At the UN Climate Summit on September 23, Chinese Vice Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli announced that China would try to stop the rise of its carbon emissions “as early as possible.” Minister Zhang stated that “as a responsible major developing country, China will make an even greater effort to address climate change and take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with our national conditions.” Zhang spoke after President Obama, who had declared that the U.S. and China bear a “special responsibility to lead,” Mr. Obama said, “That’s what big nations have to do.” According to the Global Carbon Atlas, China is now the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) accounting for 27.6% of global emissions. The U.S. is the second largest emitter. However, the U.S.still emits considerably more GHGs per person, 16 tons per persons compared to China’s 7.2.
President Obama declared that “the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on earth, but we have more to do.” The latter portion of his statement was emphasized on September 26 when the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that U.S. carbon emissions from energy use rose in each of the last two years, largely due to the rebounding economy. The EIA report did note that emissions from the transportation sector were flat because Americans were buying more fuel efficient vehicles, that wind and solar energy sources increased seven percent last year, now accounting for 12 percent of U.S. energy generation.
Last week the heirs of oil baron John D. Rockefeller announced that they would divest their $860 million Rockefeller Brother Fund (RBF) of investments in fossil fuels in light of their contribution to global warming and climate change. The RBF has long been a major supporter of environmental causes, contributing to many of the projects I worked on at the Environmental Defense Fund during the early 1980s. But last week’s announcement drew great attention because the fund is the product of a fortune initially made in the oil industry. The RBF indicated that it would take some time to sell its investments in companies in the fossil fuel industry and subsequent reports suggested that the fund may keep its natural gas investments for a longer period of time.
Last May Stanford University, where I went to law school, announced that it will no longer include companies who mine coal for electricity generation in the investment portfolio of its endowment. The university Board of Trustees acted on the recommendation of its Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing. Harvard University has expressly refused requests that it divest its endowment of companies in the fossil fuel industry, citing concerns that such a move might hurt the fund’s returns and the fact that the university uses fossil fuels to heat and light its buildings.
On September 24 the Supreme Court of India upheld a previous decision to revoke 214 coal leases that the Indian government had awarded between 1993 and 2009. The Court found that the leases had been granted to steel, cement and power companies at prices billions of dollars below market rates. The Court not only fined the companies $4.85 per metric ton of coal they had mined under the leases, but it also barred them from receiving future leases. The companies were given six months to wind down their coal operations before turning them back over to a government entity. While some observers expressed fear that the decision could exacerbate energy shortages in India, the Court noted that the leases account for only 7 percent of the country’s coal production and that they may be reallocated in the future. Neha Thirani Bagri, India’s Top Court Revokes Coal Leases, N.Y. Times, Sept. 25, 2014.