Industrial emssion

Features: Industrial economies form climate action laggards


Sopuruchi Onwuka

World’s leading industrialized and developing economies that produce or consume significant fossil fuels remain the greatest culprits in the rising global warming. While petroleum and coal producing countries sustain supply of the dirty fuels, industrialized energy consumers form the demand basis for continued production.

Oracle Intelligence reports that continued use of gas, oil and coal to fire industrial productivity and power generation may not be disconnected from the plant technology that has been configured to run on fossil fuels even as renewable generation gets increasingly cheaper.

Fatih Birol, IEA

The Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, decried in a report this week the brazen continuation of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial and power generation plants despite coordinated international campaigns against rising global warming.

The IEA forecast in latest notes that carbon dioxide emissions would rebound by the second biggest annual volumes in history this year, noting that global economies pour stimulus cash into fossil fuels in the recovery from the Covid-19 recession.

Almost all the countries increasing the use of conventional petroleum and coal fuels in firing industrial plants are committed to the popular Paris Agreements on climate action, and have committed to submitting progress on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on emission reduction as the nations of the world work in concert to significantly cut the rate of global warming.

Oracle Intelligence reports that 180 countries determined to be responsible for 88.8percent of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. The commitments entail declaration of NDCs specifying workable strategies towards drastic cuts in emissions that contribute to global warming. The NDCs are submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Environmental scientists warn that the world must cut emissions by 45 percent this decade in order to limit global heating to 1.5C (2.7F) and forestall dangerous levels of global warming.

The IEA warned that the projected jump in emissions in 2021 estimated to be second only to the massive 6.0 percent rise in 2010 would make climate action targets untenable. The agency pointed out that surging use of coal for electricity is largely driving the emissions rise.

It would be recalled that emissions plunged by a record 7.0 percent globally last year following lockdowns against Covid-19 outbreak and associated downturn in the aviation industry which normally contributes over 2.0 percent of global emissions. Emissions started climbing again by end of 2020 and IEA observes that emission remains on track to exceed 2019 levels in 2022 as air travel returns.

The IEA’s projections for 2021 are based on comprehensive soundings from around the world, including data from existing energy sources and new plants scheduled to come on stream. Energy data from the end of last year showed fossil fuels ahead of 2019 levels, and the surge has continued in the first part of 2021.

In its Global Energy Review, published in the week, the IEA found that global carbon emissions from energy use, which accounts for the great majority of greenhouse gas emissions, were on course to rise by 1.5bn tons in 2021, after falling during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in 2020. The projected rise in emissions in the year represents a 5.0 percent rise to 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide for the year.

After more than half a decade of decline, global coal demand is forecast to grow by 4.5 percent, close to the all-time peak in 2014.

Data classification and analysis by Oracle Intelligence showed that despite the whirlwind of politics trailing emissions and energy transition from fossil fuels, industrialized economies including Russia, China and the United States still form the powerhouses that burn fossil fuel.

On the other hand, petroleum producing countries that fund their economies with export revenues continue to expand market positions that make access to petroleum fuels easy, and make investments in switch to cleaner energy unnecessary.

According to our analysis of emission reduction plans and performance of key economic and industrial hubs drawn from continents of Asia, Eastern Europe, America, Australia and Africa; it appears that the prevailing global emission reduction targets and deadlines are untenable.

While the countries of Western Europe have led the campaign to “save the earth” from harmful emissions, industrial economies in Asia, Eastern Europe, South and North America, as well as developing African and Middle Eastern nations still rely on fossil fuel for national revenue, energy security and industrial energy.

Unfortunately, the world’s two largest economies, China and the United States, appear to roll back effective action plans in diverting energy demand from fossil fuel. Both countries still rely on development of coal fired power plants for electricity generation even at a time renewable energy has become cheaper.

The International Energy Association (IEA) which compiles energy information for industrialized countries hosted in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) pointed at growing use coal for power generation as major source of pollution in the United States and China.

Industrial emssion

China is reportedly planning to build scores of coal-fired power stations, despite pledging last year to reach net zero emissions by 2060.

President Xi Jinping pledged in September 2020 that China would increase its NDC commitments to the global climate action in order to peak the country’s carbon emissions before 2030, but the country’s five-year economic plan contained little detail on curbing emissions before then and Climate Action Tracker still rates China’s commitments as highly insufficient.

Again, China’s climate action ambitions have been impacted by Covid-19 stimulus package involving major infrastructure investments, and rising carbon emissions from furious steel, cement and glass production. The country rolled back regulations restricting approvals of new coal-fired power plants in the last three years. President Xi’s government approved 46.1 GW of new coal generating capacity in 2020, more than the combined total in the three previous years.

Senior Climate and Energy Policy Officer at Greenpeace East Asia, Li Shuo, called on China to peak emission closer to 2025 than 2030.

Closer to China, national emissions are already 18 percent below 2005 levels  and cheap renewable energy is transforming the power grid at a rate faster than expected.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not set a net zero emissions target by 2050 even as the government has not introduced substantial climate policies.

But the country has not improved on its 2030 emissions reduction target set at the Paris summit; which commits to a 26-28 percent cut below 2005 emissions levels. Australia still gets most of its electricity from burning coal, and emissions from the transport, mining and agriculture sectors are forecast to increase over the decade.

The Morrison government has committed just A$18 billion over a decade to technologies including hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and soil carbon. But critics demand procedures and timelines for emissions cuts. They call on government to set a target equivalent to a 45-60 percent cut.

In North America, industrialized Canada had in 2015 committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30percent below 2005 levels by 2030, cutting emissions in the country from current rate of about 730 megatons down to 511 megatons.

Delivering on the targets has however proved difficult, with performance level calculated at only 1.0 percent below 2005. There is still 19 year to deadline though.

Activists call on the government of Justin Trudeau which has cast itself as climate champion to enunciate interim steps to meet the country’s climate action targets, warning that the country is currently clearly on track to miss its Paris pledge.

Oracle Intelligence reports that Canada’s increasing emissions mainly escape from its tar sands industry which is one of the world’s largest petroleum reserves.

According to a secondary report by The Guardian, the current government of Canada is working to redeem the reputation of the country which, unlike many other industrialized nations, has never met any of its emissions reduction targets.

In South America, Brazil admits that its historical contribution to climate change has been low, mainly due to its economic status as a developing country and a nation of late industrialization.

Director of the Climate Programme at World Resources Institute Brasil, Carolina Genin, called on the government of Jair Bolsonaro to come up with more ambitious NDC to climate action. The call is supported by representatives from agribusiness, finance and academia, and business leaders.

The 2020 NDC kept the pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37percent by 2025, and 43percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. But climate experts warned that the new NDC increases emissions by at least 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), compared with the targets submitted in 2015.

To maintain the same absolute level of emissions, Brazil should update the cut to 57percent by 2030, experts say.

Neighboring Mexico had in 2015 submitted a 2030 NDC target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 22percent and black carbon emissions by 51percent. It also advanced conditional reductions of 36percent and 70percent.

The country also pledged 2050 NDC targets that rely on nature based solutions such as protecting coastlines, reforestation and refurbishing hydroelectric projects. The country targets 50percent below 2000 emissions levels by 2050.

But climate campaigners call for more ambitious targets contrary to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s electricity industry law that forces the state-owned electricity company to dispatch energy from its own power plants over privately owned renewable producers. The government had actively moved against clean energy and cancelled clean energy auctions. It also promised to revive the coal industry and has pushed the construction of a behemoth refinery in south-eastern Tabasco State.

The Green Finance and Climate Change (GFCC) at the NRDC’s Latin America Project declared that the government favors the public fossil fuel sector at the expense of renewable energy.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia which leads the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is expectedly not liked by climate action campaigners who branded the country a climate villain.

Yet, the country has started enunciating a mix of economic and environmental policies that would reduce its dependence on oil in the face of projected fall in demand, produce half of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and plant 10 billion trees.

But Saudi’s national oil firm, Aramco, is designated the world’s biggest industrial polluter.

Independent assessments have concluded that based on the scant information that is available; the country is not on track to meet its “inadequate” 2015 NDC pledge of reducing emissions by up to 130 MtCO2e by 2030 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

The kingdom is criticized for not publishing any official projections of its emissions nor even defined the business-as-usual baseline it is measuring against, making progress assessment on the goal also impossible.

In sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa captures the attention of climate campaigners due to its massive mining industry and voracious consumption of coal for power generation: yet the country projects impressive NDC commitments that limit its annual greenhouse gas emissions to 398-440 MtCO2e by 2030.

A combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and a long term economic shift away from extractive industries and manufacturing has already helped South Africa move towards meeting some of its emission goals, but coal still generates some 85percent of the country’s electric power.

Despite South Africa’s ambitious targets, climate activists insist that the country needs further progress in massive investment in the country’s power sector, improvements in energy efficiency, a green transport strategy and a carbon tax.

South Africa’s Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, said the country would invest £2.0 billion in renewable energy to accelerate a shift from coal power generation.

Secretary of South Africa’s Climate Justice Coalition, Dr Alex Lenferna, criticized government’s NDC targets as too weak for effective curb in emission levels; he raised concerns that few of the measures outlined in the updated draft NDC are unlikely to be implemented in a timely fashion.

Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, had upon committing to the Paris Agreement in 2015 pledged an NDC for a 20percent reduction in its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in relative terms; but acute economic adversity and fiscal gaps have left the associated implementation programmes in limbo.

The NDC projected annual economic growth of 5.0 percent. And then the petroleum dependent economy plunged into recession as oil prices took a dive, forcing the country on economic diversification programme that emphasized agriculture as the government struggled with second tragedy of rapidly spreading poverty.

The government drives a wide range of renewable energy programmes that move at snail speed. It also struggles with measures to cut emissions at its vast oil production sites while associated gas is routinely flared due to poor infrastructural capacity to harness and commercialize.

Oracle Intelligence reports that apart from ongoing gas expansion programmes and fuel diversification in the domestic economy, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which is largely a financial stakeholder in the operations of commercial petroleum investors in the country, drives a number of renewable energy programmes.

Running energy programmes which are yet to deliver significant milestones include measures and projects that target emission reduction deepened domestic consumption of gas, increased gas export through liquefaction and pipeline, as well as massive displacement of liquid fuels with gas in the industrial and power sectors of the economy.

The country’s Nigeria LNG (NLNG) Limited is currently driving capacity growth programme that would build export volumes from 22 million tons per annum (mtpa) to 30 mtpa. Domestic gas market is being deepened with delivery of a number of pipeline infrastructure projects including the second Escravos-Lagos Gas Pipeline (ELGP), Obiafu-Obrikom-Oben (OB3) gas pipeline and the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) pipeline.

There is also the National Gas Expansion Programme (NGEP) which seeks to broaden the application of gas for domestic, transportation and industrial application as well as substantially reduce the use of dirtier, costlier and less available liquid fuel options.

The plans are linked to the nation’s flare gas commercialization programme designed to harness associated from oilfields to feed domestic market channels and export liquefaction plants and pipelines.

More ambitious plan is to develop the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline that will ultimately supply Nigerian gas from Niger Delta through Central and North African countries and across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Nigeria’s emissions reduction plans also include programmes to massively expand solar energy production in the country, invest in alternative renewable energy and improve oilfield processes to use more natural gas and limit gas flaring. The renewable programme captures deployment of solar panels in 5.0 million homes.

There is also a fuel ethanol programme that targets production of renewable fuel with processed cassava, sugar cane and sundry farm produce.

In all, the key economies in all continents of the world are far behind their commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate action. Poor emission cuts across the globe is currently deemphasized by more worrisome increases in emission volumes as economies cling to traditional fossil fuels as they smart from covid-19 economic downturn.

However, United States and China which are seen as critical direction leaders in the climate action appear to be closing diplomatic gaps to pave way for collaborations that would bolster implementation of global commitments to the Paris Agreement.

IEA’s Fatih Birol said in the report that high gas prices are also driving a switch from gas for electricity generation, leading to surging coal use in the US and reversing annual declines since 2013.

“This is shocking and very disturbing. On the one hand, governments today are saying climate change is their priority. But on the other hand, we are seeing the second biggest emissions rise in history. It is really disappointing.”

He called on governments to bring forward new climate policies urgently and seek a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. “Last year, I expressed my hope that the economic recovery from Covid-19 should be green and sustainable. But these numbers indicate that this recovery is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” he said.


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