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🧭 The compass is pointing due weekend. We'll keep the journey simple with a Smart Brevity count of 1,014 words, 4 minutes.

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1 big thing: Between the lines of BlackRock's debate rebuttal

Animated illustration of Earth in the shape of a speech bubble with an ellipsis in the center to indicate typing

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

BlackRock boss Larry Fink's response to Republican criticism about his support for environmental social governance says a lot about the politics of ESG and the 2024 presidential race, Ben writes.

Driving the news: His Linkedin post responded to attacks on BlackRock in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, rebutting assertions made about the investment giant's posture on oil and more.

  • "The reality: BlackRock clients have more than $170 billion invested in American energy companies," he wrote.
  • Fink also said that "another candidate accused BlackRock of pursuing an ideological agenda. The only agenda we have is delivering for our clients."

Quick take: Fink sees anti-ESG policies from the political right — which target his firm and others — gaining enough traction that he felt compelled to respond.

Catch up fast: GOP contender Vivek Ramaswamy claimed Fink — who he called the "king of the woke industrial complex, the ESG movement" — is backing ex-South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Fink wrote that he hasn't endorsed anyone.

  • Ramaswamy also, per the FT, accused Fink of "telling Exxon and Chevron they can't drill here."
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted of steering state funds away from BlackRock.
  • CNBC has more on how BlackRock surfaced and Fink's wider response.

The bottom line: Fink wrote that "I know why they call this the political silly season," but he appears to be taking attacks seriously.

2. It's crunch time at COP28

Dan Jørgensen, Barbara Creecy, COP28 President Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, Simon Stiell at a press conference on Dec. 8. Photo: Handout/UNFCCC

Dan Jørgensen, Barbara Creecy, COP28 President Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber and UNFCCC chair Simon Stiell at a press conference today in Dubai. Photo: Handout/UNFCCC

Dubai, United Arab Emirates – The COP28 climate talks are shifting into high gear in the second week of the summit, Andrew writes.

The latest: Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, who heads the talks, has handed off sections of a potential agreement to pairs of ministers who must wrestle with negotiators over the final text.

The intrigue: A key flashpoint will be over how the final text prescribes a decline in the use of fossil fuels and a corresponding increase in renewable energy sources.

State of play: At a press conference today, al-Jaber and ministers from several countries called for the most ambitious outcome possible, presenting a united front as they headed into the toughest rounds of negotiations so far.

  • "Here is where the work really begins," al-Jaber said.
  • Top UN climate official Simon Stiell pushed negotiators to adopt the most ambitious text possible, given how severe the consequences of climate change already are.
  • "We need to remember one thing: We cannot negotiate with nature. The climate cannot compromise," said Dan Jørgensen, Danish minister for climate energy and utilities.
  • He will co-chair the negotiations on the text that is likely to include language on a fossil fuel "phase out" or "phase down," or some other permutation.

The bottom line: The world is closer than ever to an historic agreement on reducing fossil fuel emissions, scaling up climate finance, and providing more resources for climate adaptation. But many questions remain.

3. On my screen: "clean" capital and Chinese minerals

Data: Rhodium Group/MIT-CEEPR Clean Investment Monitor. Note: "Clean" technology investment refers to manufacturing; capital for low-carbon energy and industrial decarbonization projects; and home and business purchases of equipment like heat pumps and EVs. Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Rhodium Group/MIT-CEEPR Clean Investment Monitor. Note: "Clean" technology investment refers to manufacturing; capital for low-carbon energy and industrial decarbonization projects; and home and business purchases of equipment like heat pumps and EVs. Chart: Axios Visuals

💵 A new report fuels the case that energy transition is economically helpful to red states, Ben writes.

  • Driving the news: The Rhodium Group and MIT energy researchers dropped the latest update of their "clean" investment tracking, for the first time exploring state-level trends.
  • What they found: That chart shows combined public and private investment, as a share of gross state product, over the last year in the three broad areas they track.
  • Zoom in: The project looks at investments in "clean" manufacturing; energy production and industrial emissions-cutting projects; and "retail" home and business purchases of stuff like EVs and heat pumps.
  • The big picture: Overall, the latest rolling tracker finds total "clean" energy and transportation investment was $64 billion in Q3 of this year, up 42% from the same three months in 2022. Full analysis.

🚗 There is some tension between policy goals of deploying rapid climate technology and boosting domestic industries, and a new essay suggests Biden officials aren't striking the right balance on EV batteries.

  • Driving the news: Columbia University energy experts are criticizing the new Treasury Department plan to bar EVs made with Chinese minerals and materials from consumer subsidies.
  • The big picture: Writing in Foreign Policy, they say the proposal on limiting materials linked, in various ways, to "foreign entities of concern" unnecessarily means fewer EVs will qualify for the tax credits. That means slower EV adoption.
  • What they're saying: "Biden has caved to electoral pressure and the strong anti-China rhetoric in U.S. political discourse, rather than being pragmatic about China's key role in global supply chains."

4. Hybrids are having a U.S. moment

Top-selling <span style="color: #260C03; background-color:#fac755; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 700;">electric</span>
 and <span style="color: #260C03; background-color:#F37B53; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 700;">hybrid</span>
 vehicles  in the U.S.
Data: S&P Global Mobility; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

As automakers push their flashy new electric vehicles, many consumers making the jump from gasoline cars are opting instead for hybrids as they tiptoe toward electrification.

Why it matters: Car buyers — not politicians, regulators or carmakers — will dictate the pace of the electric transition, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

Driving the news: At $50,000, the average model is still too expensive for many buyers — and new rules could make it harder to qualify for a federal tax credit. A lack of chargers remains a concern, too.

  • Hybrids — which get great gas mileage and average under $40,000 — are a happy medium for many.
  • That has some carmakers rethinking their product offerings, at least in the short term, even as EV sales are growing.

Zoom in: "Electrified" vehicles — hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles — hit a record 17.7% of U.S. car sales during the third quarter of this year, per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, citing data from Wards Intelligence.

  • About 10% of car sales are hybrids or plug-in hybrids, while 8% are pure EVs.
  • And while EV sales passed the 1 million mark this year (out of roughly 16 million total sales), it's worth noting that 83% of EVs sold are considered luxury models, with price tags to match.

Read the whole story

5. 🛢️ Quote of the day

"The market seems to be suggesting that they don't believe OPEC+ has the ability to follow through on their cuts."
— Energy analyst Phil Flynn, quoted in Reuters about crude prices tumbling to six-months lows, despite OPEC+ pledges of new output curbs

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🙏 Thanks to Chris Speckhard and Javier David for edits to today's edition, along with the talented Axios Visuals team.