Jan 16, 2020

Axios Generate

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,281 words, 5 minutes.

Situational awareness: "German officials have agreed on a plan to shut down the nation’s coal-fired power plants by the mid to late 2030s, the government said Thursday," AP reports.

And, at this moment in 1974, the late Aretha Franklin was atop the Billboard R&B charts with today's beautiful intro song...

1 big thing: California may miss emissions target
Expand chart
Reproduced from California Energy Policy Simulator; Chart: Axios Visuals

A new analysis finds that California is not on track to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets absent new and toughened clean energy policies.

Why it matters: California has many of the nation's most aggressive programs, so the results shows the difficulty of achieving steep state-level cuts in that state and others adopting ambitious climate targets.

  • California also matters a lot because it's the world's fifth-largest economy and its emissions are the second-largest among U.S. states behind Texas.

But, but, but: The research firm Energy Innovation also lays out ideas for making the state's programs tougher in order to meet the target — changes the authors say would yield billions of dollars in economic and health benefits.

The big picture: The analysis — based on a state-specific version of the firm's "energy policy simulator" — shows that the state's existing policies and trends will drive down emissions but fall short of California's statutory target of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

What they found: The half-dozen policy recommendations include...

  • Changing the state's cap-and-trade program to make minimum pollution permit prices rise faster if emissions cuts aren't on pace for the 2030 target.
  • Boosting the state's zero-emissions vehicles goal to 7.5 million on the roads by 2030, up from the current 5 million target.
  • Creating a zero-emissions performance standard for industrial heating systems.

The bottom line: "California’s policymakers have a challenging job, working at the forefront of global climate action. In effect, they are inventing a sophisticated climate policy machine without obvious precedent," it states.

  • The study was funded by the nonprofit Aspen Global Change Institute.
2. The shale boom's spillover emissions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Speaking of climate, the Gulf Coast industrial facilities built to use surging oil and natural gas production from shale formations could become a very large source of greenhouse gas emissions, a peer-reviewed study concludes.

Why it matters: The paper in Environmental Research Letters bolsters understanding of shale's potential climate effects by looking closely at petrochemical plants, LNG terminals and other facilities (much of it in the planning stages).

What they found: Researchers with the University of Texas-Austin estimate that total annual emissions from the infrastructure build-out could reach 541 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) by 2030.

  • That's more than 8% of total U.S. emissions in 2017 and "roughly equivalent to the emissions of 131 coal-fired power plants."
  • The study explores infrastructure in Texas and Louisiana as well as emissions from oil-and-gas production sites.

The intrigue: They note that while emissions from methane released or burned at well sites gets lots of attention, the bigger problem lies elsewhere.

  • "A substantial fraction of the projected emissions come from petrochemical facilities (38%) and liquefied natural gas terminals (19%)," it states.

But, but, but: There's a whole bunch of caveats worth keeping in mind here! Among them...

  • Most of the emissions come from projects in the planning stages, so it's hard to say how exactly how many will ultimately be built.
  • The study does not address ways that the U.S. gas boom has helped displace coal in electricity production.

What they're saying: Daniel Raimi of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, who has conducted separate research on shale and climate, calls the paper a "valuable, detailed look" at the topic.

  • But he notes that a major limitation, which the authors acknowledge, is that it "does not attempt to define a counterfactual scenario."
  • For instance, if an LNG export facility isn't constructed in the U.S., would it be built in Qatar, Russia or Australia instead?
  • Even domestically, he notes, a petrochemical plant that isn't built in the paper's Gulf Coast study region might get constructed elsewhere in the United States.

The bottom line: "I would tend to view the author’s estimates of emissions associated with the shale boom as an upper bound," Raimi tells me.

3. The fuzzy parts of the U.S.-China trade deal

The newly inked phase one deal calls for China to boost purchases of U.S. energy products — including crude oil and LNG — by $52.4 billion over the next two years.

Why it matters: China is the world's largest oil importer and second-largest LNG consumer.

But, but, but: S&P Global Platts notes that it "could spur more commercial activity for American liquefaction projects, but much will depend on the fate of existing LNG tariffs."

  • They note that no U.S. LNG cargoes have gone to China since March.

The big picture: "Most of the purchases China committed to making are in 2021, so any recurrence of tensions could undercut the deal," the New York Times reports.

  • "More important, executives noted, China made no explicit pledge to eliminate tariffs on energy imports — 5 percent on crude oil and 25 percent on liquefied natural gas — which they viewed as a response to the administration’s refusal to remove tariffs on Chinese goods."
4. IEA: Oil market has "strong" cushion against disruption

The International Energy Agency is putting a highlighter pen over the oil market's ability to shrug off geopolitical conflicts.

Driving the news: "Today’s market where non-OPEC production is rising strongly and OECD stocks are 9 [million barrels] above the five-year average, provides a solid base from which to react to any escalation in geopolitical tension," the agency said in its monthly oil market report this morning.

Why it matters: Oil prices quickly receded after spiking earlier this month in the wake of the U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the subsequent Iranian response.

Threat level: The IEA report also warns that "[r]ecent events have shown that Iraq is a potentially vulnerable supplier, just as its strategic importance has grown." It notes that Iraq's exports have doubled over the last decade to 4 million barrels per day.

Where it stands: Brent crude is currently trading up slightly at $64.28 as traders respond to the U.S.-China trade agreement.

5. A hot year caps a hot decade

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Major analyses released Wednesday conclude that 2019 was the second hottest year in temperature records that date back to the 1800s, behind only 2016 and capping off the warmest decade in modern history.

Why it matters: The data underscore global warming's march even as emissions policies are woefully short of what's projected to be needed to prevent temperatures from eventually blowing past the Paris climate agreement goals.

"The world’s five warmest years have all occurred since 2015 with nine of the 10 warmest years occurring since 2005."
— National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Where it stands: Separate conclusions from NASA, NOAA, and the research group Berkeley Earth are consistent with last week's report from the European Union's Copernicus Climate Service.

The big picture: "The annual global temperature figures for 2019 confirm that the past decade was the warmest on record," NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt said in a statement. "Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before."

By the numbers: Per NOAA, "The average temperature across the globe in 2019 was 1.71 degrees F (0.95 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average and just 0.07 of a degree F (0.04 of a degree C) cooler than the 2016 record."

Go deeper:

6. Renewables notes: lobbying, investment, Pepsi

Congress: Via Cheddar, clean energy industry and green group reps huddled in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to plot 2020 strategy after key priorities were left on the cutting room floor in 2019's year-end Capitol Hill tax deal.

  • Flashback: December's deal between Congress and the White House omitted the expansion of electric vehicle tax credits, extension of solar credits, and plans for a new storage credit, among other things.

Investment: Analysis from the research firm BloombergNEF finds that global investment in new renewable energy capacity grew 1% to $282.2 billion last year, with U.S. investment reaching new records and Chinese spending dipping.

  • Why it matters: While growth is growth (and falling costs mean more bang for the buck), it underscores how growing renewables deployment is helping to meet rising global demand but isn't cutting total fossil fuel consumption.

Corporate procurement: Food and drink giant PepsiCo said Wednesday that all its U.S. operations will be powered by renewables by the end of 2020, although some of that will come from renewable energy credits, as opposed to contracts that directly finance new energy projects.