Axios Generate

A green lightbulb.
November 15, 2021

Welcome back. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,221 words, 5 minutes.

🎶 U2's album "Achtung Baby" turns 30 this week and provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Making sense of the Glasgow deal

Photo illustration of a collage of a person in a suit walking out of the frame, with Glasgow and colored shapes in the background.
Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Lauren Crothers/Getty Images

The mixed, messy COP26 outcome won't rein in global warming — summit texts and pledges simply can't do that — but it offered reasons for both hope and skepticism about spurring actions that can, Ben writes.

Catch up fast: The Glasgow deal reached Saturday calls for moving away from coal and completed years of talks on the structure of carbon markets. But it lacks provisions sought by vulnerable nations on compensation for climate-related losses.

A few takeaways...

The needle is moving, but not enough. Analyses released at COP26 — from Climate Action Tracker (CAT) and the UN — say nations' formal emissions 2030 pledges are progress, but would still enable highly dangerous warming levels.

Throw in those gauzy pledges of net-zero emissions by 2050 and the Paris targets seem more feasible. But at risk of sounding like a broken record, all this comes with the galactically big caveat "if implemented."

There was drama to spare. Just before the summit closed, India and China demanded and won weaker anti-coal language (calling for a "phase down" not "phase out").

That followed a surprise on Wednesday when the U.S and China put aside deep tensions with a pledge to work together.

There was dissonance to spare too. Pledges and constant invocation of "ambition" occurred against the backdrop of fossil fuel use and emissions bouncing back from pandemic-fueled 2020 declines.

The steep, sustained cuts needed to keep Paris Agreement goals from slipping away are nowhere in sight yet.

However, the final summit text went where previous ones didn't by explicitly targeting fossil fuels.

COP26 underscored the limits of consensus. A big theme was the flowering of ad-hoc coalitions in areas like deforestation, cutting methane emissions, speeding EV growth and more.

As we noted here via Tufts' Kelly Sims Gallagher, the coalitions reveal that it's "difficult to get consensus on 190+ parties, but some countries are ready to take action now."

There were bitter pills for the most vulnerable nations. Not only has long-promised finance failed to fully materialize, but COP26 ended without firm commitment to compensate developing nations for ravages of global warming they've played little role in causing.

But this topic — called "loss and damage" — is now on the climate negotiations radar in a way it wasn't previously, notes Mohamed Adow, director of the Kenya-based think tank Power Shift Africa.

Big divides were on display. The NYT reports there was a "clear gender and generation gap" at COP26.

"Those with the power to make decisions about how much the world warms in the coming decades are mostly old and male. Those who are angriest about the pace of climate action are mostly young and female," notes their post-summit takeaways piece.

2. The brutal gap between ambition and reality

Data: Global Carbon Project, BP; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

One thing that was unavoidable at COP26 was the jarring dissonance between the pledges of action and the current global energy and emissions trajectory, Ben writes.

The big picture: Check out the chart above, which shows the upward march of global fossil fuel consumption even as renewables have surged.

Use dipped in 2020 during the pandemic but emissions are rebounding this year. Those steep and sustained cuts that summits like COP26 are supposed to help enable? Nowhere in evidence.

What they're saying: Columbia University climate expert Jason Bordoff delves into this ambition-reality gap on the "Talking Politics" podcast that's affiliated with the London Review of Books (h/t to this @dwallacewells piece).

  • "Right now, I fear that it's getting wider apart, because the ambition, fortunately, is being elevated. But the more the ambition is elevated, the more the gap widens, unless the reality starts to change as fast or faster," he said.
  • "And the reality is, oil use is going up each year, gas use is going up each year, coal is going up now, maybe it's going to plateau, it's not falling off a cliff. And that is just how hard the math of decarbonization is."
  • "So we just need that reality to change much more quickly. And the math is unforgiving."

3. Catch up fast: Shell, crude, natural gas

Big Oil: "Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it plans to consolidate its dual British and Dutch structure and move its headquarters to London, a historic shift the oil giant said would help it navigate the transition to low-carbon energy." (WSJ)

Oil markets: "Crude oil prices fell on Monday on expectations of increasing supply, while higher energy costs and rising COVID-19 cases are also seen weighing on demand." (Reuters)

Oil policy: "The Biden administration on Monday will propose a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling in Chaco Canyon and surrounding areas in northwestern New Mexico, a sacred tribal site that also contains valuable oil and gas." (Washington Post)

Europe and Russia: "European natural gas futures extended gains as Russia keeps a grip on supplies to the energy-hungry region." (Bloomberg)

4. The global food waste problem

Photo of thrown away food
Food waste from a shop in London. Photo: Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images

One-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year, Axios' Bryan Walsh reports.

Why it matters: Given the rising cost of staples and growing rates of global hunger, curtailing food waste could be one of the most efficient ways to feed more people with the food already produced.

By the numbers: 1.3 billion metric tons of food never makes it to consumers, either lost between the farm and the market or wasted once it gets there, according to a new report from the appliance maker Bosch.

  • China produces the most food waste overall, at 179 million metric tons, followed by India at 128 million metric tons and the U.S. at 45 million metric tons.
  • On a per-capita basis, Greece has the highest levels of household food waste, at 141 kg per capita, while Malaysia tops the table for waste from food service and retail establishments.

The bottom line: The good news for a still hungry world is that we can potentially feed more people without increasing emissions by making more out of what we already have.

5. 👀 On our radar: Congress, China, oil

The House could vote this week on Democrats' $1.75 trillion social, health and climate package. But the real action is across Capitol Hill in the Senate, where the timing and structure remain highly uncertain, Ben writes.

  • Why it matters: The plan contains huge new investments and incentives for clean energy, electric cars and more that would amount to the largest climate package in U.S. history.
  • Yes, but: Via Axios' Hans Nichols, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s decision to take up defense legislation this week likely will push Senate consideration of President Biden's Build Back Better plan into December, piling more anxiety onto progressives. Go deeper

Diplomacy: President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are slated to hold their virtual meeting this evening. We'll be looking for discussion on energy and any follow-up to the U.S.-China agreement to work together on climate at COP26.

Per the State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a preparatory call with this Chinese counterpart, "stressed the importance of taking measures to ensure global energy supply and price volatility do not imperil global economic recovery."

Oil-and-gas: Tuesday brings the next edition of the International Energy Agency's monthly oil market report, the closely watched and often market-moving look at supply and demand trends.

On Wednesday the Interior Department will hold its latest auction of Gulf of Mexico oil-and-gas leases.