May 20, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning, how was your weekend?

My latest Harder Line column takes stock of the latest action among corporations on climate change. I'll then dive into the OPEC, Aussie and other latest news.

1 big thing: The corporate shift on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Corporate America is calling on Congress to pass big climate policy in the most aggressive and united way since 2009.

Driving the news: Companies across virtually all sectors of the economy, including big oil producers, are beginning to lobby Washington to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

The intrigue: This is happening against a tumultuous background that may not welcome such a shift.

  • On the one side, President Trump outright dismisses climate change as a serious issue.
  • On the other side, a loud chorus of environmentalists and progressive leaders, led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, say big corporations — especially fossil-fuel producers — can’t be trusted.

Where it stands: 3 separate but similar corporate-led campaigns are calling for an explicit price on carbon emissions.

1. Americans for Carbon Dividends: 3 big energy companies — Shell, BP and EDF Renewables — have committed new funding over the next 2 years, with Shell and BP offering $1 million each and EDF promising $200,000.

  • The lobbying group wants Congress to pass policy putting a tax (backers call it a fee) on carbon and returning the money raised to consumers.
  • It already has funding from numerous other big companies, including ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

2. Ceres: In a sign of the influence of investors, this nonprofit, which works on sustainable investments, is organizing a lobbying push this week with more than 75 companies, including BP, Microsoft and Tesla.

3. CEO Climate Dialogue: A new coalition of more than a dozen major corporations and 4 environmental groups launched last week will urge Congress to pass legislation putting a price on CO2 emissions.

What they're saying: David Doniger, a strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group not officially connected to any of these new campaigns, tells Axios...

“They see a rising public demand for action and they’re smart enough to know this extreme denial of the Trump era will not last and may be coming to a halt in 2020."

The big picture: Several years-long trends are driving corporations to ask for government policy — but it’s not really about saving the planet.

  • It’s about investor and legal pressure, falling prices for renewable energy, new bounties of cleaner-burning natural gas, and growing public concern about a warming planet’s impacts.
  • The fervor around the Green New Deal, backed by AOC and Sanders, has accelerated this shift among businesses, which are worried about the far-reaching impacts of that progressive proposal.
  • While many Republicans are beginning to talk about climate change more, the party is almost universally and categorically opposed to explicit prices on carbon — at least publicly.
2. One level deeper: New notable climate polling

Another tidbit from my latest column: Messaging firm Luntz Global released a survey today that found broad support for the climate change plan pushed by Americans for Carbon Dividends.

Why it matters: The company's founder, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, is known for suggesting in a 2002 memo that Republicans should start using “climate change” over “global warming” because it sounded less scary.

  • The fact that this firm, which rarely discloses its work and has been researching this topic for decades, is publicly releasing a survey that’s positive for action on climate change is a sign of how much public consensus has evolved.
“This is the first time we’ve polled a climate plan that has real positive appeal across Republicans and Democrats.”
— Nick Wright, partner, Luntz Global

What they’re saying: Republican Rep. Tom Reed said he opposes a “straight-out” carbon tax, but finds the dividend idea “more intriguing.”

  • “If it’s coming out of American pockets, and going back in, at least it’s not going into government bureaucracy,” Reed said in an interview in his office last week.
  • He cautioned: “But as I generally am opposed to carbon taxes, I would have to see a compelling case made to me to support that."
3. Seeking balance, OPEC mulls production hike
Giphy

Modest production hikes are on the table for June's OPEC meeting following a gathering this past weekend in Saudi Arabia of the Middle Eastern-led oil group and other producing countries.

Driving the news: "Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told reporters at the event that he was recommending 'gently' driving oil inventories down. But he added that OPEC would not make hasty decisions about output ahead of the June meeting," CNBC reported.

  • "Two sources said Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, and Russia were discussing two main scenarios for June’s OPEC+ meeting and that both frameworks proposed higher output from the second half," Reuters reported.

Background: OPEC and non-OPEC producers led by Russia agreed in December to cut output by 1.2 million barrels a day for 6 months, which has led to increased and relative stabile prices since then.

The intrigue: Via the WSJ: "The meeting comes as the U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia have all warned in recent days that they could stagger into a military conflict in the Middle East. After the U.S. ban on Iran’s oil exports, two Saudi tankers were struck by unknown attackers, a Saudi pipeline was hit by an Iranian ally and the U.S. beefed up its naval presence in the Persian Gulf and pulled diplomats out of Iraq."

What's next: The next big OPEC meeting is set for June 26 in Vienna, Austria.

4. Coal trumped climate action in Aussie election

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Australian voters turned against center-left opponents pushing aggressive strategies to combat climate change when they re-elected Australia's conservative government in the country's national elections on Saturday, the WSJ reports.

Our thought bubble: The elections indicate that Australia will continue to closely resemble the Trump administration’s positioning on climate change.

  • Climate change, and whether to act aggressively to address it, featured prominently in this election. So, the results suggest that either voters don’t care as much about the issue compared to others or they prefer less aggressive measures like what the current leadership is pursuing.

The big picture: WSJ writes...

“Climate change, a thorny problem that has ripped apart governments, re-emerged as an election issue following a summer of wildfires, drought, floods and extreme temperatures: Voter support for policies aimed at addressing climate change was at the highest level since 2007. But, as in the U.S., divisions grew more stark as the issue gathered steam.”

One level deeper: Several Liberal Party candidates won in the state of Queensland, near the Great Barrier Reef, per NYT.

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison campaigned in support of major coal mine projects like the proposed Adani coal mine in that region, which would be one of the largest in the world if approved by the government.
  • "Voters favored immediate concerns about jobs over the risks of climate change," the Times reports.

Go deeper: NYT analysis of the election and the climate change angle.

5. Chart: Green assets rising
Expand chart
Data: Institute of International Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

So-called green assets are still niche products but their growth is starting to pick up significantly, data from the Institute of International Finance shows, Axios' Dion Rabouin reports.

What it means: Asset-backed securities (ABS) are groups of mortgages, credit card loans or other typically illiquid assets pooled together and sold as one security. Green ABS are all related to low-carbon assets like solar-powered systems or real estate loans with proceeds used to finance green projects.

  • While still marginal compared to traditional U.S. mortgage-backed securities, which have averaged over $1.5 trillion annually in recent years, IIF finds that green MBS volumes have grown from a trickle of some $6 million per year from 2012–2015 to much more substantial issuance. In 2017 and 2018, green MBS issuance averaged $28.8 billion a year.

Where it stands: The total has now exceeded $55 billion, with the overwhelming majority issued by the government mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

6. Lightning round: protests, sausage, subsidies

BP protests: Climate activists blocked entrance to BP's London headquarters Monday ahead of the oil giant's Tuesday annual meeting where it'll face pressure to "ensure its operations are in line with goals set by the 2015 Paris climate deal to curb global warming." (Reuters)

  • One level deeper: Some activist investors want the company to commit to reducing indirect emissions of products customers use, like Shell has done.

Meat-like moves: Impossible Foods, the company founded on the idea that eradicating beef can save the planet from climate change, unveiled meatless sausage for Little Caesars (The Washington Post)

  • Context: The product complements the company's success with its Impossible Burger, which is increasingly available — including at some Burger King locations.

Dirty oil: Western buyers stop payments to Russia for tainted oil. (Reuters)

  • The intrigue: 'This is probably the biggest Russian oil supply disruption ever. Oil along Druzhba continued to flow during the 1969 Prague Spring uprising, and in 1991 when the Soviet Union was collapsing," a trading source told Reuters.
Ben GemanAmy Harder