From presidential politics to China to oil prices, here’s what I’m watching this year.
The big picture: A few key decisive moments this year will help determine whether concerns over climate change — rising since my last two annual outlook columns — will translate into action that would transform our global energy system.
1. Politicking. I see a new high water mark for climate change’s role in the presidential contest among Democratic candidates. And although it’s unlikely to be the biggest topic, I expect it to be a wedge issue in the general election more than it has been in previous cycles.
2. Bottom of the barrel for oil and gas. Amid the wild card that is increased geopolitical risk in the oil-rich Middle East, global oil prices remain moderate and are producing reliably affordable gasoline. That’s great for consumers — and President Trump’s re-election campaign — but not so good for oil producers.
3. Big Oil’s greenish shifts. Political, investor and activist pressure is compelling some oil companies to accelerate a trend that has been underway in earnest since 2017: Invest in green technologies and set increasingly ambitious emission reduction targets.
4. Carbon taxes. That trend among major oil companies is adding momentum and money to what is still a long-shot campaign to get Congress to pass legislation pricing carbon emissions.
5. Paris Agreement. The annual United Nations conference in November will be pivotal, with President Trump likely to formally withdraw from the deal and new calls on nations to ratchet up commitments.
6. China moves. China could begin operating a massive cap-and-trade system this year — which would create the world’s largest system for controlling carbon dioxide emissions.
7. Trade wars. Two are underway: the broad tariffs imposed by the Trump administration affecting industries like solar and natural gas and the EU's plan to impose financial penalties on imports from nations that are less aggressive on climate change.
8. Renewable challenges. As the share of wind and solar in electricity grows around the world, so too do their problems — but also the incentives for storage.
9. Senior reactors. Up to 20% of U.S. nuclear reactors could receive approval as soon as this year to run an unprecedented 80 years, after the first such approval late last year.
10. Climate change, in real time. Two trends are colliding: attribution science and more extreme weather fueled by global warming.
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