Podcast Episode 1.102

This Week in Climate News: Fires, national EV charging standards, and the global stocktake

This Week in Climate News: One of the greatest difficulties in addressing climate change has been how invisible the crisis was. You cannot see the 40 billion metric tons of CO2 being added to the atmosphere each year, or necessarily feel that average global temperatures have risen more than 1 degree C since the late 1800’s.

But this week, for many parts of North America, the urgency of the climate crisis could be seen and felt – in people’s eyes, noses and lungs. Record breaking forest fires have consumed more than 9 million acres in Canada in the last month, and impacted air quality as far south as North Carolina.

The fires are tragic, but not a surprise, as the correlation between increasing global temperatures and forest fires could not be more direct. One clear illustration of this comes from a 2004 study of – ironically – Canadian forests.

The study showed that for every degree C departure from the 20th century temperature average, about 10 thousand square kilometers (2.5 million acres) more forest burned than a typical season. The hotter, drier and longer the summers, the more fuel available for the flames.

Hosted By:

James Lawler
Climate Now Host


James Lawler

Climate Now Host
James Lawler is the founder of Climate Now. James started Climate Now as a way to learn about climate change and our energy system. Climate Now’s mission is to distill and communicate the science of our changing climate, the technologies that could help us avoid a climate crisis, and the economic and policy pathways to achieve net zero emissions globally. James is also the founder of Osmosis Films, a creative studio.

Darren Hau
Climate Now Transportation Host


Darren Hau

Climate Now Transportation Host

Darren Hau is a Senior Charging Manager at Cruise, focused on optimizing and deploying the infrastructure required to electrify autonomous vehicle fleets. He previously worked at Tesla, where he helped design the V3 Supercharger, and co-founded Dragonfly Systems, a solar power electronics company that was acquired by SunPower. He is the inventor of several U.S. patents and a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient. Darren holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.

Julio Friedmann
Chief Scientist, Carbon Direct


Julio Friedmann

Chief Scientist, Carbon Direct

Dr. Julio Friedmann is the chief scientist and “carbon wrangler” at Carbon Direct. He recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy where he was responsible for DOE’s R&D program in advanced fossil energy systems, carbon capture, and storage (CCS), CO2 utilization, and clean coal deployment.


James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome to This week in Climate News. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Julio Friedmann and Darren Hau. Welcome guys, good to see you again.

Julio Friedmann: Always a treat.

Darren Hau: Hey everyone.

James Lawler: So Julio, you made a prediction two weeks ago that the fires would continue to be a story and you were proved correct unfortunately.

Julio Friedmann: Right well, this comes in part from living in California. Uh, we have had, uh, years in which the fires have dominated our air quality, impeded tourism, caused health concerns, and now we’re seeing that this is not just limited to California. The fires in Quebec, and other parts of uh, southeastern Canada are now bringing that same bonus, joy, to the rest of the Eastern seaboard.

This is not a laughing matter. Uh, 500 AQI is really bad. It’s bad for your health. It’s bad for visibility. The risk to high-risk populations [00:01:00] like the elderly or the very young is acute. This is a preview of coming attractions. We are gonna continue to see more of this, not just in the US, not just in Canada, not just on the West coast, not just on the East coast.

We are gonna see this for a long time, all over the world in many sectors, and the challenge is there’s kind of nothing for it. All it is is escalating cost and damage.

James Lawler: Right. I, I got interested in the, development of modern sewers in Europe not too long ago because it just struck me as an interesting analogy where, you know, for over a hundred years as the city of London increasingly industrialized, you know, through the 1700s, the 1800s, the stench every year from the River Thames where human refuse, industrial effluent and all kinds of other things, was channeled, became increasingly unbearable until one year, which was 1858, when literally the stench was so great that Parliament could not [00:02:00] sit, they could no longer do business in London.

And it was only at that point after sort of years and years of kicking the can down the road that they agreed to the significant cost of building, a modernized sewer system. After doing that, you know, there was a, a dramatic increase in life expectancy, and so society basically, you know, was living with these huge costs in the form of lost years but once that cost had been actually spent, you’ve, you unlock kind of, you know, massive value. And I, and I, it’s just struck me that that analogy is so similar to what we face with climate.

Darren Hau: I like the fact that you’re always pulling from historical precedence there, James. Draws a neat thread through all this.

Julio Friedmann: Yeah, I, I think it’s unlikely to be a robust analogy, even though I’ve used it many times myself. London spent 2% of its GDP, that is a big investment, to clean up the Thames and, and put in modern sewer systems. [00:03:00] However, the benefits were immediate. The harms before that were obvious and immediate.

That’s the challenge. And in point of fact, if you spend a lot of money now on climate change, you don’t see the benefits. So I think that the political calculus is quite different. That said, in the past, the number of bills introduced associated with the climate have been strongly correlated to temperatures in Washington DC. It is my hope that the terrible air quality will at least prompt some soul searching and get people, uh, serious about the task.

James Lawler: Yeah. So moving to another story We have had a couple of interesting articles this week on the accelerating sales of electric vehicles, and sort of whether we are on track or not yet on track, to meet our electrification goals when it comes to passenger vehicles.

Darren Hau: I guess it’s no surprise to people who have been in the industry, even though the adoption of electric vehicles has really started to hockey stick here. A, it’s still relatively low, [00:04:00] and B, the fact is it’ll take time to replace the vehicles that are already on the road today.

Uh, so what this article was saying is that shipments of ICE vehicles may have peaked about six years ago. But there are still 1.3 billion on the road. Uh, so because of the time it takes to turn over the fleet, especially given inflation and so on, the average age of a vehicle has just gotten longer and longer.

It used to be, you know, 10 years, then went to 12. I believe now it’s pushing 14 to 16. What that means is that some 30% of the fleet will still be burning fuel by 2050. And heavy commercial vehicles are going to be even worse. Uh, they expect that only 32% of the fleet, uh, will be decarbonized by 2050.

So it’s just kind of a heads up that there’s still a lot of work to be done. We have to clean up the grid, we also have to figure out a way to

Julio Friedmann: I would file this under the story of-

Darren Hau: decarbonize the existing, uh, fleet that we have here.

Julio Friedmann: Uh, in related news, water is wet. Um, [00:05:00] we have known this for a very, very long time.

Darren Hau: Yeah.

Julio Friedmann: The speed at which electric vehicles are coming forward is excellent, but that is not the same thing as decarbonizing the fleet. And we’re seeing those numbers again, and we will see them again, again.

There are some really good bright points in this. In particular in India, two and three wheel vehicle electrification really is leading to displacement of two stroke engines and, and these sorts of things, like there’s some, some bright points, but you can’t be cavalier about this.

It comes back to the idea that none of this is easy. None of this is cheap. Just adding electric vehicles does not even hit the EV target, much less all the other climate targets.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm.

Darren Hau: Yeah, I want to chime in there too. There was another interesting article, I believe from Bloomberg as well saying, and the title was pretty provocative. It said “The Wrong People are Buying EVs.” Now of course there’s more to the story, but what they were basically pulling were some anecdotes where they said, well – and some data – that [00:06:00] said, a lot of folks who are buying EVs already have another car, right? They’re buying another EV or they already have an EV and they’re buying their second one. But what that means is those EVs are not being driven that much. So they’re not displacing that many gasoline miles.

And at the same time, they may be pushing up the price of these EVs for other folks who may otherwise have changed. Um, Now, of course, you know, the, this data continues to change. I, I read this article on Electrek saying that more traditionally conservative republican areas are going to EVs just because it’s a better technology and they like it.

And, and that is the transition we kind of need to see. So, you know, I don’t wanna make a mountain out of a molehill, but we do have to think about these sorts of implications.

James Lawler: So another obvious implication or obvious factor in electrifying the fleet is the charging infrastructure. And there was a big piece of news on that front. Darren, do you wanna fill us in on, on the latest?

Darren Hau: Oh my gosh yes I have so much to talk about, so you’ll have to hold me back here. Uh, so obviously several weeks ago we talked about, Tesla and Ford [00:07:00] partnering on the North American charging standard. This is Tesla’s, charging standard and we already discussed why that platform is superior. It’s slimmer and easier to handle for the cables, and the connector is smaller and more reliable with no moving parts.

It can handle more current, it’s, you know, compatible with 400 volt, 800 volt architectures, or you know, a thousand volt at this point. The news just yesterday, or for folks who are listening on the podcast maybe a few days ago, is that GM, also joined, uh, well, Mary from GM also joined Elon on Twitter spaces and announced that it too would adopt Tesla’s North American charging standard, or NACS, connector. Uh, so this is

James Lawler: Was every, was everyone able to hear that Twitter? Did that actually work this time on the Twitter spaces?

Darren Hau: Yeah, I was listening.

James Lawler: It got out there. Okay, good. Just wanna check. Keep going.

Darren Hau: So this is huge. I mean, like when Ford came out, it was this shockwave to the industry, right? And this is, yet, I guess this is an aftershock of it. So we are seeing, and you know, people saying dominoes are falling, [00:08:00] et cetera. Uh, really, I think a couple of key things to note here.

Uh, it was very clearly stated that there would be no preferential treatment of Tesla owners versus Ford and GM owners, and I think that’s pretty key to making sure that Ford and GM accepted something like this. One thing that I think is really refreshing is that these players have been willing to set aside some other competitive concerns to do the right thing for the industry and for customers. Now of course, there are financial benefits involved as well. I think Mary Barra went and said, you know, told Wall Street that, hey, we save 400 million by not having to build our own networks. Uh, so there are financial benefits, but it’s, it’s just very inspiring to see that we can kind of wade through this muck of competing standards and get hopefully somewhere better for the consumer.

I think a couple of, uh, things that were interesting, so CharIN is the consortium that is, uh, promoting the alternative standard, right? Uh, CCS1 and CCS2. Now in Europe, CCS2 is completely dominant. [00:09:00] Um, it is actually a better design than CCS1, we got an inferior design here in America, And Tesla actually retrofitted all of the supercharge stations and vehicles to use CCS2.

So I don’t think that’s gonna change. Uh, but there was an article that CharIN put out a statement that basically said, hey, we should really stick with CCS. I think just a couple things to note here to take with some caveats. You know, one of their claims was there are more CCS charge points than NACS charge points. I think one thing to

James Lawler: And NACS is the Tesla standard.

Darren Hau: That’s right, yeah. It’s unclear whether this is true or not. It’s kind of hard to find exact numbers because Tesla doesn’t break it down in the US, but regardless of whether that is true or not, the question is how many of these are reliable, right?

You may have them installed, but how many people actually can use them? And that’s the metric that counts here. Uh, the second one is they said that global standards are important for global interoperability. I just want to call out though that CCS1 and CCS2 are not compatible, right?

Like ones for Europe, ones for the US, it’s sort of like [00:10:00] different outlets on your electoral grid. So that one needs to be a little careful about interpreting that. I think a fair point that they did bring up is that NACS is not technically a standard that is created by, uh, some sort of consortium. And the fact is there is gonna have to be a structure that emerges to make sure there is a pathway for future development.

So basically, so far it’s all been Tesla defining how they wanna do it with more automakers joining the fray. They’re gonna have to figure out some way to figure out how to implement new features. That being said, the performance and execution kind of speaks for itself. With GM joining, it seems inevitable that, you know, the Tesla standard next will become the dominant standard in North America. The question is, how quickly will European and Japanese automakers follow?

James Lawler: Mm-hmm. What do you think this will mean in terms of EV adoption and, and people purchasing vehicles? Like, is there, is there any thinking on, on how it will change this trajectory?

Darren Hau: Well, I have to say that this [00:11:00] is a personal opinion, but if you are thinking of buying a Non-Tesla EV, I think there’s gonna be quite a few people who are thinking, maybe I’ll wait till after 2025 when the Tesla connector’s gonna be natively on those vehicles. I’m not a financial analyst, but, uh, I wonder if there might not be some dampening of demand for GM and Ford vehicles in the interim so despite, you know, there, there’s risk involved in all layers.

Julio Friedmann: The only thing I would add to, Darren’s exceptional comments is that, I was just, traveling in Europe and they still don’t have plugs that match US plugs. I don’t think the standards are gonna be adopted globally. I think Europe’s gonna do what it does and Japan, is gonna do what it does. But I agree that we’re gonna see widespread adoption, uh, across North America of this new standard.

James Lawler: Mm-hmm. So this week negotiations kicked off in Bonn, uh, in preparation for COP28. and at issue here is, the global stock take for sort of tracking how countries are doing with respect to their nationally determined [00:12:00] commitments for CO2 reduction among other things.

And I wonder, Julio, if you could maybe provide some additional context. What is the global stock take and what are these negotiations about and what should we watch out for?

Julio Friedmann: Yeah, the global stock take is kind of what it sounds like. I like to describe it as weigh-in before a boxing match, everybody has to get on the scale. And every nation has made certain kinds of commitments, and this is the point where they all have to get on the scale. And in doing so, this is the first global stock take. It was going to be earlier, it’s been delayed because of Covid, but the first global stock take since the Paris Accord was agreed to. And this is a key aspect of the enforcement and compliance associated with this voluntary set of actions.

The punchline here is it’s not gonna be pretty. Most nations are not reaching their goals and they know it. And so Bonn, the global stock take is the first point in which everybody has to [00:13:00] start sharing their data where they’re at. And it’s also the place where certain kinds of nomenclature, nationally determined contributions, pathways for compliance like all this stuff starts getting really granular and nailed down. And that codification and clarification process is gonna be vexing for everybody involved.

I expect we’re gonna see a lot of stories that come out of Bonn and in anticipation of COP28 that basically say everybody’s failing. I think that’s a misrepresentation of the process. I think that’s a misrepresentation of how much progress we’ve made. We’ve made a lot of progress, and the stock take actually is just the first point of checking. It’s the point in which everybody says, well, how are we actually doing? So I see it as an opportunity to get better process. I see it as an opportunity to make stronger commitments, uh, to change your plan if you are falling behind and all these other sorts of things. But for a diplomat, [00:14:00] this is gonna be a tough week.

James Lawler: Now, one question I’ve had about this Julio, is countries who are participating in the global stock take everything is um, there’s no sort of third-party audit or checking on, um, data or emissions data, or is there?

Julio Friedmann: There’s kind of no place to hide here if you’ve made commitments around methane abatement, there’s satellites that will see whether or not you’re hitting your targets. If you said you’re gonna deploy a certain amount of renewables by a certain time, the International Energy Agency has the data, like there’s there, there’s not actually any cover. This is in fact a positive consequence of the need for a stock take and a positive consequence of the Paris Agreement in general. The fact that now financial institutions and banks, environmental organizations around the world, whether they are things like the EPA or the environmental groups, the fact that there’s this broad set of data and monitoring out there, which is widely shared, means you just can’t fudge it.[00:15:00]

It does, however, beg the question, what does being behind actually mean? So in the case of the United States, we are likely to be behind on our targets, but we just passed the bipartisan infrastructure law, the IRA. If we start building transmission lines, if we start implementing the EPA’s new rules, we’ll still be behind, but we will be on track to actually making our commitments. And being behind doesn’t mean that you can’t make your commitments, and this is part of what’s gonna come out of, the ongoing caravansary and party that’s going on at Bonn.

James Lawler: Thanks Julio. So we’ll definitely be tracking this over the, the coming weeks as we get closer. I think we’re about 20 weeks out or so from COP, and you will hear more stories on progress closer towards that date.

Julio Friedmann: I’m actually interested to see what will happen at the UN General Assembly meeting in September, which is the halfway point between here and COP28 and how the stock tank will affect the way that nations and the UN as a whole think about their commitments.

In the category of, no one’s really [00:16:00] surprised, uh, the Swiss advertising regulators have ruled that FIFA, F- I- F- A, the organization that manages, global soccer competitions, has found that Quatar’s World Cup in 2022 was not in fact a net zero event. One of the questions is, uh, what happens as a consequence of that? Will there be fines, will there be sanctions, and so forth. But, uh, there was broad concern that Quatar as a nation was not really committed to net zero goals. Now there’s evidence that they really didn’t make it. And so one of the questions is if they advertise that, and that was part of their bid package, what happens next?

We’re gonna see these kinds of things continue to come up. Increasingly, we’re seeing a business in people trying to decarbonize events, whether it’s the Democratic Convention or the Los Angeles Olympics or you know, people or rock concerts. People are getting into the decarbonization business, but you better bloody do the work otherwise, you are at risk as an institution.

One of the [00:17:00] frustrating aspects of that is that that actually can diminish ambition. If you’re an early actor and you go out and try something, then you can get penalized. Well, that sort of dampens everyone’s enthusiasm. Still in this case, I think it’s pretty clear cut. FIFA really, uh, did not deliver on its promises of a arbon neutral world cup.

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