Power and renewables

The climate change puzzle

Welcome to Face the Facts – the new current affairs podcast from DNV GL Talks Energy, where the world’s leading energy experts share their insights on the most important global news stories about the energy transition.

Public concern over environmental issues is at an all-time high
This is not only resulting in a surge in social activism, but greater attention from global media, policymakers and the corporate world. But with so many parties to please, is the conversation around climate ever going to ignite real change?

Amy Harder, Energy Reporter at Axios and formerly The Wall Street Journal, discusses her take on the eight pieces of the climate change puzzle and what she looks for when writing a story on this hugely topical, yet still divisive, issue.

In recent news, global movements like the School Strike 4 Climate are taking centre stage, while policymakers and business leaders continue to pull in different directions on the issues at the heart of the climate change emergency.

With more work required to encourage all stakeholders to accept compromise and collaborate to drive change, it’s time to face the facts.

Read the transcription of this episode here

Transcript:
Transcript:
NARRATOR 1 Welcome to the DNV GL Talks Energy podcast series. Electrification, rise of renewables and new technologies - supported by more data and IT systems, are transforming the power system. Join us each week as we discuss these changes with guests from around the industry.
Transcript:
NARRATOR 2 Hello, you’re listening to ‘Face the Facts’, the new current affairs podcast from DNV GL Talks Energy, where the world’s leading energy experts share their insights on the most important global news stories about the energy transition.

Climate change is becoming more and more tangible – every day we are seeing the devastating consequences of a warmer world in the news.

This increased public awareness is not only resulting in a surge in social activism, but greater attention from global media, governments and the corporate world. However, more needs to be done to encourage businesses and political leaders to accept compromise and collaborate to drive change.

In this episode, Amy Harder, Energy Reporter at Axios and formerly The Wall Street Journal, discusses the eight pieces of the climate change puzzle and what she looks for when writing a story on this hugely topical, yet still divisive, issue.
Transcript:
AMY HARDER People often ask me how I decide what to cover in this noisy and disparate energy and climate change speech. And my answer is actually pretty simple: I stay focused on the puzzle.

And what I mean by that is that I look at the various factors that go into driving or slowing big change toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a world highly dependent on the energy resources that emit them. So, this is really a simple deduction of what is a complex dynamic. Like puzzle pieces, these numerous factors work in tandem, not in isolation. So, as I was thinking about this, I found eight puzzle pieces that I look for as I cover these issues and I’m going to run them down really quick.

So, the first one is how climate change is becoming far more tangible. As the impacts of a warmer world become more tangible to people today through more extreme weather, heatwaves, sea level rise and as the science becomes more convincing, the more general awareness grows. And how this fits into the puzzle is that this is an essential foundation piece, because if the problem feels too far away in the future, compared to short term sacrifices, nothing will happen. And, by the way, I’m still not convinced that it feels tangible enough yet, to enough people, to drive the required level of change.

But that brings me to my second puzzle piece. As I wrote in a recent column, over the past year there’s been a growing concrete social movement forming that’s far more global, persistent and sweeping than any other like-minded efforts in the past, including the opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline. How this fits into the puzzle is that big societal changes have often only occurred once a clear constituency, in this case led by young people, rose up and called for change.

The next puzzle piece is that there has been more focus of climate change in the media, including by me and my publication that I work for, Axios. Media companies on both TV and in print are covering this issue far more than we have in the past and that’s again due to the prior puzzle pieces. And how this fits in, is that this trend is both a reflection but also an amplifying force in its own right on the issue of climate change, because the media plays a role in shaping public opinion.

The next puzzle piece is about the cost of the energy technologies that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these costs are plummeting, whilst some remain too high. For example, the cost for wind and solar have dropped significantly in the last decade and the same thing is happening now to battery technologies, that will enable these variable energy resources to last long after the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining.

But technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions, either from a power plant or from the sky remains far too expensive and this is troubling many experts say because this type of technology will be critical to addressing climate change and what remains a very much fossil fuel dependent world. How this puzzle piece fits in, is that the dropping costs or the still high costs really affect the corporate and political support. So, the dropping costs for wind and solar, which have been fueled by state mandates and federal subsidies here in the United States, has really helped to build corporate and political support.

The next puzzle piece is about corporate and investor concern growing. For both the risks and also the opportunities within energy transition in a warmer world. So, investors are increasingly investing in wind and solar and other technologies that are not oil, natural gas and coal. Meanwhile, these investors are also putting pressure on oil and natural gas and coal companies to do more to ready themselves for a warmer world, that is drastically reducing emissions. And how this puzzle piece fits is that the planet needs more than altruism to save it in our capitalistic society. It needs both the risk of financial loss and the potential for financial gain.

The next three and the last three puzzle pieces focus on here in Washington DC, which is where I’m based, and the first one from a Washington DC angle, is the shifting and lobbying of companies, especially the incumbent oil and gas companies. I wrote a column recently that noted how corporate America is calling on congress to pass big climate policy in the most aggressive and united way since 2009 and this includes, importantly, big oil companies that have fought similar measures in the past and are now facing law suits alleging that they’re responsible for billions of dollars of extreme weather damage due to climate change. That legal pressure is one driver of companies, like ExxonMobil, putting money toward a carbon tax lobbying campaign. So, how this fits into the puzzle, is that there’s very few big policies that get through the legislative process without at least some support from affected industries and in this case of course, oil and gas industry will be significantly affected.

The next puzzle piece, here in Washington, is the evolution or lack thereof among republicans to acknowledge climate change as a problem. After a decade of ignoring or outright dismissing climate change as a problem at all, there’s beginning to be a small contingency of congressional republicans who are acknowledging it as a problem and discussing policies to address it. However, it’s nowhere near the type of policy that most other political constituencies are calling for. And how this fits in is that very little big policy gets through Washington by one political party pushing it over the opposition of another, which is what many democrats are trying to do with climate change, given republicans have been largely absent from this debate. But I’m watching what republicans say and do closely because there’ll at least be the need for a few republicans to support big policy in order to get it through Washington.

And the last puzzle piece is looking at how the sausage making of American laws gets done and here is that, when push comes to shove and law makers are debating big policy, there’s an expectation that there’ll need to be some pragmatism and compromise on all sides of this issue. For example, many experts believe that ultimately environmentalists must be willing, for example, to trade at least some environmental regulations for a comprehensive climate change law. That policy, meanwhile, marks the beginning of the end for fossil fuel companies as we know them today, and that’s an existential compromise on behalf of those industries and workers. And how this fits in to the overall puzzle, is that because of the prior puzzle piece about bipartisanship, it follows it all sides involved in the legislative process must accept some things that they don’t like.

So, those are the eight puzzle pieces that I look for while I cover this issue and as a reporter, it’s not my job to support the puzzle coming together, or not coming together, but it’s my job to look at everything analytically and tell readers and listeners how it is.
Transcript:
NARRATOR 2 Thank you Amy for sharing such valuable insights. Today we heard three new unforgettable facts;

Around the world, society is starting to rise up, demand change and hold companies to account for climate change.

However, the cost of advanced clean technologies – for example, capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants – remains high and is limiting financial and political support.

And, compromise is needed to drive change. Politicians must work together across parties, while environmentalists and fossil fuel companies must find common ground to move policies forward.

To hear more facts and opinions responding to the latest news from the global energy transition, listen again next week to DNV GL Talks Energy: Face the Facts.
Transcript:
NARRATOR 1 Thank you for listening to this DNV GL Talks Energy podcast.
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To hear more podcasts in the series, please visit dnvgl.com/talksenergy.

Read the news articles cited in this episode here

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Climate change is finally getting political cred with Republicans
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Mark Carney on climate change: Capitalism is part of the solution
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While the government is in denial, the states are making staggering progress on renewable energy