Planet Watch
air pollution

UN climate talks delayed one year by COVID-19

International climate negotiations will be delayed by a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UK government announced. The next summit, dubbed COP26, was due to take place this November in Glasgow, but has now been put off to November 2021. Delaying the talks could encourage governments, industrial concerns and financial institutions to adopt recovery plans with high climate costs—such as a bailout for the oil companies. The postponement is particularly critical given the failure of last year’s summit, held in Madrid, to reach any agreement. (Photo: Ralf Vetterle, Pixabay)

Planet Watch
san francisco

San Francisco suit against oil companies remanded

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a federal judge’s dismissal of a climate change lawsuit against oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, setting the stage for the case to be heard in a more favorable California state court. The two cities are seeking billions of dollars from the companies in a special “abatement fund,” alleging their practices knowingly led to problems the cities must now contend with, including rising seas and extreme weather. The case was dismissed by a district judge, who held that the courts lacked jurisdiction in the matter. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case back to the district judge, ordering him to give further consideration to whether his court has jurisdiction. If he again finds his court lacks jurisdiction, the case must go before state court. (Photo: World Population Review)

Planet Watch
iraq.pipeline

Yes, ‘peak oil’—but demand, not supply

After oil prices went negative for the first time ever last month, they are now starting to rise again as lockdowns imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually lifted. US crude is now back to nearly $30 a barrel. But this is less than half what the price was a year ago, and a third what it was a dozen years ago. Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, is at the forefront of the cartel’s effort to squeeze supply to consumer nations, as part of its recent deal to curb output. Baghdad just announced a 30% cut of exports to Asia. But it remains to be seen if such measures will jack up prices and ease the economic pain that has led to a remobilization of anti-regime protests, despite pandemic fears. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)

Planet Watch
Oilsands

Negative oil prices slow tar sands production

Despite a new agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to end their price war, the oil market remains in free-fall amid the virtual shut-down of the world economy by the COVID-19 pandemic. The price of the main US and Canadian oil benchmarks have now fallen below zero—the first time oil prices have ever turned negative. Canada, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has already started slashing oil sands output. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2.5 billion in aid to the industry, and Trump is now also pledging a bail-out. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Planet Watch
refinery

Will COVID-19 mean oil industry bailout?

Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in “free-fall,” now predicted to lead to the largest “annual contraction in history.” Canada’s federal government is preparing a bailout package for the oil and gas sector, with a possible value of $15 billion. Among the proposals is a share buyout along the lines of the US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for banks and automotive companies during the 2008 financial crisis. (Photo: kris krüg)

Syria
Syria oil map

Trump lays claim to Syrian oil

Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the US can do “what we want” with the oil-fields it now controls in northeast Syria. This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump’s 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: “I’ll take the oil”—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon. A military showdown over the oil looms, as all sides to the conflict await the new order that will emerge from the current scramble for northern Syria. A contest between the US and Russian-backed Assadist forces is a terrifying possibility. One restraining factor is that the US holds the fields jointly with Kurdish forces—and Washington, Moscow and Damascus alike are attempting to groom the Kurds as proxies. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Planet Watch
emissions

UN climate change conference opens in Madrid

The 2019 UN Climate Change Conference opened in Madrid—originally planned for Chile, but changed due to the political instability there.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged leaders to select the “path of hope.” He characterized this choice as: “A path of resolve, of sustainable solutions. A path where more fossil fuels remain where they should be–in the ground–and where we are on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. That is the only way to limit global temperature rise to the necessary 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.” (Photo: cwizner/Pixabay)

Planet Watch
air pollution

UN releases bleak report on ’emissions gaps’

The UN Environment Program has released its tenth annual report on “emissions gaps,” finding that the current rate of global carbon emissions will lead to an average temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100. The report was completed by international scientists and specialists to assess where countries are in terms of their emissions levels versus where they need to be to avoid the worst damage from climate change. Inger Andersen, the executive director of the program, wrote in the foreword that “[o]ur collective failure to act strongly and early means that we must now implement deep and urgent cuts… This report gives us a stark choice: set in motion the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change.” (Photo: Ralf Vetterle, Pixabay)

Syria
Kurdish protest

Syria: confusion, anger as US troops withdraw

US troops hastened their withdrawal from Syria, amid the anger of local Kurds and confusion over the future status of American forces in the area. Kurdish residents attempted to block a convoy of withdrawing US forces, with local youth pelting the vehicles with stones and rotten vegetables. But the Pentagon is now saying a remnant force of some 200 troops may remain—not to protect the Kurdish population from the Turkish aggression, but to help secure the Kurdish-held oil-fields from falling into the hands of ISIS. Trump actually broached turning the oil-fields over to “one of our big oil companies.” (Photo: ANHA via EA Worldview)

Watching the Shadows
Ukraine

Trump’s phone call: the view from Ukraine

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has finally announced an official impeachment inquiry after reports surfaced that Donald Trump called on a foreign power to intervene in the upcoming election. Trump placed a hold on $391 million in aid to Ukraine just over a week before a July phone call in which he apparently urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden—the son of former US Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s likely opponent in next year’s race. This pretty clearly constitutes use of military aid to Ukraine as a bargaining chip—or an outright bribe. This is not the first time Ukraine’s internal war has become a football in American politics. (Map via Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

Iran
Iran

Oil shock, wider war after Saudi refinery attack?

With some some 5% of the daily global supply wiped out by the drone attack on Saudi facilities, a new oil shock now appears imminent—putting paid to the conventional wisdom that such spikes are a thing of the past due to increased US domestic production. The Persian Gulf reserves remain determinant in global political power. How realistic is the fear of a new shock—or Western military confrontation with Iran? (Map: myket)

The Caribbean
Esequibo

Venezuela revives claim to Guyana territory

Venezuelan prosecutors finally announced charges against opposition leader Juan Guaidó for “high treason”—but not for colluding with foreign powers to overthrow the government. No, Guaidó is to face charges for his apparent intent to renounce Venezuela’s claim to a disputed stretch of territory that has been controlled by neighboring Guyana since the end of colonial rule. The Esequibo region covers 159.000 square kilometers—nearly two-thirds of Guyana’s national territory. The old territorial claim languished for generations—until  2015, when ExxonMobil announced discovery of a big offshore deposit in waters off the Esequibo coast. This came just as Venezuela was sliding into crisis, providing President Nicolás Maduro with a nationalist rallying cry. (Map via El Tiempo Latino)