Virtual Davos just isn’t the same; plus finding the next ‘1,000 unicorns’

Source: MadKruben / Getty Images

By David Callaway, Callaway Climate Insights

Davos Man just wasn’t built for a virtual experience. As the World Economic Forum’s annual confab kicked off virtually this week for a second year because of Covid, I found myself watching Xi Jinping highlights on my computer while daydreaming of snowy train rides, hot fondue, and the piano bar at the Hotel Europe.

The lack of conviviality among attendees seemed to find its way into the speeches of the leaders. Xi’s canned speech Monday made little news in terms of climate change, certainly compared to his global call for action five years ago on top of the mountain. And Indian leader Narenda Modi, who with China kneecapped a United Nations deal to phase out coal in Glasgow at COP26 in November, claimed his country will reach net-zero emissions by 2070. Which is kind of like ExxonMobil’s (XOM) promise this morning to be net zero by 2050.

This being Davos week, it’s no surprise that Peter Goodman’s new book, “Davos Man,” is being promoted. Goodman, a well-known New York Times economics correspondent, blames a handful of billionaires for the world’s woes, according to early reviews, while making the usual arguments for a wealth tax. I’ve judged Goodman’s reporting in journalism contests. He is a brilliant writer. I met him only once — in Davos — when he was working with Ariana Huffington. His argument may gain traction in some populist circles ahead of the midterm elections in the U.S. but blaming everything on Davos these days seems so pre-Covid, especially when the billionaires aren’t there to ignore it.

More up to date this week is Larry Fink’s annual letter, in which the BlackRock founder doubles down on his call for CEOs to imbue their companies with social and environmental goals. Fink said the next “1,000 unicorns won’t be search engines or social media companies, they’ll be sustainable, scalable innovators.” (More on this in Insights below).

As already demonstrated in the first two weeks of the year with deals announced by Blackstone, Goldman Sachs and the Carlyle Group, 2022 is going to be about actual investments in the renewables and clean tech spaces, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Not more empty pledges. Save those for the virtual speeches.

More insights below. . . .

Tuesday’s subscriber insights: Finding Larry Fink’s 1,000 unicorns

. . . . Larry Fink came out swinging for sustainability again in his annual CEO letter this week, as the BlackRock founder defended shareholder capitalism and predicted the next wave of big companies — some 1,000 unicorns — will be in the sustainable space. But can they make money too? Read more here. . . .

. . . . For the first time in Europe, electric vehicle sales have overtaken diesel engine sales in a given month, according to new research. More than one in five cars sold in the European Union in December were electric. But how much of that is based on subsidies for buyers? And can that translate to the U.S.? Read more here. . . .

. . . . A lot of buzz last week about Just Capital’s new rankings of the top 100 ESG stocks in AmericaThe non-profit founded by Paul Tudor Jones ranked Alphabet (GOOGL) at the top and demoted Facebook/Meta Platforms (FB), and particularly cited Target (TGT) and as up-and-comer. But is it just another list of large-cap tech stocks? Read more here. . . .

. . . . The heat wave in Brazil, Australia and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere this month has generated playful headlines about beavers moving north to the arctic, but behind that is a food security crisis caused by drought and excessive heat that threatens several national economies. And food supply chains. Read more here. . . .

Editor’s picks: Financing clean energy, stopping methane leaks and refurbishing Toyotas

Pipeline safety agency eyes methane leaks

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is preparing restrictions on methane emissions and is expected to confront pipeline companies on the hazardous methane leaks, according to a report in E&E News. The report notes that Congress has given the PHMSA new responsibility to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Surveying companies about methane emissions could begin this year. Tristan Brown, PHMSA’s deputy administrator, said earlier this year, “Congress was very clear that we must not just reduce these emissions, but we must do all we can to minimize these emissions.” E&E notes that late in late 2020, Congress ordered pipeline companies to update inspections and maintenance plans to to reduce methane emissions.

Coal production reaches new record in China

Coal production in China reached record levels last year, The Guardian reports. The spike was the result of the government pushing miners to increase fossil fuel output to weather a winter gas crisis. China, the world’s biggest coal producer and consumer, produced a new high of more than 4 billion tonnes, up 4.7% from 2020. According to the International Energy Agency, global consumption of coal power, which is the world’s single biggest source of climate emissions, would reach record levels in 2021, spurred by increased energy demand to aid global economies amid the Covid pandemic.

It’s not a certified Toyota, it’s refurbished

Toyota UK has a new plan in the works to “refurbish” cars, remanufacturing them to increase their lifespan — ideally making them more efficient and sustainable. Road/Show by CNET reports “the idea is to take a car after its first use cycle, such as a lease term, and return it to the factory. There, it will be remanufactured to ‘the best standard’ and ready for a second cycle with a driver. Toyota may perform this one more time before it turns its attention to recycling the car responsibly. This may include reusing parts from the vehicle that are still in good condition, rebuilding batteries and much more.” The report also said Toyota USA declined to comment on any plans for a refurbishing program in the U.S.

Data driven: Frightening lightening

. . . . Saturday’s massive underwater volcanic eruption near the Kingdom of Tonga could affect the environment for decades to come, damaging coral reefs and hurting fisheries and island coastlines, experts say. The volcano, named Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai began erupting a few weeks ago, but exploded into action on Jan. 15, prompting widespread tsunami warnings and significant damage. But even more amazing, the volcano’s huge ash columns began to produce record-breaking amounts of lightning. In a report for National GeographicRobin George Andrews writes this volcano was at one point producing 200,000 discharges in a single hour. By comparison, Andrews notes, the 2018 eruption of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau had 340,000 discharges over a week or so.

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