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Reordering of the world’s energy systems was never going to be easy or straightforward. At the moment, we are in an ugly phase of the transition, which may either be concerning or just something expected, depending on your perspective and stress level. Bloomberg reported that:

“[coal] demand has soared to a record high, helping triple prices for the world’s dirtiest commodity. Against that backdrop, financiers and nonprofits from around the world are teaming up to develop alternative strategies. The first step, they say: Bring coal back into mainstream finance. The goal is to develop accounting methods that allow lenders and investors who fund coal to document that they’re helping producers transition to a greener business model or nudge mines and coal-fired plants into early retirement. If they can demonstrate that their financial support leads to less pollution than business-as-usual would, they’d get to claim the benefits on their carbon ledger.”

After all the anti-fossil fuel pushes and divestment demands over the past few years, this initiative probably faces an uphill battle. Some of the accounting methodologies being assessed are similar conceptually to those under fire in the carbon offsets world – “quantify[ing] how a company’s emissions profile might look in the future, instead of relying solely on what it looks like today.” That approach didn’t work so well for South Pole, the world’s largest carbon-offsetting firm which is now in a heap of trouble based on a detailed and shocking expose in The New Yorker this week:

“After months of reviewing satellite imagery, the company’s data analysts had determined that deforestation in the control zone was dramatically lower than projected. They estimated that only fifteen million of the forty-two million carbon credits generated by the [Kariba] project had actually been backed by avoided emissions. All the rest of those supposedly offset tons of carbon simply weren’t real… the company finally instructed staff to pause the sale of Kariba credits. By then, South Pole had off-loaded twenty-three million credits from the project – eight million more than it could justify.”

It may not be hard to convince the financial sector to return to opportunities with which they are familiar and where the market has shown 3x price increases. However, it would shake the foundation of many corporate Net Zero plans, targets and goals in the near-to-mid term. The about-face would also create new risks and uncertainties related to assumptions about the future for a revitalized coal sector. Our new checklist “Identifying & Updating Climate Risks and Uncertainties” can help you consider, assess, prioritize and anticipate climate-related risks/disruptions.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile