Dec 5, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,041 words, 4 minutes.

And tomorrow marks 25 years since the widespread release of Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: OPEC's moment of decision

Saudi Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud arrives for the 177th OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, on Dec. 5. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

OPEC and Russia are deciding next steps in their 3-year effort to restrict production in order to prop up prices, during their two-day meeting currently underway in Vienna.

Why it matters: It will reveal how Saudi Arabia and Russia, the OPEC+ group's dominant players, will continue grappling with soft global demand and the rise of U.S. shale production.

  • On the latter point, the consultancy Rystad Energy is out with a note this morning that sees U.S. shale output continuing to grow a lot over the next three years even if WTI prices hang around in the $54–$57-per-barrel range. (They're $58-ish right now.)

The intrigue: There's genuine drama heading into this session!

  • It's unclear whether they'll deepen the production cuts, or rollover the agreement that curtails production by 1.2 million barrels per day through March.
  • The looming Saudi Aramco IPO is adding a new wrinkle into the meeting amid reporting that the Saudis want an outcome that will juice oil prices
  • Share pricing will be announced any moment now ahead of trading slated to start this month on the kingdom's domestic exchange.
  • Another thing to watch, per Bloomberg, is how the Saudis will pressure other members of the group to actually adhere to their pledges.
  • "Saudi Arabia is offering fellow OPEC+ members a quid pro quo: If you stop cheating, we’ll curb production," Bloomberg reports.

Where it stands: Financial Times energy editor David Sheppard tweets from Vienna this morning that there's "growing chatter among analysts about a potential ‘Saudi surprise’" — additional cuts of 800,000 barrels per day or more.

  • But he cautions that delegates are tight-lipped. That said, a Rapidan Energy Group note yesterday similarly sees additional cuts as high as 1 million barrels per day.

What's next: The situation is very fluid as we send out this newsletter, so let's circle back tomorrow (and watch the Axios stream in case there's big news).

2. Breaking: GM to unveil major battery deal

General Motors and LG Chem, the South Korea-based battery supplier, are set to announce a major U.S.-based joint venture, according to multiple reports.

Driving the news: Via Reuters, “LG Chem said on Thursday it would invest $916 million in its U.S. subsidiary by 2023” to set up the partnership. GM is expected to invest $1 billion in the effort that involves a facility in Ohio, they report.

Why it matters: The roughly $2 billion venture signals the depth of GM’s push into EVs. The auto giant has previously said it plans to launch 20 electric models by 2023.

3. Research corner: Climate models got it right

Models that climate scientists used in recent decades to project temperature changes have generally been very accurate, a new peer-reviewed study concludes.

Why it matters: It serves to rebut conservative opponents of proposals aimed at cutting emissions, who have long argued that models haven't gotten it right as part of broader attacks on climate science.

What they found: The study in Geophysical Research Letters reviewed the performance of 17 models published between 1970 and 2007.

  • "We find no evidence that the climate models evaluated in this paper have systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over their projection period," the paper states.
  • "In general, past climate model projections evaluated in this analysis were skillful in predicting subsequent [global mean surface temperature] warming in the years after publication."
  • Some, however, showed too much and others too little.

The big picture: Climate models look at the physical relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and temperature, as well as other factors including human-influenced emissions variables like economic growth and technology change.

  • As Vox puts it, it's about "predicting physics vs. predicting humans."
  • If you simply look at how well the models predicted temperature changes that later occurred, 10 of 17 were essentially spot-on — "virtually indistinguishable from observations," as this Washington Post story notes.
  • But if you look at how well models did at assessing the relationship between changing greenhouse concentrations and temperature, they did even better.
  • 14 of the 17 were "consistent with observations," the paper notes, and "statistically indistinguishable from what actually occurred," co-author Gavin Schmidt writes in a blog post.
4. Chart of the day: The (partial) driving rebound
Expand chart
Data from Sivak Applied Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

One reason the intense fight over fuel efficiency and tailpipe CO2 emissions is so important is that per-capita driving levels in the U.S. are persistently high.

By the numbers: Check out the chart above, via transportation analyst Michael Sivak's post this week in Green Car Congress.

  • Distance per person increased nearly 41% (!) from 1984–2004, then dipped 9% over the next decade, but partially rebounded to increase 4.5% from 2013–2018.

Go deeper: Why automakers splintered over Trump's emissions war with California

5. BP and Amazon make a renewables deal

BP will start providing Amazon with renewable electricity to fuel European data centers that power the tech giant's cloud platform, per a Wednesday announcement.

Why it matters: Data centers are very energy thirsty, and account for lots of the tech sector's carbon emissions.

  • More broadly, Big Tech faces increasing pressure to act more aggressively on climate change.
  • The move also signals how Big Oil is slowly diversifying, although fossil fuels remain their dominant products.

What's next: Starting in 2021, BP said it will provide Amazon with 122 megawatts of capacity from an onshore wind farm under development in Sweden, and 50 MW from a new solar project in Spain.

  • They eventually plan on deals encompassing over 400 MW of renewable capacity.

* * *

Speaking of corporate giants with big carbon footprints working together, The Verge reports:

  • "Ford is trying to do its part to combat climate change by recycling old coffee waste from McDonald’s into car parts."
  • The effort involves making bioplastics from coffee bean skins that come off during roasting. It forms car parts that are lighter and use less energy to create, Ford said.
6. Following up: Repsol's net-zero pledge

That was fast. Reuters reports that activist investors hope the oil-and-gas giant Repsol's pledge to have net-zero emissions by 2050 will pressure other majors to get more aggressive.

Why it matters: Their reporting signals how the Spain-based multinational's move announced this week could bring new campaigns against other companies to make similar commitments.

What they're saying: “It is clear that this is a very significant commitment from Repsol that raises the bar across the oil and gas sector,” Adam Matthews of the Church of England's pension board told Reuters.

ICYMI: Repsol this week vowed to achieve net-zero emissions from not only its own operations, but also the use of its fuels in the economy, making it the first oil major with such a pledge covering all those emissions.

Ben GemanAmy Harder