Oct 15, 2021

Axios Generate

🎉 Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,227 words, 5 minutes.

📊 Data point of the day: >99%: Likelihood that 2021 will be one of the top 10 warmest years on record worldwide, according to NOAA.

🚨 Situational awareness: Via CNN, Sen. Joe Manchin reportedly said "we're in the middle of an energy crisis" to explain his opposition to aggressive climate measures in Democrats' stalled spending legislation.

🚨 Situational awareness, part 2: Brent crude oil prices today cracked $85-per-barrel for the first time since October 2018 before easing slightly. Go deeper

🎶 And happy birthday (it's Sunday) to Ziggy Marley, who has this week's final intro tune...

1 big thing: From great to so-so expectations

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The UN Climate Summit in Glasgow is less than 20 days away, and diplomats have entered a crucial period when expectations are raised or lowered to guard against any blowback that might come from a particular outcome, Andrew writes.

Driving the news: Officials in the U.S. and abroad are sending clear signals that the odds that COP26 will meet some of its most important goals are diminishing, for a variety of reasons both macro and micro in scale.

The latest: U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry raised eyebrows in an AP interview published Thursday when he said there will be "gaps" between the emissions pledges secured at COP26 and the cuts needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious temperature target.

  • This target would limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels by 2100 — a threshold for avoiding some of the greatest harms.
  • But meeting it would require a 45% global cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 — a staggering turnabout from current trends.

What they're saying: “It would be wonderful if everybody came and everybody hit the 1.5 degrees mark now,” Kerry told the AP. “That would be terrific. But some countries just don’t have the energy mix yet that allows them to do that.”

It's one of several such warnings he's provided recently.

  • Kerry also blamed the Democrats' failure to pass robust climate legislation for slowing momentum and hurting U.S. credibility going into Glasgow.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki later said the president's climate agenda does not start or finish with COP26 and played down the ramifications for the summit of climate legislation.

Meanwhile, UN officials and U.K. leaders, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have also been saying that some of the summit’s goals are in doubt.

Yes, but: Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, a low-lying island nation, told Axios there is still momentum heading into Glasgow, "with positions still evolving."

  • "The RMI and our close partners across vulnerable regions remain deeply committed to seeing 1.5-[degree] aligned plans... If there are gaps, then we need to address those head-on," she said.

Be smart: There has never been a COP held amid the level of geopolitical strife and disruption present today, one veteran of international climate negotiations dating back to the 1990s tells Axios.

  • The response to COVID-19 widened the gap between rich and poor nations and generated distrust.
  • There’s also a deepening energy crisis, and hostility between the U.S. and China, the top two greenhouse gas emitters.
  • These geopolitical factors argue against major breakthroughs at COP26, the source said.

What we’re watching: New emissions reduction commitments and climate finance pledges just ahead of the summit.

Go deeper

2. Australian PM is in for COP26, China's Xi looks out

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed today that he's attending the UN climate summit, ending the suspense over whether he'd show, Ben writes.

Driving the news: "I confirmed my attendance at the Glasgow summit, which I'm looking forward to attending, it's an important event," Morrison said at a news conference.

The big picture: Australia is a major coal and gas exporting nation and has come under domestic and international criticism for not acting more aggressively on global warming.

The intrigue: The Times reports that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson "has been told that President Xi of China will not attend next month’s critical climate change conference in Glasgow."

Why it matters: China is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter and its emissions cuts — or lack thereof — are critical to keeping the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement viable.

3. White House vows to tackle "systemic" climate risk

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new White House report calls climate change a "systemic risk" to the U.S. financial system, and presents a "roadmap" to building a "climate-resilient" economy, Ben writes.

Why it matters: Aides emphasized that "systemic" framing to promote the compendium of efforts such as...

  • White House plans to consider the effects of climate change in budget forecasts.
  • HUD plans to weave climate risks into federally backed mortgages.
  • FEMA plans to revise building standards in flood zones.
  • Labor Department plans to ensure retirement fund managers can weigh climate in investment decisions.

The big picture: The report asserts that "U.S. financial markets and institutions face systemic risks from climate change."

  • “Its inclusion in this roadmap reflects our belief that because many financial models and investment portfolios still rely on out of date assumptions of climatic stability, climate change is already creating severe disruptions to our economic and financial system,” Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director at the National Economic Council, told reporters Thursday night.

What we're watching: It's among the documents called for under a May executive order on climate risk.

  • The order tasks the Treasury Department-led Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) with separate upcoming analysis on risk disclosures and stitching climate risks into regulation and supervision of banks and other institutions.
  • FSOC meets Monday on the topic.

Quick take: Axios chief financial correspondent Felix Salmon says calling climate change a systemic risk to financial markets provides direction to FSOC.

The FSOC hasn’t achieved much to date, but in theory, it is very powerful, he notes.

4. The stormy threat to energy infrastructure
Expand chart
Data: IEA World Energy Outlook 2021; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

The International Energy Agency's big annual World Energy Outlook this week explores how extreme weather worsened by climate change means growing risks to energy infrastructure, Ben writes.

The big picture: Heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires and powerful storms are all threats to various forms of infrastructure. The chart above zooms in on tropical cyclones (tropical storms and hurricanes).

"According to our geospatial analysis, around a quarter of the world’s electricity networks are estimated to be at high risk of destructive cyclone winds," IEA notes.

What's next: It calls for steps like mandating assessments of infrastructure to "determine vulnerabilities and adaptation priorities."

Go deeper

5. Americans perceive a rise in extreme weather, Pew finds
Expand chart
Data: Pew Research; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Americans are taking notice of extreme weather events, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, Andrew writes.

Details: Two-thirds of Americans say extreme weather events in the U.S. have been occurring more frequently than in the past, while only 28% said they've been taking place about as often, and just 4% perceiving a dropoff in frequency.

  • So far in 2021, the U.S. has seen a record 18 billion-dollar extreme weather events.
  • When it comes to extreme weather events in their backyards, 46% of U.S. adults say the area where they live has had an extreme weather event over the past year.
  • The area with the greatest number of people reporting an extreme weather event was the South Central Census Division. It includes Louisiana, a state hit hard by Hurricane Ida and heavy rainfall events.

Yes, but: Even on perceptions of extreme weather events, there is a partisan split, the survey found, with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents more likely to report experiencing extreme weather than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

  • The survey of 10,371 Americans took place from Sept. 13-19, 2021, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.
6. Catch up fast: Coal, LNG, Shell

Europe: Reuters reports that Germany's Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats' pending agreement on a coalition government includes "exit from coal-fired power stations by 2030."

China: Also via Reuters, "major Chinese energy companies are in advanced talks with U.S. exporters to secure long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies" as soaring prices and power shortages fuel energy security concerns there.

Big Oil: "Shell’s head of gas and renewable energy is leaving the business after 25 years in the latest shake up in the teams leading the transition towards cleaner fuels at Europe’s energy majors." (Financial Times)