September 30, 2022

😌 Friday is here, but it's a sobering one amid Hurricane Ian's toll. Today's newsletter has a Smart Brevity count of 1,289 words, 5 minutes.

🚨Breaking: EU nations agreed on moves to tackle the bloc's crisis via mandatory power demand cuts and tapping energy firms' "windfall" profits to support consumers and businesses, per Bloomberg.

Let's dive in ...

1 big thing: U.S. pushes for aviation emissions cuts

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Erin Kirkland/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. is using multilateral talks in Montreal to seek stronger emissions targets for aviation — and the Democrats' climate law is providing diplomatic leverage, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells Andrew in an exclusive interview.

Why it matters: Aviation accounted for just 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, but it is growing quickly.

Context: Countries oversee the sector through international cooperative organizations, primarily the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Driving the news: The ICAO has moved slowly to set goals for reducing the industry's emissions. The U.S. is working with other countries to speed things up during an ongoing ICAO meeting in Montreal.

  • The development of new technologies, from sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) to electric planes, has helped spur a new push for a tougher but non-binding goal.

What they're saying: Buttigieg said the policy steps the U.S. has recently taken, such as passing the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Democrats' climate bill, has given the country more credibility as a climate leader at the aviation summit.

  • "The last time I saw some of the ministers who are here was in Glasgow for the COP talks," Buttigieg said, referring to last year's Glasgow Climate Summit. "And, at the time, there were a lot of questions about whether the U.S. was going to be in a position to actually support the kind of goals that we were setting."
  • Now, he said, "there's enormous momentum coming into this conversation. And it's really energizing for us to be in a leadership position now."

The big picture: The administration is working to get other countries to jump on board the Biden's administration's own 2050 net-zero target for aviation emissions.

  • Buttigieg said achieving this target requires a mix of using SAFs, advancing new propulsion technologies; air traffic control and routing reforms that provide flights with more direct, fuel-saving paths; and other measures.
  • Under the new laws, the Biden administration has incentivized SAF production through FAA grants and federal tax credits.

Between the lines: The ongoing talks are among the first international climate meetings since the passage of the new law and could provide early signs of whether it carries weight with other countries.

  • While SAFs are not a zero-carbon fuel, they can reduce the life-cycle carbon footprint of flying and are part of a portfolio of solutions, Buttigieg said.

Yes, but: The closely followed Climate Action Tracker examined the ICAO proposals, including net zero by 2050, compared to what is needed to achieve the Paris Agreement's 1.5-degree temperature target.

  • The group rated them as "highly" to "critically insufficient."

What's next: The climate package is expected to be considered early next week.

2. Hurricane Ian nears landfall in South Carolina

Satellite view of Hurricane Ian approaching South Carolina today. Source: CIRA/RAMMB

Hurricane Ian, now a Category 1 storm, is set to strike the South Carolina coast today, Andrew writes.

Threat level: The storm contains maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, and has the potential to cause significant coastal flooding.

  • It is forecast to bring a storm surge of 4 to 7 feet above normally dry land across much of the state's shoreline.
  • This includes the low-lying city of Charleston, where heavy rain, high winds and storm surge could combine for damaging flooding, depending on the track.

Context: Such storms can cause more coastal damage today than they were capable of just a few decades ago, due to sea level rise from human-caused climate change.

  • Sea level rise gives surge a higher floor from which to launch from, allowing water to push further inland.

Meanwhile ... The devastation Ian left in southwest Florida is becoming more evident.

Bonus: Lightning strikes illuminated Ian's eye

Data: Chris Vagasky, Vaisala; Map: Erin Davis and Jared Whalen/Axios Visuals

One of the most unusual aspects of Hurricane Ian's Florida landfall was the nearly continuous lightning within the area of towering storms surrounding its eye, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: Frequent lightning has been observed within the eyewall of rapidly intensifying storms before. However, this was a rare event, according to Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist at Vaisala.

What they're saying: "For an Atlantic storm, this is more lightning in the eyewall than I've seen in any other landfalling storm," Vagasky told Axios via email.

Context: The eyewall is the ring of towering clouds containing the storm's fiercest winds immediately surrounding the relatively calm eye.

3. Car dealers' electric lurch, and more EV notes

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Auto dealerships' business is changing fast as car sales move online and electric vehicles get more popular, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

The big picture: First-time EV buyers have lots of questions about charging and more.

  • Down the road, pre-owned EV buyers will need more hand-holding, too.
  • Dealerships that adapt best will look something like the automotive version of Apple's Genius Bar, experts say.

Threat level: Carmakers are delivering an ultimatum of sorts to their franchised dealers: Evolve and invest for the EV era, or say goodbye.

Keep reading

🚗 Here's more EV news on our radar this morning ...

  • The startup Lordstown Motors has modestly started commercial production of its pickup truck, with two rolling off the line at a Foxconn plant in Ohio. But the firm is still struggling, AP notes.
  • On the policy front, New York state officials are planning to require that all new passenger vehicles sold there be zero-emissions by 2035, matching California's plans. TechCrunch has more.

4. Zoom in on the tussle over permitting

Data: Brookings; Note: Does not include state and local permitting; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

This chart about South Fork Wind between Rhode Island and New York is adapted from a new Brookings Institution primer on permitting for major energy projects, Ben writes.

  • The timeline for this offshore wind farm is a real-world look at something hotly debated lately — how to speed review of energy infrastructure.

Why it matters: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is struggling to gain traction for his proposal to cut timelines for fossil fuel pipelines, power transmission, renewables and more. This week, lacking votes, he abandoned efforts to include the plan on a short-term government funding bill. But lawmakers are still talking.

What they're saying: The Brookings analysts credit the Biden administration with some efforts to speed permitting under its existing powers, but they add: "The need for an extremely aggressive build-out of renewable energy generation and electric transmission well above historical rates suggests that much more permitting reform for such infrastructure is necessary."

5. 🏃🏽‍♀️Catch up fast on science: CO2, oil, crypto

New analysis on the wealth-emissions nexus finds that since 1990, the top 1% of the global population accounted for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions while the bottom half was responsible for just 16%, Ben writes.

Why it matters: The findings should help inform "fair climate policies" and "stress the need for governments to develop better data on individual emissions to monitor progress towards sustainable lifestyles," it states. Carbon Brief has more.

Elsewhere in science ...

🛢️ "The oil industry practice of burning unwanted methane is less effective than previously assumed, scientists said Thursday, resulting in new estimates for releases of the greenhouse gas in the United States that are about five times as high as earlier ones." (NYT)

"Bitcoin mining’s climate impact is comparable to farming cattle or burning gasoline when taken as a proportion of market value, according to researchers at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque." (Bloomberg)

6. The Fed's cautious journey into climate risk

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Federal Reserve will be using “scenario analyses”  to study the climate-related risks of six Wall Street giants, starting early next year, Ben writes.

  • The banks are Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.

Why it matters: The analyses are the first concrete steps in the Fed's ongoing moves to better understand specific banks' exposure.

Quick take: The Fed is taking pains to show it's not a climate regulator, noting "there will be no capital or supervisory implications from the pilot."

  • That throat-clearing comes as some GOP lawmakers fear these analyses are a stalking horse for policies that steer capital away from fossil fuels.

What we don't know: Specifics. The Fed will publish "details of the climate, economic, and financial variables" when the exercises start, they said.

📬 Did a friend send you this newsletter? Welcome, please sign up.

🙏Thanks to Carlos Cunha and David Nather for edits to today's newsletter.

Have a great weekend and we'll see you Monday!