Going Green and Still Pumping Oil? The Challenges of Climate Change and Potential “Solutions” For Fossil Fuel Producers

October 19, 2022
by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

We were thinking the other day about the enormous challenges posed by climate change to our global society — and therein of the challenges of meeting the ambitious goals being set by governments, the private sector, and investors to achieve “a net zero economy” by mid-century. That’s not so far away.

And so the pumping of tens of millions of gallons of crude oil every day by OPEC countries and other nations (like the U.S.A.) to meet the insatiable demands of society is not helping in the short term.  But we need the oil!

Not so far back the United States was a very different country (meaning, at the end of the 19th Century). Not so dependent on “oil” from below the ground (yes, we did rely on kerosene lamps and before that whale oil!)

The majority of people lived outside of cities, mostly on farmlands and ranches and wilderness places. Horses and boats provided the main means for transport of people and goods. (Remember stage coaches and canal boats towed by mules?) Homes were heated by wood and coal fuels.

Coming into their own in the early 20th Century: miracle developments like electric power, telephony, radio, gasoline-powered cars & trucks, powered flight, modern chemicals, modern medicines. And people were moving en masse to rapidly-expanding cities and the newly-identified “sub-urban” communities.

One such place was Queens County, New York, where some of the G&A team live and work or grew up in (today home of JFK International).  After World War One ended, 100,000 people a year (!) moved in to the new suburbs, rapidly replacing farms that dated back to Dutch settlement in the 1600s.

After World War Two ended, neighboring Nassau County (where some of us live and work today) saw the same growth pattern – in just four years “Levittown” replaced the sprawling farmlands of the former Island Trees (NY) on the largest prairie in the Eastern U.S.. (That was the Hempstead Plains.)

Which required more railroads and roads for autos & trucks to move commuters to city-center offices and factories. And so, more more more drilling for oil & gas and mining of coal.

All of this dramatically changed how Americans today live, work, and play, and s0 many aspects of our family and business lives. The same things were happening in Europe, the British Isles, Japan, and many other places.

And here we are in the 21st Century enjoying the fruits of all of this progress and at the same time trying to undo the negative sides of the sweeping progress made over the past 125 years or so.

To put some of this change and resulting challenges in perspective: TIME magazine had an essay recently about Saudi Arabia, its state-owned oil company (Saudi Aramco) and the ambitions of the world’s leading oil exporting sovereignty to lean toward green while still pumping 12 or more millions of gallons of oil per day (to help meet global demand of 100 million BBLs a day!).

Today, Saudis talk of the dreams of carbon capture, of moving to hydrogen power for autos, of building a new “green” city (NOEM) from scratch.  The Saudi goal is Net Zero emissions) by 2060!

The dreams include the desert blooming with new green (cities)…and yet that Saudi oil keeps moving to distant points on Earth through pipelines and on oil tankers. Missing: the plan to reduce oil & gas production by 2030.

To help companies around the globe to meet ambitious 2030, 2040, and 2050 (net zero!) goals. Challenging. 

To contrast the astonishing changes of the recent decades: The Saudi Arabia we know today as a top oil & gas producer was a desert kingdom populated by Bedouin tribes and often shown on maps as “the Empty Quarter”.

Discovery of oil reservoirs changed all of that – today the kingdom has a Sovereign Wealth Fund (the SWF is the Public Investment Fund) with US$600+ billion and more in treasury thanks to oil & gas pumping and invests in many publicly -traded companies like Netflix (so dependent on fossil fuels to ever more power servers!).

About the impacts of climate change and the inherent challenges of our present society to achieve solutions – we see the story-telling of this everyday now in our favorite media!

Our editors and G&A team members carefully track and curate the coverage for you in the issues of our Highlights newsletter and here in our G&A Institute Sustainability Updates blog.

In our newsletter we regularly feature many news and feature stories about the efforts of public and private sector organizations taking actions to protect the planet and help the global society achieve a sustainable (and livable) planet in the decades ahead.

That’s the good news we try to share.  At the same time, as we think about the world’s progress from wilderness1800s to dramatic changes of the 1900s and into challenges of the 2000s and the negative aspects of progress…we cheer on the strategies, policies, actions, actions of leaders of organizations in the capital markets, corporate community, activist organizations, multilateral organizations, and more to address climate change challenges.. 

Ah, to save the planet while still making progress – that’s the ambitious goal of so many now.  After all, there is no Planet B for we, the billions on Earth (at least not yet).  

Top Story:

We bring you the fascinating story of Saudi Arabia and its plan to go green while remaining the world’s number one oil exporter over the coming years: https://time.com/6210210/saudi-arabia-aramco-climate-oil/

And a personal note:  A  durable book that has been around telling the story of the first half of the 20th Century (since 1952) may be of interest to you. This is “The Big Change, American Transforms Itself, 1900-1950” by Frederick Lewis Allen. He was the long time editor of Harper’s Magazine and authored such books as “The Lords of Creation” (about key capitalists like the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and other of the Gilded Age wealthy). 

U.S. States and Cities — “Still In” to the Paris Agreement — and Great Progress is Being Made

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

This is our second commentary this week on the occasion of the first anniversary of the decision by the Trump White House in June 2017 to begin the multi-year process of formal withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris COP 21 climate agreement…

The action now is at the state and municipal levels in these United States of America.

Where for years the world could count on US leadership in critical multilateral initiatives – it was the USA that birthed the United Nations! – alas, there are 196 nations on one side of the climate change issue (signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement) and one on the other side: the United States of America. At least at the sovereign level.

Important for us to keep in mind: Individual states within the Union are aligned with the rest of the world’s sovereign nations in acknowledging and pledging to address the challenges posed by climate change, short- and longer-term.

Here’s some good news: The United States Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 17 governors committed to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. These are among the most populous of the states and include states on both coasts and in the nation’s Heartland.

The Paris meetings were in 2015 and at that time, the USA was fully on board. That was in a universe now far far away, since the election of climate-denier-in-chief Donald Trump in 2016.

On to the COP 23 and the USA

In 2017, two years after the Paris meetings, the USA officially snubbed their sovereign colleagues at the annual climate talks. A number of U.S. public and private sector leaders did travel to Bonn, Germany, to participate in talks and represent the American point-of-view. This included Jerry Brown, Governor, California (the de facto leader now of the USA in climate change); former New York City Mayor (and Bloomberg LP principal) Michael Bloomberg; executives from Mars, Wal-mart and Citi Group.

While the U.S. government skipped having a pavilion at the annual United Nations-sponsored climate summit for 2017, the US presence was proclaimed loud and clear by the representatives of the U.S. Climate Action Center, representing the climate change priorities of US cities, states, tribes and businesses large and small who want action on climate change issues.

Declared California State Senator Ricardo Lara in Bonn: “Greetings from the official resistance to the Trump Administration. Let’s relish being rebels. Despite what happens in Washington DC we are still here.”

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As the one year anniversary of President Trump’s announcement to leave the global Paris Agreement (June 1, 2018), state governors announced a new wave of initiatives to not only stay on board with the terms agreed to in Paris (by the Obama Administration) but to accelerate and scale up their climate actions.

Consider: The Alliance members say they are on track to have their state meet their share of the Paris Agreement emission targets by 2025.

Consider: The governors represent more than 40 percent of the U.S. population (160 million people); represent at least a US$9 trillion economic bloc (greater than the #3 global economy, Japan); and, as a group and individually are determined to meet their share of the 2015 Paris Agreement emissions targets.

Consider: Just one of the states – California – in June 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund, became the sixth largest economy in the world, ahead of the total economy of France (at #7) and India (#8).

Consider: The US GDP is estimated at $19.9 trillion (“real” GDP as measured by World Bank); the $9 trillion in GDP estimated for the participating states is a considerable portion of the national total.

The states involved are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The initiatives announced on June 1, 2018 include:

Reducing Super Pollutants (including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), one of the Greenhouse Gases, and harnessing waste methane (another GhG).

Mobilizing Financing for Climate Projects (through collaboration on a Green Banking Initiative); NY Green Bank alone is raising $1 billion or more from the private sector to deploy nationally).

Modernizing the Electric Grid (through a Grid Modernization Initiative, that includes avoidance of building out the traditional electric transmission/distribution infrastructure through “non-wire” alternatives).

Developing More Renewable Energy (creating a Solar Soft Costs Initiative to reduce costs of solar projects and drive down soft costs; this should help to reduce the impact of solar tariffs established in January by the federal government).

Developing Appliance Efficiency Standards (a number of states are collaborating to advance energy efficiency standards for appliances and consumer products sold in their state as the federal government effort is stalled; this is designed to save consumers’ money and cut GhG emissions).

Building More Resilient Community Infrastructure and Protect Natural Resources (working in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the National Council on Science and the Environment, to change the way infrastructure is designed and procured, and help protect against the threats of floods, wildfires and drought).

Increase Carbon Storage (various states are pursuing opportunity to increase carbon storage in forests, farms and ecosystems through best practices in land conservation, management and restoration, in partnerships with The Nature Conservancy, American Forests, World Resources Institute, American Farmland Trust, the Trust For Public Land, Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation).

Deploying Clean Transportation (collaborating to accelerate deployment of zero-emissions vehicles; expanding/improving public transportation choices; other steps toward zero-emission vehicles miles traveled.

Think About The Societal Impacts

The powerful effects of all of this state-level collaboration, partnering, financial investment, changes in standards and best practice approaches, public sector purchasing practices, public sector investment (such as through state pension funds), approvals of renewable energy facilities (such as windmills and solar farms) in state and possibly with affecting neighboring states, purchase of fleet vehicles…more.

California vehicle buyers comprise at least 10% (and more) of total US car, SUV and light truck purchases. Think about the impact of vehicle emissions standards in that state and the manufacturers’ need to comply. They will not build “customized” systems in cars for just marketing in California – it’s better to comply by building in systems that meet the stricter standards on the West Coast.

US car sales in 2016 according to Statista were more than 1 million units in California (ranked #1); add in the other states you would have New York (just under 400,000 vehicles sold); Illinois (250,000); New Jersey (250,000) – reaching to about million more. How many more vehicles are sold in the other Coalition states? Millions more!

(Of course, we should acknowledge here that the states not participating yet have sizable markets — 600,000 vehicles sold in Florida and 570,000 in Texas.)

Project that kind of effect onto: local and state building codes, architectural designs, materials for home construction; planning the electric distribution system for a state or region (such as New England); appliance design and marketing in the Coalition states (same issues – do you design a refrigerator just for California and Illinois?).

There are quotes from each of the Coalition governors that might be of use to you. (Sample: Jerry Brown, California: “The Paris Agreement is a good deal for America. The President’s move to pull out was the wrong call. We are still in.”) You can see them in the news release at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a4cfbfe18b27d4da21c9361/t/5b114e35575d1ff3789a8f53/1527860790022/180601_PressRelease_Alliance+Anniversary+-+final.pdf

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In covering the 2017 Bonn meetings, Slate published a report by The Guardian with permission of the Climate Desk. Said writers Oliver Milman and Jonathan Watts: “Deep schisms in the United States over climate change are on show at the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, where two sharply different visions of America’s role in addressing dangerous global warming have been put forward to the world.

“Donald Trump’s decision [to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement] has created a vacuum into which dozens of city, state and business leaders have leapt, with the aim of convincing other countries that the administration is out of kilter with the American people…”

# # #

At the US City Level

Jacob Corvidae, writing in Greenbiz, explains how with the White House intending to withdraw, cities are now in the driver’s seat leading the charge against climate change.

Cities have more than half of the world’s populations and have the political and economic power to drive change.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is the Coalition helping cities to make things happen. The C40 Climate Action Planning Framework is part of a larger effort to make meaningful progress toward carbon reduction goals and build capacity at the municipal level. Cities are expected to have a comprehensive climate action plan in place by 2020. This will include 2050 targets and required interim goals.

The cities have the Carbon-Free City Handbook to work with; this was released in Bonn in 2017 at COP 23. There are 22 specific actions that can (1) drive positive impacts and (2) create economic development. This September the Carbon-Free Regions Handbook will be available. There is information for you about all of this at: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/every-action-how-cities-are-using-new-tools-drive-climate-action

The clarion call, loud and clear: We Are Still In!  Watch the states, cities and business community for leadership on meeting climate change issues in the new norms of 2018 and beyond.

U.S. / Global Cities Showing the Way on Climate Change Solutions

Sustainability — Forward Momentum!

By Hank Boerner – Chairman & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

U.S. / Global Cities Are Showing the Way on Climate Change Solutions — consider:  more than half of the world’s population (now at 7 billion) now live in cities. Many cities are vulnerable to the effects of climate change — rising seas; drought; severe storms; heat waves; winter blizzards…vicious storms of all types…and more.

City Fathers and Mothers are awake to the threats — and doing something about climate change!

While at the Federal level the public sector of the United States of America has abandoned the field to other nations to now lead on addressing climate change challenges, at the city/municipality level, there is a lot going on that is positive and encouraging.

Here’s a brief collection of recent events that spell out o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y at the domestic and global urban level.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors
At the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Miami Beach (the 85th annual for the association), climate change issues were high on the agenda. Of course — many U.S. cities are at water level, on oceans-rivers-bays. New York; Miami; Baltimore; Philadelphia: Boston; San Francisco; Chicago; Cleveland; New Orleans; St Louis — need we go on?

At the annual conference there were plenaries, workshops, committee meetings, task force meetings, and more. The headlines coming out of the Conference of Mayors:

A survey of the members found many U.S. mayors are taking action on climate protection and planning even more steps in the future.

City governments are focusing on:

  • Purchase of renewable energy electricity (69% of respondents already generate or purchase and 22% are considering doing so);
  • utilization of low-carbon transport (63% buy green vehicles for municipal fleets; 30% are considering; this includes hybrids, electric, natural gas, biodiesel);
  • striving for greater energy efficiency, especially for new municipal buildings 71%; 65% for existing buildings — this includes new policies put in place;
  • the association has teamed with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES)**, to promote renew these programmatic approaches; this creates a framework for mayor and business leaders to collaborate to develop approaches to reduce carbon emissions, speed deployment of new technology, implement sustainable development strategies, and respond to the growing impacts of climate change.

Survey respondents were from 66 cities with populations ranging from 8.5 million to 21,000 across 30 of the U.S. states. These cities invest more than US$1.2 billion annually in electricity — a significant buying power to help create the changes needed in the municipal electricity market.

Collaboration — the survey demonstrated that cities are working with each other (90%) and with the private sector (87%) to accelerate action on climate change issues. This is important when considering the recent White House abandonment of the Paris Agreement.

Opportunity Spelled Out:

  • Half of responding cities are incentivizing energy efficiency in both new and existing commercial and residential buildings. There is significant room for growth here. And lots of opportunity for public-private sector collaboration.
  • Less than half of the cities have policies / programs to help businesses and their citizens choose renewable energy — more room for growth and opportunities for partnering.
  • 66% of the cities responding have put in place public charging stations; 36% are in the process of doing so with private sector partners (for electric vehicle charging).

Says Conference of Mayors CEO Tom Cochran: “The nation’s mayors are poised to take an even greater leadership role in fighting climate change and protecting cities from its negative impacts. Working together with the business community, we can achieve deeper results more quickly and broadly.”

While much progress is being made, the mayors collectively are striving to do more.

Notes Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, Alliance Co-Chair : “We need to create a baseline so we can measure our ongoing progress. Sustainability is a smart strategy for the future, and cities and companies need to learn from one another.”

One of the positive actions taken at the conference was adoption of a resolution — “Supporting a Cities-Driven Plan to Reverse Climate Change” — which notes that cities comprise 91% of the U.S. GDP, placing mayors at the center of marrying environmental protection with economic growth; and, it calls on the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress to support the fight against climate change by fully committing to the Paris Climate Accord; the Obama Clean Power Plan; the Clean Energy Incentive Program; and other efforts to provide U.S. cities with the tools needed to combat climate change. (You can read the full text at: http://legacy.usmayors.org/resolutions/85th_Conference/proposedcommittee.asp?committee=Environment

# # #

There’s much more encouraging news from the municipal government level.

The Compact of Mayors (“C40”) is the world’s largest cooperative effort among mayors and city leadership working together to reduce GhG emissions and address climate risk in the world’s cities. The effort was launched by the United Nations General Secretary in June 2016. And in the year since:

652 cities have joined the effort;
— representing almost 500 million people residing in the urban centers;
— which is about 7% of the global population today.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (now returned to chair the eponymous Bloomberg LP organization after 12 years in office) is serving as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and spearheads the Compact of Mayors initiative.

Ambitious plans: commitments to the Compact of Mayors are set to deliver half of the global urban potential GhG emissions reductions by 2020. But, there is still much more to do, the Compact notes, on the part of the nations in which the cities are located. (Like the USA!).

# # #

And…CDP’s Cities Initiative reports that more than 500 cities are now disclosing their initiatives related to climate change. More than US$26 billion in climate-related projects are underway or targeted.

CDP is providing a global platform for cities to measure, manage and disclose their environmental data on an annual basis. This is intended to help local governments manage emissions, build greater resilience and protect against the growing impacts of climate change. So far, cities are disclosing almost 5,000 climate actions.

And be sure to note this: there has been a 70% increase in cities’ sustainability-related disclosure since the Paris Agreement was adopted; 1,000-plus economic opportunities have been identified by almost 400 cities; and, 56% of cities identified opportunities to develop new businesses or industries linked to climate change.

More information for you at: https://www.cdp.net/en/cities

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Then there is “America’s Pledge” — an effort involving 227 cities and counties, 9 states and 1,650 businesses and investors that have pledged to uphold the U.S.A. commitment to the Paris Agreement! (Reducing our country’s GhG emissions by 26% to 38% by 2025, compared to 2005 levels.) The group is led by California Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg.

As The New York Times reported on July 11, 2017 (“US Cities, States and Business Pledge to Measure Emissions”):

Former Mayor/Bloomberg LP Chair Michael Bloomberg:
“The American government may have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, but American Society remains committed. We will redouble our efforts to achieve its goals.

California Governor Jerry Brown:
“Were sending a clear message to the world that America’s states, cities and businesses are moving forward with our country’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, with or without Washington DC.”

The new group will measure the effect (by 2025) of new climate actions by cities, states, business, universities, that sign on for the effort. The analysis will be performed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Rocky Mountain Institute.

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Bloomberg Philanthropies
All of these efforts of course takes money!  Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic arm – Bloomberg Philanthropies – has a cities-focused initiative: What Works Cities Initiative.

This is one of the largest efforts to help cities use data for making local decisions, and get technical assistance from experts through the  Bloomberg organization.

Four more cities just joined up: Arlington, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Fort Collins, Colorado; Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That makes 85 U.S. cities in 37 states are now participating.

Cities commit to a “WWC” Standard, using data to improve performance and results that make their residents’ lives better. More info at: https://whatworkscities.bloomberg.org/cities/

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Why Is City-Level Action on Climate Change So Critical?

The total population of urban areas (486 areas) in the United States of America was 80.7% of the country’s total population in 2010, according to  an analysis by Reuters News.

More Americans are moving to urban areas, according to the 2010 census. (As reported by Reuters in March 2012.) The nation’s total population growth was 9.7% from 2000 to 2010; urban growth was 12.1%. In some places the growth was 50% — like Charlotte, North Carolina (64.%).

The most urbanized state in America is California — where 95% of the total population live in urban areas (35.4 million people).

Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim is the nation’s second largest city (at 12,1 million residents); New York/Newark NJ is #1 (18.4 million); Chicago is #3, noted Reuters in the story.

So — we are keeping close watch on the significant efforts at the city/municipal level efforts in the United States of America with regard to developing climate change solutions.  Cities and states are showing the way for this nation, as the Federal government at least for now has abandoned climate change leadership.

Summing up:  With literally thousands of  local government units developing partnerships with the private sector, and with NGOs and other stakeholders, and looking to the U.S. capital markets to help fund infrastructure and other initiatives — a climate change economic boom is underway!  Are you part of it?  We see great o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y spelled out at the American municipal level.

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Notes:

**Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit organization working to forge practical solutions to climate change. Link: www.c2es.org.