Discover more from ESG on a Sunday
Week 14: As ugly as it gets
In this issue: ▸ Ugly bounce-back ▸ Norway. Why so ugly? ▸ Ugly with a twist ▸ Drought ugly ▸ Just ugly ▸ Ugly deluxe ▸ And much more...
The ugly time. There is no other way to describe it. News can be many things. Entertaining, factual, descriptive, even funny. It can be bad too. But some of the last week’s news has been utterly ugly. You may think, while you are reading this, that all of it is a bit exaggerated. It has always been like this, and bad and ugly are accompanied with good and positive. The eternal human search of inner equilibrium, justifying our very compromise with ourselves. It can always get worse. We adjust. We look the other way. We choose to do so. Every time, every day. After all what can we do? The game that plays out is out of our hands. Geopolitics, power struggles, climate emergency, inflation rates, wars, even world championship sports, all of it is out of our hands.
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We, the majority of me, myself and I, are really not in control. Decisions that shape our lives and futures are done somewhere else. We are just hostages. Passengers on a moving train. Spectators. Never people with power. But who are those with the power to change course of this wretched civilisation? Where are the role models of new dawns? Among the ranks of business empires and political elites? What are they doing to us in the name of the system that does not work anymore? And we truly cannot do anything about it? Or is it as simple as that we just don’t care and are ugly ourselves?
What is pathological denial? It refers to an addict denying his own increasing use and abuse and its effect on his life and the lives of those around him. Or an enabler denying the progression and impact of an addict's escalating addiction. When does denial become pathological? When it’s a rewrite of reality that is far enough from the truth that it makes us live a dishonest life on the inside or the outside. When it forces others to join with us in living our lie. When it alters reality to such an extent that we lose touch with “normal”…
The ugly part that follows now is a blueprint for destruction. I had a serious downer writing this newsletter, because everything in it is… ugly.
When the Biden administration greenlighted the enormous $8 billion Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope last month, many decried the move as a betrayal of the United States’ pledge to move away from fossil fuels in the fight against climate change.
But an analysis of global data shows that Willow represents a small fraction of hundreds of new oil and gas extraction projects approved in the past year across the world, including many more in the United States. And in the coming months, dozens of additional projects are expected to be approved.
The data reflect a surging fossil fuel industry that has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels of growth. Even though the past few years have seen many countries institute policies that encourage renewable energy, demand for fossil fuels remains high. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove up oil prices, contributing to record profits for fossil fuel companies, as governments scrambled to secure their energy supplies, sending prices soaring.
“It’s a full bounce-back,” said Espen Erlingsen, a partner at Rystad Energy, the research firm that provided the data. “The future of this growth depends on policy. If the world wants to limit warming, it will have to limit demand for oil and gas because this industry can deliver this kind of volume for many more decades.” Much of the growth is taking place in traditional oil- and gas-producing nations such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and Norway. Gas, in particular, is booming. Qatar is planning to unveil the world’s biggest gas production facility in 2025. In the United States, the fracking of shale rock beds for gas is resurgent, accounting for many times the level of investment and extraction as a project like Willow.
At the same time on the same planet… Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide – the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity that are the most significant contributors to global heating – continued to increase rapidly during 2022, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).
Carbon dioxide levels rose by more than two parts per million (ppm) for the 11th consecutive year: the highest sustained rate of CO2 increases since monitoring began 65 years ago. Before 2013, scientists had never recorded three consecutive years of such high CO2 growth.
The 2022 methane rise was the fourth-largest since records began in 1983, following record growth in 2021 and 2022, and now stands at an average of 1,912 parts per billion (ppb). Methane is a potent greenhouse gas less abundant than CO2 but which warms the Earth’s atmosphere much faster, and today is responsible for about 25% of the heat trapped by all greenhouse gases.
Methane levels in the atmosphere are now more than two and a half times their pre-industrial level. The oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane, which can also cause medical complications, fires and even engine failure leading helicopters to fall out of the sky.
Levels of nitrous oxide, the third-most significant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, are now 24% higher than pre–industrial levels, following a 1.25ppb rise last year.
Norway. Why so ugly?
Despite clear warnings from scientists that we lack the necessary knowledge, the Norwegian government is exploring the possibility of deep-sea mining in Arctic waters. If Norway goes ahead, exploration licences could be awarded this year to private companies, marking the start of a race for a new extractive industry in vulnerable waters. There are multiple reasons why this is a bad idea.
The deep sea contains exciting and diverse natural life, on a par with that found in rainforests. Many of these organisms are only found in the deep sea, and are specially adapted for life in their unique habitat. We risk losing these species forever — without ever knowing that some of them exist, or understanding the important role they play in the ecosystem.
We have no knowledge about the environment and biodiversity of 99 per cent of this area. About 90 per cent of the species residing there have not even been identified by science. How can one possibly assess the effects of mining on species, habitats or ecosystems that are unknown? This is why more than 700 marine science and policy experts from over 44 countries have requested a temporary moratorium on seabed mining. The UN Environment Programme, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the World Economic Forum, the European parliament and the global High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy have also concluded that more research is needed before we can assess its consequences.
What we do know is studies indicate that we cannot extract minerals from the seabed without incurring a net biodiversity loss. Imagine the damage that would result from the destruction of millions of square kilometres of natural habitats, which take centuries to millennia to be formed.
So the risks associated with seabed mining are enormous. Oversight is almost impossible. The extraction would take place in an extremely inhospitable environment, and there is no proven technology available today that can achieve it. According to the Geological Survey of Norway, the government has overestimated the resources available in the deep sea — and as far as I know, there is no reliable analysis showing that mining can be done profitably.
At the same time on the same planet… The temperature of the world’s ocean surface has hit an all-time high since satellite records began, leading to marine heatwaves around the globe, according to US government data.
Climate scientists said preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) showed the average temperature at the ocean’s surface has been at 21.1C since the start of April – beating the previous high of 21C set in 2016. “The current trajectory looks like it’s headed off the charts, smashing previous records,” said Prof Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales.
Ugly with a twist
Speakers at a climate and health conference in the United Arab Emirates were told not to protest or “criticise corporations” in a warning that cited the Gulf state’s laws, alarming campaigners ahead of the country hosting the UN’s COP28 climate summit this year.
Organisers advised panellists at last month’s Forecasting Healthy Futures event in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital and its richest emirate, to “be aware and respectful of UAE laws”, and warned: “Do not criticise Islam, UAE government, corporations or individuals”, and “do not protest”.
The written guidance, seen by the Financial Times, added: “We understand that climate change can be a controversial subject and we welcome all perspectives and opinions in civil discourse throughout the programme agenda. Protesting is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and any instances of disruptive protesting will be handled by the local authorities.”
Climate activists said the restrictions on free speech raised more questions about the suitability of the oil-rich UAE to host the annual UN climate summit, which will take place in November and December. Top scientists have warned of a “rapidly closing window” to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
A kingdom built on oil now controls the world’s climate progress. The world needs a “business mindset” to tackle the climate crisis, the president of the next UN climate summit has said.
Sultan Al Jaber, the president-designate of the COP28 summit to be hosted in the United Arab Emirates later this year, said he aimed to use the UN talks to set out how the private sector can limit greenhouse gas emissions and give businesses and governments a clear set of tasks and targets. Yes, at the same time on the same planet.
Risk of unrest rises amid fourth dry year, poor grain harvest, weak economy and likely food subsidy cuts. Tunisia has introduced water rationing as the country suffers its fourth year of severe drought.
The state water distribution company, Sonede, has already begun cutting mains water supplies every night between 9pm and 4am. The agriculture ministry has now banned the use of water for irrigation, watering green spaces and other public areas, and for washing cars.
“I’ve been experiencing water cuts overnight for the last two or three weeks,” said Haythem Hazel, an English teacher in the capital, Tunis. “It’s alarming. It shows we really have a water crisis in Tunisia. It’s difficult to stay without water for even two hours.”
Reservoirs across the country are said to be about 30% short of capacity. Levels at the Sidi Salem reservoir, which serves the north of the country, including Tunis, are only about 16% full.
Tunisia has always relied heavily on capturing surface water for its supplies, leaving it especially vulnerable to shortages of rainfall driven by the climate crisis. In the past four years, the Mediterranean region has had blistering summers, mild winters and relatively little rain.
Sea ice covered 5.64 million square miles of the Arctic Ocean at the ice’s peak extent this year in early March. That’s almost 400,000 square miles less than the median coverage level at other March peaks between 1981 and 2010, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. The reduction is equivalent to an area larger than Egypt.
This year’s maximum extent of Arctic ice was the fifth lowest since satellite records began in 1979. And since that record-keeping started, the average ice extent for the entire month of March has shrunk by an average of 15,000 square miles a year, representing a loss of 880,000 square miles — an area bigger than Greenland.
A British business registered to a terraced house in a north London suburb appears to have arranged the sale of about $1.2bn of electronics into Russia since Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine at the start of 2022.
Mykines Corporation LLP, a company based in the London borough of Enfield, is listed in Russian records as having sent shipments including semiconductors, servers, laptops, computer components, telecoms network equipment and consumer electronics. The records list brands ranging from Huawei and H3C to Intel, AMD, Apple and Samsung.
According to these customs filings, at least $982mn of the goods listed as sent by Mykines are subject to restrictions on export by UK companies or individuals to Russia. Sale of these goods to Russia without permission from the UK authorities may constitute a breach of its sanctions, even though the goods shipped by Mykines entered Russia from other countries — largely China.
These findings raise questions over the effectiveness of the attempts to clamp down on Russia’s ability to obtain critical technologies used by the country’s military industrial complex.
That will be all for this ugly week and I wish you all a beautiful Sunday!
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