Axios Generate

A green lightbulb.

December 02, 2019

Good morning and welcome back after a brief break! I'll share a glimpse of my latest Harder Line column and then Ben Geman will take over for the rest. 

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,212 words, < 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Why clean energy isn't enough for the climate

Illustration of a large oil barrel casting a shadow over a tiny wind turbine.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Forget renewable energy for a moment. To really fight climate change, the world needs to focus far more on cutting its use of oil, natural gas and coal.

The big picture: Like adding salad to your pasta doesn’t help you lose weight, adding cleaner energy to a world run on fossil fuels won’t cut greenhouse gas emissions. Yet that’s what we’re doing now.

Driving the news: This is the biggest upshot of a new climate-change simulator the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and think tank Climate Interactive will unveil Tuesday, and which I viewed ahead of time.

  • It underscores a concept well known to energy experts, which is that cutting emissions needs to be first about reducing the world’s use of fossil fuels, instead of merely ramping up cleaner forms of energy.
  • This concept is as out of reach as it is well known. Global energy demand keeps increasing, so wind and solar are being added on top of fossil fuels — just like you add salad on top of your pasta.

Reality check: To lose weight, you need to cut (at least some of) the pasta and replace it with something healthier (maybe a salad).

  • What’s needed to tackle climate change is to cut emissions of oil, natural gas and coal, and have cleaner energy sources replace them.
  • Climate change is far more complicated and challenging than your diet, but you get the idea!
“The climate doesn’t just need wind and solar. It needs us to not burn coal, oil, and natural gas.”
— Andrew Jones, co-founder, Climate Interactive

One level deeper: Among the solutions included in the simulator, the one that goes the furthest to cut emissions is also among the least politically viable — a carbon price, which inevitably increases the cost of fossil fuels.

  • “You need to find a way to alleviate the pain of higher energy costs,” Jones said. “There’s no way to get around that.”

What’s next: We'll have a full Axios-curated interactive for you in Tuesday’s Generate when MIT and Climate Interactive unveil their work.

Read more 

2. OPEC+ to gather as challenges mount

OPEC and Russia (among other allied producers) will gather in Vienna late this week to decide the future of their supply-limiting deal.

Why it matters: The OPEC+ group is struggling to prop up prices amid growing supplies from the U.S. and elsewhere, as well as rather soft demand and trade conflicts.

Where it stands: The current pact, which curbs output by 1.2 million barrels per day, runs through March. Officials will debate whether to continue the existing pact or modify it.

  • Reuters reported this morning that there's discussion of deepening the cuts by at least 400,000 barrels per day, and that the prospect is one reason why prices rose earlier this morning.
  • However, their piece notes, "Some in the group are wary of encouraging more U.S. production by measures to support prices."

What's new: The latest headwinds for the cartel blew in this morning when President Trump said he's restoring tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina.

  • Trade wars typically slow down oil demand growth, which is a problem for petro-states.

The intrigue: The latest gathering comes as Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of the long-awaited IPO of state oil giant Aramco.

  • The share pricing is slated to be announced on Dec. 5, the same day the meeting begins.
  • The Wall Street Journal quotes an unnamed Saudi oil adviser who said the kingdom needs "stable prices of at least $60 a barrel."
  • “It can’t afford to have a declining oil price as [this] would hurt domestic investors who have bought into the IPO," the adviser said.

Go deeper: OPEC+ faces decision on oil cuts, with few good options beyond extension (S&P Global Platts)

3. Climate summit opens on heels of sobering data

A big United Nations climate summit opens today in Madrid, Spain.

Why it matters: It follows fresh reports in recent days showing how the world is far off track from even beginning the steep emissions cuts needed to meet the Paris Agreement's goals.

What we're watching: Negotiators will be trying to tackle outstanding decisions about how to implement the Paris deal. A big one is rules for international carbon credit markets.

  • Via Climate Home News, "The issue is paramount to the integrity of the Paris Agreement and negotiators have warned that weak rules could undermine the entire accord and even lead to an increase in emissions."

The big picture: More broadly, the summit is aimed at pushing big polluters to raise their ambition ahead of submitting revised emissions pledges next year.

  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres, at a press conference yesterday, said global efforts have been "utterly inadequate."
  • "In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments — particularly from the main emitters — to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050," he said.

The intrigue: The Trump administration, which is abandoning the agreement, is not sending high-profile officials or top White House aides to the talks.

  • The U.S. delegation is led by Marcia Bernicat, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
  • But, but, but: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is there today with a group of Democratic lawmakers.

4. Chart of the day: LA's EV push in context

Los Angeles officials and partners launched a low-carbon transportation plan that's aimed, among other things, at having EVs account for 80% of vehicles sold and 30% of vehicles on the road in 2028.

Why it matters: The "roadmap" unveiled last week is the latest effort among major cities to move toward more climate-friendly transit options.

But, but, but: Check out the chart above, which shows that L.A. has a long ways to go. It's drawn from data in this Nov. 21 International Council on Clean Transportation report about how different cities are seeking to electrify driving.

What's next: Heavy lifting. The L.A. plan unveiled by multistakeholder Transportation Electrification Partnership calls for crafting policy details over the next year.

  • They envision efforts lumped around consumer incentives, working with ride-hailing and other mobility firms, infrastructure deployment and more.

5. The names behind John Kerry's climate coalition

ICYMI, former Secretary of State John Kerry is launching a coalition of high-profile names — including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Leonardo DiCaprio — aimed at building public support for tougher steps against global warming.

The big picture: The "World War Zero" coalition is designed to evoke the widespread mobilization that the organizers emphasize is needed to combat global warming.

  • They will focus on the national security and public health dimensions of the problem, plus the economic benefits of "mobilizing for a net zero carbon economy," organizers said.

Who they are: Others involved in the effort include...

  • The prominent voting rights activist Stacey Abrams
  • Youth activist Katie Elder
  • Retired Gen. Stan McChrystal, who led the Joint Special Operations Command
  • Former GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich
  • Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Cindy McCain

By the numbers: The initial launch will feature a $500,000 paid media effort. But Kerry tells Emily Atkin, author of the climate newsletter Heated, that they've raised "several million dollars" and plan to raise more.

What's next: Founding members will begin town hall meetings in January that will last through 2020.

  • They will occur in battleground states to ensure this is "high on the agenda in the political conversation," but also military bases and regions that would benefits from jobs in low-carbon energy, according to a summary of the plan.

Go deeper: John Kerry launches star-studded climate coalition (New York Times)