Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Last grain ships leave Ukraine

Grain is unloaded from the cargo ship SV. Nikolay docked in Izmir, Turkey, on June 25, 2022.
Yoruk Isik/Associated Press
Grain is unloaded from the cargo ship SV. Nikolay docked in Izmir, Turkey, on June 25, 2022.

Twelve Ukrainian ships carrying grain badly needed by world markets set sail on Monday — despite Russia’s weekend withdrawal from a deal aimed at curbing global hunger.

The successful departure of the ships from ports on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast suggested that while Moscow has left the deal — which it signed with Kyiv and Turkey in July — it has not reimposed a blockade, Reuters reported.

Grain shipments since July from Ukraine, a key producer of wheat and sunflowers, helped keep 100 million people from falling into extreme poverty, according a report earlier this month by the United Nations.

But “the renewed blockade is prompting grave concerns about the growing global hunger crisis,” Shashwat Saraf of the International Rescue Committee told CNN.

In particular, Saraf pointed especially to Yemen and countries in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, where hunger and food insecurity affect nearly 40 million people.

While Russia has so far allowed the ships’ departure, its withdrawal from the deal will prevent future shipments — unless Ukraine can secure new insurance to cover subsequent voyages through the active war zone off its coasts, Reuters reported.

On Monday, insurance firm Ascot announced it was freezing coverage of new shipments “until we better understand the situation,” head of cargo Chris McGill told Reuters.

“It’s new shipments coming to the market since the news that will need consideration,” McGill added.

The three months of grain shipments have represented “one of the few … happy stories in this part of the world at the moment,” U.N. coordinator for the grain deal Amir Abdulla told NPR.

“I hope that those who are going to be making that final decision will recognize the responsibility that they have,” Abdulla said.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin.

Today we’ll examine forecasts from OPEC indicating a mid-century rise in fossil fuel use, and look at one prominent activist who’s skipping the U.N. climate summit. But first: A battle over renewable energy in rural areas.

Local opposition blocks rural renewables

Federal goals for a massive expansion of clean power across rural America are running into a flurry of local lawsuits that threaten to hamstring projects.

  • “We are absolutely seeing local opposition to solar arrays across the US,” Samantha Levy of the American Farmland Trust told The Guardian.
  • “About half of solar development is going on the best, most productive farmland and that is causing some concern because it’s not like we are making more land.”

Blocking solar: The proposed Mammoth solar development in Indiana would be nearly the size of Manhattan, making it the largest prospective development in the country, The Guardian reported.

  • But a group of local landowners have blocked it with legal challenges.
  • “We need to protect America’s farmland … Not only from being sacrificed for the inefficient, unreliable energy generation, but from foreigners’ interest!” leader Connie Ehrlich wrote on Facebook.

Need for reform? Opposition from such activists is a principal reason why many clean energy advocates backed Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) failed September bid for permitting reform, according to climate news site Canary Media.

That bill sought to streamline the review process for a wide array of energy projects, from transmission routes to oil pipelines.

  • The emissions reduction potential of the Inflation Reduction Act relies on a 2.3 percent annual growth in the size and capacity of the national transmission grid — which could connect wind- and solar- rich regions to large cities, UtilityDive reported.
  • But that growth in turn would require “the approval of every state, county, city, and in some cases, landowner along the proposed route,” Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic. 

At least 31 states have passed laws restricting wind, solar and renewable energy, per The Guardian. 

Mammoth owner is perplexed: “It blows my mind! It’s my farm — why do I need my neighbor’s permission to do this?” Norm Welker, owner of the property that would host Mammoth, told The Guardian.

  • Welker characterized solar development as a logical extension of farming — another means of harvesting sunlight.
  • The fees are “five times what I’d make through corn. It’s crazy money,” he added.

OPEC forecasts fossil fuel surge through mid-century

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) called on Monday for trillions of dollars to be invested in the oil sector, projecting a surge in fossil fuel production through 2045. 

Huge investments needed: Global oil demand is projected to increase from almost 97 million barrels a day in 2021 to around 110 million barrels a day in 2045, the cartel forecasted in its 2022 World Oil Outlook.

  • The global petroleum sector will require $12.1 trillion to meet this demand, according to outlook, released on Monday at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference.
  • That’s equivalent to more than $500 billion each year.

Economic, population growth: The outlook, which assesses medium- and long-term prospects for worldwide energy industries, “underscores the increasingly complex nature of the global oil and energy industries,” OPEC’s Secretary General, Haitham Al Ghais, said in a statement.

  • The world economy is expected to more than double in size by 2045, while the population is projected to increase by 1.6 billion at that point, according to the outlook.
  • Alongside those economic and population surges, the report forecasts that global energy demand will increase by 23 percent.  

Fossil fuels to remain strong: While the report acknowledges that “all forms of energy will be needed to address future energy needs,” it predicts that oil will remain the biggest contributor to the global energy mix.

  • Oil will likely account for a 28.9 percent share in 2045.
  • Fossil fuels are collectively expected to make up a 69.6 percent share of the energy mix by that time, down from 80.2 percent today.

Renewable expansion: The outlook projects that renewables — mainly solar, wind and geothermal — will expand “significantly faster than any other source of energy,” by about 7.1 percent each year.

Clashing narratives: OPEC secretary-general Al Ghais accused global policymakers of broadcasting a misleading narrative at last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

  • “It was a time when the narrative around the energy transition appeared to be focused on the question: are you for, or against fossil fuels?” he wrote in a foreword to the report.
  • “To OPEC, this question offered a false dichotomy,” he added, stressing this narrative limited options and “placed some energy sources on the sidelines.”

To read the full story, please click here.  

Thunberg to skip COP27, Sunak reconsidering

Climate activist Greta Thunberg said she would be skipping the upcoming United Nations climate summit, accusing the organizers of “greenwashing,” The Guardian reported.  

Restrictions on civil activism: “I’m not going to COP27 for many reasons, but the space for civil society this year is extremely limited,” she said during a book launch session at London’s Southbank Centre, per The Guardian.

  • Thunberg was referring to the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP27), slated to take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, next week.
  • “The COPs are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing,” she said. 

Place for protesters: Thunberg was also among those activists to sign a petition last week that called upon Egyptian authorities to open up civic space and discharge political prisoners, The Guardian reported.  

The COP27 venue will have a dedicated space for protesters to gather, but it will be set out near a highway and away from the conference center, according to a second Guardian story.  

Biden will be there: The White House officially confirmed on Friday that President Biden will attend the summit, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.   

Sunak signals he may attend: After Downing Street confirmed last week that the U.K.’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, would not be attending COP27, his spokesman said on Monday that the decision was now “under review,” the BBC reported.

  • Sunak came under fire from his political opponents after announcing that he would skip the summit in favor of focusing on domestic issues.
  • Alok Sharma, the British president of last year’s climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow, likewise said that the prime minister should attend. 

Dependent on domestic progress: “The prime minister is focused on pressing domestic issues, most significantly preparing for the autumn statement,” the prime minister’s spokesman said on Monday, per the BBC.

  • The spokesman was referring to a forthcoming economic statement about tax and spending plans.
  • “Any attendance at COP would depend on progress on preparation for that fiscal event,” he added.

Floundering property developer bets on EV rescue

The world’s most indebted property developer is seeking escape from its enormous liabilities through unusual means: a new line of budget electric vehicles (EVs).

  • Embattled Chinese real estate company Evergrande’s automobile subsidiary delivered its first 100 Hengchi 5 electric SUVs over the weekend, Reuters reported.
  • The company has pitched its pivot to the EV market as a means of getting out from under its $300 billion in debt, according to Beijing-based tech news site Pandaily. 

Escape route: Evergrande entered China’s burgeoning EV market in mid-2018, but began to view it as a lifeline after the country’s real estate crisis began in 2022, the South China Morning Post reported.

  • Over the next 10 years, the company aims to become primarily a carmaker, with its real estate business relegated to auxiliary status, according to Pandaily.
  • That’s a tough road, Chinese vehicle consultancy head Chen Jinzhu told the Morning Post.  

“If it cannot make its first production car a hit, Evergrande Auto is unlikely to survive the fierce competition,” Jenzhu added. 

Cash flow problems: Evergrande became a watchword last year for the slow collapse of China’s property sector, which had relied on two decades of steadily increasing prices, The Guardian reported.

  • Now, the cash-strapped company is conserving money by pre-selling models it cannot yet mass produce, the Morning Post reported.
  • “The outcome may not be very promising. People probably will not make the decision to buy before mass production,” said David Zhang, a research fellow at the North China University of Technology.  

Massive threat: Evergrande’s woes bespeak a floundering Chinese property market, according to a report from think tank Atlantic Council. 

The chaos in that sector threatens to undermine an economy that has long been a primary driver of world economic growth, the  Council reporting. 

Motor Monday

Key Metro expansion to open this month, General Motors to launch Hummer e-bike and scaled-back Russian vehicles.

Northern Virginia’s Silver Line extension to open for Thanksgiving

  • An 11.5-mile extension to Northern Virginia’s Silver Line is slated to open on Nov. 15, after four years of delays, The Washington Post reported. The expansion, which will be Metro’s largest in eight years, will connect the system to Dulles International Airport and includes six stations, according to the Post.

General Motors, Recon Power bikes to unveil electric Hummer bike

  • General Motors Corporation and Indiana-based Recon Power Bikes announced a global licensing agreement on Monday to produce a “GMC Hummer EV All-Wheel Drive EBike” that will complement the automaker’s existing Hummer EV Supertruck. The e-bike will be powered by twin 750-watt hub motors and will have three riding modes: rear-wheel, front-wheel and all-wheel for maximum performance, the companies said. 

Russia’s new cars lack standard features

  • Western sanctions and the departure of suppliers have forced Russian new car buyers to features like air bags, anti-lock brakes or automatic transmissions — at least until domestic producers like Lada can develop them in-country, The Wall Street Journal reported. “If you listen to official statements, we are now rebuilding the car industry and making it something else. But what that would be remains unclear,” Evgeny Eskov, editor of the Moscow-based AutoBusinessReview, told the Journal.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online and explore more newsletters here. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Tags COP27 Electric vehicles fossil fuels grain supply Greta Thunberg OPEC Renewable energy Rishi Sunak Russia-Ukraine war solar panels

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