May 3, 2021

Axios Generate

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,182 words, 4.5 minutes.

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1 big thing: EPA’s reported move and more climate policy ahead

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week — starting today — could bring some important signs of the Biden administration's domestic and international climate policy efforts.

Driving the news, part 1: The New York Times reports this morning that EPA is about to publish draft regulations for phasing out planet-warming gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration. The Washington Post is also now reporting that the EPA proposal is imminent.

Why it matters: Hydrofluorocarbons are highly potent greenhouse gases, and per the NYT, EPA estimates that the planned rule will "result in $283.9 billion in health and environmental benefits by the middle of the century."

Catch up fast: The reported plan follows wide-ranging bipartisan legislation enacted in late 2020 that included language aimed at an 85% U.S. cut in production and consumption of HFCs over 15 years.

  • The HFC phasedown has support among both powerful industry groups and the environmental movement.
  • The 2020 law and upcoming EPA rule will effectively meet U.S. obligations under a 2016 addition to the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs, even though the U.S. has not formally ratified the amendment.

Driving the news, part 2: The G7's foreign and development ministers meeting in London starting today is expected to include a significant focus on climate.

  • Reuters reports that "targets for climate finance and girls' education will top the agenda."
  • And the State Department listed climate among the topics that Secretary Antony Blinken will discuss with counterparts.

And back on Capitol Hill, events on our radar include Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm's testimony before a panel of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

2. Why electric cars need to get cheaper

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Most drivers of electric vehicles are wealthy, and most EVs are luxury, Axios outside contributor Amy Harder writes.

Why it matters: To effectively combat climate change, the opposite needs to happen: Electric vehicles need to become affordable and broadly appealing so the masses can and want to buy them.

Only with mass adoption will heat-trapping emissions steeply decline in America’s most polluting sector.

The big picture: The stereotype of rich Californians driving their Teslas isn’t a bad thing — at least not yet. It’s part of the cycle of new technology costs.

Wealthy drivers are helping drive down the cost of new electric-car technologies by being able and willing (and subsidized by governments) to be early adopters of these vehicles.

  • "Now we’re at a point where the technology is there, we do need to start thinking about how we make sure this transition benefits everyone," said Scott Hardman, a professional researcher at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.
  • "But I don’t think things are going in the right direction," he added, before sharing the following statistical snapshots.

By the numbers: Of the 11 newest battery electric vehicles introduced in the U.S. between 2018 and 2020, eight are luxury vehicles.

  • The average starting price of an electric car has increased over the past eight years, despite battery costs plummeting.

Read the whole story.

Amy Harder is VP of publishing at Breakthrough Energy. Previously full time at Axios, Amy is now writing her Harder Line column monthly as an outside contributor.

3. One VC thing: cash for offsets monitoring

Pachama, a startup that combines satellite imagery and AI to verify forest carbon offsets, has raised $15 million in Series A financing.

Why it matters: Preserving and growing forests are important to fighting climate change, and offsets are a popular way for companies to meet sustainability goals.

But measuring these projects and ensuring their integrity is a tricky thing.

Driving the news: Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures led the Series A financing round announced Friday.

  • Other backers of the San Francisco-based startup include Amazon and Chris Sacca's Lowercarbon Capital, and former NBA star Manu Ginóbili, to name a few.
  • Pachama has now raised $24 million so far, and customers include Microsoft, Shopify and Softbank, the company said.

What's next: Pachama said it would use the money to continue developing its platform that uses AI to analyze imagery to measure carbon sequestration, "as well as its platform for verification and exchange of nature-based carbon credits."

TechCrunch has more.

4. Sizing up Elon Musk's Model Y claim
Data: IHS Markit, Tesla; Photos: Toyota, Ford, Tesla; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Axios' Joann Muller reports...Elon Musk says the plug-in Tesla Model Y will be the world's best-selling vehicle by next year — or sometime soon.

The big picture: For that to happen, the electric SUV would need to outsell some of the most iconic vehicles in the world: the Toyota Corolla, which sold 1.12 million units worldwide in 2020, as well as the Toyota RAV4 and Ford F-Series pickup truck, which were close behind.

My thought bubble: It's a bold prediction, and Musk is known for making a lot of bold predictions that don't come to pass.

Still, there's no denying Tesla has momentum and is struggling to keep up with demand.

  • Model Y is brand new, and production is still ramping up at factories in California and China.
  • Two additional plants in Europe and Texas are under construction.

What Elon's saying: "When it comes to Model Y, we think Model Y will be the best-selling car or vehicle of any kind in the world, and probably, next year. So I am not 100% certain next year, but I think it’s quite likely."

  • Musk's confidence follows his claim that its sister Model 3 sedan now outsells the long-reigning BMW 3-series as the world's most popular luxury sedan — electric or gasoline.

Yes, but: Tesla reports deliveries for Model 3 and Y together so it'll be hard to verify his claim.

  • Last year, Tesla sold 442,511 Model 3/Y units, so sales would need to more than double to even come close to being number one.
5. ICYMI: How Biden became the unlikely climate president

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Here's the climate part of the Axios Deep Dive on President Biden's first 100 days...

Biden campaigned on a climate platform vastly stronger than any major party nominee in history, and now the White House is making its enactment a major priority.

Why it matters: It's a remarkable turn, given that Biden entered the race as a moderate and climate wasn't a top priority during his Senate career.

  • No White House has put climate so high on its governing agenda since global warming burst onto the political scene in the scorching summer of 1988.

Catch up fast: The White House has offered a formal pledge under the Paris climate deal to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

  • It's asking Congress for unprecedented investments in climate innovation and infrastructure.
  • Biden is also trying to use agencies government-wide in the service of cutting emissions in a way that's never been attempted.

Yes, but: It's too early to know whether Biden can actually transform his proposals into steep emissions cuts.

The big picture: Here's why Biden became the unlikely climate candidate and president:

1. Politics. Democratic voters have become more motivated by the topic. Going big helped Biden woo Bernie Sanders backers to vote in the general election.

  • It also helped appease activists who pressed Biden for steps like trying to ban fracking (though Biden rebuffed them there).
  • Biden moved left after securing the nomination, adding a target of 100% zero-carbon power by 2035 and other provisions to his platform.

2. Opportunity. Democrats' unexpected Senate control, combined with the pandemic, create an opening for big economic recovery legislation packed with climate spending.

3. Science. Major reports in the last few years have revealed the immense dangers if the world fails to act aggressively and rapidly.