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Politics

It’s Decision Day for the SEC

On the long-awaited climate disclosure rules, El Niño, and Arctic summers

Briefing image.
John Kerry’s Next Move
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Texas’ Smokehouse Creek Fire is now 37% contained • Parts of Oklahoma and Texas could see large hail today • An excessive heat warning is in place for Bangkok where the heat index hit 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

THE TOP FIVE

1. SEC set to vote on corporate climate disclosures

The Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to issue a long-awaited, final rule today on what climate-related disclosures public companies have to make to their investors. The rules will cover a company’s greenhouse gas emissions and its exposure to climate-related risks, like extreme weather or future regulations. The SEC’s initial proposal has been the center of a lobbying firestorm. The most contentious aspect asked companies to disclose emissions indirectly related to their business, known as “scope 3” emissions. As Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo explained: “That means a company like Amazon wouldn’t just have to report the emissions from its warehouses and delivery trucks, but also an estimate of the emissions associated with producing and using all the products it sells.”

Lobbying groups pushed back hard on this, and probably won: The SEC is expected to drop requirements to report scope 3 emissions in the final rule. But it is also reportedly going to soften rules for disclosing scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, which are greenhouse gases produced directly by the company through its own operations, and through its electricity use, respectively. “The draft rule now under consideration would compel such disclosures only if companies deem they are material,” Reuters reported.

2. Solar accounted for more than half of new electric generating capacity last year

Solar installations in America hit a record-high last year, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2023 Year in Review. The industry added 32.4 gigawatts of electric generating capacity, which is a 51% increase over 2022. Solar accounted for more than half (53%) of all new electric generating capacity, a first for renewable electricity. “If we stay the course with our federal clean energy policies, total solar deployment will quadruple over the next 10 years,” said SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. The report outlines solar deployment forecasts through 2034 based on different scenarios. Supply chain improvements, lower interest rates, and tax credits could increase installations; supply chain problems and unfavorable economic policies would hurt capacity:

SEIA

3. El Niño is weakening, WMO says

The El Niño weather pattern that has been in place since June of last year peaked in December and is now weakening, the World Meteorological Organization said yesterday. But its warming effects will linger, resulting in above normal temperatures over nearly all land areas through May. “Every month since June 2023 has set a new monthly temperature record – and 2023 was by far the warmest year on record,” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo. “El Niño has contributed to these record temperatures, but heat-trapping greenhouse gases are unequivocally the main culprit.” She continued: “Ocean surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific clearly reflect El Niño. But sea surface temperatures in other parts of the globe have been persistently and unusually high for the past 10 months. The January 2024 sea-surface temperature was by far the highest on record for January. This is worrying and can not be explained by El Niño alone.”

4. Study: Arctic could see ice-free summer by 2035

New research published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment suggests the Arctic could be ice-free during the summer months as soon as 2035 due to planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. “This would transform the Arctic into a completely different environment, from a white summer Arctic to a blue Arctic,” said Alexandra Jahn, an associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder and a lead author of the research. “So even if ice-free conditions are unavoidable, we still need to keep our emissions as low as possible to avoid prolonged ice-free conditions.” But she added that if, in the future, we are able to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reverse warming, “sea ice will come back within a decade.”

5. Not-so-windy Florida moves to ban offshore wind farms

Florida seems very keen on banning things that don’t yet exist. Earlier this week the state Senate approved a bill making it illegal to manufacture or sell lab-grown meat, a product that is still in early stages of development and pretty hard (though not impossible) to find. Now the state legislature is about to pass HB 1645, a bill prohibiting offshore wind turbines in state waters. Florida doesn’t have very strong offshore winds, and hurricanes pose a big risk to turbines, which explains why the state has not a single operational wind farm – offshore or onshore. And legislators want to keep it that way! Joking aside, the rest of the bill is less benign: It would ban transmission cabling in state waters, weaken regulations on natural gas pipelines, and delete most references to climate change in state law.

THE KICKER

The state of Illinois has the busiest EV chargers in the U.S., with one report finding the chargers are in use 26% of the time.

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Jessica  Hullinger profile image

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.

Technology

AM Briefing: A Major DAC Deal

On curbing AI emissions, flood resilience, and offshore wind

Microsoft’s Major Carbon Removal Deal
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Extreme heat in Southern California is causing cars to break down on the highway • Flooding in northeastern India killed nine rare one-horned rhinos • Residents in Mount Vernon, Indiana, are waking up to debris and devastation from a violent tornado spawned by the remnants of Hurricane Beryl.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Microsoft and Oxy agree to largest-ever DAC credits deal

Tech giant Microsoft has agreed to the “single largest purchase” of direct air capture carbon credits, buying 500,000 metric tons of credits from Occidental Petroleum’s (aka Oxy) 1PointFive DAC subsidiary. The deal is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and will help Microsoft confront its growing emissions problem as demand for energy-intensive artificial intelligence grows. Microsoft’s emissions grew by 30% in 2023 compared to 2020. Google’s emissions are also rising, up 13% last year compared to the year before. Both companies pin the blame on the growth of AI. As Bloomberg noted, DAC “is expensive, energy-intensive and not yet proven at industrial scale.” Occidental clinched a similar (but smaller) deal with Amazon last year.

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Electric Vehicles

How to Turn Any Old Car Into an EV

All you’ll need is thousands of dollars and some elbow grease.

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Over the past few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court has profoundly changed how the federal government does its day-to-day work. In a series of landmark rulings, the high court sharply curtailed the ability of government agencies — including the Environmental Protection Agency — to write and enforce rules and regulations.

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