Jun 29, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning. Is 2020 already half over — or only half over? Through the looking glass we go...

My latest column has new data — published this morning — on increased flood risk, and an incredible interactive chart from our graphics reporter Naema Ahmed. I'll share that and then Ben Geman will get you up to speed on other news.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,,272 words, 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Rising flood risk

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nearly 70% more properties in the U.S. are at substantial risk of flooding compared to government estimates, new peer-reviewed analysis shows.

Why it matters: Increased flooding, including from sea-level rise and intensifying rains, is one of the clearest and most expensive impacts from rising global temperatures.

Driving the news: The data will soon feed a new feature on Realtor.com that displays flood risk rankings of nearly every U.S. home. It's part of an initiative by First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research firm.

  • You can search now for your home now on FloodFactor.com, a website run by First Street, which is backed by private-foundation money.
  • Realtor.com plans to integrate the data soon on its website, though it doesn't have a specific launch date yet, a spokesperson said Sunday.

What they’re saying:

“There are millions of Americans who have substantial flood risk and have no idea and now they’ll be able to access that. ... Having that data available will change the perspective of flood risk in this country. It now makes it meaningful and personal.”
— Matthew Eby, founder and executive director, First Street Foundation

Where it stands:

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages America’s flood risk for the government, classifies 8.7 million properties as facing substantial risk from flooding.
  • First Street’s data shows 14.6 million properties.
  • That’s six million households and property owners who the organization says have “underestimated or been unaware of their current risk.”
  • The discrepancy exists, the group says, because it uses more up-to-date climate data, analyzes precipitation as a standalone risk, and includes areas FEMA has not.

What’s next: First Street plans to sell its data to for-profit firms, such as those that have already expressed interest from the insurance and real-estate sectors. This will help fund parallel models they plan to launch on other climate-driven weather phenomena, such as heat and drought.

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Bonus chart: How your state ranks on flood risk
Adapted from First Street Foundation; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Click on the states in this interactive graphic (static version above) to see more about each state’s flood risk, now and into the future.

How it works:

  • The areas with the largest newly revealed risk include large swaths of the Midwest and inland Western states that face risk from rain or river flooding. FEMA's traditional focus has been coastal areas. (Check out the chart on page nine of its report.)
  • Still, the risk is objectively larger for coastal states and grows more quickly in those regions out to 2050, as you can see in this graphic.
  • That’s because rising sea levels and coastal storms grow more intense more quickly — fueled by a warmer atmosphere and sea-surface temperatures — compared to inland precipitation events, according to Jeremy Porter, director of research and development at First Street.

Explore the interactive chart

2. BP to unload petrochem unit in $5B deal

The oil-and-gas giant announced a deal Monday morning to sell its petrochemicals division to the U.K.-based multinational chemical company Ineos in a $5 billion transaction.

Why it matters: It's the latest move in BP's strategic overhaul, which includes selling its Alaskan assets after decades there and its early 2020 pledge to re-orient its business around low-carbon goals, although the transition will unfold over decades.

  • "The move to bolster its finances comes as the energy sector takes a significant financial hit triggered by the coronavirus pandemic," the Financial Times notes.
  • BP said it has now met its target of $15 billion in asset sales a year ahead of schedule.

What they're saying: BP CEO Bernard Looney said the petrochemicals business has "limited" strategic overlap with the rest of BP, and that "it would take considerable capital for us to grow these businesses."

  • "As we work to build a more focused, more integrated BP, we have other opportunities that are more aligned with our future direction," he said in a statement.

Where it stands: BP's petrochemicals division is focused on products called aromatics and acetyls, which are used in a suite of packaging, paint, adhesives and many other applications.

  • The business spans manufacturing plants in Asia, Europe and the U.S. and last year produced 9.7 million metric tons of petrochemicals, BP said.
  • The deal also includes the sale of BP's Infinia plastics recycling technology and its interest in the acetylated wood developer Tricoya.
  • The companies hope to complete the transaction by the end of this year.
3. Dem panel to float climate plan ahead of election

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

House Democrats' climate change committee is slated to unveil a detailed, wide-ranging set of proposals tomorrow at an event featuring Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Why it matters: It's a preview of policies Democrats could try to advance if they control the White House and Senate after the 2020 election, which could open a political window to move climate legislation.

How it works: Bloomberg has the goods on some of the top-line goals of the proposal, reporting that it will call for...

  • Net-zero U.S. emissions by 2050 and 100% "clean vehicles" by 2035.
  • An extension of solar power tax credits.
  • Net-zero power sector emissions by 2040 and some kind of carbon pricing.

The intrigue: One thing to look for is how the left flank of the party and the climate movement greet the plan.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis when it was created early in this Congress, arguing it lacked teeth.
4. Analysis: China's emissions above pre-pandemic level

Carbon dioxide emissions from China have "have surged back from the coronavirus lockdown," last month exceeding their level from May of 2019, a new analysis shows.

Why it matters: China is by far the world's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Its trajectory in the coming years and decades will play a key role in global efforts to rein in — or fail to rein in — heat-trapping emissions.

What they found: "The increase in CO2 in May was driven by coal power, cement and other heavy industries, which appear to be bouncing back faster than other sectors of the economy," writes Lauri Myllyvirta in a post on Carbon Brief.

"This is prompting concerns about the global implications of a coal-heavy recovery in China," writes Myllyvirta, an analyst with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The bottom line: The analysis shows why governments' responses to the pandemic are an important climate story.

  • He notes that China's emissions on a year-to-date basis are still 6% below last year.
  • Going forward, Myllyvirta is watching how much China's economic response to the pandemic emphasizes emissions-intensive construction.
5. What they're saying: Chesapeake's bankruptcy

ICYMI, shale gas pioneer Chesapeake Energy Corp. announced Sunday that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Why it matters: Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake is the highest-profile company to file for bankruptcy during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sapped prices and demand.

  • But it also signals pre-pandemic financial woes badly afflicting Chesapeake for years, and to some extent the shale sector overall, which has long struggled with debt and cash flow problems.

What they're saying: "This filing has been a long time coming. It was likely going to happen with or without COVID-19," Alex Beeker, an analyst with the consultancy Wood Mackenzie, wrote in a note Sunday.

  • "The massive financial burden of investing first into the shale gas boom, then its failed attempt to grow a similar strong position on oil plays, have brought the giant to its knees," Rystad Energy analyst Per Magnus Nysveen said in a note Monday morning.

Go deeper: Chesapeake’s collapse is latest in long line of shale disasters (Bloomberg)

6. Quote of the day
"The coronavirus oil shock is not a one-off crisis; it is a dress rehearsal for a future fast unfolding."

Who said it: Amos Hochstein, the State Department's energy envoy in the Obama administration, writes in The Atlantic.

Why it matters: The financial woes facing nations reliant on oil revenue — such as Nigeria and Iraq — show why their needs must be addressed as part of climate policies that eventually shift the world away from oil.

  • A collapse in revenues, and lower prices going forward, will worsen internal conflict and increase chances of a "new international migration crisis," he argues.

The big picture: "[T]he current crisis ... offers a stark preview of the challenges the world will face if it negotiates a climate accord without also moving to stabilize the more than a dozen countries that depend on oil exports as their primary source for generating government revenue," writes Hochstein, who is now with the LNG company Tellurian.

Ben GemanAmy Harder