Axios Generate

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November 26, 2019

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,239 words, < 5 minutes.

And happy birthday to the indomitable Tina Turner, who opens today's newsletter with this classic tune...

1 big thing: Nothing is happening remotely fast enough

Illustration showing difficulty of achieving a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature target.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Sorry for the pre-Thanksgiving bummer, but new analyses released ahead of the big UN climate meeting that opens next week in Madrid bring bad news for the planet.

The big picture: The reports show that despite increasing use of climate-friendly tech, especially surging deployment of solar and wind power, steep emissions cuts are nowhere on the horizon.

Driving the news, part 1: This morning the UN released its latest tally of the "emissions gap" — the difference between where greenhouse gas output is heading and estimates of what's needed to keep temperature rise in check.

  • Why it matters: "There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required," it states.
  • By the numbers: "By 2030, emissions would need to be 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2˚C and 1.5°C respectively," the report finds.
  • What's next: The data will help inform discussions next week, and nations are slated to submit updated emissions pledges under the Paris Agreement next year. Under current pledges, the world is on course for a 3.2°C rise by century's end, the report states.
  • Go deeper: In bleak report, U.N. says drastic action is only way to avoid worst effects of climate change (Washington Post)

Driving the news, part 2: The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere isn't slowing down and reached fresh records in 2018, separate data from the UN's World Meteorological Organization data shows.

  • What they found: Growth in atmospheric CO2 levels from 2017–2018 was very similar to the 2016–2017 rise and "practically equal to the average yearly increase over the last decade," the findings released Monday state.
  • Details: Concentrations of two other major GHGs — methane and nitrous oxide — increased more in 2017–2018 than average increases over the prior 10 years.
  • Why it matters: “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement with the report.
  • By the numbers: The CO2 concentration rose by another 2.3 parts-per-million to reach 407.8 ppm. Per Taalas, “It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3–5 million years ago."
  • Go deeper: WMO: Carbon dioxide levels hit the highest recorded in human history

Bonus bummer: A clean energy investment slowdown

Adapted from BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Combined investment in clean energy projects in developing nations fell sharply last year, per newly released data from the research firm BloombergNEF.

Why it matters: The overall decline is largely due to a drop in China, which is by far the world's largest GHG-emitting nation.

  • "Investment in new wind, solar, and other non-large hydro renewables projects in the country fell to $86 billion in 2018 from $122 billion in 2017," a summary notes.
  • However, tallies also dipped for Brazil and India.

But, but, but: It's worth noting that some of the drop is because wind and solar keep getting cheaper.

  • And if you remove China, Brazil and India from the equation, clean energy investment in emerging economies grew somewhat in 2018, BloombergNEF said.

One level deeper: The amount of coal-fired power produced in developing nations increased in 2018 and accounts for a combined 47% of generation in 104 emerging markets surveyed.

  • However, the pace of new coal-fired capacity added to power grids in these markets is slowing.

2. What's new in the natural gas wars

Axios' Amy Harder reports on news from both coasts on city and state battles over natural gas policy.

What's happening: A couple dozen cities across the Bay Area in California could soon move forward with bans on natural gas in new buildings, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in an interview Monday.

  • “We’ve been in active conversations with all those [Bay Area] cities in how we can do that together,” he said.

Where it stands: San Jose is the largest city to pass such a measure in what’s quickly becoming a controversial trend in the Golden State designed to tackle climate change at a more local level.

The big picture: With federal inaction on climate change persisting and the topic becoming increasingly important to liberal-leaning Americans, local politicians are moving ahead with piecemeal policies to clamp down on natural gas and other fossil fuels.

  • Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and reduces emissions when displacing coal, but environmentalists and liberal politicians are nonetheless moving past the fuel toward renewables and other clean energy technologies.

The other side: The California Restaurant Association just sued the other major city that’s taken this step, Berkeley. San Jose’s ordinance doesn’t apply to commercial buildings like Berkeley’s does, however.

* * *

ICYMI, the power company National Grid said Monday it was lifting a moratorium on natural gas services it had imposed in parts of New York since May in response to the state rejecting a pipeline, Amy reports.

Driving the news: National Grid said it will pursue a series of moves, including increasing energy efficiency and relying more on portable compressed natural gas, to ensure supply to its customers.

  • The company will also pay $36 million in penalties to customers affected and also to support clean-energy projects, per Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

Read more

3. The public pulse on climate and energy

Adapted from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Pew Research Center yesterday unveiled a wide-ranging poll on U.S. attitudes about climate and energy policy.

What they found: Check out the chart above, which shows bipartisan support for renewables but steep divides over fossil fuels.

The big picture: Overall, the survey of over 3,600 adults finds that 67% think the federal government is doing too little to combat climate change.

  • There's a partisan gulf there too, with 90% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults having that view, compared to 39% in the Republican and lean-Republican camp.

The intrigue: One finding that caught my eye was the demographic split among Republicans/lean-Republicans on the question of whether the government is doing enough.

  • Among respondents who are boomers and older, 31% say there's not enough action. That rises to 41% among Gen Xers, and 52% who are millennials and younger.
  • But, but, but: The margin of error in the sub-groupings is ±4.1% for the boomers and older, but nearly 7% for the younger generations, so treat the numbers with some caution. But the trend is there.

Go deeper: Poll: Most millennial and Gen Z Republicans want more government climate action. Most boomer Republicans don’t. (Vox)

4. A new climate fund's mission: Act now

A climate technology investment group that counts Leonardo DiCaprio among its advisers yesterday announced the closing of its first funding round and says it exceeded targets.

Why it matters: Princeville Capital's Climate Technology Fund aims to invest over $300 million over the next four years in companies that will deploy "near-term climate solutions," the announcement states.

My thought bubble: It's a recognition of the need to support companies improving or creating technologies that will yield emissions cuts soon.

  • It's a contrast to some other funds, like the Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures, that often focus on longer-horizon startups.

What's next: "The fund will invest in several core climate-focused sectors including smart grid technologies, industrial and building efficiency, precision agriculture, smart cities and technologies that promote climate resilience," the announcement of the fund's closing states.

Go deeper: Leonardo DiCaprio Has a New Job: Advising a Climate Technology Fund (Bloomberg)

5. Following up: The electric pickup moment

An interesting Reuters piece lays out the large number of U.S. companies — at least eight! — planning to introduce electrified pickups in the next two years.

Why it matters: Generate readers are probably familiar with plans by Tesla, Ford, GM and Rivian. But the story name-checks some lesser-known players.

  • "Many of the EV pickups are being touted by newcomers, including Bollinger Motors and Hercules Electric Vehicles, both based in the Detroit area, and Atlis Motor Vehicles, in Mesa, Arizona. Projected prices range from $45,000 to $125,000," they report.