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Politics

John Kerry’s Next Move

On the departing climate envoy, BYD’s price cuts, and MethaneSAT

John Kerry’s Next Move
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: California’s Sierra Nevada range is expecting another snowstorm • Dangerous smog has settled on Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi • Drought-stricken Sicily has declared a state of emergency.

THE TOP FIVE

1. John Kerry nears last day as climate envoy

This week marks the end of an era in climate diplomacy: John Kerry, the first special presidential envoy for climate, is leaving government. On Wednesday he’ll hand the reins to White House senior advisor John Podesta, though Kerry plans to stay involved in the global fight against climate change on a less formal level. “The reason that I’ve decided to transition from this job is not because we’re finished,” he told the Financial Times. “But as U.S. envoy, I’m presently responsible for the U.S. position, for what we’re doing here. If I’m out there as a citizen, I’m able to work with whoever I choose to work with in order to help accelerate this [transition away from fossil fuels].” Specifically, he plans to focus on securing more funding for the energy transition, having expressed frustration about paltry commitments from the U.S. toward climate funds.

2. Scientists connect the dots between Texas fire and climate change

Texas’ Smokehouse Creek fire continued to burn over the weekend, and attempts to bring it under control were hampered by warm temperatures and strong winds. It has so far burned more than 1 million acres and is the largest fire in the state’s history. Two people are known to have died in the blaze. On top of the threat to human life is the danger posed to the millions of cattle that graze in the Texas Panhandle. The fire has scorched grassland and left farmers without food or water for their herds.

A scorched utility pole in TexasScott Olson/Getty Images

According to Climate Central, a nonprofit that researches the effects of climate change, the record winter heat the Panhandle endured on the day the fire ignited was made at least three times more likely due to human-caused climate change. “The more climate changes, the more these risks grow: including the risk of winter heatwaves and wildfire,” said Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy and professor at Texas Tech.

3. BYD slashes price of best-selling EV

Chinese carmaker BYD released a new version of its best-selling EV today at a price that’s nearly 12% lower than the final sale price of its predecessor, according toReuters. In China, the new Yuan Plus crossover (known overseas as the Atto 3) will cost 119,800 yuan, or about $16,644. “That price puts the compact SUV at around the same price as [internal combustion engine] rivals including the Honda XR-V, the Buick Envision Plus, and the Volkswagen T-Cross,” Jennifer Mossalgue noted at Electrek. Last week Stella Li, CEO of BYD Americas, said the company wasn’t interested in entering the U.S. market, but major price cuts by the world’s biggest seller of EVs will ripple through the global market, and the Biden administration knows it: Last week President Biden announced an investigation into security threats posed by Chinese EVs, a sign that “the backlash to Chinese EVs has begun in earnest in the U.S.,” wrote Heatmap’s Robinson Meyer.

4. BlackRock pivots from ESG to ‘transition investing’

ESG is out. “Transition investing” is in. A new Wall Street Journalreport explains how BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is carefully continuing a climate investing strategy while simultaneously attempting to sidestep ESG backlash. The company has stopped trying to change how companies behave, talking about social issues, or fussing over criteria for responsible investing. Instead it’s betting on clean-energy infrastructure projects that will speed the transition away from fossil fuels, a strategy it calls “transition investing.” ESG was too vague, sources said, and failed to outpace the market or prove good for the planet. Meanwhile, private renewable-energy and broad energy-sector investment funds have raised nearly $500 billion over the last five years “and dwarfed the amount raised for traditional fossil-fuel funds,” the Journal reported. “The mega infrastructure projects are the new ESG,” said Peter McKillop, a former spokesman at BlackRock. “Energy-transition infrastructure — Wall Street loves this because it’s real.”

5. MethaneSAT scheduled for launch today

A satellite that will monitor methane leaks from space is set to hitch a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base this afternoon. MethaneSAT was developed by the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to detect methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is released in large quantities from power plants and factories. The washing-machine-sized craft will orbit Earth 15 times each day and observe 80% to 90% of global oil and gas infrastructure using a high-resolution infrared sensor. It can see how much methane is leaking, where it’s coming from, and whether a leak is getting better (or worse) over time. The team will analyze the data using cloud computing and Google-developed AI technology, and then release the findings to the public, with the hopes of fostering greater accountability from the offenders. But, “there’s no guarantee that this information leads to a change in behavior,” Drew Shindell, an earth-science professor at Duke University, toldThe New York Times. You can watch the launch here.

THE KICKER

Not a single traffic death incident has been reported in Hoboken, New Jersey, since 2017, which is roughly when the city began removing parking spaces near intersections.

Yellow

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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