2021 saw some incredible progress away from fossil fuels, but shaking them off completely is a long way off
The Indian home minister started off the year by claiming that coal would play a major role in India’s energy needs till 2050, but the tepid response to the coal block auctions indicated otherwise. The Norwegian government offered bids for more oil and gas licences off the country’s west coast (very close to the Arctic), despite climate activists’s warnings about the dangers of an oil spill in a region that would be incredibly difficult to clean up. Speaking of which, an oil spill from a burst undersea pipeline caused an infernal fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and may affect the local ecosystem for decades. Yet Mexico’s Pemex openly denied that there was any leak at all and the country continues to favour fossil fuels over renewables to create jobs.
Yale University found that six years after the Paris Agreement, US fossil fuels companies were receiving $62billion in implicit subsidies every year as they didn’t have to pay for the fuels’ environmental or public health impacts. Also, scientists found that the 20% higher life cycle emissions of blue hydrogen in fact makes it dirtier than conventional natural gas or diesel, and it’s thus a mere distraction from actually cutting emissions.
Moving on to the positives. France banned domestic flights under 2.5 hours and the passengers will instead be ferried by train (also in Germany) as the EU tightens the squeeze on avoidable transport emissions. Sweden’s HYBRIT, meanwhile, handed Volvo the world’s first shipment of green steel (made by harnessing energy from hydrogen instead of coal) in a trend that could gradually decarbonise industrial manufacturing. Shipping giant Maersk categorically said that transition fuels are “simply not relevant” and is switching to green methanol to go for a carbon-neutral fleet.
On the political front, new US president Joe Biden kicked off his term by cancelling the cross-border permit for the contentious, $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline, effectively killing the project. The US will also stop funding overseas coal, oil and gas projects and its power sector may go carbon-free by 2035, while fed up shareholders managed to place three climate-friendly directors on ExxonMobil’s board in a major coup. And finally, in a landmark judgement, Royal Dutch Shell was ordered by a Netherlands court to finally demonstrate absolute emissions reduction instead of merely lowering its emissions intensity.