Sep 16, 2021

Axios Generate

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1 big thing: COP26 warning lights are flashing

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

There are growing signs that make-or-break climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, will not produce tangible plans for emissions cuts that keep the Paris Agreement’s targets viable, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: The Glasgow summit is billed by many as the world’s last and best hope for securing the emissions and financial commitments needed to get countries on track to avoid potentially catastrophic levels of climate change during the next several decades.

State of play: The biggest stumbling block for a smooth COP26 is the lack of cooperation between the world’s two biggest emitters, the U.S. and China.

  • The icy relationship on a host of issues has soured cooperation on climate, dashing the Biden administration’s early hopes that it could cleave off climate from security and trade issues, as Axios reported Tuesday.
  • John Kerry, the top U.S. climate emissary, had little progress to show for a trip to China earlier this month, despite having worked with President Obama to hammer out a joint 2014 agreement that paved the way for success in Paris.

Former Vice President Al Gore tells Axios, “I choose to be optimistic.”

  • “But a realistic view has to take into account the unwillingness thus far of China to increase its ambition for reducing emissions,” he says, noting the stark difference in light of the cooperation between the U.S. and China pre-Paris.
  • “China has not yet made the kind of commitments that can generate the momentum I would like to see in Glasgow, but there's still time,” Gore says.

What we're watching: Conference organizers are scrambling to better the prospects for a successful summit.

  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres and U.K. Prime Minister and COP26 host Boris Johnson together will host an informal meeting of heads of state on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York on Monday.
  • President Biden is also stepping up his lobbying efforts by inviting Johnson to the White House next week and holding a closed-door meeting Friday to call for bolder emissions targets of carbon dioxide and methane.

Between the lines: At the Monday meeting in New York, which a senior UN official says will allow leaders to have a "frank" discussion out of the view of cameras, the secretary-general will make clear his metrics for success in Glasgow and "raise the alarm" about gaps between summit goals and commitments so far.

  • These goals include new emissions reduction targets for 2030 consistent with getting to net zero by 2050, in order to limit warming to at or below 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels by 2100.
  • Guterres is also pressing industrialized nations to finally make good on a decade-old pledge to mobilize at least $100 billion annually to help developing nations combat global warming. He also is advocating for a swift end to funding the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

Read the whole story

2. What we're watching: New methane pledge
Expand chart
Data: IEA; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Part of the push to create momentum ahead of the UN climate summit is a joint U.S.-Europe pledge expected this week to cut methane emissions, Ben writes.

The big picture: "[O]fficials are working to get China, Russia and other major oil and gas producers to join the commitment as a cornerstone accomplishment" ahead of COP26, per the Wall Street Journal.

What we're watching: The specifics of the pledge and which nations outside the U.S. and EU sign on.

  • The nonbinding commitment is expected to call for reducing emissions by roughly a third by 2030, per multiple reports.
  • It's part of the discussion at the heads-of-state meeting Biden is convening Friday under the banner of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.

Go deeper: Biden to host leaders to discuss climate change ahead of a UN summit (NYT)

3. First look: Greens seek K Street wedge on climate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Environmentalists are pressing big companies with lofty climate goals to split with their lobbying associations over sweeping Democratic legislation that includes major new clean energy spending and tax incentives, Ben writes.

Driving the news: A suite of climate groups just released an open letter to two dozen companies — including Apple, Walmart, Coca-Cola and Amazon — in the Business Roundtable, which has voiced several concerns about Democrats' wider spending and tax package.

  • The letter to the companies, many of which are also in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says there is "no time to waste in distancing yourself" from the two associations' lobbying against the plan.

What they're saying: "[Y]ou must step in, call for the passage of immediate climate investments through the Build Back Better Act, and publicly break with their campaign to undermine our best chance to take meaningful climate action at the federal level," the letter states.

  • Around 30 groups including Climate Power, the Sierra Club, the Sunrise Movement and the League of Conservation Voters are on the letter.

Why matters: The letter — and related efforts by other green groups — could raise pressure on some corporate giants to take an active role in lobbying for the big spending and tax package Democratic leaders are struggling to move on a party-line vote.

The other side: Both business groups are currently opposing portions of the $3.5 trillion legislation, a mix of health care, social safety net and climate measures.

  • They're citing concerns about the price tag and tax increases that would hit their members.
  • "These measures would put millions of American jobs at risk, stunt wage growth, suppress business investment and innovation and once again make American companies more susceptible to foreign takeovers," Business Roundtable CEO Joshua Bolten said in a statement this week.

Read the whole story

4. Climate TRACE reveals first results

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A high-tech independent effort to track greenhouse gas emissions from every country, industrial facility and power plant announced their first results on Monday, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: Climate TRACE utilizes satellite data, machine learning and AI to determine GHG emissions globally.

  • It aims usher in an era of "radical transparency" and a more enforceable climate agreement by giving nonprofits, governments and the UN actionable intelligence to track and crack down on polluters.

What they found: The project, a collaborative effort between Al Gore, think tank RMI, TransitionZero, WattTime and others, found significant discrepancies between emissions that were reported to the UN under a 1992 climate treaty, and their independent estimates.

  • The data released Monday show that among the world’s top countries that submit regular oil and gas production and refining emissions, the actual amounts may be twice (1.4 billion tons) what has been reported.
  • The project also found that more than 1 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide equivalent have gone uncounted by countries that aren’t required to submit regular data on oil and gas emissions.
  • However, not every emissions inventory was found to be deficient, as some countries that regularly self-reported their emissions closely matched Climate TRACE's verification.

Meanwhile, consistent with observed trends in forest fires, GHG emissions from forest fires have more than doubled in Russia and the U.S. since 2015, and now exceed that of Brazil.

How it works: Climate TRACE researchers used observations from satellites, including those of the company Planet, to discern emissions across nations and industries.

  • Gavin McCormick, co-founder and executive director of WattTime, a Climate TRACE convening member, said insights come from hundreds of satellites and advanced techniques to analyze this imagery.
  • Gore tells Axios the initiative will also benefit the financial sector by giving investors more information about their portfolios.

Read the whole story

5. Catch up fast: Shell and Rivian

Projects: "Royal Dutch Shell plans to build a biofuels facility in the Netherlands to help achieve its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, it said on Thursday." (Reuters)

EVs: "The first production Vivian R1T electric pickup truck in 'Rivian blue' rolled off the assembly line Tuesday morning at the company’s factory in Normal, Illinois, marking a milestone more than a decade in the making for the automaker and its founder and CEO, RJ Scaringe." (TechCrunch)

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