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China recently announced that it would reach carbon neutrality by 2060 which, if delivered, would result in the biggest reduction in projected global warming of any climate commitment made to date. Why then, is China investing tens of billions of dollars in mega oil refineries when its fuel demand is expected to peak within five years?

According to Bloomberg, at least four projects with about 1.4 million barrels a day of crude-processing capacity are under construction in places like Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Yantai, which is more than all the refineries in the UK combined. This will add more petroleum products and plastics as China National Petroleum sees fuel demand peaking in 2025, which has led to concerns that the added capacity will flood the market with cheap exports.

Refining capacity in China has nearly tripled since the turn of the millennium; the country now produces more fuel than it needs, leading to exports of nearly 1 million barrels a day. 

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Domestic demand is likely to grow more slowly in the future as the country transitions to carbon neutrality. Before the target was announced, China National Petroleum said that it expected refined products demand to grow by 0.9% a year through 2025 and peak around then, compared to 5.6% average annual growth from 2000 to 2019.

Meanwhile, according to energy consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie, China’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality will require investments of more than USD$5 trillion, which includes renewable power generation supply. The firm estimates that solar, wind and storage capacities will have to increase 11 times to 5 040 gigawatts by 2050 compared with 2020 levels

The goal of China reaching carbon neutrality is certainly the most ambitious pledge of all countries considering its current emissions output, however continuing to invest in oil refineries is inconsistent with this pledge and will only make the transition to a greener future more difficult. China is already the world’s largest investor in renewable energy; it could bolster this sector rather than invest in dirty fuels. Further, the country pledged in January this year that it would reduce single-use plastics, banning non-degradable bags in major cities by the end of the year and in all cities and towns by 2022, and banning the restaurant industry from using single-use straws by the end of the year as well, so investments in oil refineries may further hinder progress made in reducing waste in China.

Featured image by: Flickr

On September 1, the Provincial Court of Orellana in Ecuador’s Amazon dismissed the case brought by indigenous communities to shut down major oil pipelines over the April 7 oil spill that affected nearby land, wildlife and communities. The judge asserted that there are other mechanisms in place to address claims for remediation and redress. The communities have said they will appeal the verdict. 

On August 12, Earth.Org reported that National and Amazon-region Indigenous federations and communities in Ecuador had filed legal actions demanding that the flow of crude oil through Ecuador’s major pipelines be suspended. The judge said that the court was the incorrect legal venue to bring the case to and that ‘administrative, civil and criminal mechanisms exist to address plaintiffs’ claims for remediation and redress’. 

The communities will appeal the verdict and, with other Indigenous organisations and international partners, ramp up their global campaign, “Stop Amazon Extraction,” calling for a moratorium on all extraction in the Amazon. 

Carlos Jipa, president of the Kichwa Indigenous federation, FCUNAE, says, “We denounce the judge’s decision today. The judge failed to even so much as acknowledge our rights, when, in fact, his decision should have ordered the immediate suspension of crude oil through the compromised pipelines that continue to endanger my people. Oil operations are still contaminating our rivers and threatening our lives. We protect our rivers and our forest, and we are ready to fight this until the end. We will appeal the court’s decision.”

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The spill was the result of the SOTE and OCP pipelines that ruptured from erosion and put at risk the safety and health of the Kichwa people; communities in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil that depend on the Coca and Napo rivers for drinking water. A number of endangered and vulnerable wildlife species in the area were also threatened by the spill. Aggressive erosion and massive landslides are threatening an imminent second oil spill.

The affected indigenous territories overlap the Bajo Napo Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), a site of global importance to the planet’s overall health and the persistence of biodiversity. The KBA is home to a remarkable diversity of wildlife. With more than 580 species of birds, including harpy eagles, zigzag herons and cocha antshrike, and high levels of biodiversity of species of ant birds, tyrant flycatchers, ovenbirds, parrots and tanagers, the KBA is a popular spot for ornithologists and birdwatchers. The area also has a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Wetland of international importance. Other species at risk include giant armadillos, giant anteaters, lowland tapirs, mountain lions, jaguars, Goeldi’s monkeys, Amazon River dolphins and Amazonian manatees. 

Despite substantial evidence that the state and oil companies acted negligently, which included extensive testimony from scientific experts and first-hand accounts from community members, the defense’s lawyers argued throughout the trial that the companies were not responsible. They claimed that the oil spill was an “unpreventable act of nature” and that the river would clean itself over time. They also claimed to have supplied adequate food and water to communities whose lands and drinking water were contaminated, but community members who received limited supplies over the past four months say the aid was wholly insufficient to survive on and came with strings attached. 

Maria Espinosa, lawyer for the case from GWC partner Amazon Frontlines, says, “The court’s decision is unacceptable. 27 000 Indigenous people are still in grave danger and facing the imminent risk of another oil spill. Throughout the trial, we have demonstrated how the Ecuadorian government and the oil companies violated the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples and the rights of nature, and that extractivism is destroying people’s lives and the Amazon rainforest. To this day, there is still no guarantee of justice or reparations for those affected. We will appeal this ruling, and fight together until justice is delivered.”

This article comes from the frontline activities of Amazon Frontlines, whose mission it is to support indigenous peoples to defend their rights to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon Rainforest. 

Amazon Frontlines

Amazon Frontlines is a non-profit organisation based in Lago Agrio, Ecuador that leverages technology, legal advocacy and movement building to support indigenous peoples to defend their rights to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon Rainforest. For more information, visit www.amazonfrontlines.org

Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves biodiversity on Earth through the safeguarding of wildlands and wildlife protection. It engages in biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention and endangered species recovery. For more information, visit https://globalwildlife.org

Featured image by: Forest Guardians

The Trump administration has announced that it will open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, which will allow oil and gas rights to be auctioned off in one of the country’s iconic places for wildlife by December 2021. The refuge has remained an oasis for wildlife thanks to protections put in place 60 years ago, and this represents yet another blow to lobbyists calling for the administration to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the face of the climate crisis.

Should we drill for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is estimated to sit above billions of barrels of oil, but the 19 million acre landscape is home to polar bears, waterfowl, migrating caribou and Arctic foxes. Overall, the refuge is home to over 270 species, including the world’s remaining Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, 250 musk oxen and 300 000 snow geese, according to EcoWatch.

The Trump administration plans to open 1.6 million acres to drilling, moving forward with a 2017 Budget bill passed by a Republican-led congress. 

Under the 2017 law, the federal government must conduct two lease sales of 400 000 acres each by December 2024. The administration estimates that drilling could begin in roughly eight years and that the operations could last for about half a century. 

The Department of the Interior says that it has completed all the required reviews and intends to start selling leases to the land soon, expressing belief that the first lease sale could happen by the end of the year. It calls the leases “a new chapter in American energy independence.” 

According to research from thinktank Centers for American Progress, the drilling would emit more than 4.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to roughly 75% of the country’s annual emissions. 

The Trump administration has expanded oil and gas drilling, weakened gas mileage standards and rolled back methane emissions standards, among other measures in recent months. 

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The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management concluded that establishing a network of well pads and pipelines for drilling would not pose a threat to the wildlife living in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, the plan calls for the construction of as many as four airstrips and major well pads, over 280km of roads, vertical supports for pipelines, a seawater treatment plant and a barge landing and storage site. 

Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska’s Wilderness League, says, “This is our nation’s last great wilderness. Nowhere else in the five-nation polar north do you have such abundant and diverse wildlife.”

Kolton adds that his organisation, as well as environmentalists will take the administration to court. “We will continue to fight this at every turn,” he says. “Any oil company that would seek to drill in the Arctic Refuge will face enormous reputational, legal and financial risks.”

Featured image by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

BP has announced that it is taking its business in a new direction, slashing its oil and gas production by 40%, and increasing its annual investment in low-carbon technology to USD$5billion by 2030, ten times more than its current level.

BP’s Alternative Energy Ventures

As part of its plan, the company says that it will stop its oil and gas exploration in new countries and will reduce its current production and carbon emissions by one-third. Production of oil and gas will be cut by at least one million barrels a day by 2030. 

The company said on August 4, “BP today introduces a new strategy that will reshape its business as it pivots from being an international oil company focused on producing resources to an integrated energy company focused on delivering solutions for customers.”

It adds, “This coming decade is critical for the world in the fight against climate change, and to drive the necessary change in global energy systems will require action from everyone.”

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How much did BP invest in renewables?

The investment in BP low-carbon projects will jump to $3bn by 2025 and $5bn by 2030, with major investments planned in bioenergy, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. The company says that it also plans to ‘advise cities on ‘power packages’ with renewables, back-up batteries and financing’ and offer up to 70 000 electric vehicle recharging stations at its retail gas stations, up from the current level of 7 500. 

However, while BP will expand its portfolio of clean energy technologies, it will continue to invest most of its money in oil and gas production up to 2025. Despite this, Chief Executive Bernard Looney says that “we believe our new strategy provides a comprehensive and coherent approach to turn our net zero ambition into action.”

Greenpeace UK described the announcement as a ‘necessary and encouraging start’, but adds that BP ‘must go further’.

The second quarter saw BP reporting a loss of $16.8 billion due to reduced demand for oil. The company has sold its petrochemical unit and has cut 10 000 jobs as it struggles from a crash in oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut factories, grounded planes and kept motorists off the road. The price of Brent crude fell to record lows in April. It has since recovered, but remains 35% down this year. 

The company expects demand for fossil fuels to fall by 75% by 2050 if the increase in global temperatures is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or by 50% if warming is less than 2 degrees. 

Featured image by: Mike Mozart

Oil exploration in the Congo Basin is placing the world’s largest expanse of tropical peatlands on the brink of destruction. Once operational, the proposed Ngoki oil field could provide an estimated 983 000 barrels of oil a day, though critics have disputed these claims. The exploration plans mean that the Congo’s current levels of oil production would be tripled, providing debt relief, but placing over 6 000 sq. km of tropical peatland at risk and releasing 1.34 gigatons of carbon– the same as the total annual emissions of Japan.

What are peatlands?

Peatlands are wetlands with a high concentration of peat, which are accumulations of decaying organic matter, providing a wide variety of benefits unbeknownst to most. One of these is their ability to provide effective flood regulation by delaying the flow of water across the landscape, reducing the peak discharge of rivers and therefore the risk of flooding. Peatlands also provide an important source of biodiversity, sheltering and providing habitats for many species. The Congo Basin is home to 14 threatened species, including 3 species of African apes; the peatlands provide these animals with a continued source of food, such as endemic aquatic herbs, and the land could be lost to the oil field.

Benefits of Peatlands

Among the most significant of the benefits of peatlands is their extraordinary ability to absorb carbon. Peatlands are responsible for 20% of the world’s total soil carbon storage – despite only covering 3% of the planet’s surface. Scientists also estimate that peatlands are able to store 370 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year- the equivalent of the entirety of Turkey’s emissions for 2016. The Congo Basin peatlands are estimated to store as much as 30.6 gigatons of carbon, equivalent to all the carbon stored in the rest of Congo’s tropical rainforests, and 15 years of emissions from the United States.

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However, damaged peatlands gradually emit their stored carbon over time. Experts suggest that emissions released by drained peatlands reach up to 1.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide every year. If the Congo Basin peatlands caught fire, which will occur more frequently as the planet warms, it would release up to triple the annual carbon emissions produced by humans all at once.

Land use changes have contributed significantly to the damaging of peatlands, whether through deforestation and/or draining. In particular, draining severely degrades peatlands and the reduced water content renders them especially vulnerable to fires. The 2015 peatland fires in Indonesia released nearly 16 million tons of carbon dioxide every day as it burned, also claiming 19 lives in the process. In recent years, Indonesia has been draining peat areas on a massive scale to make way for oil palm plantations, which cannot grow in the waterlogged soil. It is likely that had the peatlands not been drained to such an extent, these fires would not have occurred.

Peatlands in Congo

In the Congo Basin, only 7% of the peatlands are designated as protected areas, although under the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 45% of the total peatland area is protected as a Ramsar Site. Nevertheless, a report has found that around 30% of the peatlands have already been granted for oil and gas concessions, as well as a smaller proportion for mining exploration. Congolese legislation also contains loopholes with regards to habitat protection- so while rainforests are protected, other habitats such as swamps (and consequently the Congo Basin peatlands) are not.

Despite this, the government has vowed to take steps to protect the peatlands, including the establishment of a ‘high-level scientific committee’ dedicated to understanding the ecosystems of the Congo Basin. The Minister for Environment and Tourism, Arlette Soudan-Nonault, has stated that Congo’s commitments towards protecting their forests would not be neglected while downplaying the potential environmental impact of the Ngoki site, claiming that the site was ‘on the periphery of the peat bogs’- sentiments echoed by Congo’s president Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Petroleum Exploration and Production Africa (PEPA), the company in charge of the Ngoki operation has also attempted to allay fears concerning Ngoki’s environmental impact by vowing to establish a treatment site to deal with wastewater. However, this fails to address the matter of emissions, which remains the key environmental concern.

Despite these reassurances, significant controversy still surrounds the project. PEPA’s links to Congo’s ruling elite have come under scrutiny, such as the close friendship between Claude Wilfred “Willy” Etoka, the chairman of PEPA, and President Sassou-Nguesso’s family. Several other critics have disputed the veracity of PEPA’s claims, casting doubt on the actual amount of oil in the Ngoki site and also on the surveying methods used by PEPA.

The Congolese government faces a dilemma between its ecological security and financial security, however history has shown profit to be of a higher priority for governments. As a result of the Indonesian government’s reckless clearing of peat fields to make way for oil palm plantations, the peat fires of 2015 spread a blanket of haze reaching far beyond its borders and all across Southeast Asia, creating record highs for air pollution in Singapore.

Every country has a right to economic self-determination, but at what cost? Draining tropical peatlands to make way for oil fields in the Congo Basin may create an economic boom for the country, but it risks a climate catastrophe as vast amounts of carbon flood the atmosphere- a price that neither Congo nor the world can afford to pay.

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