September 21, 2022
🐪 Halfway there! Today's newsletter has a Smart Brevity count of 1,295 words, 5 minutes.
🚨Today: Join Axios at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event examining what's next for energy reliability after the passage of the new climate law. Guests include Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). Register
🎶 This week in 1971 T. Rex released the glam-rock classic "Electric Warrior," which provides today's intro tune...
1 big thing: The unequal toll of climate disasters
Five years after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is reeling from Hurricane Fiona, which left most households without electricity or access to running water, Axios' Ayurella Horn-Muller reports.
The big picture: Black and Latino communities in the U.S. have long been burdened by the disproportionate impacts of climate change. Fiona is no exception.
Driving the news: Puerto Rico still hasn’t fully recovered from 2017's Hurricane Maria, which resulted in thousands of deaths and the longest power outage in U.S. history, an Associated Press investigation found.
- Now, the island is grappling with what Gov. Pedro Pierluisi calls Fiona’s "catastrophic" damage to its vulnerable infrastructure.
- Depending on the federal response, the next steps could mitigate existing racial and socioeconomic disparities — or exacerbate them.
The backstory: Federal disaster relief has long fallen short in measures of equity. Research demonstrates that unequal recovery efforts following extreme disaster events have contributed to lasting racial and social divides.
- For starters, communities of color are less likely to receive disaster relief aid, especially when compared to white, affluent households, and the communities they live in, according to FEMA's 2020 National Advisory Council report.
- Plus, it's most likely to be wealthy white residents — not residents of color — who relocate to less hazard-prone areas after a hurricane, according to a 2016 study examining the impacts of hurricanes on population change in the Gulf Coast between 1970 and 2005.
Hurricanes leave lasting scars by disrupting public health and health care delivery, according to Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz, a George Washington University public health scientist.
- Hospitals shut down, and patients’ care is halted by power disruptions — a key issue in Puerto Rico following Maria.
- There are also dire shortages of medical supplies like saline solution, as well as damage to infrastructure like water and sewage systems — all of which deepens pre-existing health care inequities.
Between the lines: Having led on-the-ground research on the aftermath of Maria and its predecessor Irma, and being Puerto Rican himself, Rodríguez-Díaz sees the heavily criticized Trump administration’s response — and the ensuing health care crisis — as a product of systemic racism and the island’s colonization.
What we’re watching: Pressing gaps in disaster recovery can be filled, Cassandra Davis of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tells Axios, by continuing to acknowledge social injustice and focusing on who is being left out of relief — which FEMA addressed in a report earlier this year.
As a first step, Davis hopes that begins with the U.S. emergency response to Fiona.
2. First Look: $204 million for ocean initiative
Bloomberg Philanthropies will devote $204 million to create a new ocean protection initiative, Andrew writes.
- The new effort will tackle everything from coral reef protection to monitoring illegal fishing.
Why it matters: The oceans absorb the vast majority of the excess heat caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Ocean heat content, a key climate indicator, keeps hitting record highs.
- The world's seas are acidifying, marine heat waves are occurring more frequently and many tropical coral reef ecosystems are getting closer to the brink.
The big picture: The funding comes on top of the group's prior $160 million ocean commitments, and is partly aimed at motivating others to step up as well.
- The money will go toward the global goal of protecting 30% of the world's oceans by 2030, which focuses on protecting the most biodiverse areas.
- As part of the initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies will support organizations like Oceana and Global Fishing Watch, as well as the Outlaw Ocean Project, among others.
What they're saying: Oceana president James Simon stated the new funding "will shift the attention of climate leaders and funders to ocean ecosystems."
3. Catch up fast on business: gas, EVs, Amazon
👀 Germany's government is nationalizing gas giant Uniper to ensure its "long-term stabilization...in light of the further deteriorating situation in the energy markets," per an announcement, Ben writes.
- Why it matters: The deal, which injects another $8 billion of capital into Uniper, highlights extraordinary steps EU governments are taking to address record prices and energy providers' struggles following Russia's cut in supplies.
- Catch up fast: "Uniper lost €12 billion in the first half of the year, a result of having to pay inflated prices to make up for the Russian shortfall," the NYT reports. The government already bought a partial stake in July.
🚗 Hertz will buy 175,000 electric vehicles from GM over the next five years, ranging from compact cars to luxury models and more, the companies said yesterday.
- Why it matters: Electrification of corporate and government fleets is helping to push cars with a plug into wider, more mainstream use.
- Catch up fast: The deal adds to earlier Hertz agreements with Tesla for 100,000 cars and the startup Polestar for 65,000 vehicles. Go deeper.
☀️ Amazon this morning announced a big expansion of its renewable power portfolio, adding 2.7 gigawatts of generating capacity across 71 new projects in various nations.
4. Market bonus: Tellurian's tumult
Shares of the gas company Tellurian plunged 24% yesterday after it canceled a bond offering, injecting uncertainty into the planned 2026 launch of its Driftwood LNG export project, Ben writes.
5. A split screen on the fossil future
Speeches by two powerful leaders thousands of miles apart offered colliding visions of how the world should navigate the twin challenges of climate change and energy security, Ben and Andrew write.
Driving the news: UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly Tuesday that it's "time for an intervention" on the world's "addiction" to fossil fuels.
- He called for a windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies, with some proceeds going to countries suffering from climate disasters.
- "It is high time to put fossil fuel producers, investors and enablers on notice," Guterres said. "Polluters must pay."
Between the lines: Guterres advocated for more deployment of renewable power, saying it “generates three times more jobs, is already cheaper than fossil fuels and is the pathway to energy security, stable prices and new industries.”
The other side: His speech came the same day that Amin Nasser, CEO of state oil giant Saudi Aramco, said climate efforts are "undermined by unrealistic scenarios and flawed assumptions."
- Nasser, speaking at an energy conference in Switzerland, said Europe's crisis underscores his point and called for increasing global oil-and-gas investments.
- He said that if you "shame" oil-and-gas investors, close oil- and coal-fired power plants, and fail to diversify supplies (among other mistakes), "your transition plan had better be right."
- "Instead, as this crisis has shown, the plan was just a chain of sandcastles that waves of reality have washed away."
6. World Bank under fire on climate
Tensions over the World Bank's work to combat climate change have burst into the open, Ben writes.
Catch up fast: Al Gore said bank president David Malpass should be ousted during remarks at a New York Times-hosted event in New York alongside the UN General Assembly.
- The former VP called him a "climate denier" and said the bank's not doing enough to help capitalize projects in developing nations, per the NYT and Bloomberg.
- At a later panel at the same event, Malpass — in an exchange that echoed old-school, now passé climate battles — refused to endorse the scientific consensus on human-caused warming. But he defended the bank's record.
- U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry, speaking at the same event, said "major reform" of multilateral development banks is needed.
👀 The intrigue: "Kerry...declined to comment on whether the Biden administration had confidence in Mr. Malpass’s leadership, saying, “that’s the president’s decision,'" the NYT reports.
The White House did not respond to an Axios inquiry.
The other side: Under Malpass, the World Bank Group doubled climate finance and "initiated country level diagnostics to support countries’ climate and development goals,” the bank told Bloomberg.
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Thanks to Mickey Meece and David Nather for edits to today's newsletter. We'll see you back here tomorrow!