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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

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

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Fauci: Children "very likely" to get COVID vaccine at start of 2022

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Children under age 12 will "very likely" be able to get vaccinated for coronavirus at the "earliest the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Why it matters: Children generally aren't at risk of serious coronavirus infections, but vaccinating them will be key to protecting the adults around them and, eventually, reaching herd immunity, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.