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Oct 25, 2021

Axios Generate

🌻 Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,223 words, 5 minutes.

🎶 XTC's album "Skylarking" turns 35 this week and their pop craftsmanship is evident on today's intro tune...

1 big thing: It's the final countdown

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

This is shaping up as a critical week for climate policy in the U.S. and worldwide, Ben writes.

Driving the news: Democrats are in the final stages of trying to craft the big social spending and climate package they're trying to move on a thread-the-needle party-line vote.

  • House votes or at least an agreement could occur as early as this week on that plan and moving the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
  • And it's a week until the United Nations climate summit opens in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday, with plenty up in the air ahead of the critical talks.

Why it matters: There's connective tissue between the two.

  • The scope of the Democrats' deal — if there's one to be made — will help dictate U.S. credibility at the global talks that rest a lot on mutual trust.
  • And even beyond that, a number of key countries' plans and negotiating posture at the summit, called COP26, remain unknown.

What we're watching: The negotiating frenzy as advocates press for climate measures to survive in the Democrats' package, which is being scaled far back their initial $3.5 trillion catch-all plan.

One thing to watch: what might replace a $150 billion system of carrots and sticks for utilities to speed clean power deployment that Democrats jettisoned due to Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va) opposition.

On the international front, we've got our eye on...

  • Whether China, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, will unveil an updated emissions-cutting pledge ahead of the talks, and what it will contain. India, the world's third-larger emitter, also has not submitted an updated pledge.
  • Whether wealthy nations reach an agreement on how to finally deliver on unfulfilled promises to provide $100 billion annually to help developing nations cut emissions and adapt to warming. A deal could reportedly surface as soon as today, but the details will be closely scrutinized by developing nations.
  • Whether G20 nations meeting in Rome just ahead of COP26 can reach an agreement on commitments to phase out coal-fired power — and if so, whether it's specific. Potential language on deforestation is also on the table.
2. New data shows CO2's peak in 2020

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The economic downturn had no clear effect on either the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases in 2020 and 2021 or how quickly they climbed, a new UN report finds, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: The findings of the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) Greenhouse Gas Bulletin are another alarm bell ringing louder ahead of the COP26 summit.

Details: The official 2020 annual level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere was 413.2 parts per million, which is 149% of the preindustrial reading, the report found. This was a 2.5 ppm increase from 2019.

  • The year-over-year climb was faster than the 2011-2020 average annual rise of 2.4 ppm.
  • It's also a huge increase over CO2 levels when I was born, at about 337 ppm.
  • The findings also show that methane, another powerful global warming pollutant, is at 262% of preindustrial levels, and recently has been increasing at faster rates.
  • About half of the CO2 put into the atmosphere by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, is taken up each year by the land and oceans. The rest can stay in the air for hundreds of years.
  • There are mounting signs that so-called carbon sinks may become less effective as global warming's impacts mount, from droughts to warming and acidifying oceans, the report warns.

What's next: Data from 2021 shows continued rapid increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, with a monthly peak at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory precariously close to 420 ppm.

3. First look: bipartisan buy-in for ESG among voters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new poll and analysis finds "surprising evidence" of bipartisan support for corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts, including climate initiatives, Ben writes.

Why it matters: Penn State business professor Tessa Recendes and the public affairs firm ROKK Solutions find "public opinion on ESG is not nearly as polarized as popular narratives suggest."

One key finding: stronger support among voters under 45. This "indicates companies should capitalize on generational trends in the workforce and financial markets as these constituents gain influence."

Catch up fast: ESG describes initiatives in areas like emissions and water management; diversity and inclusion; shareholder rights, and more.

What they found: Some top-line findings from the poll of 1,240 registered voters include...

  • 76% feel companies should be held accountable for making a positive impact where they operate. 79% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans put climate in their top five ESG issues most important to them, and environmental matters overall are a priority.
  • Democrats are more likely than Republicans to buy things from companies that speak out on topics they agree with. That's also one of several places where age matters, with 36% of Republicans over 45 more likely, rising to 51% under 45.

What's next: It offers recommendations on crafting and communicating ESG policies, such as tailoring social media efforts but also using other channels, noting, for instance, that local TV remains the most popular information source for voters over 45.

The intrigue: The findings are relevant to policymakers, the report finds.

"Our research absolutely begs the question: are policymakers underestimating support for tackling climate change, and tackling these pervasive social and governance issues," ROKK Solutions managing director Lindsay Singleton tells Axios.

4. Atmospheric river slams California, but La Niña winter looms
Data: NOAA; Map: Will Chase/Axios

The extreme atmospheric river pummeling parts of Northern California — attached to a record strong bomb cyclone, no less — may be a poor indicator of how this winter will treat the West, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: With much of the West locked in the first climate change-related megadrought, with an especially pronounced dry period since 2020, hopes are pinned on the rain and mountain snow that could fall during the wet season.

What's next: A second consecutive year of La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific is in store, and it favors a drier-than-average winter for much of the Southwest, NOAA warned last week.

  • As if to foreshadow this pattern, the ongoing atmospheric river event is delivering far less rain to Los Angeles and San Diego compared to San Francisco.
  • The La Niña influence on the winter outlook also holds true across parts of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Yes, but: Though La Niña events tend to be correlated with dry winters in these areas, every La Niña event is unique.

5. Catch up fast: Pledges, prices, Tesla

Saudi Arabia: ICYMI Saturday, Saudi Arabia pledged to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, deepened its 2030 targets and joined an international coalition seeking to cut emissions of the potent planet-warming gas methane by 30% in nine years.

  • Yes, but: The commitments apply only to Saudi Arabia's internal emissions, not CO2 from burning the millions of barrels of oil Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude exporter, sends into global markets every day.

Oil markets: "Oil prices extended pre-weekend gains on Monday to hit multi-year highs, lifted by tight global supply and strengthening fuel demand in the United States and beyond as economies recover from pandemic-induced slumps." (Reuters)

Electric cars: "Hertz Global Holdings Inc., barely four months out of bankruptcy, placed an order for 100,000 Teslas in the first step of an ambitious plan to electrify its rental-car fleet, according to people with knowledge of the matter." (Bloomberg)

6. 📊 Data point of the day

Roughly $4 trillion, the cumulative amount of bonds and loans for the oil, gas and coal sectors that banks have organized since the Paris Agreement was struck at the end of 2015, Bloomberg reports.