Sep 20, 2021

Axios Generate

☀️ Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,291 words, 5 minutes.

📊 Data point of the day: >10%. That's just the latest surge in European natural gas prices amid the continent's energy crunch, Bloomberg reports.

🎶 The late R&B great Luther Vandross' album "Give Me the Reason" turns 35 this week and provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: The breadth and limits of corporate carbon moves

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week will showcase how more big companies are taking steps to cut emissions — and why corporate pledges only go so far, Ben writes.

The big picture: It's Climate Week. That's the annual New York City event that brings together businesses, governments and activists for speeches, symposiums and pledges.

The event typically serves as a venue for corporations to announce their latest efforts, and that's already starting.

Driving the news: This morning Amazon said that 86 more companies have adopted the "Climate Pledge" it launched in 2019 under which corporations commit to net-zero emissions by 2040.

  • New signatories include Procter & Gamble, HP, Salesforce and Nespresso, and the coalition now counts over 200 members, including existing members like Unilever, Siemens, JetBlue, Coca-Cola and more.
  • The pledges from all signatories combined would cut emissions nearly 2 billion metric tons relative to a 2020 baseline, or over 5% of current annual global emissions, Amazon said.

Why it matters: That's a lot of avoided emissions! But nonbinding pledges are hardly a guarantee that steep cuts will happen.

  • That's true even though plenty of large companies are already taking tangible steps — for instance, corporate renewables procurement has been surging for years.
  • And even if carried out, there's little doubt that global emissions cuts in line with the Paris climate agreement won't happen without a level of government policy implementation worldwide that's nowhere to be found yet.

And that brings us to the next item...

2. Sifting for clues within a climate whirlwind

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

High-level talks in New York City and Washington this week will provide more signals about what might get done — or not — at the critical United Nations climate summit this fall, Andrew writes.

Driving the news: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres convene a closed-door gathering of leaders this morning on the sidelines of the U.S. General Assembly.

  • The meeting will focus on the gap between current climate commitments and what is actually needed to rein in global warming.
  • There are growing concerns the climate summit set to begin in Glasgow on Oct. 31, which more than 100 heads of state now plan to attend, could fall well short of what's needed to meet the Paris Agreement's temperature targets.

What they're saying: "We need to rebuild trust between developed countries and developing countries if we want to rescue COP26," Guterres told GZERO World's Ian Bremmer on Sunday.

  • "We are on the verge of an abyss. And one thing is clear, if you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step," Guterres said.
  • A chair's summary of the confab will offer clues about country positions going into the final sprint to Glasgow.

Meanwhile, Johnson will also visit Washington this week, where climate will be a major topic of discussion with the Biden administration.

Bonus: More warning signs ahead of COP26
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Data: OECD; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Two new reports show the gap between multilateral climate goals and what's actually happening, Ben writes.

Driving the news: OECD data shows developed economies are falling short of a 2009 pledge to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing nations cut emissions and adapt to warming.

Some developing countries view the fulfillment of the pledge as a prerequisite to offering new, more stringent emissions targets.

What they're saying: "The limited progress in overall climate finance volumes between 2018 and 2019 is disappointing, particularly ahead of COP26," Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of OECD, said in a statement Friday.

While complete 2020 data isn't yet available, "it is clear that climate finance will remain well short of its target," he said.

Threat level: A separate U.N. report Friday warns that even if current national emissions pledges are implemented, global emissions are slated to rise by 16% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. Go deeper

3. First look: Real estate firms invest $140 million in climate tech

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Large real estate companies are putting $140 million into a climate tech fund that aims to help decarbonize the sector, according to an announcement Monday morning from the venture firm Fifth Wall, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: The funding round, which includes some of the largest players in the industry, signals growing momentum toward backing new technologies needed to slash carbon emissions to net-zero by midcentury and achieve negative emissions thereafter.

Details: Fifth Wall, a venture firm focused on technology for the real estate industry, says the new investors in its climate tech fund include large players such as Equity Residential, Hudson Pacific Properties, Invitation Homes, Ivanhoe Cambridge and others.

  • The fund aims for a total raise of $500 million, and it plans to invest in mainly early-stage businesses, Brendan Wallace, co-founder and managing partner, told Axios.
  • "Real estate is kind of this massive industry when it comes to climate change, but at the same time we haven't seen the industry commit a significant amount of capital to the tech that's required to decarbonize it," Wallace said.
  • The Fifth Wall Climate Tech Fund has invested in several companies so far, including Sealed and Turntide Technologies.
  • Fifth Wall is a Certified B Corporation venture capital firm with about $2.5 billion in commitments and capital under management.

Context: The real estate sector is a significant player when it comes to climate change. According to the U.N. Environment Program, the buildings sector accounted for 38% of all global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2019.

4. The green potential of lab-made dairy

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Key components in dairy products can be made in a lab with a much smaller environmental footprint than conventional dairy products, according to an analysis by lab-made dairy startup Perfect Day, Axios' Bryan Walsh reports.

Why it matters: Cows — and the methane they produce — are a major contributor to the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the dairy sector.

  • Taking them out of the equation could be a net environmental positive.
  • Alternative methods that use fermentation to produce dairy proteins could significantly cut the environmental cost of milk, cheese and ice cream.

By the numbers: In a study released first to Axios, independent researchers tapped by Perfect Day found their process produced over 90% fewer greenhouse gases and required 20% to 60% less energy per kilogram of protein produced compared to conventional bovine dairy protein.

Keep reading

5. Manchin's stance is coming into focus (sort of)


Two new stories together offer more clues about a huge mystery: What is West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin's plan, Ben writes.

Why it matters: He's playing an outsized role in determining the fate of Democratic efforts to move a huge spending and tax package with major clean energy provisions. It's dead without his vote in the 50-50 Senate.

Driving the news, part 1: Axios' Hans Nichols reports that Manchin is privately saying the package of health care, social safety net and energy measures should be put on ice until 2022.

That timeline would influence COP26 this fall. The U.S. would walk into the summit without a big domestic emissions-cutting package, which in turn makes it tougher to push other nations to take aggressive steps.

Driving the news, part 2: The New York Times reports on how Manchin — who chairs the Senate's energy committee — is looking to shape the brewing Democratic plan.

  • A pillar of the legislation is a new system of carrots and sticks — called a Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) — that pushes utilities to speed deployment of zero-carbon power.
  • The NYT reports that Manchin's version "could reward utilities that build new power plants designed to burn natural gas," which emits much less CO2 than coal but still produces significant emissions.
  • Manchin's vision also has less ambitious clean power deployment targets than the version of the CEPP that the White House and House Democrats are backing, it reports.
6. ICYMI: Hard Truths of environmental racism

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The latest installment of Axios' Hard Truths series on systemic racism explores disparate burdens from pollution and global warming.

Check it out, and we've also got a special episode of the Axios Today podcast with guests including EPA administrator Michael Regan.

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