Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

Top executives, policy makers and investors are gathering this week for the two-day Bloomberg Green Summit. The virtual event focuses on the core issues of climate change.

The conference kicked off Monday with speakers led by Bloomberg LP founder Michael R. Bloomberg and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who said the global fight against climate change is accelerating and reaching a “political tipping point right now.”

Other presenters were BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink, Zoox Inc. CEO Aicha Evans, actor Robin Wright, Jigar Shah, executive director of U.S. Department of Energy’s loan programs office, and Ariel Investments Co-CEO Mellody Hobson. They discussed the need for climate action and a range of other specific topics such as “the road to net zero” and “the investor’s case for climate action.”

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

Tuesday’s lineup of speakers includes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and QuantumScape Corp. co-founder Jagdeep Singh.

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy as the World Sees the Obvious, Mann Says (1:30 p.m. NY)

Climate scientists for decades have issued stern warnings about how the world’s future depends on eliminating greenhouse-gas pollution. Among the most prominent is Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University.

In the late 1990s, Mann published what became an iconic graphic of sharply rising global temperatures, quickly dubbed “the hockey stick.”

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

Mann delivered that rarest of climate updates during his discussion at the Bloomberg Green Summit -- and it’s good news.

“It’s really a very bright time right now, a much more favorable atmosphere for meaningful climate action than we’ve seen in years,” Mann said. “Joe Biden to some extent surprised even the critics who were concerned that he wouldn’t take the climate crisis seriously enough.”

The forces opposed to addressing climate change have largely abandoned flat-out denial as a strategy, Mann said, and turned to more subtle deceptions to delay action. “We went from denialism to nihilism,” he said. “The denial that there’s really a problem” to denial “that we can do anything about it.”

That’s false, and Mann offered tips on how to expose them. Listen closely for empty terminology that sounds good. Beware of people who talk about adaptation -- which is important --without attacking the source of the problem, which is pollution. Anyone who promises that their country or company will be net zero by 2050 without providing concrete benchmarks along the way may just be spewing hot air.

“Often these are code words for, ‘Let’s not actually implement any meaningful policies to reduce carbon emissions,’” Mann said. “Let’s just talk a good game. Well, our friends in the fossil-fuel industry continue to rake in trillions of dollars.”

DOE’s Shah Counts $20 Billion of Deals in Pipeline (1 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Energy Department’s loan programs office, which supports clean-energy projects, has $20 billion of transactions in its pipeline and another $40 billion of potential deals, said Jigar Shah, the office’s executive director.

Shah said his office has identified 12 to 15 sectors that are “shovel-ready,” including transmission projects, hydrogen, carbon sequestration and storage, and small modular nuclear reactors.

“There’s a lot of innovation there that’s ready for mainstream capital, which is what we provide,” he said.

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

Some infrastructure projects like transmission lines get caught in “chicken or the egg” situations where power generators won’t sign up until construction begins but debt providers want those contracts in place before they hand out any money. Shah said support from his office can overcome some of those obstacles.

The loan programs office in the past backed both Tesla Inc. and failed solar-manufacturer Solyndra LLC. “If we’re doing our job correctly, we should be having some failures in the portfolio, that’s the only way we’re going to find the next Tesla,” he said. “If anyone has any questions, we’re open for business.”

How Does a Robo-Taxi Help to Reduce Emissions? (11:50 a.m. NY)

The question was posed to Aicha Evans, the CEO of autonomous transportation startup Zoox, during her talk at the Bloomberg Green Summit. It might not be the most obvious connection -- but from the very start in 2014, Evans said, Zoox was built around sustainability.

“We’re about ride-sharing,” she said.

The Zoox robo-taxi will be fully electric and fully autonomous once the service launches commercially in the U.S., though no date has been set for that. Evans said the first city for the launch will likely be Las Vegas. The daily cycle of the vehicle has been designed and planned so that it is constantly moving and in use, making it hyper-efficient, she said.

Zoox has been around for seven years, operating with a fairly low profile until last summer when Inc. bought the startup for $1.2 billion. Evans said the deal has enabled the company to focus on execution –- “we don’t have to be fundraising” -- and ensured that everyone is focused on the technology, getting the product to market and then scaling up.

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

The sale doesn’t mean Zoox has shifted its objective to delivery of goods and services, Evans said. At least, not yet.

“Our first priority is the customer experience,” she said. “We’re going to make cities less congested, more sustainable, more enjoyable. We don’t want you to worry about driving.”

Still, if the vehicle can move people, it can also move goods and services. “There’s been too much variation in this industry, and we’ve been the most consistent in this market,” she said. “We’ll earn the opportunity for more adjacencies.”

Consolidation in the autonomous-transportation industry means a few players will still be around. Evans describes them as “fellow travelers along the way who will also be competitors, and that’s ok.”

For now, Zoox is concerned only about itself, she said. The safety bar is very high, and the timing will all depend on the moment when the technology is ready to be safely deployed, she said.

BlackRock’s Fink, Buoyed by Record Inflows, Vows ‘Loud’ Activism (10:55 a.m. NY)

If BlackRock Inc.’s Larry Fink ever had second thoughts about injecting his voice into such weighty issues as climate change and voting rights, he doesn’t anymore.

“I’ve been very loud at what I’m saying and I’m going to be loud again,” said Fink, BlackRock’s chairman and CEO. “Over the last rolling 12 months, we were awarded $527 billion, so our voice is resonating with our clients.”

Emboldened by the record amounts of money flowing into his firm, Fink is among the most prominent leaders in finance to embrace the ideals of stakeholder capitalism, and he’s wielded the influence that comes with overseeing $9 trillion to push others in the same direction.

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

“I believe our voice is imperative in the communities where we work,” Fink said. “If you look at the companies that have voices, companies that have strong stakeholder capitalism as part of their principles, those companies are performing better than the ones who were silent.”

Dow’s Fitterling Calls for Clearer Government Guidance (10:40 a.m. NY)

For the private sector to decarbonize, it needs clearer signals from the government, said Jim Fitterling, Dow Inc.’s CEO.

“It’s going to have to be a public-private partnership with some decent policies around a market-related price on carbon to help accelerate this transition and without overly binding it with regulations that really drive you in the opposite direction,” he said.

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

Fitterling said Dow has invested in pilots for carbon-reducing technology, including blue hydrogen and electric-based furnace. But he said the company was holding off of major capital commitments until it had a better sense of whether the government would support them through either a price on carbon or a carbon tax.

He also wants assurances that if such policy is implemented monies raised would go back into infrastructure and technology -- and not just into general government coffers.

Fitterling said that if there was a price on carbon, it would have to be global or it would cripple America and Europe.

“If we just follow Europe, you know, you run the potential that the United States and Europe could make themselves uncompetitive as manufacturers, and they could drive ball manufacturing to China, India, places that rely on coal and other forms of energy that would drive up greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

For Unilever, 2050 Is Deadline for Net Zero, Not a Target Date (9:55 a.m. NY)

For consumer goods giant Unilever Plc, which has committed to reach net-zero emissions across its business by 2039, the mid-century target demanded by climate science for the global economy to zero out emissions should be seen less as a target date and more of a final deadline.

“The significance of 2039 is really a response to the scale and the urgency of the climate crisis,” said Marc Engel, Unilever’s chief supply chain officer. “We very much see 2050 as a deadline, and not a target.”

That’s in part because not all companies will be able to cut net emissions to zero by 2050, so if some can get there earlier it will help everyone.

“The climate crisis doesn’t wait, and it knows no boundaries, so you either win together or you lose together,” Engel said.

Every company needs to play its part in the transition to a net-zero economy and they should take action right away, said Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres.

“When a company says, I’m going to commit the next year or by 2050. Here’s what we would say: That’s great, but you can’t start in 2043, you must have a short-term, a medium-term and a long-term set of goals,” said Lubber. “It isn’t just about bold, glorious, long-term solutions that may never happen. We have to ensure that we’re not seeing greenwashing.”

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

Al Gore Says He’s Optimitsic About Reaching ‘Political Tipping Point’ (9:25 a.m. NY)

The global fight against climate change is accelerating and reaching a tipping point after a slow start, said Al Gore, former U.S. vice president and co-founder of Generation Investment Management.

“From the time the scientists started sounding the alarm, we’ve waited way too long,” Gore said. “But I’m very optimistic that we’re crossing the political tipping point right now.”

Climate Deniers Are Changing Their Strategy: Green Summit Update

A combination of climate catastrophes such as fires and floods over the past few months have raised awareness among citizens in all latitudes about the need to act urgently against the fast warming of the planet, Gore said. At the same time, the sharp decline in the costs of clean technologies like wind and solar energy, and the outlook for electric vehicles are helping create momentum.

“We’re in the early stages of a revolution that has the magnitude of the industrial revolution,” he said. “Many are saying it’s the biggest investment opportunity of all history.”

In the past, financial firms looking to take advantage of the trend have sometimes made green promises they didn’t keep, or tried to make polluting initiatives look clean for the environment, a phenomenon known as greenwashing, he said.

“ESG investing has become mainstream and there is too much greenwashing,” Gore said. “But this is different now because we’ve seen the rise of public demands to get on with this.”

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