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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Activist investors' push to make the world's largest energy companies commit to ambitious climate targets is entering a new phase.

Why it matters: A key thing to watch now is whether and how energy giants start providing more granular information on how to transform the pledges into concrete steps.

  • Thus far, while there have been varying levels of specifics, there remain very large blanks to fill in across the board, even as "net-zero" is the coin of the realm for European headquartered multinational oil giants (though resisted by U.S.-based majors ExxonMobil and Chevron).

Driving the news: Power giant Southern Company yesterday pledged to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, joining a bunch of other big utilities who made similar vows over the past year or so.

  • The move came the same day that BP officials, at their annual meeting, said the COVID-19 pandemic would not alter the wide-ranging climate plans the company rolled out in February.

The big picture: "[P]ressing for more detail on how these plans will be implemented is definitely the next step at all of these companies," says Andrew Logan of the sustainable investment advocacy group Ceres.

  • "There is particular concern about whether the near-term goals companies have set are ambitious enough to actually get them to the 2050 goals without having to assume some miraculous development on the technology front," says Logan, whose work is focused on oil companies.
  • And check out yesterday's statement from investors affiliated with the Climate Action 100+ network, which welcomes BP's steps but calls for more clarity on how they'll start getting there in the near- and medium-term.

What they're saying: Advocates similarly called for specifics from Southern Company — which has a power mix heavily reliant on gas and coal — even as they praised the new goal.

  • Lila Holzman of the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow says they "look forward to more clarity on how it will achieve this new target, especially with regard to its large natural gas fleet."

Flashback: Axios' Amy Harder recently looked at Duke Energy's plan, which provides some specifics but also "relies heavily on a vague bucket of low-carbon technologies that aren’t commercially viable yet."

What's next: BP is planning to unveil details of its plan in September.

  • "I think that BP's September announcement — assuming it is sufficiently detailed — will lead to some pointed questions and hopefully some more detailed plans from BP's peers," Logan adds.

Go deeper: Big Oil's "net zero" club grows

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Aug 12, 2020 - Energy & Environment

EIA revises forecast to steeper crude production drop

Data: EIA; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

This week is bringing new snapshots of how hard the pandemic hit the U.S. oil patch earlier this year and the difficult path ahead, even as demand is now haltingly returning and prices have recovered somewhat.

Driving the news: The U.S. Energy Information Administration yesterday offered its latest downward revision of its domestic crude oil production forecast.

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.