Axios Generate

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December 04, 2019

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,253 words, < 5 minutes.

Congrats to my colleagues Sara Fischer & Alexi McCammond, who are on this year’s Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Media List

Finally, I enjoyed this episode of "Sound Opinions" about Janis Joplin, and her album "I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!" just turned 50, so one of those cuts will open today's newsletter...

1 big thing: A glass half-empty on emissions

Data: Global Carbon Project; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Global Carbon Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

A major new report on global carbon dioxide emissions growth is largely bad news, but if you squint you can find some (rather small) bright spots.

Driving the news: The rate of increase decelerated this year as coal consumption dipped and economic growth slowed, but emissions still hit a record high, per new data from a research consortium called the Global Carbon Project.

Why it matters: The data released last night underscores how the emissions trajectory is nowhere close to the steep cuts scientists say are needed in the years and decades ahead to meet the goals of the Paris climate deal.

  • And as climate scientist Zeke Hausfather points out: "While some had hoped that flat global CO2 emissions between 2013 and 2016 signaled that peak emissions were near, the past three years make it clear that those hopes were premature."

But, but, but: Here's the bright spot. Several authors of the latest annual analysis, writing in The Conversation, note a "silver lining" — the emissions growth rate is projected to be roughly two-thirds lower in 2019 than the prior two years.

  • "Driving this slower growth is an extraordinary decline in coal emissions, particularly in the United States and Europe, and growth in renewable energy globally," they write. Emissions from coal grew modestly in China (an estimated 0.8%) and India (2%).
  • Hausfather, writing in Carbon Brief, notes that global average per-capita emissions have been essentially flat for eight years. On a similar note, The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer points out that global emissions growth is much slower than projected 2019 economic growth.

The big picture: The report projects that emissions will be up 0.6% this year, compared to a 2.1% rise in 2018, according to the tally of CO2 from fossil fuels and industrial processes.

  • Rising oil and natural gas consumption fueled the overall emissions growth, despite the nearly 1% decline in global emissions from coal, the most CO2-emitting fuel.

The bottom line: "[E]missions have grown by 62% since international climate negotiations began in 1990 to address the problem," The Conversation piece notes.

  • “Carbon dioxide emissions must decline sharply if the world is to meet the ‘well below 2°C’ mark set out in the Paris Agreement, and every year with growing emissions makes that target even more difficult to reach,” said Robbie Andrew of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in a statement alongside the data.

2. Private equity's looming fossil retreat

Illustration of an oil barrel with a flower made of cash growing out of it.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Axios' Dan Primack reports ... Concerns over climate change will reduce the amount of capital available for private equity investments in fossil fuels, according to a recent survey by Coller Capital.

By the numbers: 38% of responding limited partners say they will reduce their commitments to oil and gas funds over the next five years.

  • The numbers are much higher among European and Asia-Pacific LPs than for those in North America, where only 30% say climate change will cause any change to their PE investment strategy and just 16% say it will affect their own operating procedures.

What's next: Many of the respondents are planning to replace fossil fuel dollars with investments in renewable energy.

Go deeper: Making sense of an oil giant's net-zero carbon pledge

3. K Street's latest climate shift

There's fresh evidence that powerful industries are slowly shifting on climate change to keep up with the times and protect their interests.

Driving the news: The Natural Gas Supply Association yesterday said it backs carbon pricing — a message partly aimed at states crafting emissions-cutting plans.

  • CEO Dena Wiggins predicted they'll have company. "We believe we are the first national natural gas trade association to support paying a price on carbon, but we are likely not going to be the last," she told reporters.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign of powerful industries and groups starting to alter their posture.

  • Exxon, Chevron, BP, and subsidiaries of Equinor, Shell, and Total are all members, alongside independent players like EQT Corp. and Cabot.
  • A number of oil majors — including Shell, BP and others — already support pricing.

Where it stands: NGSA doesn't have plans to lobby Congress on the matter, Wiggins said.

  • The group released a set of broadly worded "principles." They don't signal a preference for taxes versus emissions-trading.
  • NGSA favors a national program, but says that as states move forward, they should price carbon in power markets and work together.

How it works: The group's principles for states argue that pricing should replace emissions regulations.

  • That's consistent with what several oil-and-gas giants want in return for a national carbon tax plan, via their membership in the Climate Leadership Council.
  • Yesterday's outline opposes "subsidies" and policies that "distort" markets — likely a reference to NGSA's ongoing fight against state subsidies for nuclear plants.

The big picture: A carbon price, depending on where it's set, could help the fuel shove coal aside even faster, though Wiggins said their position is not about members' bottom lines.

Go deeper: Once a critic, Chamber of Commerce now backs Paris Climate Agreement

Axios' Amy Harder contributed.

4. Catch up fast: OPEC, EVs, Aramco, solar

Oil markets: Via Reuters, "OPEC is gearing up to deepen production cuts later this week but still needs to agree with allies such as Russia over details of a deal to support oil prices and head off a looming oil glut next year."

Aramco IPO: Per Bloomberg, "Saudi Aramco is considering pricing its initial public offering at the top end of a marketed range, which would make it the world’s biggest-ever new listing."

Solar power: The Hill reports on an industry study about the effects of President Trump's trade restrictions.

  • "More than 62,000 jobs and nearly $19 billion in new private sector investment has been lost due to the 2018 tariffs Trump placed on solar imports, according to the study by the Solar Energy Industries Association," they report.

Climate: "The European Union said Wednesday that it will likely miss its target for reducing greenhouse gases by 2030, dealing a blow to the bloc’s efforts to be a leader in the fight against climate change," the Associated Press reports.

Electric cars: Also from Reuters, "Hyundai Motor plans to invest about 61.1 trillion won ($51.81 billion) between 2020 and 2025, the company said on Wednesday, with a third of the expenditure focused on electric and autonomous vehicles, but analysts want to see it deliver."

5. The stakes of the House energy tax bill

A new note from the Rhodium Group helps explain why environmental groups and renewables trade associations are throwing their weight behind House Democrats' legislation to extend a suite of tax incentives.

The big picture: Compared to current policy, U.S. emissions would be 37 million to 99 million tons lower in 2030 if the wide-ranging draft bill unveiled recently were enacted, the research firm projects.

  • "That’s 16 to 19% below 2005 levels compared with a 15-17% reduction under current policy," they note.
  • That's still off track for meeting the Obama-era Paris Agreement pledge to reduce national emissions by 26%-28% by 2025.

By the numbers: Here are a couple key findings from the note by Rhodium, which conducts foundation-funded work on energy tax policy...

  • Installations of non-hydro renewable generating capacity, largely wind and solar, would be higher in 2025, and then the difference compared to the no-extension scenario widens a lot.
  • "In the latter half of the 2020s, the [legislation] can catalyze a surge in cumulative capacity additions to 354-491 [gigawatts] in 2030, an increase of 15-59 GW compared to 339-432 GW under current policy," they note.
  • On electric vehicles, expanded credits mean that up to 5.7 million more EVs would be sold between now and 2030.

Go deeper: Poll: Battleground states support clean energy tax credits