By the end of January-early February, many people already acknowledge that they won’t be able to deliver on their grander New Year’s resolutions. So they downsize. What, realistically, can they achieve over the next 11 months?

Something similar seems to be happening with climate action. After three failed attempts to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation in one giant reconciliation bill, congressional Democrats are now trying to determine which parts of the program they might be able to pass separately. 

Similarly, the Biden administration’s failure to swiftly hit its climate targets has further diminished optimism over the already hedged declarations that came from the December 2021 COP26 international climate conference in Glasgow.

In line with these developments, this month’s bookshelf highlights recent reports that focus more narrowly on specific pieces of the climate puzzle the world faces in 2022. 

After a very brief (nine-page) summary of the decisions reached at the UN climate change conference in Glasgow, two reports examine the challenges of adaptation and climate security; three review the roles imagined for hydrogen, methane mitigation, and negative emissions in different climate scenarios; and another three assess choices facing fossil fuel companies and the banks and investment firms that finance them. 

Completing this month’s bookshelf are two short reports that describe how fossil fuel companies and public relations firms work together to spread disinformation on climate change and a third report outlining legal strategies to check their efforts.  

As always, the descriptions of these reports are based on copy provided by the organizations that publish them. All the reports can be downloaded free of charge; two require completion of a registration form.


Outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, by C2ES (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions 2021, 9 pages, free download available here)

At the 26th annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland, governments struggled bitterly over the final text of an agreement, including how to deliver on “ambition,” the phasing out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies, and aid for developing countries. While compromise language was found in these areas that moves things forward, these outcomes do not meet pre-COP expectations for a clear and unambiguous response to get on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C. The main outcomes of the Glasgow Climate Pact – the phrase used to label the main formal outcomes coming out of Glasgow – represents a hard-fought and delicate balance of linked priorities.

What’s Next for the Global Goal on Adaptation? by Patrick Pringle et al (Climate Analytics 2021, 10 pages, free download available here)

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow saw important progress made on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA). Discussions in Glasgow, and the subsequent decision, reinforced that adaptation action is inherently national and local. For developing countries, it is crucial that the GGA reflects the realities on the ground and will be nationally determined and locally appropriate. There is much work still to be done to bring the GGA concept to life. Striking a balance between the GGA serving its ‘global’ purpose, whilst providing sufficient flexibility for countries to describe their own adaptation objectives and progress, will ultimately determine the effectiveness of the GGA.

Climate Security Risk Briefers 2021, by Climate and Security Program Fellows (Center for Climate and Security 2021, 60 pages, free download available here

These are unprecedented times. The world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, while democracies and economies around the globe are tested. Through it all, climate change is destabilizing natural and social systems, and driving new security risks. It has never been more important to engage the next generation of leaders on addressing these systemic risks. The 2019-2020 Climate and Security Fellows bring the necessary diversity of perspectives and backgrounds to address such wicked problems. Each chose a topic that they felt was underrepresented in the current literature and deserved further examination. Our hope is that these briefers will spark a broader conversation on these vital security concerns. 

Geopolitics of Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor, by CF-GET (International Renewable Energy Agency 2022, 112 pages, free download available here)

With the growing momentum to establish a global hydrogen market comes the need for a deeper understanding of its broader effects, including geopolitical aspects. IRENA has carried out an in-depth analysis of the geopolitics of hydrogen as part of the work of the Collaborative Framework on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation. This report considers whether and how hydrogen may disrupt future energy systems, reflecting on many of the key themes discussed in previous IRENA reports. The analysis offers insights into how countries and stakeholders can navigate the uncertainties and shape the development of hydrogen markets, and outlines policy considerations to help mitigate the geopolitical risks and capitalize on opportunities. 

Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions, edited by Drew Shindell (United Nations Environment Programme 2021, 173 pages, free download available here)

The assessment highlights the critical role that cutting methane emissions, including from the fossil fuel industry, plays in slowing the rate of global warming. Cutting human-caused methane by 45% this decade would keep warming beneath a threshold agreed by world leaders. There are multiple benefits to acting including: the rapid reduction of warming, which can help prevent dangerous climate tipping points; improved air quality that can save hundreds of thousands of lives; improve food security by preventing crop losses; and create jobs through mitigation efforts while increasing productivity through reduced heat stress.

The Case for Negative Emissions, Coalition Staff (Coalition for Negative Emissions 2021, 144 pages, free download available here)

This report has been prepared and published to set out the research and science behind the Coalition for Negative Emissions’ view that the world is damagingly unprepared to keep to a 1.5°C pathway. In fact, we find that if negative emissions solutions are not delivered at scale, even if all the 1.5°C emissions reductions pathway requirements are met, the world will break the carbon budget and exceed 1.5°C warming before 2040. We publish this report with the hope that a pooling of thinking will push the practical development of negative emissions solutions to speedy implementation, which we see as vital to stabilizing the climate alongside the current range of reductions pathways.

Adapt to Survive: Why Oil Companies Must Plane for Net Zero and Avoid Stranded Assets, by Axel Dalman and Mike Coffin (Carbon Tracker 2021, 44 pages, free download available but registration is required)

Carbon Tracker’s fifth annual analysis of the risk of investing in oil and gas producers warns investors that companies have not woken up to the “seismic implications” of the International Energy Agency’s finding that no investment in new oil and gas production is needed if the world aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C. This report focuses on modelling the International Energy Agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) for 1.65C. We also show the implications of the IEA’s more stringent Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario for 1.5C. Both scenarios result in net zero emissions, but at different times and through different means. For comparison, we also include a high-demand or business-as-usual pathway resulting in 2.7°C of warming.

Wall Street’s Carbon Bubble: The Gloal Emissions of the U.S. Financial Sector, by Ben Cushing et al (Sierra Club & Center for American Progress 2021, 26 pages, free download available here)

This new report from the Sierra Club, Solomon Strategies LLC, and the Center for American Progress sheds light on U.S. financial institutions’ role in contributing to climate change through the emissions that the sector finances. The report finds that 8 banks and 10 asset managers financed an estimated total of 1.968 billion tons carbon dioxide equivalent based on year-end disclosures from 2020. To put this figure in perspective, if the companies in this study were a country, they would have the fifth-largest emissions in the world, falling between Russia and Indonesia. The report also highlights actions the Biden administration and financial regulators can take to curb financial sector investments in the increasingly risky fossil fuel industry.

Managing Peak Oil: Why Rising Oil Prices Could Create a Stranded Asset Trap as the Energy Transition Accelerates, by Axel Dalman et al (Carbon Tracker 2022, 28 pages, free download available but registration is required) 

Managing Peak Oil considers the financial implications of a future where demand increases into the mid-2020s and then falls rapidly. It finds that the best route to meet that demand while preserving value is to maintain a conservative approach to long-term investment and meet short-term demand with shale projects that can deliver new production quickly. This report explores a non-linear demand pathway consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 1.8°C. It shows how companies can manage the peak in demand, while reducing the risk of wasting investment. Two different ways forward for the industry in this complex future are explored – one risky and destructive, the other cautious and tailored to the ‘bump’ shape of the expected demand curve.

Beyond Climate Denial: The Public Relations Industry’s Role in Obstructing Climate Action, by Cortie Werthman and Emily Rockwell (Climate Development Lab 2021, 32 pages, free download available here)

Two-thirds of Americans want a greater federal response to climate change, yet national policy on climate is largely nonexistent. This discrepancy is often blamed on political gridlock, an answer that overlooks a major force shaping opinion on climate action: the public relations (PR) industry. Since 1988, organizations with a stake in climate politics have hired PR firms to build public trust. The case studies included in this report show that PR firms employ several tactics: promoting misinformation about climate change, greenwashing, creating front groups, and attacking environmental organizations. To maintain their own reputation, many PR firms highlight their work for environmental groups while relying on contracts with fossil fuel firms

Four Days of Texas-Sized Disinformation: Social Media Companies Threaten Action on Climate Change, by Staff Writers (Friends of the Earth 2021, 12 pages, free download available here)

Just one month after the disinformation-fueled January 6 riot, an extreme winter storm caused rolling blackouts in Texas. Again, social media platforms were the site of mass disinformation about the cause of the power outages, pushing the false narrative that this was caused by the failure of wind energy. While mainstream media debunked this narrative, right-wing outlets and fossil fuel-funded interests exploited social media to spread disinformation. In our research, reviewed the misleading content and then catalogued total interactions (likes, comments, and shares) of high-performing social media posts that amplified the falsehood. We conclude our report with recommendations for Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other online platforms.

Climate-Washing Litigation: Legal Liability for Misleading Climate Communications, edited by Lisa Benjamin and Joana Setzer (Climate Social Science Network, with Lewis & Clark Law School and Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2022, 27 pages, free download available here)

The need to combat greenwashing came under the spotlight at the UN summit COP26 in November 2021. The developments there, as well as mounting pressure from a wide range of stakeholders, are likely to motivate a rise in legal and activist action against greenwashing, amplifying an existing trend in climate litigation that is likely to escalate in the near future. The report analyses this type of litigation, particularly cases and complaints brought against the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The report defines greenwashing in detail (plus climate-washing and climate-washing litigation), provides an in-depth review of actual and potential climate-washing cases, and offers practical recommendations for different stakeholders.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary...