Dec 19, 2019

Axios Generate

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,279 words, ~5 minutes.

And happy birthday (a day late) to The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. One of his Stones gems opens today's edition...

1 big thing: The electric future is real but cloudy
Expand chart
Data: Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy; Chart: Axios Visuals

A new study helps to show that experts are all over the map when it comes to gaming out the rise of electric vehicles in the global marketplace.

Why it matters: The speed at which EVs become truly mainstream is one variable affecting the future of oil demand and carbon emissions. Passenger cars account for roughly a fourth of world oil demand.

What they did: Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy surveyed a suite of long-term forecasts from energy companies, government bodies, think tanks and others.

The study compiled various analysts’ projections on several metrics, including the EVs share of global vehicle sales (as the chart above shows), the share of vehicle miles traveled, and EVs market share of the total fleet.

What they found: The latest round of analyses are slightly less optimistic than last year's projections for several reasons, including weakening U.S. policy and slightly slower projections of battery cost declines.

The study also shows lots of divergences.

  • "By 2040, the range of EVs’ market share is from 15 percent at the bottom to over 90 percent for the low carbon scenarios," writes CGEP's Marianne Kah.
  • "Thus, there is no agreement on whether EVs will be a niche car or whether they will dominate vehicle sales by 2040."

Note: Those super-high penetration rates in the chart above are based on various low carbon scenarios.

They typically assume implementation of strong policies that would enable steep emissions cuts, as opposed to analysts' best guesses of what's most likely to unfold.

2. GM and Ford help fund carbon tax push

Photos: Picture Alliance and Maja Hitij/Getty Images

More companies from across the corporate spectrum are joining a long-shot advocacy effort to pass a carbon tax in a bitterly divided Congress, Axios' Amy Harder reports.

Driving the news: General Motors, Ford, IBM, and two power companies — Calpine Corporation and Vistra Energy — are putting money toward a lobbying campaign that would put a price on CO2 emissions and refund revenue back to consumers.

Where it stands: These companies join several others funding Americans for Carbon Dividends (AFCD), the lobbying arm of the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), a coalition that includes companies, environmental groups and former Republican officials.

  • The groups’ proposal would impose a $40-a-ton tax on CO2 emissions and aims to cut U.S. CO2 emissions in half by 2035.
  • Ted Halstead, CEO of the CLC, says the goal is to see bipartisan proposals introduced in both chambers of Congress next year.

By the numbers:

  • General Motors, Ford and IBM each gave $100,000 to the campaign this year, while Vistra is giving $1 million over two years. Calpine is giving an undisclosed amount, Halstead said.
  • They join ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Exelon and several renewable energy companies in funding the campaign.
  • AFCD raised more than $5 million this year and aims to raise “considerably more” next year, Halstead says.

But, but, but: These figures are often quite small compared to the companies’ overall lobbying efforts. General Motors has spent more than $6 million in the first three quarters of this year; Ford, more than $3 million.

Go deeper

3. What's new in climate politics

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A couple of things caught my eye since our last edition...

Congress: Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune is really upset with congressional Democrats about year-end deals they cut with Republicans and the White House.

They include a tax package that omits expanded incentives for electric vehicles and solar projects and the trade deal he calls a loser for the climate.

  • Why it matters: His tweet thread this week (h/t @drvox) kind of, maybe, suggested that it could affect the Sierra Club's big political operation.
  • One of his tweets said (emphasis added): "The Sierra Club and our more than 4 million members and supporters will not, and cannot accept failure when it comes to protecting our climate for our children and future generations. Primaries, anyone?"
  • Where it stands: Late yesterday afternoon I asked the Sierra Club if they planned to back any Democratic primary challengers in the 2020 congressional elections, but I haven't heard back.

White House race: Elizabeth Warren, in a BuzzFeed column yesterday, laid out what she'd seek to accomplish in her first 100 days on climate change.

  • Why it matters: Presidents have to make tough choices about where to deploy political capital, so Warren is signaling that this would be a priority.
  • The big picture: Warren vowed a day-one executive order "rolling back all of Donald Trump’s disastrous pro-fossil fuels policies," as well as banning new fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters.
  • Another move would be introducing legislation to enable a much faster transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Reality check: Despite the "100-day" vow, much of this would be a splashy move to undertake what would be time-consuming executive policy and push long-shot legislation.
  • Trump administration regulations can't be nixed via executive order. Instead, such an order would be a starting gun for agencies to get to work.
4. BP rolls out new plastics recycling effort

BP and corporate giants including Unilever announced a new consortium Thursday that aims to transform "difficult to recycle" plastic wastes into materials that can be repeatedly used to make high-quality packaging.

Why it matters: The world has a gigantic plastics waste problem, and these are some big players — others involved include food and beverage giant Danone and the big packaging company Alpla.

The big picture: The group aims to speed deployment of BP's "Infinia" technology for recycling polyethylene terephthalate plastic packaging waste.

Rita Griffin, the chief operating officer of BP's petrochemical unit, said, "we know we cannot create circularity on our own." The company is working with others to "prove a practical business model that can hopefully contribute to making all types of polyester waste infinitely recyclable."

Where it stands: Via Bloomberg, "The move follows in the footsteps of a competitor Total SA, which announced last week that it would work alongside companies including Nestle SA and Mars Inc. to develop a nascent chemical-recycling industry in France."

5. Rethinking "business as usual" on climate change

A new analysis could take a step toward resolving a fiery debate: how to think about — and describe — likely levels of future emissions and warming in light of current trends and planned policies.

Driving the news: Two scientists, in a lengthy post via the Breakthrough Institute, conclude Earth is on track to warm by roughly 3°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

  • "This is a far cry from the 1.5°C and 2°C targets enshrined in the Paris agreements, but is also well short of the 4°C to 5°C warming in many 'business as usual' baseline scenarios that continue to be widely used," write Zeke Hausfather and Justin Ritchie.

Why it matters: 3°C means a world far hotter than today.

But it's also far less than would likely be enabled by models using high and even unchecked emissions growth — scenarios that they argue, based on extending the International Energy Agency's 2040 analyses through 2100, are no longer in the cards.

Hausfather and Ritchie see the most likely outcome from current policies is 2.9°C-3.4°C, but that falls to 2.7°C-3°C if nations meet their existing pledges under the Paris deal.

The big picture: 3°C would mean a lot of damaging outcomes, and even warming to date is causing major harms. A big UN-led report last year explored the consequences of breaching 1.5°C (which is quite likely).

But, but, but: They argue that some commonly cited future "pathways" used in climate literature that bring much higher warming levels are looking quite unlikely for several reasons, including efforts over the past decade to move away from coal.

One level deeper: "Even a current policies scenario where emissions continued to steadily grow rather than leveling off after 2040 would still end up well-below the commonly used RCP8.5 (SSP5-8.5) scenario, which represents the highest end of the range of no-policy baseline scenarios examined in the literature."

The intrigue: Needless to say there's plenty of variables because gaming out the future of technology, policy and economic trends is really dicey. There's also uncertainty about the sensitivity of the climate to rising emissions concentrations.