10 energy and climate issues to watch in 2021

From presidential aspirations to oil to corporate positioning, here’s what I’m watching this year.

The big picture: After the year that hasn’t been, well, everything we thought it would be, 2021 will be a messy mix of the pandemic (again) and the relaunch of everything it put aside on all things, including energy and climate change.

1) Presidential ambitions/limits

With Congress likely divided, President-elect Joe Biden is poised to look across government for ways to inject climate change considerations.

Drive the news: He will focus on reversing all environmental regulation rollbacks by President Trump, but beyond that, Biden should integrate climate policies into other agencies. Two I’m watching closely are independent but nonetheless traditionally pursue policies that the incumbent president supports:

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates electrical infrastructure and pipelines, may factor climate change into its decision-making more than ever.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission had begun reviewing issuance disclosure rules under Barack Obama, and a similar initiative is expected to be revived under Biden.
2) The Balance of Congress

I’m going to look to see how two dynamics interact on Capitol Hill:

3) States and cities keep moving forward

In the absence of a comprehensive climate policy at the federal level, states and cities have made progress over the past decade. I expect that to continue even with Biden in the White House.

Why is this important: State and city action is likely to help Biden achieve U.S. goals under the Paris Climate Accord.

4) Corporate and local positioning

Biden’s presidency will dramatically change the way businesses and activist groups engage in the fight against climate change.

  • Companies that have been able to say positive things about the subject and pursue their own goals regardless of federal politics will now be tested on what kind of regulation they might support.
  • Activists, who have had a clear adversary in Trump, will now face a balancing act of simultaneously pushing and praising Biden.
5) The return of oil (or not)

Projections suggest that the pandemic has permanently lowered the amount of oil the world will need in the future. If this change comes to fruition, it will be a significant turning point for an industry that has reigned supreme for more than a century.

Where is it :

  • In the short term, the state of the oil industry depends on how quickly vaccines are distributed and how safe people are to fly again.
  • In the long term, what matters most is whether other countries’ economic stimulus packages systematically phase out our consumption of oil and natural gas (and coal) over time. For the moment, this is not the case on a global scale.
6) Natural gas, yes and/or no

An important subplot is the extent to which natural gas is seen as a solution, even a temporary one, to climate change, both at home and abroad.

  • Biden has gone to great lengths to say he doesn’t oppose fracking, the controversial method of extracting oil and gas, but he’s also been largely silent on how (or if) he sees it. natural gas to integrate into its national or international program.
7) New technology on the rise

Expect Congress and Biden’s Energy Department to devote money and attention to new technologies, including hydrogen, carbon capture, advanced nuclear energy and carbon storage. energy.

why is it important: These are the types of tech experts who experts say are essential to tackling climate change, but who haven’t received enough money or attention from governments.

8) Diplomatic dances

The big item on the 2021 calendar for this crowd is the 26th annual UN climate change conference, to be held in November in Glasgow, Scotland (delayed by a year).

The plot: The Biden administration faces a delicate diplomatic task of reassuring world leaders that America will no longer back down on the issue while urging other countries to put even more aggressive goals on the table ahead of the Glasgow conference.

9) China and India

These nations, the first and third largest carbon emitters in the world (America is second), will be at the heart of all of Biden’s diplomatic dances.

  • The frosty relationship between America and China developed under Trump is expected to continue under Biden.
  • India could be a nation where Biden seeks to collaborate more on climate change, given that country’s renewable energy ambitions and growing role in global warming.
10) Extreme weather still/always

This is a scenario that, unfortunately, isn’t expected to change much from year to year, except to become more frequent.

The bottom line: Extreme weather conditions could be a central factor that forces the political will to act on climate change, or at least to act to better respond to the impacts of global warming that are already being felt.

Backtrack: My Axios outlook for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Teresa H. Sadler