February 21, 2024
👨🍳 We've got a wide menu today! But it won't weigh you down — this newsletter has a Smart Brevity count of 1,287 words, 5 minutes.
🎹 Happy birthday to the late Nina Simone, who would be 91 today. A slice of her brilliance is today's intro tune...
1 big thing: Global heat wave swamps Japan
Extraordinary winter warmth has struck Japan in recent days, with hundreds of monthly high temperature records for February broken by rare margins, Andrew writes.
Why it matters: The heat wave occurs as other unprecedented hot streaks have been felt elsewhere, from the U.S. to South America.
The big picture: The monthly high temperature records shocked forecasters in Japan and weather record trackers elsewhere.
- Maximiliano Herrera, who keeps tabs on global weather records via social media, has been increasingly struggling to come up with new superlatives to describe extreme weather events. He called the heat wave's intensity "madness" in a post on X.
- According to him, more than 480 temperature records fell in three days, with old monthly records broken by more than than 6°C (10.8°F) in some cases.
- "This is the most extreme event in 150 years of Japanese climatic history," Herrera stated.
By the numbers: According to NHK meteorologist Sayaka Mori, 337 high temperature records were broken nationwide during three days, with many of them counting as monthly highs.
- Mori wrote that on Monday, a "shocking" 216 February temperature records were broken in the country, noting that three of these locations have kept weather data since the 1880s.
- She said snow depth plummeted to zero at observing sites in Akita, which typically sees heavy snow during the winter.
Between the lines: The unusually mild weather in Japan has disrupted the typical seasonal activities in snowy and cold northern Japan. A colder weather pattern is now reestablishing itself.
The intrigue: The record warmth in Japan matches trends seen in other parts of the world since 2024 began.
- These are likely tied to a strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific, human-caused global warming, and natural variability, including perturbations in the jet stream that steers weather systems.
2. 🗞️ What's new in carbon removal
- What's new: Nan Ransohoff of Frontier — a group of huge corporations building market demand — published highlights of their "red team" exercise to ID and overcome problems.
- Why it matters: Carbon removal could complement clean energy and industrial tech and even help bring temperatures back down if the world misses Paris goals.
- What they found: Demand is rising but remains far below what's needed to achieve the multiple gigaton-scale per year envisioned to make removal a viable solution.
- The big picture: Getting on track for science-based 2050 targets means (back of the envelope) around 50-100 million tons of removal by 2030. At an average cost of $200/ton (hopefully lower!), that's $20 billion annually, vastly more than today's trajectory.
- State of play: Among other challenges, "there still probably aren't enough ideas being tried, and there isn't enough redundancy [with] the best ones," Ransohoff writes. Other risks include local backlash to projects and a market that "ends up fraudy/scammy and undifferentiated from low-quality offsets today," she adds.
🇪🇺 The European Commission and Parliament unveiled a tentative deal on a system for certifying carbon removals and other CO2 management.
- Why it matters: Confidence that removal companies are achieving what they claim is important for creating a viable long-term industry.
- What they're saying: Via S&P Global, European parliament member Lídia Pereira, a key architect, "said this deal will help prevent greenwashing and foster private investment in carbon removals and develop voluntary carbon markets."
3. 🛢️ Key energy agency defends analytical methods
The International Energy Agency is parrying criticism that even its most cautious analysis offers an overly rosy view of low-carbon transition, Ben writes.
Why it matters: The topic is wonky but important. Policymakers, researchers and many others rely on the IEA's work.
What's new: "What we do is to reflect what is in law and in the pipeline, and what is the delivery mechanism that each government has in place, and what they can deliver," Laura Cozzi, a top IEA analyst, tells Bloomberg.
- She's referring to the agency's "stated policies scenario," which sees fossil fuel demand peaking this decade.
Catch up fast: That's just one of the IEA moves drawing complaints in some corners of the energy world.
- This burst into the open via an op-ed from prominent oil scholar Bob McNally.
- He accuses IEA of straying from projections based on today's facts on the ground and morphing into a climate NGO.
Yes, but: "You cannot do a policy neutral scenario ... The moment we assume that country X is not renewing a policy — saying that policies are frozen today — is itself a choice," Cozzi said.
The bottom line: These nerdy debates have high stakes.
- Just this month, for instance, the Energy Department cited IEA's gas demand projection to justify the pause on new LNG export licenses.
4. 📊 Charted: Underestimating coal's fade
This chart shows that shutdowns of U.S. coal-fired power plants have outpaced expectations, Ben writes.
State of play: It's from the latest annual clean energy "factbook" out today from BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.
Zoom in: Based on plant owners' reports to the Energy Department stats arm, another 43 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity is slated to retire by 2030.
- But historic trends suggest this is a big underestimate, the report notes.
- "[F]or example, in 2018, EIA data suggested that from January 2018 to December 2023 only 37.7GW would retire, compared with the 81.5GW that did retire during that period."
Where it stands: Coal, once dominant, today provides about 15% of U.S. power.
The bottom line: Anticipating fossil fuel demand trajectories — in either direction — is hard.
5. 🎙️ Biden energy boss to hit populist notes in major speech
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will pitch President Biden's energy agenda in a speech today, Ben writes.
The big picture: She will strike populist tones that are heavy on industrial policy, excerpts of her National Press Club remarks via DOE show.
She makes an explicit call for a "21st-century industrial strategy" for "clean energy" to boost manufacturing, and "lift bruised communities from their knees."
A little more from the speech that also calls Biden's policies a way to parry China...
- "From before the start of this century, so-called 'free' trade and trickle-down economics ushered in the losses of millions of jobs and tens of thousands of factories across the nation. Policies of administrations past effectively encouraged manufacturers to go abroad. Factories that had anchored entire communities were ripped from their moorings and sucked overseas."
Quick take: It likely previews how Biden will frame the 2022 climate law and other policies as the election draws closer.
The intrigue: While "clean energy" gets lots of love, the excerpts — and they're just that of course — don't explicitly mention climate change.
What's next: The speech itself, which we'll be watching.
6. 👀 On my screen: used auto emissions
🚗 Wealthy nations are shipping a big climate and air pollution problem to low- and moderate-income countries, Ben writes.
State of play: A paper in Nature Climate Change shows used cars exported from the U.K. have much higher carbon dioxide emissions and pollution than cars sent to be scrapped.
Why it matters: "Policies to reduce transport emissions often overlook the international flow of used vehicles," finds the paper that says the problem is also true of vehicles exported from the U.S., EU and Japan.
- It adds to prior research on the climate peril of used cars shipped to developing nations — and how to improve performance.
What they found: The new study estimates that used cars exported from Great Britain average 13% more CO2 per kilometer than scrapped vehicles, and 17% more than used models on U.K. roads.
- And the University of Oxford researchers call those highly optimistic numbers that assume no vehicle modifications or degradation.
- Relative emissions of nitrogen oxides, a key air pollutant, are much worse still.
What's next: Recommendations include placing the same emissions standards on exported vehicles that domestic fleets face.
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🙏 Thanks to Chris Speckhard and Javier E. David for edits to today's edition, along with the brilliant Axios Visuals team.