refuse to give up on their oil exports so easily.
The agency’s roadmap is especially important in that it does not rely on unproven negative-emission technologies compensating for polluting activities. Such an unabated sort of optimism had attracted a lot of well-founded criticisms to previous net-zero roadmaps. On the contrary, the IEA’s recommendations push mostly on the massive deployment of extant technologies such as wind and solar. Yet, governments’ lack the willingness and the ability to shoulder the financial and social costs of a green revolution. Therefore, energy markets will continue in this trendless fluctuation for quite a while.
Analyzing China Solar Energy for Poverty Alleviation (SEPAP) Program
In 2014, China deployed a large-scale initiative named as Solar Energy Poverty Alleviation Program (SEPAP) to systematically alleviate poverty in poor areas including underdeveloped regions of western China. In recent years, moving the country toward technological leadership and making China the largest solar investor has been on Government’s central Agenda. While having environmental benefits associated, SEPAP is a multi-purpose project which aims to reduce poverty, promote jobs and income in rural areas, boost China’s solar market, and improve rural lives. It is noteworthy that SEPAP is a program that has harmonized the social, developmental, and industrial goals. SEPAP acquired the highest level of political endorsement after Xi Jinping pledged to eradicate poverty from China by 2020, which resulted in its ascension from the pilot program to a nationwide campaign. According to World Bank, China has lifted 800 Million people out of poverty by 2022 and contributed to the Global reduction of people living in poverty as close to three-quarters. China has become able to achieve this milestone by adopting targeted poverty alleviation strategies and by providing economic opportunities to the unprivileged people to raise their income level.
Through this initiative, China aimed to add 10GW of solar capacity by 2020, which will benefit over 2 Million people. The program targeted 35,000 poverty-stricken villages which were located in 471 counties in 16 Provinces. According to an evaluation study conducted in 2020, this program has resulted in an increase of 7%-8% in the per-capita disposable income of the county. Chinese Government investment in solar energy and using it as a strategy for poverty eradication has brought out positive results and the effects are twice as high in the subsequent two to three years, especially in Eastern China.
Three different contexts contributed to making SEPAP a priority on Government’s agenda, making a historical conjuncture. First was the political push to eradicate prolonged rural poverty in China. To combat the higher rural-urban income gap, China adopted an “industrial” approach that emphasized developing innovative industrial facilities in the unprivileged region to make them self-sufficient in the long run. The second was the significant demand for rural electrification, where former technological preferences, especially small hydropower, were no longer feasible. The third driver was the overcapacity and shrinkage of the country’s solar energy sector and the subsequent necessity to stimulate distributed solar PV installation. Before 2013, China’s solar energy sector was mostly export-oriented with a dominant share of exports in overseas markets in Europe. During 2008 Trade disputes in the EU and US combined with the financial crisis lead Chinese solar manufacturers to the brink of Collapse. So, opening the domestic market for solar consumption was launched as a rescue strategy. The officials favored the installation of the distributed, small-scale solar system that can generate energy that may be utilized locally. By 2013, China becomes the world-leading market for solar energy and by 2015, It reached a total installed capacity of more than 43.18GW. Considering the scenario, SEPAP was formulated with a strategic vision that will benefit the local people while also expanding distributed Solar PV generation and absorbing overcapacity.
In 2014, SEPAP was launched by National Energy Administration (NEA) and State Council leading group
Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development (CPAD) as two joint policies. A first policy designed two alternatives for policy implementation. Installing rooftop Solar PV systems for low-income families formerly registered with CPAD was the initial option. The other policy alternative was to build Solar Power Station on the non-arable lands near the counties and villages. Using a robust financial model described in policy guidelines, the SEPAP was funded by both Government subsidies and corporate donations as a part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. The second joint policy includes detailed guidelines for developing pilot SEPAP Projects in six provinces which included 30 counties. The provinces targeted were relatively underdeveloped while having abundant solar resources. Provincial Governments were involved to carry out the implementation process which include collecting comprehensive data on the poor household, energy supply and consumption, and quality of grid connection for each county. After the approval of plans from central governments, they were executed by the county’s government via an open bidding process. Provincial Governments’ poverty alleviation funds and policy banks’ preferential loans were utilized for the financial support of the pilot project of the Program. To ensure accountability and transparency in projects, monitoring and evaluation teams were designed by NEA and CPAD to maintain a check and balance on program activities and construction maintenance. To raise poor household income through this project, the profits gained from the sale of solar power were distributed fully among residents after Tax deductions. The policy goal also guaranteed 3000RMB of annual income per household for more than 20 years. The program created a win-win situation by alleviating the poor from poverty while absorbing China’s overcapacity of solar energy at the same time.
China’s ambitious plan to align poverty alleviation goals with the expansion of renewable energy has some serious practical concerns associated with it. Analyzing the program leads to significant gaps in policy design and implementation. The program faced severe budgeting and financial problems because of a lack of appropriate arrangements and no detailed financial mechanism was developed for post-construction maintenance of the projects. Only the central government endorsement was not enough to tackle these challenges but consistent support from the banking and bureaucratic sector was the pre-requisite for program implementation. Moreover, proper financial incentives were also required to encourage the solar companies to take lead in the construction of projects. Another challenge associated with the project was the complication in the governance structure where energy regulators took the lead rather than development officials. Misallocation of expertise affected the priorities in agenda setting of the program i.e. energy regulators based on their expertise, advocated the expansion of industrial capacity rather than looking out for poverty and development issues in the local context. Moreover, the time frame designed for the assessment of pilot projects was not enough for the critical evaluation of the success and failure of the project before its transition toward a national program.
Even though it’s a commendable approach, the combination of renewable energy technology with poverty reduction needs to be further examined through rigorous empirical studies both in China and in other developing nations. Future studies on how to integrate industrial strategies with development priorities and what governance institutions or structures might best serve these many policy goals can provide great insight into various policy alternatives that would be beneficial in the long run as well.
USA-KSA Energy War and Global Energy Crisis
The response of the USA to OPEC and its partner’s plan to reduce output by two million barrels per day was strong enough to suggest an uptick in hostilities with oil producers, particularly Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that the decision was well anticipated, Washington saw it as a strong indication from its Gulf allies that they are not likely to comply with USA’s requests to continue oil production. In fact, it has started a war between the two major oil powers to make a serious impact on the energy regime. Hence the tug of war has an impact on the global energy domain since these two are the principal role player in the energy regime.
However, prior to the 2020 election, current US President Joe Biden urged to charge Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman for the Jamal Khashoggi issue. The Trump era was quite friendly with the Saudi government. So, to confront Donald Trump Biden used the anti – Saudi stance in the 2020 election. Even the US government published a report on the issue after Biden was elected as the president. But the Ukraine war changed the landscape of global politics by introducing the energy crisis. To maintain a balanced price inside the USA, the Biden administration requested the KSA to put a bridle on the price. But despite having kept the USA’s urge the OPEC plus decided to hold the production of 2-million-barrel oil per day. It will help to move the price upward since the downward price of oil was alarming for the OPEC members. The rising oil price can determine the interim election in the USA. Hence the US responded strongly. But the KSA maintained its position. However, here the action of the two big powers in terms of energy will facilitate another round of energy crisis in the global market. The following portions will discuss the issue and what ramifications it will bring.
Strong Stance of the KSA
Suhail Al-Mazrouei, the energy minister for the Emiratis, stated to reporters following the Vienna summit that OPEC took action to assure that producers would continue to invest in new oil supply. “They have their own stories, too, in Europe,” he continued, “and in Russia. We cannot support either this nation or that nation. Moreover, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, ruled out whatever political purpose and impliedly rejected the notion that the resolution entailed any hostility toward the US or other purchasers, claiming it was not done in defense of Russia. These portray that the KSA is not showing its intent in a hostile manner rather it wants to deal the tension through diplomatic channel.
NOPEC: Reappearing on the Set
The No Oil Producing or Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) bill will allow the U.S. attorney general to sue OPEC or its members, such as Saudi Arabia, in federal court. Other producers like Russia, which works with OPEC in wider group known as OPEC+ to withhold output, could also be sued.
The decision to reduce oil production, however, has already caused President Joe Biden to express his “disappointment,” adding that he would be exploring at “alternatives” to increase inventories. Hence, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese, two senior officials, issued a joint statement urging the White House to rethink its position and support the so-called NOPEC bill, which would hold the oil-producing cartel legally responsible for any price collusion.
Releasing Strategic Reserve: Not an Optimistic Option
The Biden administration’s alternative choice is to increase the amount of oil that is released from the strategic reserve, which is currently at its lowest levels since 1984. A previously stated release of tens of millions of barrels had no effect on the market, but further releases could lead to a supply surplus that would support further OPEC production cutbacks.
The Russia Factor
Washington commentators spouted accusations of Saudi Arabia “siding with Russia” after the OPEC+ announcement of relatively small production cuts. In a statement, the Saudi foreign minister revealed that the U.S. asked OPEC+ to delay announcing its production cut by a month and said that he rejects such “dictates” from Washington.
Moreover, according to OPEC, the decision is simply technical and for maintaining market stability. However, the US administration was enraged because Alexander Novak, the deputy prime minister of Russia and minister of energy, was present at the OPEC+ summit in Vienna. According to sources at OPEC, the US attempted to exert pressure on Austria to forbid his attendance, but OPEC+ members vowed to relocate the organization’s headquarters from there if its integrity was not upheld.
According to analysts, rising oil prices prior to a price cap would be advantageous for Russia, the largest non-OPEC producer. At least the discount starts at a higher price level if Russia is forced to sell oil below market value. Early in the year, high oil prices somewhat offset the sales Russia lost as Western consumers avoided its supplies. Additionally, the nation has been successful in redirecting almost two thirds of its traditional Western sales to buyers in nations like India.
However, as oil prices and sales volumes dropped, Moscow’s revenue from oil decreased from $21 billion in June to $19 billion in July to $17.7 billion in August, according to the International Energy Agency. The price limitations would further undermine a significant source of income since oil and gas revenues account for one-third of Russia’s federal budget.
Ramifications: “Weaponization of Oil”
The world will experience a surge in demand for oil. Besides, the global politics will divide into two separate blocs, though already the polarization is vivid enough. There are other ramifications of the war.
Firstly, The Biden administration plans to “re-evaluate” America’s eight-decade-old alliance with Saudi Arabia because of last week’s OPEC+ decision to cut oil production. But the White House posturing looks like a bid to distract from the effects at home of Washington’s failure to pursue a successful transition to clean energy.
Immediately following the OPEC+ decision, Roger Diwan, an analyst with S&P Global Commodity Insight, claimed in a note that the cuts represented a “weaponization of oil” and that the meeting’s timing and location were an intentional signal: The deputy prime minister of Russia, who is subject to US sanctions, was present to discuss limiting the oil supply as winter approaches and Russia has already militarized its gas deliveries to Europe. The confrontational course taken by Saudi Arabia will increase the price risk for oil.
Secondly, a shift in the gulf’s policy domain will be experienced. Some in the US perceived the decision as a failure of Biden’s Gulf policy because it was taken just over two months after Biden’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman in Jeddah. The ruling Democratic Party was anxious about the Congressional midterm elections in addition to the conflict in Ukraine and the economic sanctions against Russia. With opinion surveys indicating that Republicans might win majorities in both the House and the Senate, high gas prices at the pump only worsen their already bleak prospects.
Thirdly, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister cautioned in a deliberate response to the American response that US-led plans for a price ceiling on Russian shipments are fanning the uncertainty that prompted OPEC+ to its largest output cut in two years. The perception that the next two months would be “a period of uncertainty” is increased by “the lack of details and the lack of clarity” regarding how the price ceiling will be put into place. People have no idea how the market or the participants would respond.
Fourthly, according to some Gulf sources, the “strategic alliance” between the US and Gulf nations will prevent the situation from turning into a full-blown energy crisis. They even assert that everything will “cool off” following the midterm elections later this month.
Sixthly, the USA will search for alternative sources in the African region for maintaining supply-chain of oil and gas. The visit of Biden to the African states was a sign of newer sources to ensure the security of commodities like oil.
Finally, the energy war is empowering the movement for renewable energies facilitated by the USA inside and outside the USA. The initial election mandate for the US president was to enable more renewable energy sources.
Moreover, higher oil prices will unavoidably exacerbate the inflation problem that central banks around the world are trying to solve, and they will affect the decision to raise interest rates even further to slow down the economy. That might increase the price of gasoline globally and intensify an energy crisis in Europe and the rest of the world that is mostly related to Russian reductions in natural gas supplies used for heating, electricity, and manufacturing.
In the end, it is a reality for the developing and underdeveloped nations, that they will suffer the most. Reserve shortage, high inflation, high food price, and a prolonged energy crisis are what they might expect from the situation.
Russia-Turkey: Gas partnership as an answer to Western sanctions
In early November, the European Union extended for the umpteenth time its sanctions against Turkey for another year for Ankara’s allegedly illegal exploration of gas fields off the coast of Cyprus.
The EU is understandably obliged to protect the interests of its member nations, in this case, of Greece and Cyprus, but I believe that this latest move by Brussels should be viewed in a broader context. The issues of extraction, transportation and supply of natural gas have already acquired a distinct political dimension in the world.
“We could move the lost volume of transit through the Nord Streams along the bottom of the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea region … by creating the largest gas hub for Europe in Turkey, if, of course, our partners are interested in this,” Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said, when addressing the plenary session of the Russian Energy Week International Forum. His Turkish counterpart enthusiastically accepted the offer.
Notably, the “gas” issue has more than just economic or political significance for Turkey. It has also become a sort of a metaphysical symbol of its success in the international arena. Ankara has long outlined its goal of becoming a major transportation hub, and if possible, the seller of natural gas to Europe, and is working hard to make this happen. Right now, there are seven main gas pipelines running through Turkish territory, four operational LNG terminals, and the country’s own gas fields in the Black Sea that are being actively developed by Turkey, which plans to put the first of these gas fields into operation within a month.
Not everyone believes the Turkish reports about the “huge reserves” of natural gas in the country’s territorial waters, though. Some skeptics even joke that Gazprom will lay a pipe to these fields, and BOTAŞ (the Turkish analogue of Gazprom) will simply latch onto it.
Meanwhile, in an interview with TRT Haber, Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Fatih Donmez, said that “in the event of an increase in demand, Russian gas alone may not be enough.” Therefore, Ankara is currently in talks with other suppliers of pipeline and liquefied natural gas in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and even Southeast Asia – about half a dozen in all. Given this vast geography, the logistics of supplies will be fairly complicated though, but Ankara’s plans to hold a conference with potential gas suppliers for the proposed hub early next year proves the seriousness of its intentions.
By implementing this project, Ankara expects both to receive relatively inexpensive gas and also payment and even commissions for the sale of Russian fuel to the European market. And of course, Turkey would not be Turkey if, just days following President Putin’s abovementioned statement, the country’s Treasury and Finance Minister, Nureddin Nebati, did not reiterate its request for a discount on Russian gas and for a deferral of payments for its supplies.
Meanwhile, Hungary and Serbia continue to buy Russian gas, while the European Commission has officially banned its purchases – politics in the West today prevails over the economy. At the same time, many countries are willing to purchase Russian gas, but subject to the observance of “sanction propriety,” and the proposed hub where gas from different suppliers will inevitably be mixed, will help observe this “propriety.”
As for Turkey’s relations with Western allies, both the US and the EU have repeatedly and persistently invited the Turkish leaders to join the anti-Russian sanctions, which is something Ankara has so far carefully avoided.
Almost a week after Putin and Erdogan agreed to set up this hub, US Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Elizabeth Rosenberg visited Ankara and Istanbul to discuss “a range of topics, including the sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia by a broad coalition of over 30 countries, energy security, anti-money laundering policy, and countering the financing of terrorism. These meetings affirmed the importance of close partnership between the United States and Turkey in addressing the risks caused by sanctions evasion and other illicit financial activities,” the US Treasury Department said.
Starting from June, US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo and European Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union Mairead McGuinness traveled to Turkey with approximately the same agenda.
At the same time, Washington and, at its suggestion, Brussels are ramping up economic pressure on Ankara, above all on its banking sector. As a result, Turkish banks were forced to refuse to service Russia’s Mir cards, periodically returning payments in dollars and euros to Russian payers, even if they go via correspondent, almost entirely Western banks. There is always a way out though, and work is now underway to resume accepting Russian bankcards, and payments are easily made in rubles. Such transactions are not tracked by financial regulators in the United States and Europe.
As for Ankara itself, it has its own means of counteracting this. Europe has fresh memories of Recep Tayyip Erdogan once opening the “gate” for hundreds of thousands of Asian and African migrants, and due to the “obstinacy” of the Turkish leader, NATO is still unable to take in Sweden and Finland.
Turkey, like probably no other country in the world, is interested in maintain sustainable economic ties with Russia. Therefore, it is safe to assume that it will continue to resist pressure brought to bear by the Western allies, even if at times it comes under their “friendly fire.”
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