As I follow the global energy revolution, I have repeatedly queried why the Government discusses only oil and gas exploration with Big Oil when the multinationals are increasingly investing in renewable energy, mainly wind and solar.
After four and a half wasted years, there is finally some change. The Prime Minister recently announced a joint BP/Shell renewable project. Yet the development seems ad hoc. Do we have a renewable energy policy?
Barbados has developed the National Energy Policy (BNEP) 2019-2030, “designed to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy”. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have heard nothing yet of regulatory arrangements, investment incentives, targets, storage, role of the national grid, etc.
We had better get our act together. The industrialised world is growing serious about global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions rose just 0.6 per cent in 2019. Now, even central banks are turning green, says Karen Ward, strategist at JP Morgan.
New president of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde wants to make climate change “mission critical”, to include green considerations in monetary policy, possibly altering corporate bond holding, taking climate into account. Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney insists on “comprehensive disclosures of climate risk” and that “investing in a net-zero world must go mainstream”.
With considerable political momentum behind the European Green Deal, “hallmark policy” of the new European Commission, central banks will soon be asked “to deliver stronger, yet greener, growth”. This would boost investment for green infrastructure. “Actions by central bankers look likely to turbocharge the climate change agenda,” says Ward.
Indeed, as the Financial Times reports, large companies are regularly demonstrating commitment to sustainability, “from encouraging employees to use less plastic to withdrawing billions in funding from fossil fuel groups”. The latest is BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, with US$7 trillion in assets under management. Larry Fink, BlackRock CEO says climate change represents unprecedented risk to markets, and the world “must prepare for a significant reallocation of capital”.
Many other large financial groups—pension schemes, hedge funds and banks—have made similar moves. Sir Christopher Hohn, head of TCI, the “activist” hedge fund, says, “Investing in a company that doesn’t disclose its pollution is like investing in a company that doesn’t disclose its balance sheet.”
And the momentum will increase as we approach COP 26 in November 2020, “the most important climate summit since the Paris Accord”, where the agreement could become international law, with sanctions for non-compliant nations. T&T would be in serious trouble.
And as the clamour for clean energy intensifies, another very real threat emerges. Oil and gas resources could be left stranded. The Financial Times says nearly US$900 billion worth of reserves—one-third of the value of big oil and gas companies—“is at risk of one day becoming worthless as market and policy forces undercut hydrocarbon economics pushed by climate change”.
A study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research reveals oil companies are being discounted because climate policies will “leave some resources permanently underground and worthless”. Eldar Sætre, CEO of energy giant Equinor, agrees resources will be “left in the ground”.
Will that include future finds in T&T? Or our cross-border gas fields with Venezuela and Barbados? How will we survive when we have scoffed at developing new foreign revenue streams? Is our economy headed to be stranded?
Nick Stansbury of Legal & General, the UK’s largest asset manager said, “Investors are losing confidence in the oil and gas sector,” For example, dissatisfied with Shell’s plan to increase fossil fuel production, Sarasin & Partners LLP, another UK asset manager, sold around 20 per cent of its stake in the oil company. Shell’s share price has fallen by about 25 per cent in the past year. BP, Exxon and Equinor all experienced falling stock prices. Big Oil faces “an existential crisis” says the Financial Times.
Last September, millions participated in a “global climate strike”, calling for “an end to the age of fossil fuels”. Last Thursday, Britain’s appeal court blocked Heathrow Airport’s multibillion-dollar expansion plan because “the government failed to consider its commitment to combat climate change”; and pushed by demands from shareholders, BP joined Shell and Total in relinquishing membership of US lobby group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers because of its stance on climate issues.
In other sectors, employees are now making demands. At Amazon, after several thousand employees wrote an open critical letter, the company agreed to source 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables, and made “the largest-ever order for electric delivery vehicles”, changing its plans for 20,000 diesel engine vans. Microsoft, Alphabet, HP and Walmart have also acceded to employees’ green demands.
“A sea change is hitting the corporate world.”
In a recent survey of 375 global executives four in five companies expect increased employee activism on global warming; US businesses are buying more electricity from wind and solar farms, a record 9.3 gigawatts, almost half of average demand on the New York state power grid.
The recognition of environmental Armageddon from global warming is growing. After ferocious fires incinerated tens of millions of acres in Australia, political scientist Robyn Eckersley said, “If a major shift does not come from this, we’re doomed.”
The shift has started and could leave T&T stranded.