Jul 22, 2021

Axios Generate

🌄 Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,228 words, < 5 minutes.

📊 Data point of the day: 10,000. That's how many miles of power lines that California utility PG&E plans to bury to reduce wildfire risks. Go deeper

🎶 Stevie Wonder's "Fulfillingness’ First Finale" appeared on this date in 1974 and provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: U.S. and Asian wildfires are setting emissions records
Data: Mark Parrington/Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

Wildfires burning across parts of the U.S. and Canada are unusually intense and are emitting more carbon dioxide than usual during midsummer, scientists say. Huge blazes in Siberia are also adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere while contributing to air pollution, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: The fires are thriving in areas experiencing extreme heat and drought conditions. They are both a consequence of climate change and an accelerant of global warming.

Driving the news: About 300 wildfires are burning in British Columbia alone, and about 80 large fires are burning in the West. In Siberia, intense and widespread wildfires have broken out, particularly in the Sakha Republic.

  • Satellite observations and computer models developed by scientists in Europe show that the fires in North America and Siberia have been unusually intense this summer.
  • The blazes in North America, in particular, are emitting higher amounts of greenhouse gases than what is typically seen at this point in an average wildfire season.

Context: Fires are thriving in environments that have seen persistent weather extremes with clear ties to global warming.

  • In the West, it's drought and extreme heat, including a total of at least four noteworthy heat waves so far this summer — with more likely.

What they're saying: "In the more 10 years that I've been monitoring wildfires in the boreal forests, I can't recall a period where there was such widespread wildfire activity in both North America and Russia simultaneously," Mark Parrington of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, a European agency, told Axios.

The intrigue: There are urgent scientific questions about how the wildfires and unusual warmth in Siberia are affecting permafrost, which is the layer of permanently frozen soil that rings the Arctic.

  • If the blazes are accelerating permafrost thaw, then frozen organic matter locked away for centuries or more would begin to decompose, releasing greenhouse gases and worsening global warming.
  • The jury is still out, though there are some troubling signs, according to Merritt Turetsky, who studies Arctic ecosystems at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
  • "Time will tell if we are watching the beginning of a true regime shift for Arctic fires," she said.

The big picture: Both the severe wildfire season so far in the western U.S. and Siberia are not a fluke, as each has seen a string of extreme fire years of late.

What's next: The peak of the North American wildfire season is still to come, and in recent years, the Siberian fire season has extended into September and even early October.

Read more

2. What's next for DOE's loan programs office

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty Images

Clean technology companies have certainly taken notice of the Energy Department's moves to revive its loan programs office, Ben writes.

Driving the news: "Today we’re already averaging about $7 billion of applications a month and more are coming every day," Jigar Shah, who heads the office, tells IHS Markit in a newly posted interview.

  • "We've got about 40 applications that we know about that are being actively being put together," he said.
  • They include advanced nuclear, renewables, efficiency, carbon storage, EV and battery manufacturing, critical minerals and more, Shah said in the "CERAWeek Conversations" series.

Why it matters: The office is a tool for DOE, using existing powers, to bolster deployment of climate-friendly technologies, but it was largely fallow in the Trump years.

The program, which financed Tesla in 2010, other successful projects but also some duds (famously Solyndra), currently has nearly $44 billion worth of financing authority.

What they're saying: Here's more from the wide-ranging interview...

  • Shah discussed the office's role in a wider effort to address the "wholly unacceptable" pace at which climate solutions are being deployed in the U.S.
  • He said deployment is around $200 billion annually and should get to $1 trillion to achieve U.S. climate goals.
  • One of the barriers, he notes, is a knowledge deficit in project finance and development. "Today we perennially have too much money and not enough projects," Shah said.
  • Shah also touched on specific technologies, at one point noting, "We’re going to be doing several billion dollars’ worth of geothermal loan guarantees."
3. Report: G20 ministers' climate talks stall

G20 environment ministers are "likely to end talks this week without an ambitious deal on climate change, another setback in the fight against rising temperatures ahead of key negotiations this year," Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Its report on the meeting this week in Naples, Italy underscores the difficulty of even agreeing to broad consensus commitments, let alone transforming them into on-the-ground policy.

Driving the news: Phasing out coal is among the sticking points, with Italy, this year's G20 president, pushing for a phaseout pledge in the meeting communique, the story states.

"But the draft document shows the group won’t commit to ending the use of coal domestically, and only urges its members to follow the G-7 in ending overseas coal finance," Bloomberg reports.

Go deeper: Coal's global staying power

4. Biz news: Daimler, BP, Tesla

Electric cars: "Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler said on Thursday it would invest more than 40 billion euros ($47 billion) between 2022 and 2030 to develop battery electric vehicles (EVs), and from 2025 all new vehicle platforms would only make electric cars." (Reuters)

Acquisitions: "BP PLC said Thursday that it has acquired Open Energi, a U.K. AI-driven energy optimization business. The British oil-and-gas major said Open Energi's digital platform uses real-time data to optimize the performance of energy assets." (MarketWatch)

Batteries: "Tesla Inc. has struck a nickel-supply deal with BHP Group, as the electric-car maker seeks to protect itself from a future supply crunch." (Bloomberg)

5. The U.S. Chamber's clean energy standard move

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is laying out what it wants to see in Democrats' brewing push to mandate escalating amounts of zero-carbon electricity, Ben writes.

Why it matters: The K Street powerhouse is closer to Republicans, but its views could influence some moderate Democrats, so that's important given Democrats' razor-thin Capitol Hill margins.

Driving the news: The Chamber explained its posture on a "clean energy standard" (CES) in a letter to lawmakers that comes as the White House and Congress hope to move a CES in a reconciliation package.

  • One noteworthy part: It wants "partial credit for electricity generation resources that feature a reduced (rather than zero) carbon footprint."
  • That means, among other things, natural gas, which emits far less CO2 when burned than coal.

Yes, but: "This conflicts with the path sought by Democrats working on a CES such as Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota, who has said natural gas should only be credited if plants are equipped with carbon capture technologies," notes the Washington Examiner, which first reported on the letter.

Elsewhere, the Chamber letter says the CES should "insulate" existing power plants from "conflicting" regulations and provide a "realistic" timeframe for emissions cuts.

6. The Nord Stream 2 drama's closing act (for now)

Almost nobody is happy with the U.S.-Germany deal on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Axios World editor David Lawler reports.

What they're saying: On the Hill, Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz expressed outrage and Democrats like Sen. Tim Kaine voiced concern. In Europe, the Ukrainians feel bullied and the Poles disappointed.

The big picture: Ukraine and U.S. allies on the eastern flank of NATO argue the Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline will make it easier for Moscow to isolate Kyiv and pressure Europe.

They say the U.S.-Germany deal doesn't sufficiently address those concerns.

  • For Russia and Germany, though, the deal is confirmation a pipeline the Biden White House has called "a Kremlin geopolitical project that threatens European energy security" will be completed.

Read the whole story.