Jun 12, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Smart Brevity count: 1,098 words/< 5 minute read.

Situational awareness: Volkswagen said Wednesday it’s acquiring 20% of shares in the Swedish battery producer Northvolt and they’re creating a joint venture to build a factory in Germany. The deal shows how auto giants are lining up suppliers for growing electrification.

D.C. readers: Join Axios' Mike Allen tomorrow at 8am for a News Shapers event focused on U.S. trade policy. RSVP here

And onto music. This Sunday will mark the 1991 release of Big Audio Dynamite II's "The Globe," so an infectious track gets us going today...

1 big thing: The wrong way on carbon emissions
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Data: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2019; Chart: Axios Visuals

BP's latest global energy stats report shows that CO2 emissions from energy, which create the lion's share, grew at their fastest rate in 7 years in 2018 as energy demand surged.

Why it matters: The report yesterday joins other analyses in concluding that emissions are heading upward amid scientific findings showing the need to deeply cut them in coming decades to prevent runaway warming.

The big picture: China, the U.S. and India together accounted for roughly two-thirds of energy consumption growth last year, including a "whopping" 3.5% rise in the U.S., the fastest growth in 3 decades, notes the "Statistical Review of World Energy."

  • Overall, a nearly 3% rise in energy consumption was the fastest since 2010.
  • Natural gas saw the largest usage boost but all fuels saw increases.

Where it stands: BP chief economist Spencer Dale said in remarks yesterday that the surprising growth in energy use relative to underlying economic conditions stems from last year's large number of hot and cold days.

  • This led to greater use of heating and air conditioning, causing the "possibility of a worrying vicious cycle," in which "[i]ncreasing levels of carbon leading to more extreme weather patterns, which in turn trigger stronger growth in energy (and carbon emissions) as households and businesses seek to offset their effects," Dale said.

Threat level: He cautioned that there are "many people better qualified than I to make judgements on this," but added...

"[E]ven if these weather effects are short lived, such that the growth in energy demand and carbon emissions slow over the next few years, the recent trends still feel very distant from the types of transition paths consistent with meeting the Paris climate goals."
Bonus: A wild year for oil
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Data: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2019; Chart: Axios Visuals

Here's another stat that stands out in BP's annual data dump: They said last year's U.S. oil production growth (including natural gas liquids) was the largest annual increase by any country. Ever.

The big picture, per the report:

"Since 2012 and the onset of the tight oil revolution, U.S. production (including NGLs) has increased by over 7 Mb/d — broadly equivalent to Saudi Arabia’s crude oil exports — an astonishing increase which has transformed both the structure of the US economy and global oil market dynamics."
2. Big Oil's agenda at the Vatican
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Axios' Amy Harder reports ... Carbon pricing and investment transparency top the agenda of a meeting later this week between leaders of the world’s biggest oil and investment firms and Vatican officials, according to multiple sources and a draft agenda viewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The meeting, first reported by Bloomberg in April, comes almost exactly a year after the initial gathering with Pope Francis, who has made climate a pillar of his tenure.

  • This time, organizers hope to produce a joint statement with the Vatican supporting a price on carbon emissions and better risk disclosure to investors, according to these sources.

What's next: Participants in the meeting are likely to be similar to last year’s, which included the CEOs of ExxonMobil, BP and renewable energy execs. Expected attendees to this year’s meeting, according to people familiar with the gathering, include...

  • Ben van Beurden, CEO Royal Dutch Shell, who was invited last year but couldn’t attend.
  • Michael Wirth, CEO of Chevron, who did not attend last year.
  • Barbara Novick, vice chairman and co-founder of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

What we're hearing: Per the draft agenda, the 2-day meeting is set to include discussions under the following titles. This draft, dated in May, said the pope’s attendance had not yet been confirmed.

  • "Context setting: Climate and Science Updates"
  • "What do we mean by a ‘Just Transition’"
  • "What are essential elements of effective carbon pricing?"
  • "What are the opportunities related to climate risk disclosures?"

Go deeper: Read Amy's full story here.

3. The U.K.'s big new emissions target
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Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday floated a proposal to require the country to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Why it matters: The plan would make the U.K. the first G7 nation to "legislate for net zero emissions," her office said in announcing the legally binding proposal.

What's next: Multiple reports, like this BBC story, signal the legislation has political buy-in.

  • "There is broad political support from the main opposition Labour and Scottish National parties as well as the Liberal Democrats," Bloomberg notes.

But, but, but: "This is just the starting gun. Now the real challenge begins: actual policy, regulation and technology solutions to decarbonise our economy," notes Albert Cheung, a top analyst with the consultancy BloombergNEF, on Twitter.

Quick take: The plan underscores the transatlantic split on climate change amid President Trump's moves to unwind emissions rules and policies. However, a number of Democratic White House hopefuls have called for similar targets.

4. Catch up fast: Congress, Tesla, LNG

Tesla: TechCrunch reports, "Tesla might get into the business of mining minerals used in electric vehicle batteries if it wants to expand its product lineup and scale production, CEO Elon Musk said during the company’s annual shareholder meeting."

  • Another tidbit from the meeting via CNBC: Musk said that "[i]t won’t be long before we have a 400-mile range car."

LNG: Per the Wall Street Journal, China is breaking into Arctic transport through a joint venture between the country’s biggest ocean carrier, Cosco Shipping, and its Russian counterpart, Sovcomflot, to move natural gas from Siberia to Western and Asian markets.

Congress: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is probing reports of White House interference with a State Department analyst's written testimony prepared for a recent hearing on climate change and national security.

  • Why it matters: As I wrote in the Axios stream yesterday, the inquiry could disclose new information about White House challenges to widely recognized scientific findings on global warming and its effects.
5. The debate over a climate debate

Tuesday brought new developments in the growing push for a Democratic primary debate devoted solely to climate change.

Driving the news: Joe Biden, shaking hands in Iowa, endorsed the idea when asked by a Greenpeace activist (here's the video).

  • He's the 15th Democratic hopeful to do so, per the Washington Post.
  • Jay Inslee launched the effort and several advocacy groups are pushing it too.

Why it matters: Biden is the early frontrunner and the closest thing to the establishment's candidate.

But, but, but: His campaign did not respond to an inquiry about whether he would actually press the matter with the Democratic National Committee.

  • The DNC has rejected the idea thus far and holds the cards, because it says candidates who participate in unsanctioned debates will be barred from the DNC-organized network TV contests.

One level deeper: That brings me to the second new development: The DNC is digging in.

  • What they're saying: DNC chairman Tom Perez, in a Medium post yesterday, said the DNC is focused on climate and that it would be prominent in debates.
  • But he argued that agreeing to a climate-specific debate would be impractical, and unfair to those pushing for contests devoted to other topics.
Ben GemanAmy Harder