Finito: Colombia halts new gas, oil and coal exploitation

President Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first-ever progressive leader, wants to help slow global climate change, protect regional biodiversity and bolster Indigenous people’s rights by decoupling the nation’s economy from fossil fuels, starting with a ban on new oil and coal exploration permits. The contentious policy change for the long fossil fuel dependent nation comes on the back of a bonanza year for the industry, which enjoyed a record-setting $22 billion in export revenues. Making good on his campaign promises, in early February Petro presented a $247.1 billion four-year development plan to lawmakers full of sweeping social and economic changes. Lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reviews the evolving situation in this installment of the Colombian Conundrum series.

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Ensuring that energy systems remain resilient under climate change presents new challenges for the energy sector

Energy resilience has come sharply into focus over the past year due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the associated energy crisis. But aside from geopolitical effects, extreme weather poses the greatest threat to maintaining reliable and affordable energy. Laiz Souto (University of Bristol) and Matthew Wright (University of Oxford, Royal Meterological Society) explain what is at stake.

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Green hydrogen advocates in denial about looming material problem

Renewable energy, electric vehicles and green hydrogen all offer ways to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Recent years have seen rising interest in how these technologies impact the demand and mining of critical materials. Lithium mining for electric batteries, in particular, has been scrutinised by environmental groups. Yet less discussed is green hydrogen which requires scarce materials, writes Rebecca Bertram.

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Europe’s Energy Crisis Has a Silver Lining: More renewables than ever

Defying the grimmest projections, Europe made it through the temperate winter of 2023 with remarkably little collateral damage – and even a few big wins. The energy crisis may have displaced Europe’s climate aspirations by a fraction, but thanks to a record rollout of renewables and conservation measures, the continent’s emissions footprint inched downward and positioned Europe to remain within reach of its goal to slash emissions by 55 percent in seven years’ time. And it’s on track to comfortably outpace its pledge to generate 45% of its total energy from clean sources by 2030.

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As lithium rush gathers pace, it’s time Zimbabwe leverages its ample reserves

Zimbabwe is reported to have Africa’s largest and the world’s fifth-largest lithium reserves. Lithium, a key component in energy storing batteries, is witnessing soaring demand as electric vehicles gain popularity. However, despite its abundance of the key resource, the country is lagging in terms of technology to process and fully utilise its lithium. In this story, Kennedy Nyavaya takes a closer look into how lithium can facilitate Zimbabwe’s clean mobility transition while also creating green job opportunities.

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Smokescreen for climate inaction: CCS starts to take off in Saudi Arabia and Europe

Given that oil and gas producers dominate the sector, many environmental groups and civil society organizations suspect that investments in Carbon, Capture and Storage (CCS) are being used to divert attention and resources away from a quicker build-out of renewable energy systems and other proven methods of addressing climate change. At the end of 2022, as several of the world’s largest petrochemical firms announced ambitious CCS investment plans, the European Union finally released a draft of their proposed CCS framework. As lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum discusses, hundreds of environmental, climate and civil society groups, including the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, immediately deemed it a “smokescreen for inaction.”

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The Energy Charter Treaty remains a challenge for the EU’s Climate Agenda

Global record investments in the energy sector continue to make headlines. After a halt in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sector investments increased in 2021 followed by projections of a similar trajectory by mid-2022. The momentum is associated with the renewables sector which accounts for the majority of these investments. Countries that have committed to achieve net-zero emissions and meet Paris targets will have to maintain this trend – or, potentially, a higher one – if they intend to fulfill those commitments. But net-zero also implies a gradual phase-out of traditional fossil fuel technologies and assets. This is where the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) could hamper the transition towards climate neutrality essential ways. Legal and energy specialist Lekë Batalli has the details.

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Biden’s climate push ensures US stays #1 in giant carbon sucking machines

The U.S.’ Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has been hailed as both a jobs-creating infrastructure stimulus and a clean energy booster. To ensure bi-partisan support in the otherwise polarized United States, it also provides generous tax credits for investments in carbon capture and sequestration or carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Beyond the $12 billion in other government support for CCS, bonus funds are now available to prove out experimental “Direct Air Capture” (DAC) technology. Recently Airbus bought 400,000 tons of carbon removal credits from a planned DAC facility in Texas’ oil-soaked Permian Basin. When operational in 2024, owner Occidental Petroleum promises it will be capable of sucking one million tons of CO2 out of the sky every year. And as lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reviews, Oxy will then use that CO2 to produce millions of barrels of climate friendlier “net-zero oil.” Confused? Welcome to America’s suck rush.

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Can South Africa’s Just Transition close the Energy Sectors Gender Gap?

South Africa’s energy transition passed significant milestones at the last two COPs (Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC). Over the last two years, a framework for a just transition was developed and adopted by government, considering the inclusion of groups left behind by the energy industry. Women in particular face numerous challenges in the energy sector: while they fail to profit from energy production, they are also deeply afflicted by the existential issues linked to coal-based energy production. Tunicia Phillips and Leona Schmitt take a closer look at South Africa’s just transition plans and how they seek to include women in the process.

Planning big at COP

Back at COP26, held in Glasgow in 2021, the US, Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union committed to a partnership to finance South Africa’s transition from coal, financed with a USD 8.5 bln fund. This partnership is referred to as the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP). South Africa, which is heavily reliant on aging coal-fired power stations for its national electricity supply, pledged to reduce emissions by almost one-third by 2030 (in comparison to its 2015 pledge). South African president Cyril Ramaphosa presented the nation´s JETP investment plan at last year’s COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.

South Africa’s economy was built on cheap coal, and coal remains by far the largest source of the country’s electricity. While this arrangement will be incredibly difficult to dislodge, the country’s drastic power instabilities may offer some levers for reform At the core of the problem, Eskom, South Africa’s state power utility is so heavily indebted that it is unable to properly maintain its fleet of aging coal power plants or expand the grid. The USD8.5bn, although largely comprised of loans rather than grants, is key to enabling the country to expand its generation capacities.

In September 2020, Ramaphosa formed the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), to support the just transition towards a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy in South Africa.

The South African Embassy in Germany underscored the importance of the Just Energy Transition Partnership shortly after it was announced: “At the heart of this partnership is the importance of a just transition, which includes support for workers and communities affected by the transition away from coal and enables the creation of quality green jobs. For the transition to be just, decarbonization must be implemented in a manner that promotes and sustains employment, livelihoods, and economic inclusion for historically marginalized communities and sectors of our society.”

Women and the Energy Sector

Even though the need for inclusion is addressed in the overall discourse, current issues and schemes of exclusion must be identified to ensure a transition that is actually just. Including coal industry workers can be highly complex to turn into reality but, to strike real equity, those already left behind by the energy industry must be included.

When taking a closer look at women in energy production, a double-edged problem is obvious:

Firstly, women are largely underrepresented in the energy sector: At Eskom, women account for just 31% of the employees in the electric utility sector and provide just 21% of the workforce in the coal sector, meaning they profit very little from energy production.  WOESA (Women in Oil and Energy South Africa), an association of 21 companies committed to increasing the participation of black women in the energy sector, states that black women in South Africa have been at the lowest end of any form of business opportunity, if not excluded from it at all.

Secondly, women, as well as rural communities, the poor, youth, the elderly, people living in informal settlements, and other vulnerable groups that are already more exposed to climate change impacts such as extreme weather events, are the most affected by the negative impacts of coal-based energy production.

Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa, a civil society environmental justice and anti-nuclear organization, and commissioner of the PCC stated in an online dialogue that the fossil fuel industry is responsible for food insecurity, water pollution, and land appropriation, hitting hardest groups that are already marginalized.

Makoma Lekalakala, therefore, stresses that the planned renewable sector should be based on a system of solidarity, not just replacing old fossil power structures with the same measures of exclusion.

Social Justice in the Just Transition Framework:

The Just Transition Framework, implemented by the presidential PCC, was conducted to engrave principles for and coordinate policies and governance arrangements affecting the transition.

The framework names three principles for Social Justice that support an environmentally, economically, and most important socially sustainable transition: Distributional Justice, Restorative Justice, and Procedural Justice.

Distributional Justice points towards the necessity of fairly distributing risks and opportunities resulting from the transition. It is pointed out that impacted workers and communities cannot continue to bear the brunt of overall burdens and costs. It is essential, that the adjustment costs are borne by those historically responsible for the problem.

Restorative Justice aims to rectify historical damages against individuals, communities, and the environment. This form of reparation can usually be addressed with the polluter-pays principle. The framework does not clearly state whether the polluters are being held responsible.

“Nothing about us without us!” embodies the argument of Procedural Justice. This means taking an active part in decision-making regarding decisions that affect all, especially those currently left out of ruling and controlling. This requires structural changes and power redistribution.

Implementation opportunities

At COP 27, the JETP- Framework was translated into the JETP- Investment Plan, which highlighted key players and institutions for the implementation of a Just Transition. Although, as noted, the bulk of the funds will be allocated to expanding the country’s grid, some funds have been set aside for supporting reskilling initiatives and community owned renewable energy schemes. Besides reliable governmental steering, appropriate funding, and capital-disbursement management by intermediary institutions, the ongoing identification of needs on the community level with an emphasis on project visibility and cooperation with intermediary social partner organizations to support project investments were named. Private investments in renewable energy infrastructure are highlighted as necessary.

But in addition to governmental action in implementation, networking on local- and national levels among those excluded can help them to tap into their potential. A great (but admittedly large-scale) example is The Women Energize Women Conference.  Implemented by German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, together with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) taking place in May 2022. The conference invited women from all over the world to connect, gain more visibility and shape the discussion on the energy transition.

Live with each other and the planet

Lekalakala sums it up greatly by stating: “The Just Transition is about changing relations of power between people to create a more equal society where people can live with each other and with the planet.”

As acknowledged in the PCC- developed Framework and the minds of many, a just transition is the only way to deal with upcoming upheavals due to local climate change adaptations. If conducted properly, it creates a win-win situation between South African social and environmental sectors. To include most affected groups in a reasonable way, especially those suffering from multi-level exclusion, must be the number one priority coupled with a guarantee that those groups will benefit from the energy transition, rather than continuing to suffer from it. People and the improvement of their lives and livelihood must be at the center of the climate change response, a fact that is especially pressing for those most impacted.