In a major decision, French energy giant Total SE has announced that it will exit the Canadian oil lobby group and pull out of developing the country’s much talked about oil sands. Total’s exit is based on assessments that show that extracting oil from oil sands is costlier and more carbon intensive than from conventional oil fields. The group is also writing down $8.1 billion of its fossil fuel assets — $7 billion of which comes from the oil sands alone — after realising that oil prices in the post-Covid world may level at around US$50/barrel (beyond 2030), instead of the US$60-80/barrel that major oil explorers had anticipated.
Canada slashes budget for environmental impact monitoring in oil sands territory
The Canadian federal government and the province of Alberta have come to joint agreement to slash the budget for environmental impact monitoring downstream of oil sands development in the province by 25% — from $58 million last year to no more than US$44 million for 2020-21. The decision will imply that water from ponds that tail the oil sands deposits may be released into the Athabasca river without testing for quality, and field assessments for impacts on mammals, birds, amphibians, wetlands, insects or fish will be dispensed with.
The agreement has been justified on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, under which much of the time allotted to field assessments was lost to restrictions placed by social distancing. Incidentally, the administrative costs for the program have risen from US$7 million last year to $10 million in 2020, but the budget for the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute will be curtailed from the usual US$4-5 million a year to a mere US$1.4 million.
23-year-old Australian sues govt for not disclosing climate risks
A 23-year-old law student in Australia is reportedly suing the country’s government for failing to disclose the risks of climate change to investors buying government bonds. In her unique lawsuit, Katta O’Donnell said that in failing to warn investors of the risks of global warming, the government was not telling Australians the truth about climate risks, and her suit specifically stated that “any risks to the country’s economic growth, value of its currency or international relations, to name a few factors, might change the value of her investment”.
In other developments, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) called for AUD 6.1 billion (₹32,000 cr) in new investment for power transmission infrastructure that will carry solar and wind power across New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. This is as part of the country’s plan to wind down coal power plants by 2040. Incidentally, coal still powers nearly 2/3rds of all Australian households, but the intermittency of renewables and the advent of rooftop solar and batteries also presents new challenges to the country’s electricity grid.
Poland to exit coal by 2060, Austria’s OMV targets net-zero emissions by 2050
The deputy prime minister of Europe’s largest coal consumer, Poland, announced that the country will cease its dependency on coal by 2050, or latest by 2060. The official communication also noted that “the non-coal sector will have to make huge investments in alternatives to coal”.
The announcement is hugely significant as Poland’s power sector is heavily dependent on the fuel, and the country has so far strongly opposed any commitments to go carbon-neutral. In 2018, coal accounted for 47.1% of the nation’s power output, and the news also followed the planned merger of Poland’s three utilities, Tauron, Enea and PGE, into two groups that will focus on coal and non-coal operations going forward.
Across the border, Austrian oil and gas driller OMV Group said that it will aim to slash carbon emissions from its upstream and downstream operations to zero by 2050. The reduction will come about via the use of solar power for operations within Austria, energy efficiency measures and carbon capture and storage.