Weekly wrap: Saudi reforms as fossils feel the pressure

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(Flickr/Paul Lowry)

(Flickr/Paul Lowry)

By Megan Darby

Hello and welcome to 2016! After December’s Paris climate deal, fossil fuel producers are under pressure like never before – and it shows.

As sectarian tensions flare in the Middle East amid sub-$35 a barrel oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Muhammad bin Salman is eyeing major reforms.

He wants to float Saudi Aramco on the stock market. This would be a massive step for the world’s biggest oil firm – it has 10x the reserves of ExxonMobil – and open it up to scrutiny. But will other leaders in the conservative petropower share his vision?

Jai Hind

India’s coal imports fell a massive 34% in December. Before climate types get too excited, that was more down to domestic production increasing than clean energy making inroads. But it further undermines the case for controversial coal mine expansion in Australia.

“India was the essentially last flame of hope for the beleaguered seaborne thermal coal industry. December’s import data confirms the last flicker has been snuffed out” – Tim Buckley, director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

Battle lines

In America, relations between the energy lobby and climate campaigners are only getting more confrontational.

TransCanada is suing President Barack Obama’s administration for blocking its Keystone XL pipeline, seeking US$15 billion damages. American Petroleum Institute chief Jack Gerard described it as a “powerful cautionary tale” as he set out plans to fight back through the presidential election.

“When you’re willing to let global warming drive up the temperature enough to resemble hell on Earth, perhaps you deserve to be demonized” – 350 strategy director Jamie Henn

Friends of the Earth is urging Obama to go further in his last year as president and block future Arctic oil drilling.

Plus the US government is taking Volkswagen to court over allegations it cheated on emissions tests.

Geology rocks

When people look at a cliff face in 100,000 years, will they be able to see the impact of human activity today in the layers of rock?

Members of the Anthropocene Working Group believe so. Greenhouse gases, plastic pollution and nuclear fallout are leaving their mark on the Earth’s sediments, geoscientists argue.

But they still have to convince traditionalists that the evidence merits the naming of a new epoch.

Denial lives

In the most comprehensive survey of climate sceptic literature in 15 years, researchers find conservative think tanks are still churning it out. Here are five takeaways from the study.

Eastern promises

At climate talks in Paris, Russian president Vladimir Putin touted a leftfield global warming fix: carbon nanotubes. These tiny fibres can strengthen materials so you need less of them, cutting emissions.

Well, that’s the theory, but experts were not convinced. “This is really a bunch of nonsense,” says US chemistry professor James Tour.

If he really wanted to go green, Putin could invest in a super-grid for a 100% renewable Central Asia. That is both feasible and economically competitive, according to Finnish researchers.

Number of the week

1.5 million – number of cars’ annual emissions equivalent to warming impact of the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak in California

Big brother

China is launching its first carbon-monitoring satellite in May, increasing scrutiny on polluters from space.

Together with US, Russian, Japanese and European modules, it leaves nowhere to hide for polluters.

Quick hits

Bangladesh: Coal power plans are stalling
Study: Global warming could dry up power production
UK: Activists crowdfund court costs for coal mine shutdown

Crystal ball

Our editor Ed King has risked a few predictions for 2016: eight about climate change and one on football that he already regrets.

Coming up in January

16: Taiwan parliamentary and presidential election

16-17: International Renewable Energy Agency assembly, Abu Dhabi

20-23: World Economic Forum, Davos

Get our full 2016 climate calendar here

Read more on: Breaking News