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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The economics, politics and science of climate change are converging and catapulting this problem from a joke among critics to a prominent concern.

Driving the news: Shifts across Washington, D.C., among corporate leaders and within financial institutions are creating a foundation that could produce big movement on this problem for the first time since, well, forever.

Why it matters: If the world’s political and business leaders are going to seriously move to cut heat-trapping emissions, they first need to pay attention to the problem. They are starting to now, fueled by unrest from the world’s youth, cheaper renewable energy, more bouts of extreme weather and other evidence of global warming itself.

The big picture: We’ve written about these shifts individually here and here and here over the past year or more. It’s worth examining them together as a whole because the amount of new attention on climate that’s occurred in a matter of weeks is staggering.

  • Big caveats exist and the prospect of substantive action on the problem remains deeply uncertain, but the arc of change is forming.

In Washington, congressional Republicans and even President Trump are scrambling to acknowledge the problem after years of denying it — and in some cases mocking it outright.

  • At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Trump announced the U.S. would support an initiative to plant trees — natural ways to capture carbon dioxide emissions — even as he slammed climate activists as “prophets of doom.”
  • For the first time ever, the House GOP leadership is pushing policies to address the problem.
  • These policies, in and of themselves, aren't nearly enough to sufficiently tackle the problem, but the shift in GOP rhetoric over just the past year has been stark.
  • Flat-out denialism of humans' role in warming the planet has all but disappeared.

“The issue of climate and the environment is rising in priority for the American voter and you’re seeing the political dynamic shift where people are really demanding their elected officials to address this problem,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) told me last week.

Among corporate executives and financial leaders, climate change is quickly becoming a concrete worry. In addition to it being the sole official topic of the World Economic Forum last week in Davos for the first time, pronouncements on the matter have come from the following entities in just the last several weeks:

These pronouncements — which, by the way, are mostly just rhetoric for now — aren’t coming out of the goodness of the hearts of the rich and powerful. They're coming from a messy mix of activist and investor pressure and an increasing awareness that as extreme weather becomes more common, its economic toll could too.

Skeptics of this newfound attention to climate change among corporate leaders point to a survey released last week in Davos showing that the topic didn’t even break the top 10 list of risks company CEOs say they’re facing.

  • This highlights the inherent mismatch of a risk like climate change that unfolds over decades, if not centuries, and the challenges facing publicly traded companies trying to turn quarterly profits.
  • That’s why right now we’re seeing stronger rhetoric from money managers and financial institutions whose missions are more rooted in longer term risks.

But, but, but: All this does not necessitate a path to big global action to curb emissions. It lays the foundation for that, but a lot more would have to happen to make actual change possible.

  • Goals from corporate and financial entities deserves close and frequent scrutiny for how much is substantive and how much is extra-heavy greenwashing.
  • Trump continues to roll back climate policies, and the Paris Climate Agreement's goals are in serious doubt.

Another big caveat is that although climate change itself poses huge risks, aggressively acting on it does too — and those risks are realized far more quickly and thus may have swift political consequences hindering more action.

  • For example, when energy prices rise, especially when it happens quickly, populations have shown to respond angrily. I’ve called this the big climate disconnect.

What I’m watching: The levers that could incite change — namely, big government policy — from this newfound foundation of attention, including this one:

  • To what degree the current economic status quo of corporate profits becomes threatened seriously enough that businesses really start to lobby Congress for new policy. Big action on climate change is never going to come from pure altruism or activism; an existing economic reason must exist too.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.