Welcome to this week’s Media Roundup: a curated digest of top stories and major developments in the climate finance space.
Read on below.
The corporate developer of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline system that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia was charged criminally on Tuesday after a grand jury concluded that it flouted Pennsylvania environmental laws and fouled waterways and residential water supplies across hundreds of miles. Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the sprawling case at a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, where Sunoco Pipeline LP spilled thousands of gallons of drilling fluid last year. The spill, during construction of the troubled Mariner East 2 pipeline, contaminated wetlands, a stream and part of a 535-acre lake. Energy Transfer, Sunoco’s owner, faces 48 criminal charges, most of them for illegally releasing industrial waste at 22 sites in 11 counties across the state. A felony count accuses the operator of willfully failing to report spills to state environmental regulators.
A quiet celebration took place in London last month. It marked the 10th anniversary of the “Carbon Bubble” report, published by the think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, that’s become one of the most influential arguments against burning fossil fuels. Climate change is often described as a “wicked problem.” No specific person is incentivized to tackle it because the benefits will be enjoyed by everyone. But the Carbon Bubble report introduced a completely new way of looking at the problem. Its authors pointed out another truth: the fossil fuel business had to go away if the planet were to survive, and being the last one out the door would be a colossal financial mistake. That risk has caught on in recent years. As the exit from fossil fuels — also driven by technology, policy and consumer pressure — accelerated, many investors began reconsidering the wisdom of owning such assets. It wasn’t a question of being a “climate believer” or wanting to be ethical.
More than 21,000 miles of aging gas pipelines lie under the streets in Massachusetts, nearly enough to encircle the earth. When researchers began discovering about a decade ago that tens of thousands of leaks across that vast network discharged tons of hazardous methane into the air, the Legislature went to work. A law was passed, and in short order, gas companies embarked on a massive, years-long upgrade. Since then, the gas companies have slogged through a slow, expensive process of digging up pipes and replacing them with new ones meant to last more than half a century. Costs soared. And something else happened: The state passed a climate law that effectively called for the end of natural gas.
Last week, the University of Minnesota became the third Big Ten school to declare its intention to disinvest in fossil fuels. Pressure from students had been growing and the administration finally recognized and agreed with the arguments being placed before them. The Gophers will now make no direct investment in fossil-fuel-related companies or make new investments in markets heavily influenced by fossil fuels. They intend to shift current investments either outside of the energy sector or into clean energy. If the Gophers can do it, the Huskers can — and should — too. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln should not be the sixth, eighth or even tenth Big Ten school to join the movement. They should be next in line. UNL must pledge to withdraw current investments in fossil fuels. Not just for their students now, but for generations of students to come.
A university famed for its expertise in assisting Britain’s production of fossil fuels voted this week to sell all its investments in the sector. The governing body of Aberdeen University, since the 1960s at the hub of European offshore oil and gas, agreed a deadline of 2025 to divest the estimated £3.1 million in hydrocarbon stocks in its £52.7 million portfolio, which pays for pensions and endowments. Greeting success after eight years of pressure, divestment campaigners among its staff and students believe Aberdeen is Britain’s 90th college or university so to commit.
Monday, Fossil Free Gonzaga congregated outside of the John J. Hemmingson Center on Gonzaga University’s campus to demonstrate their views on GU’s use and investment in fossil fuels. Fossil Free Gonzaga is a student-led campaign and club that calls upon the end of the current 5.8% endowment investment, roughly $12.4 million, GU has with fossil fuel industries. Similar campaigns to end investments in controversial areas are nothing new. In the 1980s, GU students campaigned for an Apartheid divestment over multiple years. During the 2020-2021 academic school year, the campaign was able to hold virtual meetings with students over Zoom while discussing plans about handling the divestment.
Irish campaigners are backing a campaign to ban advertising and sponsorship by the fossil fuel industry in Europe. The move comes as research into advertising by six major fossil fuel companies shows a concerted effort to promote their activities as green. Friends of the Earth Ireland are among 20 campaign groups who say the advertising, while not illegal, amounts to “greenwashing” and misleads consumers about the companies’ core functions. They want to use the European Citizens’ Initiative which requires the European Commission to consider demands that are backed by one million signatures.
At the same time that Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) signed legislation Monday requiring the city’s three pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry, the sponsor of the bill, City Councilmember Mark Conway (D), introduced four new measures designed to fight climate change. A resolution Conway introduced would adopt a goal of making Baltimore carbon-neutral by 2050. An accompanying bill would require city government to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and set certain reporting requirements. Another bill would align Baltimore with state goals for moving the municipal vehicle fleet fully to electric vehicles: 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2040. And the last bill would require newly constructed buildings and additions to existing buildings that are owned or funded by the municipal government adhere to new “cool” roofing requirements designed to reduce the heat island effect in the city.
The Church of Ireland is to complete its divestment from companies that extract fossil fuels by the end of this year. This will fulfill a commitment made by the governing body three years ago. In 2018, the General Synod agreed that companies – where more than 10% of turnover is derived from fossil fuel extraction – would be excluded from investments made by the Representative Church Body by 2022.
The University of San Diego announced Monday that it will phase out investments in fossil fuels in an effort to align its endowment with the Vatican’s environmental and social goals. The decision, made by trustees of the Catholic institution at their September meeting, aligns investment policy with Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment and society.
Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney’s credibility as a global climate finance leader is under fire as environment lobby groups say he is allowing some of the biggest banks to use him as cover to keep funding fossil fuels. A coalition of environment organizations from Canada and around the world Thursday published full page ads in the Toronto Star and the Financial Times accusing Carney of allowing alliance members to use him and the alliance as cover for continuing to fund fossil fuel production and expansion.