Sending a signal to the market: Assessing how the Paris Agreement impacts perceptions of risk of investing in fossil and clean energy projects

Keith Benes and Caitlin Augustine

To make an orderly transition away from fossil fuel supplies of energy (if one is possible), investors need a clear market signal that investing in unmitigated fossil fuel supply is becoming more risky, and that investing in clean energy is becoming less risky. A dominant theme of the UNFCCC Paris negotiations was that Paris Agreement would send just such a signal to the market. The UN Secretary-General stated that Paris “finally provides the policy signals the private sector has asked for to help accelerate the low-carbon transformation of the global economy”. Some commentators have connected Paris and other international climate efforts, to the coal industry struggles in the United States. Though Paris sent a positive message on climate change, the question remains, which parts of the Paris outcome sent signal(s) to the market? We conducted a survey of 100 experienced investors and 200+ laypersons from different countries to assess the Paris Agreement’s impact on perceptions of the risks of investing in different fossil fuel and clean energy sectors. The research provides a measure of the signal that Paris sent to the market about the relative riskiness of different investments, of how international efforts compare in importance with in-country policies, and of whether there are lessons from Paris that can inform other international efforts, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and/or SE4All. In this paper, we present these preliminary results and analysis and provide initial recommendations for policy-makers looking to capitalize on the signal.

Towards a global coal mining moratorium? A comparative analysis of coal mining policies in the U.S., China, India, Indonesia and Australia

Mathieu Blondeel and Thijs Van de Graaf

In order to limit climate change to 2°C above pre-industrial times, it is imperative to phase out the use of coal. The world’s five largest coal-producing countries are reacting very differently to this challenge. The U.S. and China have recently imposed three-year moratoria on the approval of new coal mining leases, while Indonesia announced that it will issue a similar temporary halt on mining permissions. Contrarily, Australia and India continue to issue new coal mine licenses. This paper examines whether the domestic moratoria on new coal mining leases in the two largest producing countries, China and the U.S., could eventually lead to a global moratorium, in accordance with Finnemore and Sikkink’s “life cycle” theory of an international norm. To estimate whether a global moratorium could arise, it is vital to understand what the common and/or country-specific drivers are behind the (lack of) moratorium policies. We will therefore conduct a comparative analysis of coal mining policies in the five largest coal producers (China, the U.S., India, Indonesia and Australia), and assess the extent to which their coal mining policies are driven by factors such as economic interests (e.g. protecting coal companies and their workers from the over-capacity and low prices that are hitting the industry), environmental awareness, and public protests. The underlying goal is to gauge the extent to which the (uneven) spread of coal mining bans reflects the emergence of a global norm to keep coal in the ground.     Download full paper PDF »

Anti-fossil fuel norms: A proposal for Fossil Fuel Free Zones

Fergus Green

Nuclear weapons testing, slavery, women’s disenfranchisement, and asbestos mining are all practices that were once considered normal throughout large parts of the world. Today, robust global moral norms socially condition states and their citizens to see these practices as morally wrong – and to regulate them accordingly. Yet the conscious construction of moral norms by motivated agents (“norm entrepreneurs”) has historically not played much of a role in global climate change governance, as states and civil society instead attempted to craft highly legalized, technocratic international regimes to reduce emissions through a logic of enforceable incentives. Recently, this has begun to change. With the Paris Agreement came a turn toward weakly legalized (or “soft”) moral norms and processes that seek to achieve emissions cuts indirectly through a logic of “political mobilization”. At the same time, NGOs have been mobilizing effectively, on their own terms, around new norms to delegitimize fossil fuels – as exemplified by the divestment movement and the campaign for No New Coal Mines. This paper argues that a strategic effort to foster such “anti-fossil fuel norms” is the next frontier in global climate governance, and builds on the logic of the Paris Agreement. Specifically, it explains why these norms are likely to proliferate, become widely adopted, and be increasingly effective in mobilizing political support to phase down fossil fuels, especially coal. It also introduces a proposal for a system of nested norms called Fossil Fuel Free Zones, drawing on the historical analogy of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones treaties.     Download full paper PDF »

Causation in Australian climate litigation

Claire Stockwell

Litigation is a poor supply-side management tool, but that has not stopped Australian NGOs and concerned citizens from challenging the planning approval of GHG emissions-intensive developments (largely coal mines and coal-fired power stations) on climate change grounds for over 20 years. This type of litigation faces a number of challenges. This paper explores one: causation, specifically the matter of pre-emption. Those seeking planning approval often argue that refusing to grant consent to a particular development will make no difference to global GHG levels. For instance, if one particular coal mine is not opened, coal will simply be sourced from another. In effect, the causal impact of one mine, in terms of GHG emissions, is pre-empted by another. Some judges have found the argument compelling. Most notable is a 2014 Queensland coal mine case which is currently on appeal on this point. This paper argues that this approach to causation is inappropriate in an environmental planning context and present an alternative view. Whatever the role of the courts in addressing climate change may be, the causal impact that GHG emissions-intensive developments ought to be recognized as such.