Court Charges Big Oil with Climate Change as Renewables Promise a Clean Energy Revolution
December 12, 2015 Nadia Prupis / Common Dreams & Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica
The Philippines Commission on Human Rights has launched a first-ever criminal investigation charging major fossil fuel firms with human rights violations over the industry's role in worsening climate change. Meanwhile, a NOAA study says renewables could supply 70% of US electricity needs by 2030 and University of Delaware researchers predict that, "by 2030, renewable energy could power a large electrical grid a stunning 99.9%, and at close to today's energy costs!"
Big Oil Faces Historic Human Rights Inquiry for 'Complicity in Climate Change' Nadia Prupis / Common Dreams
'Climate change interferes with the enjoyment of our fundamental rights as human beings. Hence, we demand accountability.'
(December 4, 2015) -- In a landmark case, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) announced Friday it will launch the first-ever investigation into dozens of fossil fuel companies for alleged human rights violations over the industry's role in worsening climate change.
The inquiry will commence on December 10, International Human Rights Day, and target stakeholders from 50 Big Oil corporations, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Beyond Petroleum (BP), and ConocoPhillips -- along with another 40 "legal entities that are responsible for the majority of global CO2 and methane emissions in the earth's atmosphere," said Greenpeace International, one of the organizations that filed the petition (pdf) in September calling for the CHR to assemble a task force on climate change and human rights.
"Climate change interferes with the enjoyment of our fundamental rights as human beings," the petition states. "Hence, we demand accountability of those contributing to climate change."
"It's time we held to account those who are most responsible for the devastating effects of climate change."
-- Zelda Soriano, Greenpeace
The Philippines, a cluster of low-lying islands in the South Pacific, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of rising sea levels and extreme weather events fueled by skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions.
The commission's move marks the first time a call for climate justice will force the fossil fuel industry to answer for its environmental devastation.
"For the longest time since they started their business, these carbon polluters have been invincible. Nobody has challenged their social license and their role in climate change," Anna Abad, a climate justice campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told Reuters on Friday. "This is one step in a whole legal strategy of making sure those complicit in climate change are held accountable."
The CHR's response "signals a turning point in the struggle to avoid catastrophic climate change," said Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo. "It opens a critical new avenue of struggle against the fossil fuel companies driving destructive climate change."
The petitioners also include survivors of the tropical cyclones such as the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 6,300 people in the Philippines alone.
"In the era of climate change, we feel that the real value of the statistics and reports of disaster-related casualties has not been given adequate expression," they wrote. "The real life pain and agony of losing loved ones, homes, farms -- almost everything -- during strong typhoons, droughts, and other weather extremes, as well as the everyday struggle to live, to be safe, and to be able to cope with the adverse, slow onset impacts of climate change, are beyond numbers and words."
One petitioner, Veronica "Derek" Cabe, described huddling in her attic in wet clothes alongside family members, including a two-year-old, as floodwaters rolled through Manila for 12 hours during Typhoon Ketsana in 2009.
"We saw floating people, floating animals, floating coffins. We could not do anything, we could not help them. It was like watching a horror movie and the cruel part is we could not turn it off," Cabe said.
Also joining in the complaint are humanitarian and green groups like Amnesty International, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others. The investigation will solicit the cooperation of United Nations (UN) human rights experts and scientists.
"This is yet another indication that we are seeing the end of the fossil fuel era."
-- Kumai Nadoo, Greenpeace
Whether the plaintiffs win their case or receive compensation for climate damages, any legal action launched against corporate polluters helps strengthen the growing opposition to the fossil fuel industry -- and that might be enough to bring lasting change, legal experts say.
"Companies fear nothing more than a lawsuit," Gregory Regaignon, an attorney with the UK-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, told Reuters.
Simply putting some high-profile pressure on energy corporations could be enough to drive away investors and hit those polluters "where their assets are," Regaignon said. "That's what they care about most, and how we're going to reach remedies."
Greenpeace attorney Zelda Soriano added, "This investigation is not just about how fossil fuel companies do business, but that they do business at all in the future. It's time we held to account those who are most responsible for the devastating effects of climate change."
While the CHR moves ahead with its investigation, more petitions are coming down the pipeline, Greenpeace said.
"This should hopefully inspire other human rights commissions around the world to take similar action," Naidoo said. "If I were a CEO of a fossil fuel company, I would be running scared. This is yet another indication that we are seeing the end of the fossil fuel era."
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(December 8, 2015) -- Since I spent so much time writing the addendum to this article, I figured I should better highlight the key points in a separate post. They tackle various myths regarding renewable energy and nuclear energy.
Slightly edited from that addendum, below are key notes on renewable energy's ability to take over in the electricity sector (and that basically includes transport as well, since the expectation is that most passenger transport will switch to electrification). The financial/economic side of this story is, of course, critical, so that is also brought into play. Enjoy, and share with colleagues.
Some highly respected and accomplished climate scientists have jumped into activism in the energy field. However, they seem to be out of touch with rigorous research that has been done by trained energy researchers and are spreading unhelpful myths regarding renewable energy, just as Richard Muller was out of touch with the research that had been conducted in the climate science sphere and arrogantly thought he would correct climate scientists . . . only to later find they had done their jobs well.
Perhaps there is a tendency for esteemed researchers to think they can jump into another realm and quickly know the full story based on a handful of disconnected-from-the-big-picture stats or statements that they are handed. Or there's something else at play, but I'm not sure what it would be. It would be an interesting topic for CleanTechnica to research.
One of the world's preeminent energy scientists (not climate scientists) -- Stanford's Mark Z. Jacobson -- has led research teams that have analyzed electricity demand and potential supply from renewables in every US state and nearly every country in the world in 15-minute segments all throughout the entire year.
They have found 100% renewables is indeed a practical possibility. Disagreeing with Jacobson and his team of researchers is akin to disagreeing with Hansen and his team on comprehensive and in-depth climate science research.
Energy researchers at the University of Delaware (UD) and Delaware Technical College (DTCC) have found that, "by 2030, renewable energy could power a large electrical grid a stunning 99.9%, and at close to today's energy costs!"
A NOAA study found that renewables could supply the US with 70% of its electricity needs by 2030. The lead researcher was Sandy MacDonald, director of the earth system research lab at NOAA.
Do the climate scientists spreading anti-renewable myths not realize that NOAA has done this research? Or are they blatantly disagreeing with NOAA, just as global warming deniers have blatantly disagreed with NASA regarding climate science? From our article about the NOAA study when it first came out:
"NOAA embarked on the renewables project three years ago, collating 16 billion pieces of weather data derived from satellite observations and airplane observations and weather station reports," Scott Simpson of the Vancouver Sun writes.
"Then it designed a program to filter the information to remove unlikely venues for wind or solar power arrays -- such as national parks and urban areas -- and came up with a map showing robust wind resources in the middle of the continent and decent ones in the northeast Atlantic states, as well as strong solar production areas in the desert southwest."
But here's where the NOAA researchers stepped beyond the good to the great, research-wise: they balanced potential power production and electricity demand to determine, how, where, when, and to what extent clean energy could produce the electricity we need. The end result -- 70% of electricity demand -- is huge (although, not much of a surprise to CleanTechnica readers, I imagine).
A WWF study has shown how to get Europe to 100% renewable energy by 2050 (this includes transport).
An analysis published in Energy Strategy Reviews by three researchers with PhDs in physics -- Kees van der Leun, Yvonne Deng, and Kornelis Blok -- has found that 95% of the world could be powered by renewable energy with no technological breakthroughs.
An in-depth NREL study has found that we could power 80% the US with already commercially available clean, renewable energy technology by 2050. Again, no technological breakthroughs needed.
More studies coming to similar findings can be found here.
All of these energy researchers are wrong, eh? Because . . . well, it's unclear even where the claims against these findings come from. It's unclear what studies these climate scientists are referencing when they say renewables can't do the job.
I've seen no research comparable to the research above that makes their argument. If anyone has anything like this, I'd love to have a look and I'm sure CleanTechnica readers would be happy to explore it as well.
Renewable Energy Is Cheaper, Too
Jumping over to cost, since that's what it comes down to in a market-driven economy, let's first recognize that nuclear subsidies have dwarfed renewable energy subsidies, even in Germany, where solar and wind now account for much of the country's electricity.
Nonetheless, nuclear power is approximately 2–3 times more expensive than wind energy and approximately twice as expensive as utility-scale solar.
On average, wind power sold for 2.5¢/kWh in the US in 2013, which would be 4¢/kWh if you removed subsidies (but why would you do that when nuclear has received several times more money in subsidies?).
Utility-scale solar now averages 5¢/kWh in the US, which doesn't even hold the record for the cheapest solar power bid on the planet.
Ah, but that is only from the dominant type of nuclear power that we all think about when we think about nuclear power -- that's not the different type of unproven nuclear that these climate scientists and Bill gates are pushing. If we would just prioritize this, we could perhaps have competitive nuclear in a few decades, right? . . . Er, what?
Conservatively, we could expect the average electricity price of utility-scale solar power to drop to 2.5¢/kWh. Wind costs are also expected to keep dropping, so it is likely to remain the cheapest electricity option (beyond negawatts, that is -- which are essentially impossible to beat).
Is nuclear energy somehow going to drop from 46¢/kWh to 2¢/kWh? Should we prioritize a unicorn nuclear energy option that was developed decades ago and has never been able to compete with conventional nuclear energy, let alone fossil fuels or today's solar and wind?
Honestly, how can anyone who knows the energy landscape well not be a little bewildered by the push for expensive, impractical, slow-to-deploy nuclear from people who clearly want to address global warming?
Again, I'm genuinely curious where these rightfully esteemed climate scientists who I love have obtained their electricity-related information. Perhaps we'll dig in and see if we can resolve "the case of the renewable energy deniers."
Since I included Mark's Renewable Cities PechaKucha speech above, I'll also include mine, which delves into the cost side of the equation a little bit:
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