Dec 14, 2018

The climate battle: Fuels vs emissions

Activists at the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018. Photo:Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

KATOWICE, Poland— Getting off fossil fuels or reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a central sticking point emerging here at a conference to hash out details of the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change.

Why it matters: Nations rich with fossil-fuel resources say the focus should be on reducing emissions whatever way possible, including feasible but expensive technology enabling those fuels to burn without emissions.

Driving the news: Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s minister of energy, industry and mineral resources, issued a defiant statement Thursday saying the Paris deal focused on “reducing emissions rather than banning or restricting energy sources, such as fossil fuels" but then changed.

“What we have witnessed since then is, unfortunately, a sharp deviation from the provisions agreed in Paris. Indeed, we are seeing an undue emphasis on energy and particularly oil, with efforts to impose excessive and unrealistic taxes on hydrocarbon fuels.”
— Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources

Saudi Arabia’s sentiment is joined by other fossil-fuel producing nations, including Australia, who participated in a controversial event the Trump administration hosted here earlier this week touting, in part, fossil fuels burned with technology that can capture their carbon dioxide emissions.

  • These countries have a clear self-interest in preserving fossil fuels. But they’re not alone in this position that in order to maximize the chances of significantly reducing global emissions as scientists have said is necessary to limit the most severe impacts of a warmer world, all technologies should be commercialized. That includes the kind that can capture CO2.
  • Fossil fuels provide 81% of the energy consumed in the world. That figure that has not changed in 30 years.

“Everybody has his or her own favorite technology,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental research group, told me ahead of the conference. “We have to make a decision whether or not our aim is to increase our own ego or to decrease the CO2 emissions. If it is the second, then we need all the key technologies.”

The other side: The overwhelming sentiment at this annual United Nations conference, which draws more than 20,000 attendees, is hostile toward fossil fuels. As one illustration: Environmentalists honor “Fossil of the Day” awards to countries deemed to be supporting fossil fuels.

  • Al Gore, the former vice president and long-time climate activist, didn’t mince his words when he told me here Wednesday that it wasn’t possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without reducing the use of fossil fuels. To try to separate those goals is "to believe in the tooth fairy,” Gore said.
  • Lou Leonard, World Wildlife Fund’s senior vice president for climate change and energy, said environmental groups like his wanted the Paris deal to call for getting off fossil fuels, but instead it focused just on emissions. “A lot of us thought that was the wrong thing to do," Leonard told me Thursday.

Go deeper: Trump’s missed opportunity on coal and climate change

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll nears 11,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 10,900 in the U.S. early Tuesday, per Johns Hopkins data. More than 1,000 people in the U.S. have died of coronavirus-related conditions each day since April 1.

Why it matters: U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Sunday this week will be "the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives" — calling it our "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment."

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 1,347,803 — Total deaths: 74,807 — Total recoveries: 277,402Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 368,196 — Total deaths: 10,986 — Total recoveries: 19,828Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: President Trump's economic adviser Peter Navarro warned White House colleagues in late January the coronavirus could take over half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, memos obtained by Axios show.
  4. 2020 update: Wisconsin Supreme Court blocks governor's attempt to delay in-person primary voting delayed until June.
  5. States latest: West Coast states send ventilators to New York and other states with more immediate need — Data suggest coronavirus curve may be flattening in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
  6. World update: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to intensive care as coronavirus symptoms worsen.
  7. Stocks latest: The S&P 500 closed up 7% on Monday, while the Dow rose more than 1,500 points.
  8. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Docs: Navarro memos warning mass death circulated West Wing in January

Image from a memo to President Trump

In late January, President Trump's economic adviser Peter Navarro warned his White House colleagues the novel coronavirus could take more than half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, according to memos obtained by Axios.

  • By late February, Navarro was even more alarmed, and he warned his colleagues, in another memo, that up to two million Americans could die of the virus.

Driving the news: Navarro's grim estimates are set out in two memos — one dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the National Security Council, the other dated Feb. 23 and addressed to the president. The NSC circulated both memos around the White House and multiple agencies.

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