March 18, 2022
🍺 Friday has arrived. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,265 words, 5 minutes.
🚨 Follow Axios' live updates on the war in Ukraine.
1 big thing: Russia crisis spurs push to cut oil use
The International Energy Agency just unveiled ideas for quickly cutting oil demand at a time when Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine could bring substantial loss of Russian barrels from global markets, Ben writes.
Why it matters: The 10-point plan comes amid IEA warnings that the war could become the biggest supply crisis in decades as countries look to isolate Russia.
It's part of a wider reckoning in Europe — Russia's largest market — and elsewhere over how to curb reliance on Russia while keeping markets supplied and avoiding even greater economic shocks.
Zoom in: The plan says that "immediate actions" in advanced economies could reduce global oil demand by about 2.7 million barrels per day within four months. They include...
Reducing highway speed limits by about 6 miles per hour; more working from home; street changes to encourage walking and cycling; car-free Sundays in cities and restrictions on other days; cutting transit fares; policies that encourage more carpooling; cutting business air travel; and more.
The big picture: Russia is the world's largest combined exporter of crude and oil products combined and the second-largest crude exporter.
The plan arrives two days after IEA projected that Russian exports could fall by around 2.5 million barrels per day next month and maybe more "should restrictions or public condemnation escalate."
My thought bubble: This all seems...maybe hard to imagine? The idea of coordinated adoption of mass behavioral changes on a compressed time frame sounds like an uphill climb.
The intrigue: The report also notes the near-term proposals should be part of wider, longer-term efforts to curb oil demand to help fight climate change and cut air pollution.
It talks up areas like stronger policies for deployment of EVs, charging infrastructure, home heat pumps and more.
"Governments have all the necessary tools at their disposal to put oil demand into decline in the coming years, which would support efforts to both strengthen energy security and achieve vital climate goals," it states.
2. Behind the curtain of the UN's climate panel
The United Nation's climate science panel is offering clues about its next major findings and has revealed a unique, ongoing study of its proceedings, Andrew writes.
What's next: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is set to report new conclusions, focused on mitigating global warming, on April 4.
Why it matters: The IPCC's conclusions on how to avert the most severe consequences of global warming will help guide policymakers and business leaders as they aim to cut emissions.
Driving the news: The new report will for the first time have an extensive discussion of the need for carbon removal technologies in order to meet the Paris Agreement's temperature targets, a co-author said.
Jim Skea — an Imperial College in London researcher who co-chairs the working group on mitigation — revealed that news yesterday at a media briefing before the start of a two-week plenary meeting.
The intrigue: Skea also said the inner workings of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC are being studied, with outside researchers permitted for the first time to observe the group's deliberations during plenary and lead author meetings.
- Jessica O'Reilly, the principal investigator of a National Science Foundation-funded study on climate science assessments and an environmental anthropologist at Indiana University, told Axios in an interview that she hopes to shed light on how scientists from around the world, encompassing multiple disciplines, work toward consensus.
3. US drought footprint to expand during spring
In an alarming new outlook, the National Weather Service said yesterday that drought conditions are likely to persist and even expand across a vast stretch of the country, Andrew writes.
The big picture: As of March 15, drought extended across about 61% of the country, the greatest drought extent seen since 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- That figure may grow, with the official spring outlook, released yesterday, calling for "prolonged, persistent drought" in the West yet again.
Context: After a winter that featured record rain and snow for December in much of California, then switched to dry conditions since, much of the West is facing the prospect of heading into yet another warm season with precipitation deficits.
- Lake Powell, in Arizona, fell below 3.525 feet this week, putting it at its lowest level since the lake was first filled more than 50 years ago.
- Drought conditions are likely to worsen this summer in much of the West and the High Plains, as conditions favor warmer and drier temperatures.
The bottom line: The West is facing difficult water management decisions, along with heightened wildfire risks.
- In the Southwest, the persistent drought amounts to a historical, climate-change-driven megadrought worse than any on record in at least 1,200 years.
4. Ukraine crisis clouds global EV rollout
Electric vehicle makers in the U.S. and Europe are scrambling to manage threats to supplies of key battery materials and the global supply chain following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Axios' Alan Neuhauser reports.
Why it matters: Russia supplies nearly half of the world’s palladium and roughly 10% of the market's supply of nickel, as well as large quantities of aluminum and copper — key ingredients in EV batteries.
- Sanctions and divestment efforts threaten those supplies — with some experts warning of potential "complete loss of Russian palladium."
- The potential disruption is yet another supply chain headache and inflation driver.
Driving the news: S&P Global Mobility this week dramatically lowered its production forecast by 2.6 million light vehicles in 2022 and 2023, to 81.6 million vehicles this year and 88.5 million next year.
By the numbers: Nickel prices have soared as much as 230%, and Tesla's "affordable" Model 3 has jumped by $2,000 to nearly $47,000.
5. Big VC names stake carbon removal startup
Heirloom, a startup developing novel tech for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, raised $53 million in a Series A round that includes boldface names in climate VC, Ben writes.
Driving the news: The Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures co-led the round with Carbon Direct Capital Management and Ahren Innovation Capital.
- Others involved include Microsoft's climate VC arm and Chris Sacca's Lowercarbon Capital.
How it works: Heirloom, founded in 2020, hopes to massively speed up the process by which cheap abundant minerals called carbonates — such as limestone — naturally absorb CO2.
- Their tech heats carbonates to very high temperatures in kilns powered with renewable energy, which breaks it down into CO2 and calcium oxide.
- The CO2 is captured for geologic storage. The calcium oxide is spread out and exposed to the air.
- It then uptakes more CO2 and re-forms carbonates, which are fed back into kilns to separate more CO2 for storage or other uses like building materials. Go deeper.
- Bloomberg has more.
The big picture: Heirloom is among a suite of young DAC startups.
Players that are further along, like Climeworks and Carbon Engineering, are also attracting investment and have launched commercial removal contracts with customers.
But bringing down costs significantly will be key to whether DAC can move the needle on climate.
Why it matters: DAC, if the tech truly scales, could complement renewables, electric cars, efficiency, and other energy tech that slashes new emissions.
But much faster deployment of zero-carbon energy is needed to prevent blowing past the Paris Agreement goals.
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Speaking of DAC, 1PointFive, a DAC developer building a commercial-scale plant with Carbon Engineering, announced that Airbus has bought 400,000 metric tons of removal credits. 1PointFive is Occidental Petroleum's DAC development arm.
Bonus venture notes: shipping and hydrogen
Marine emissions: "Microsoft is leading a $34 million investment in Nautilus Labs, a startup that uses data analytics to help giant ocean-crossing cargo ships reduce their fuel consumption and chart more efficient voyages." (Canary Media)
Toyota: The auto giant's VC arm said this week that it's backing the green hydrogen startup Ecolectro.