Denmark lays down the law, Rural climate values, Dominion embraces ESG & Clean energy's human rights problem

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate


(source: Twitter/Denmark Government)

GOVERNMENT

The law that could make climate change illegal


Imagine this: it’s 2030 and a country has just missed its target for cutting carbon emissions, that was set back in 2020. People are frustrated, but several governments have come and gone since the goal was set.

The short-term cycles of government can be a real problem for climate change. Even if climate goals are laid down in law, there can often be few concrete measures to stop a succession of governments from taking decisions that collectively end up with them being missed.

But a new and ambitious climate law recently passed in Denmark tries to find a way around this problem, and some of the other common pitfalls of climate laws. It makes Denmark one of a small number of countries beginning to provide new blueprints of how government can genuinely tackle climate change. Its law could turn out to be one of the closest things yet to a law that would make climate change – or at least the lack of effort to stop it – genuinely illegal.   

In 2019, Denmark’s new government began work on an ambitious climate law, which came into force in June. It is one of the strongest laws of its kind in the world, because it avoids five (5) big pitfalls of climate laws elsewhere:

1. Timing

How can a climate law avoid the scenario of a country setting a goal 10 or 20 years into the future but failing to actually meet it?

The Danish law has several safeguards to this end. Every year, the government will need to find a majority parliamentary approval of its global and national climate strategies.

2. Fair share

Denmark’s new law uses an evidence-based approach to what share of the global emissions cuts it is responsible for. Calculating the “fair share” of emissions reductions needed from each country is complex and varies depending on the method used for divvying out responsibility.

Denmark’s climate plan makes a genuine attempt to calculate their fair share, finding that it should reduce emissions 70% by 2030, based on 1990 levels. This legally binding science-based target is the backbone of its new law.

3. Net zero

Global emissions will need to reach “net zero” around 2050 to stay on track for 1.5C, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Any greenhouse gas emissions still occurring in 2050 will need to be balanced out with the same amount of emissions removal from the atmosphere.

Denmark’s goal for net zero is 2050 does not include buying emissions “offsets” from other countries. Denmark’s promise to achieve all emissions cuts within its own borders gives its plan stronger credibility. 

4. Borderless Emissions

Climate change is a global problem – if it is not tackled everywhere, it will affect everyone. Denmark’s new law has a commitment to support other countries in cutting their emissions. It requires climate change to be integrated into foreign development aid and trade policy, and for the climate impacts of Danish imports and consumption to be considered. The details of exactly how this international dimension will work are now being negotiated in parliament.

5. Green lens

Denmark’s law has a “checks and balances” safeguard to make sure positive climate efforts in one part of its government aren’t undermined by those in another.

Denmark’s law aims to ensure all policies support green sustainable development. It establishes a standing committee on “green transformation” to screen the sustainability of all ministries, including the foreign affairs ministry.

Denmark is also making efforts to include businesses and the public in its plans. A “public climate council” of 99 people will be invited to help shape climate plans.

Denmark also has a movement trying to get climate change into its constitution, which has only been changed twice in the past 100 years. Go much deeper here LINK.

Creed Comments: This is an aggressive, progressive move by the Danish people. The Scandinavian nations continue to lead on carbon and climate policy and economics. What makes them different from other western nations? Ping me if you have an opinion - I’d like to hear your thoughts.


Issue No. 35 - July 12, 2020

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate.

My name is Walter McLeod, and thanks for joining our tribe! We hope to hear from you as we navigate this weekly journey through the good, bad and ugly of carbon and climate. 

Summer is here and the heat is on - temperatures are hovering between 90 and100 degrees as we approach another record-setting month. The covid-19 is rearing its head again, as nationwide infections increase - my sincere prayers for readers and their loved ones touched by this wretched disease.

In this issue, we feature a new survey of rural America’s views on climate change, which may surprise you. We also cover a groundbreaking new law that could make climate change violations illegal. ESG is back in focus with the historic doubling down on decarbonization by Dominion Energy. And finally, clean energy companies get called out for a shameful human rights record. As always, I hope you like the menu.

As always, feel free to ping me at mcleodwl@carboncreed.com.

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Now, LET’S DIVE DEEP!


INSIGHTS

Climate policies that rural Americans (republicans) support

Most people “agree to disagree” when it comes to discussing religion and politics. Many would add climate change to that list. However, new research indicates that rural, conservative views may be shifting on climate.

A 2020 survey of American voters, conducted by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute and the University of Rhode Island, focused on the rural Midwest region of the country, examined deeply how people living in this part of the U.S. feel about climate change and public policies. What they found suggests that rural Americans, particularly farmers, aren’t at all unconcerned about the environment, but they are more likely to support policies presented in certain ways.

Rural America and the agricultural industry in particular are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change; increased frequency of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and heat waves can easily wipe out an entire year’s work. But the demographics of rural America are not representative of the nation as a whole.

(source: Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University)

This survey took a demographically representative survey of the rural Midwest, and found that it was 95 percent white, nearly 60 percent over the age of 50, and 48 percent Republican. (Nationwide, those numbers are: 60 percent white, 34 percent over 50, and 30 percent Republican.) 

The survey found that rural Americans, despite declaring climate change less important to them than other American demographic groups, are not necessarily opposed to progressive climate policies. Essentially, if policies aren’t explicitly labeled as broad climate change packages, rural voters often support them; there is a significant amount of distrust of the federal government and of “climate change” as a concept, which is often seen as politicized.

In general, rural Midwesterners approved of messaging that was aimed at farmers. Respondents connected with emphasizing that these policies—like creating wind or solar production facilities on farmland—actually help farmers survive during a period when being a farmer is insanely difficult. Mostly, the respondents want to be included, want to hear how these policies can help farm life survive and improve. It’s not a crazy idea, and it’s not impossible. 

Rural Americans, and farmers especially, are in favor of that kind of thing; why wouldn’t they be? But the way that messaging is presented is vital. Go deeper here LINK.

Creed Comments: This is an excellent study and I strongly recommend you read the full 21-page report. It supports my long-held view that once we learn to talk less and to listen more on climate, we will find common ground.


CORPORATE CITIZENS


(source: Christina Noriega/NACLA)

Clean energy has a “human rights” problem


Land seizures. Dangerous working conditions. Mistreatment of native populations. For decades, such practices were associated in the public mind with the oil and gas industries. That perception in turn undermined confidence in fossil fuels and, as climate change worsened, helped set the stage for a widespread boom in the renewable-energy business.

Now that business is itself under scrutiny — and for some of the same practices.

According to a new report, at least 197 allegations of human-rights abuses have been leveled against renewable-energy projects in recent years, including land-grabs, dangerous working conditions and even killings. Meanwhile, many of the world's largest publicly held solar and wind companies are failing to meet widely accepted human-rights benchmarks.

The report comes from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, a London-based group that promotes human rights in the corporate world and which has been scrutinizing the renewables business for several years. In 2019, the group documented 47 attacks, ranging from frivolous lawsuits to violence, on individuals who raised concerns about human-rights abuses in the industry. That ranked fourth, behind only mining (143 attacks), agribusiness (85) and waste disposal (51).

Such incidents are especially disheartening because of the hopes that many have invested in the renewables industry. Activists and policy makers have long viewed green energy not just as a means of improving the environment but of mitigating injustices connected to fossil fuels, whether from air pollution, abusive labor conditions or land seizures that disproportionately affect indigenous and low-income communities. From this perspective, a “green economy” didn’t only mean decoupling economic growth from fossil fuels; it also meant healthier neighborhoods and jobs.

An inability to curtail human-rights abuses could dash those hopes. And that should serve as a warning for the entire industry, especially as calls for a “green” recovery from the Covid-19 recession intensify. Such abuses have altered public perceptions of other sectors, including apparel and IT, and could surely undermine green businesses too.

As a start, clean energy companies and industry bodies should embrace human-rights policies in line with international standards. A lack of such policies, the report found, “strongly correlates with allegations of abuse.”  Go deeper here (subscription) LINK.

Creed Comments: There is no excuse for this conduct in the clean energy sector. This is why our newsletter has strongly advocated for strong ESG standards and reporting across all industries, including clean energy. Kudos to Bloomberg’s Adam Minter for covering this important subject.


Environment, Social and Governance (ESG)

Dominion points to ESG as key factor in decision to off-load gas assets


Dominion Energy announced the sale of its natural gas transmission and storage business to Berkshire Hathaway Energy on July 5 in a deal with an enterprise value of about $9.7 billion, including the assumption of $5.7 billion of debt.

Dominion pointed to the growing importance of environmental, social and governance practices as one of the “key considerations” in weighing the sale of its midstream gas assets and narrowing its focus on cleaner energy resources.

“In reviewing this transaction, in the context of our long-term strategic direction, we weighed several key considerations, including the value to our industry-leading ESG-focused strategy,” Dominion Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Farrell II


The move came on the same day that Dominion and Duke Energy Corp. announced the cancellation of the 604-mile Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline project based on ongoing delays from legal and regulatory challenges as well as increasing cost uncertainty.

“Our company continues to evolve, allowing us to focus even more on serving our customers and positioning us for a bright and increasingly sustainable future,” Farrell said. “We believe that Dominion Energy offers one of the industry’s most compelling profiles for ESG-focused investors and stakeholders.”

In February 2020, Dominion set a net-zero emissions target for its power generation and natural gas operations and outlined plans to shut down coal plants and ramp up investments in renewables.

For the near term, the Richmond, Va.-headquartered company targeted a 65% reduction in methane emissions by 2030 and an 80% cut by 2040 from 2010 levels.

The energy giant has outlined up to $55 billion in growth capital between 2020 and 2035 supportive of its net-zero emissions plan, including billions tied to the development of offshore wind.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act, which took effect July 1, requires Dominion to retire all electric generating units in the state “that emit carbon as a by-product of combusting fuel to generate electricity” by Dec. 31, 2045. Dominion Subsidiary - Dominion Energy Virginia, must procure 100% of its retail electricity from renewable resources by 2045, minus any demand met by other carbon-free resources. Go deeper here LINK.

Carbon Creed: I am proud to have played a small role in this epoch policy transition to clean energy in Virginia. Over the past 5 years, many dedicated folks have contributed greatly to this moment. Virginia is just the beginning of a national decarbonization movement that is going to sweep the nation.


RESOURCES


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