Climate Now

Climate News Weekly: Apple's Green Ad, Peak Fossil Fuels, G20, and more

September 18, 2023 James Lawler Season 1 Episode 114
Climate Now
Climate News Weekly: Apple's Green Ad, Peak Fossil Fuels, G20, and more
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This has been a big week for nations and companies ‘talking the talk’ about reducing their emissions footprints, from updated commitments at the G20 summit, to a carbon-neutral product launch by Apple, and the family that owns the Mærsk shipping company creating its own clean shipping fuel supply chain with a green methanol subsidiary company. 

But which of these groups are also ‘walking the walk’ and making real strides in accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels? Climate News Weekly co-hosts James, Dina, and Julio break it down. 

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James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome to Climate News Weekly. I am here with co-hosts Julio Friedmann and Dina Cappiello. Just a reminder to Climate Now listeners, we have decided to separate Climate News Weekly, which is our review of the past week in climate and energy news from our deep dive episodes where we go into the weeds with climate entrepreneurs, industry and academic experts, and policy makers who are accelerating solutions to address the global climate emergency This is our first episode that is news only, Climate News Weekly. Welcome, guys. Good to see you. 

Julio Friedmann: Delighted to be here. 

Dina Capiello: Good to be here on the eve of Climate Week. 

James Lawler: On the eve of Climate Week NYC, indeed. So, Dina, Apple released an interesting video this week starring the one and only Octavia Spencer as Mother Earth. And you noted this one, what's interesting about this? 

Dina Capiello: Well, if you haven't seen it, definitely look it up. It's on [00:01:00] Apple's website and all over social, but as you noted, Octavia Spencer comes in with thunder and there's a storm and plays the role of mother nature and the first question that Tim Cook asks is, how was the weather when you came in?

And she's like, well, the weather was anything I wanted it to be, I'm mother nature. But here's the reason why I think it's interesting to talk about, and it is getting panned, and there's people that don't... 

James Lawler: Can I ask, is she pissed off in this video? Like, or is she... 

Dina Capiello: She's like, no nonsense. She's like, like, the small talk, like, let's get to the chase, like, what are you doing?

Julio Friedmann: Noteworthy, she actually, at the very top, she says, how are you going to disappoint me this year? Like, that's, that's her opening line, yeah. 

Dina Capiello: Exactly. Exactly. And listen, I, I wanted to bring it up this week because I think it's noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Yes, it was about announcing their first carbon neutral products, and you can kind of pick that apart in numerous ways about whether they're truly carbon neutral and [00:02:00] kind of their environmental behavior, but as the communicator on the show and somebody who does climate communications for a living, I just thought it was a really creative and unique way to put out a sustainability report, which is basically what it's about. 

So they cover everything from their electricity consumption to their net zero buildings, et cetera, et cetera, and it's just fun. And, you know, sustainability reports, you know, everybody does them these days. You know, they're read by some, not by many, and whether you think it's screen washing or not, and I think, you know, that's definitely one of the things that's come up in light of the video, I think was an interesting treatment of what is typically, you know, some pretty dry material, from a major brand. 

Julio Friedmann: Yeah, I thought it was fine. I, I don't understand why you would hate it or love it, like it's, it's not one of those things.

I thought the, the whole idea of like, how are you going to disappoint me this year? And then they don't disappoint her. The fact is like, that's the [00:03:00] punchline, like we're actually walking the walk, and Octavia Spencer says things like, oh, like the commitments for 2050? And they're like, no, it's for next year. And then she goes, oh, like that kind of thing. The, and the tagline on the way out is awesome. She's like, don't disappoint your mother, which is cool.

James Lawler: That is cool.

Julio Friedmann: I want to note that Apple does things that not all other companies are able to do. Like in order to make their net zero commitments, they bought a forest.

James Lawler: Right.

Julio Friedmann: Not everybody gets to do that. 

James Lawler: So another interesting story this week, the IEA has called peak fossil fuel demand happening this decade, and this is across peak oil, peak coal, you know, peak fossil fuels writ large in their World Energy Outlook report. Julio, you flagged this story. What do you make of this prediction?

Julio Friedmann: A couple of things. So for starters, it is super unusual for the head of the IEA, Fatih Birol, to disclose these kinds of things before the report is out. [00:04:00] Usually these are done in parallel. I don't know exactly what's driving that, we'll see. In about a year and a half ago, he kind of made a coy statement that says, oh, we don't need to invest in more oil, which was not really what his report said. And he, he sort of winkingly walked it back, but like he's, he's trying to message aggressively as part of his current job. And this is part of that strategy. 

Second, peak fossil is gonna happen. Peak coal will happen. Peak oil will happen and peak gas will happen. Whether they happen this decade remains to be seen. So far, demand is up in all of those arenas. So still, I think it is likely to prove that we will get peak coal and peak oil this decade. And let's say he's off by five years and we get peak gas in 2035, like that's still pretty good. Like that would be a fine outcome. I find the most salutary or noteworthy thing about this is in fact the way that this came out, way in [00:05:00] advance of the actual report. And he's doing it before the UN general assembly, he's doing it before climate week, I think that again was done with intention.  

Dina Capiello: I totally agree on the intention and I thought it was odd too, but my hunch is that may have something to do with the global stock take and that leak that happened last week and a gap of a week or more on a report, kind of trying to change the narrative.

James Lawler: Can you say more about that leak, Dina, just for our listeners? What leak are you talking about? 

Dina Capiello: So a week ago, the global stock take put out a draft. We all anticipated it to be issued around COP, but there was a draft that was put up on the UN website. The New York Times covered it, and basically it said that, and many other outlets, but basically it said we're way off track from our Paris targets, and I know we scrambled, because we had some things coming out to, to get them out sooner, and I'm assuming that that happened with the IEA as well, to offer a counterpoint.

The thing about the global stock [00:06:00] take is that it looks at country commitments and it does not include things like private sector action. I have a hunch that that might have had something to do, I don't know obviously for sure. 

James Lawler: Yeah. So moving beyond the timing of it, I'm interested in sort of what they point to as sort of the principal drivers and then also just interested in hearing your thoughts on kind of what this prediction is actually like worth or how much value we should ascribe to it.

 So they say, you know, the peak of global oil, their projections show that it's the growth of electric vehicles around the world, especially in China means oil demand is on course to peak before 2030. Electric buses and two and three wheelers are also growing strongly, especially in emerging economies, which further eat into demand for oil.

Then this golden age of gas, which they, which they, I guess, coined or called in 2011, they say is nearing an end, and this is a result of renewables increasingly outmatching gas for producing electricity, the rise of heat pumps, and Europe's accelerated [00:07:00] shift from gas- away from gas- following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. These are the sort of the main drivers of these peaks. Julio, does this sound right to you in terms of drivers? And would you say anything is interesting about that? 

Julio Friedmann: So coal will peak entirely when China decides coal will peak. 

James Lawler: Mhmm.

Julio Friedmann: Like that, that is outside anybody else's control. I believe that Xi Jinping will do that. I believe the Chinese leadership will do that, but they're in no rush. They're building more coal plants. And they're using more coal and they're opening new mines, like, but I do believe it will peak this decade. I think they're probably right about that. Same thing about oil. I think oil will also peak this decade and we'll talk more about EVs later in the show.

But again, it's entirely about China and their demand. for oil. It will probably peak this decade because of their aggressive EV work. Gas, I think is much harder to predict, I really do. And, and the idea that like, you know, we're seeing, for example, at the same time that they're [00:08:00] predicting that gas will get outcompeted by cheaper renewables, we're seeing a complete crash of the offshore wind market. Like these things don't all pull in the same direction.

 James Lawler: Right. 

Julio Friedmann: And it's not just power. Gas is used for so many other things, including fertilizer and heavy industry and so forth. So I think it's just a lot harder to predict that one. But again, it doesn't really matter if it peaks at 2028 or 2035, like it's not that big a difference.

What does matter is the fat tail. Peaking is not deep emissions reduction. The work for 1.5 is to have a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2030, that's not peak. That is way deeper than peak. And so that's the hard part. Like we, yes, I would celebrate if we peaked all of these things, like that's good news, but boy, that is like the, still a small fraction of the work. What really matters is deployment, how much clean we get out in the field. 

James Lawler: Yeah. There's a fascinating article in Bloomberg, which really helps put into perspective the pace of adoption of EVs. And the [00:09:00] article makes the point that it took 10 years for the United States to sell its first million fully electric vehicles, 10 years. So keep that number in your head. 

Two years to reach the second million, and just over a year to reach the third million. By the time the latest quarters figures are tallied up over the next month, the country should be well on the way to its fourth million. So this is what we call exponential growth.

Dina Capiello: Obviously, exponential growth and S curves are kind of like RMI's bread and butter. And we actually had a report come out this week as well on EVs that showed that global car sales, two-thirds of them will be EVs by 2030. Which would have oil demand and we're seeing a real exponential growth driven by China, largely because they're making a lot of electric cars and driving a lot of electric cars, but it is hard to wrap your head around.

But, you know, this is how systems have historically worked.

Julio Friedmann: Yeah. And in that exact context, the, first of all, I think we are [00:10:00] likely EVs, whether it's two-thirds or 80% or 50%. Like it's the right trend and we are seeing this remarkable growth. At the same time, this story ran in Bloomberg, a story ran in the Wall Street Journal saying that Pete Buttigieg and Secretary Granholm couldn't find EV chargers.

Like so that's like part of the flip side of that. We need to build out the infrastructure. I've talked about that over and over and over again, like infrastructure week is every week folks for the next 30 years. Um, and places like Norway that have built out the infrastructure got like very rapid adoption. But other places, not so much. Like, India doesn't have that kind of charging infrastructure. So these things will take some time. We'll see what the actual number is, but I do think we're going to see a lot more of it and I do think we will find decreased oil demand as a consequence. 

Something that is tacit in this discussion, but I want to raise is in order for that EV revolution to really hit and to have the outcomes we want to get the renewables to power them, the critical material stuff is not going away. [00:11:00] They're going to need cobalt, they're going to need nickel, they're going to need copper, they're going to need rare earth elements. These things are going to continue to limit supply chains in a very real way. Some of the costs of renewables have gone up because of shortages of these materials. That's not been predicted in the learning curves, but it is something we're seeing because that's reality, right? So that will probably dampen some of the adoption. But eventually the market fixes these things and then they open minds and then you get the supplies up or people will start recycling batteries better. Like we start working towards this stuff. We innovate, we invest, and then those problems get surmounted and we're onto the next problem. 

James Lawler: Yeah. And it's, and it's like, you know,  we talked about this Julio when we were talking about Orsted, you know, wind development, how we're going to face some turbulence here as supply chains get worked out and as all of these issues get worked through, but don't mistake turbulence for anything other than that. I mean, it's going to be bumpy, but this is the direction that we're headed, thankfully.

Julio Friedmann: The last thing I'll say about the EVs, this shows you what a whole lot of [00:12:00] stimulus develops. You know, China has been investing in EVs hugely for a very long time. In the United States. those last million cars benefited a lot from the IRA and the bipartisan infrastructure law before it, like, so there, we- when you put money to work, you get faster adoption. That's also the role of government and we're seeing it play out and I'm pretty positive about that. That's what it should be for. 

So the G20 happened this week, the 20 largest economies of the world. And there was some good news and some bad news from the climate front. People picked apart the fact that they did not commit to phase out fossil fuels. They just committed to phasing down fossil fuels. From my money, that's a distinction without a difference, but other people disagree. They want to see the phase out language codified. It is also the case that they made very big commitments to renewable build out, which is again, something you would want to see. And that news was sort of buried. 

James Lawler: Julio, can I ask you, why do you think it's not a big deal to talk about, you know, phase down versus phase out? I mean, some people feel very strongly about that and why do you think it [00:13:00] really doesn't? This is just semantics.

Julio Friedmann: Because we will phase down fossil fuels before we phase them out. 

James Lawler: Makes sense. 

Julio Friedmann: For me, it's like saying, we're going to do A and then B. And people are like, why do you hate B? Like, this doesn't make sense to me. 

Dina Capiello: And it's also the reality that, like, there's certain industries that need that, that source of power and will.

And, and, you know, we talk a lot at RMI about, like, unabated fossil fuels, uncontrolled, right? Understanding that in certain sectors, it's going to be needed. So, so my personal opinion is that it's a little bit more realistic to say face down versus phase out unless you want massive, massive disruptions.

And then there's also like the equity angle where, where in certain parts of the world, many parts of the global south, natural gas, a fossil fuel is a much better alternative than, than what their fuel source is now. So you have to look at this holistically, and I think not [00:14:00] just from the western global north mindset.

James Lawler: Mhmm. So Maersk shipping business is, according to Bloomberg, responsible for 0.1 percent of all human CO2 emissions. That's quite something. This is owned by a family, the Maersk family, so imagine one family's holdings being responsible for 0.1 percent of all human CO2 emissions.

So they are getting into a new business. They've started, they've, I believe they've founded this business, C2X, which will build and operate large scale production facilities to produce and distribute green methanol. They want to do this at a scale of 3 million tons per year by 2030. Julio, what do you make of this? 

Julio Friedmann: So Maersk is a Danish shipping company. They are arguably, in my mind, the most progressive of the maritime logistics companies out there. They, they are walking the walk.

They've bought ammonia and they've bought methanol ships. Which they are fielding. They've built green [00:15:00] corridors going from point A to point B with clean fuels. Like they're really trying to get it done. The challenge with maritime in terms of operations is that if you don't have fuel you're going nowhere.

And they just finally bit the bullet and said we're gonna make our own fuel. And they're starting with biomethanol, which is the right place to start. They are also looking at e-methanol, electrosynthetic pathways. 

James Lawler: Can you tell us what those things are? What is biomethanol and what is e-methanol?

Julio Friedmann: Sure. So in both cases, the thing you care about is the carbon attribute. You want, like, low life-cycle emissions. And there's a couple of ways you can do that. One of them is you use sustainably harvested biomass, things like agricultural wastes, and sustainably developed fuels, crops, and then you turn that into a fuel. Poor way to do this, for example, is corn ethanol or soy or palm oil.

Like, that's a bad way to do it. Everybody knows the bad ways. Maersk trying to do a good way. They're saying we're going to take these wastes and we're going to turn them into methanol. [00:16:00] Methanol is a drop in fuel. You can blend it quite easily into existing reciprocating engines. You don't have to change the ships very much to get that done. You can keep it in conventional bunkering facilities, those are the storage tanks and fueling tanks at ports. So it's easy to drop it, and that's why they're starting with methanol. 

You can also do e-methanol. In which basically you're taking something like CO2 captured from a power plant or from an ethanol plant or from the air and then you electrochemically convert that into methanol, mostly by turning it into carbon monoxide first and then blending it with hydrogen as a syngas and then you turn that into methanol. 

The chemistry's old school, it's like 150 years old, we know how to do this. But there, what you'd be doing is using clean electricity to make the fuel. And that's not as technically mature as the biomethanol. It's gonna take a little while, longer to get that stuff to field, but there will be parts of the world where that's the thing you want to make.

And so C2X literally [00:17:00] is carbon to products, C2X. And so, they're taking carbon from biomass, carbon from the air, carbon from many sources to turn them into fuels of various kinds. They're starting with methanol. But for me, the big news is that they're back in the energy business. Maersk had a substantial energy business back in the day and they gave it up because they wanted to focus on core business. They've decided that making their own fuels is core business.

James Lawler: It's, that's interesting also, isn't it, how they frame that? They, they say, you know, Maersk made a commitment to, to make a green transition, and they identified lack of fuel as sort of a key blocker for that transition. And so this decision to go back into that energy business is a direct result of a corporate commitment and a resolve to go in this direction. And they found this was the problem, so they're doing it themselves. It's interesting. 

Dina Capiello: Just kind of putting walking the walk and not just kind of talking the talk. And hopefully other shipping companies will follow. Cause this is a huge nut to crack in global emissions is, is the heavy fuel oils that are, have been historically used for shipping that are [00:18:00] extremely polluting and extremely carbon intensive.

I have to say the first thing I thought of James when you talked about and intro'd this story and talked about one company and one family having this kind of carbon footprint is wouldn't it be a different world if we didn't have the richest people in the world, but we had the most carbon intensive people in the world, they would probably be completely connected. Depending how much money you have, but would be excellent way to bring awareness to the issue.

James Lawler: All right. Dina and Julio, thanks so much. That's it for this week's episode of Climate News Weekly. We hope you'll join us next week.

Climate Now is made possible in part by our science partners like the Livermore Lab Foundation. The Livermore Lab Foundation supports climate research and carbon cleanup initiatives at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which is a Department of Energy applied science and research facility. More information on the Foundation's climate [00:19:00] work can be found at livermorelabfoundation.org.

Introduction
Apple's New Ad
Reaching Peak Fossil Fuels?
EV Adoption
G20 Updates
Maersk's New Ventures
Closing Remarks