Tag Archives: Regulations

The Texas Power Grid Failure Is a Climate Change Cautionary Tale

By Justin Worland – For scientists, the havoc wreaked by the extreme winter weather that hit Texas in mid-February dropping several inches of snow and leaving millions without power did not come as a surprise. Ten years ago, in 2011, energy regulators warned the state’s electric-grid operators that they were ill-prepared for an unprecedented winter storm. And for decades before that, climate scientists had cautioned that a warming planet would cause climate chaos, raising the average global temperature while driving unusual weather events like this one. For Texas, it was always just a matter of time.

Despite these warnings, the state was unprepared—which Texans realized as soon as the storm swept in. Equipment froze at power plants, leaving about half of the state’s electricity-generating capacity offline. Natural gas wells iced over, slowing the fuel supply that heats homes. Millions were left without electricity, at least one city turned off its water supply, and Harris County, where Houston is located, reported hundreds of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning as Texans turned on their own generators to warm up. “This shows a disastrous level of underpreparation,” says Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, speaking to TIME shortly after he had lost water pressure. “We knew this weather event was coming … What went wrong?”

The catastrophe can be linked to a string of planning failures that didn’t take that threat seriously. Much of the electricity infrastructure in Texas wasn’t hardened-think of insulation and other protections that allow it to function in extreme winter weather. Several power plants remained offline for scheduled maintenance, ignoring weather forecasters’ warnings of the fast-approaching storm. And the storm disrupted the supply of fuel needed to run other such plants.

The cascade of failures in Texas signals what is perhaps the greatest challenge ahead in this climate-changed world: accepting that business as usual isn’t working. Across the planet, humans have built civilization to withstand the vagaries of a 20th century climate. The extreme weather events of the 21st century will look nothing like those that came before—and hundreds of years of past preparation will not suffice. “The future is not going to be like the past,” says Melissa Finucane, a co-director of the Rand Climate Resilience Center. “If we could just plan a little better, we could anticipate some of these problems.” more>

Updates from McKinsey

America 2021: Renewing the nation’s commitment to climate action
To America’s leaders, innovators, and changemakers; here’s how you can help build a low-carbon economy that is resilient, competitive, prosperous, and fair.
By Dickon Pinner and Matt Rogers – The new federal administration has arrived in Washington with ambitious plans to address the climate crisis—and in so doing, revitalize the US economy and reclaim a leadership position on the international stage. During their campaign, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted “the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy—one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide by no later than 2050 […] and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs.”

Their vision recognizes that the global transition to a low-carbon economy is well under way. The cost of many clean-energy technologies fell significantly during the past decade—as much as 90 percent for some renewable-energy projects. The capital markets are funding the use of these technologies at historically low costs of capital, thereby accelerating scale-up investments. A climate-friendly policy tilt is taking hold in many places. With China, Japan, and the European Union having announced targets to achieve net-zero emissions, more than 110 countries, accounting for more than 70 percent of global GDP, have made net-zero pledges. Of the US states, 23 have established emissions-reduction goals and 12 have instituted carbon-pricing policies. Groups representing prominent American companies have endorsed the use of market-based mechanisms to promote emissions reductions. Some large businesses, along with four former Federal Reserve chairs (including the new treasury secretary), have voiced support for a nationwide carbon tax. These trends are creating possibilities for American leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, competitive advantage, and economic growth.

With the wind at their backs, government agencies and private-sector organizations can continue advancing the new national climate agenda that’s been set in motion already. The stimulus and government appropriations bill of December 2020, which received bipartisan support, set out tax incentives and funding for energy innovation and climate-related programs. And within days of his inauguration, President Biden signed executive orders initiating the process to reenter the Paris Agreement, positioning climate as a foreign-policy and national-security issue and calling on federal agencies to coordinate an all-government push to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, purchase clean-energy technologies, support innovation, conserve nature, and create economic opportunities across America. 1 Making good on these intentions will require new information, products, operations, and market innovations from public officials and business leaders. To inform their work, this memo highlights four sets of practices with notable potential to deliver the prosperity, security, and social-justice outcomes that the administration has prioritized. more>

Stock Market Outlook 2021: Bull Market, But Buckle Up

In what may become the second year of a bull market, where can investors look for returns, amid the appearance of historically high valuations?
By Andrew Slimmon – Stock market returns in 2020 eerily resembled the trend in 2009—that is, the strength of the first year emerging from a deep stock market recession. While past performance does not necessarily predict future results, being an active equity investor does require understanding historical moves.

Last year, as the market recovered from its drop in March, many investors were way too bearish in retrospect, keeping too much cash on the sidelines. Once the rally began, volatility dropped, and the bull market climbed significantly before the bears eventually capitulated late in the year.

Now in 2021, amid hope and excitement that the pandemic might soon be behind us as vaccines are distributed, investors may actually find it tougher to generate the kind of stock market returns we saw last year in the midst of COVID-19. Strange I know, but as we saw last year, equity returns need not align with what is the current state of the economy. Instead, stocks this year may resemble their performance in 2010, i.e., year two of the bull market that started in 2009. After the S&P 500 Index’s stunning 68% return from the March 2020 low to the end of the year, stocks likely need to take a breather, much as they did in the second quarter of 2010. Importantly, however, overall returns of a second year of a bull market are historically positive, like in 2010.

We should therefore brace ourselves for a lot more stock market volatility in 2021. This will likely shake out the reluctant bulls, those who only recently put their cash to work in equities, at the exact wrong time. Based on history, investors should hold tight and keep eyes on the longer term. The second year of a new bull market historically performs quite well overall, though it tends to be more gut-wrenching along the way. more>

2021 Global Economic Outlook: The Next Phase of the V

Morgan Stanley projects strong global GDP growth of 6.4% for 2021—led first by emerging markets, followed by reopening economies in the U.S. and Europe—in a macro outlook that diverges from the consensus.
Morgan Stanley – Rising COVID-19 case numbers in the U.S. and Europe make it difficult right now to envision a return to normal. Yet, even as the pandemic drags on, the global economy has proven remarkably resilient.

Following a steep decline in early 2020, the world economy rode a rebound that began in May and remains on track to surpass prepandemic GDP levels by the end of this year—setting the stage for strong post-recovery growth in 2021.

In their 2021 outlook, the economics team at Morgan Stanley Research says the V-shaped recovery that the team forecast in their 2020 midyear outlook is now entering a new self-sustaining phase and is on track to deliver 6.4% GDP growth in the coming year.

“This projection stands in stark contrast to the consensus, which forecasts 5.4% global growth and worries that the pandemic will have a bigger impact on private-sector risk appetite and, hence, global growth,” says Chetan Ahya, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Economist. “We maintain that consumers have driven the recovery, and investment growth—a reflection of the private corporate sector’s risk tolerance and a key feature of any self-sustaining recovery—is bouncing back as well.”

Three key factors will characterize the next stage of the V-shaped recovery, says Ahya: synchronized global growth, an emerging-market rebound and the return of inflation. Against this macro outlook, Morgan Stanley strategists urge investors to trust the recovery and overweight equities and credit vs. government bonds and cash (see the 2021 Strategy Outlook for more). more>

Here’s how Biden could undo Trump’s deregulation agenda

Biden could use Trump’s playbook to reverse his regulatory moves on pollution, worker safety, health care, and more.
By Sarah Kleiner – Cutting workplace safety inspections. Allowing subpar health insurance plans to be sold to Americans. Permitting tractor-trailer drivers to blow past previous driver-fatigue limits. Waging war on birth control.

These deregulatory actions and others taken by President Donald Trump’s administration have adversely impacted the health and safety of Americans, as revealed in reporting for System Failure, an investigative series produced by the Center for Public Integrity and Vox.

Trump’s actions may not stick. Now that President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office in January, he has a few tools at his disposal to undo some of Trump’s regulatory maneuvers. Some could be more difficult to quickly put to use with a split Congress, however.

If Democrats take control of both houses of Congress, they’ll be able to quickly wipe out regulations pushed through in the last 60 legislative days of Trump’s term, because of the Congressional Review Act, part of the Contract With America that Newt Gingrich and House Republicans campaigned on in 1994.

But, while Democrats maintained control of the House, it’s still unclear which party will hold the majority in the Senate. All eyes will be on Georgia’s runoff for two Senate seats, which will happen in early January. Neither of the Republican incumbents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, garnered a majority of the votes in last week’s election, forcing a runoff with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

If Ossoff and Warnock ultimately prevail, it won’t be clear until January when the Congressional Review Act’s 60-day period began — because it all depends on how many days Congress meets between now and January 3, when its current term ends — but experts predict it started sometime during the summer. more>

Updates from ITU

G20: Call to action on international standards
ITU – Organizers of the Riyadh International Standards Summit held on 4 November 2020 issued a call to action for the recognition, support and adoption of international standards. This is the first ever summit on standardization held within G20-related activities.

The Riyadh International Standards Summit was initiated by Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO) and was organized with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Saudi Communications & Information Technology Commission (CITC), and Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA). The event was hosted by SASO and the G20 Saudi Secretariat as part of the International Conferences Programme honouring the G20 Saudi presidency year, 2020. It forms part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts, during its presidency, to enhance cooperation between countries of the world in various fields.

Originally intended to take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the G20 Presidency, in light of the global pandemic, the Summit instead took place virtually and welcomed participants from all over the world.

The Riyadh International Standards Summit concluded with the call to action for “each country to recognize, support, and adopt international standards to accelerate digital transformation in all sectors of the economy to help overcome global crises, such as COVID-19, and contribute towards the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. more>

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Anatomy of an oversight investigation: White House security clearances

By Isabella Gelfand and Jackson Gode – Since regaining the majority in January, House Democrats have been conducting oversight of the Trump administration on issues ranging from family separation at the border to the rollback of environmental regulations. While the policy areas addressed by these investigations are diverse, House committees often apply the same tools to perform oversight. As Congress attempts to exert influence on the White House in hopes of obtaining information, Trump administration officials continue to utilize several tactics of their own to stall the process.

As part of its mandate to conduct oversight of “the operation of Government activities at all levels,” the House Oversight and Reform Committee is frequently engaged in conflicts with the executive branch over information access. One such clash during the 116th Congress has involved the White House security clearance process, which came under fire when media reports indicated that the administration allowed individuals to operate under interim security clearances for extended periods and ignored concerns raised by intelligence officials. Here, we outline the ongoing security clearance investigation and use it to highlight a set of common steps in the oversight process.

When conducting oversight, members of Congress have several tools at their disposal. Most notably, they can request documents, call witnesses to testify, issue subpoenas, and hold individuals in contempt of Congress for noncompliance. Oversight investigations are often initiated by an official request for information, usually in the form of a letter written by a committee chair to an executive branch official. The chair uses this correspondence to ask for documents and/or to invite a witness to give testimony before the committee. more>

How European telcos are monitoring our online activity

The security and privacy of personal data are being jeopardized as Deep Packet Inspection is deployed by internet service providers.
By Katherine Barnett – Europe has not escaped the global move towards ‘surveillance capitalism’. Numerous pieces of legislation are under consideration which put online freedoms and privacy at risk—the UK’s Online Harms white paper is just one example.

The European Digital Rights (EDRi) organization recently discovered that European telcos were monitoring internet connections and traffic through a technique known as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).

European telcos have so far escaped penalization for their use of DPI, on the grounds that it counts as ‘traffic management’. Under current net-neutrality law, it is technically allowed for purposes of network optimization—but its use for commercial or surveillance purposes is banned.

In January, however, the EDRi produced a report, outlining how as many as 186 European ISPs had been violating this constraint, using DPI to affect the pricing of certain data packages and to slow down internet services running over-capacity. Alongside 45 other NGOs and academics, it is pushing for the use of DPI to be terminated, having sent an open letter to EU authorities warning of the dangers.

Deep Packet Inspection is a method of inspecting traffic sent across a user’s network. It allows an ISP to see the contents of unencrypted data packets and grants it the ability to reroute or block traffic.

Data packets sent over a network are conventionally filtered by examining the ‘header’ of each packet, meaning the content of data traveling over the network remains private. They work like letters, with simple packet filtering allowing ISPs to see only the ‘address’ on the envelope but not the contents.

DPI however gives ISPs the ability to ‘open the envelope’ and view the contents of data packets. It can also be used to block or completely reroute data.

Regulators have so far turned a blind eye to this blatant disregard for net-neutrality law and telcos are pushing for DPI to be fully legalized.

This sparks major concerns about user privacy and security, as DPI renders visible all unencrypted data sent across a user’s connection, allowing ISPs to see browsing activity. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

What causes stock market crashes, from Shanghai to Wall Street
By Michael Maiello – The Shanghai Stock Exchange reached a historic peak in June 2015, and then plunged, losing almost 40 percent of its value in a month. This crash of the world’s second-largest stock market evoked comparisons to the 1929 Wall Street collapse, and provided a laboratory for testing an enduring explanation of its causes.

It has long been theorized that the 1929 crash reflected “leverage-induced fire sales,” according to University of International Business and Economics’ Jiangze Bian, Chicago Booth’s Zhiguo He, Yale’s Kelly Shue, and Tsinghua University’s Hao Zhou. They acknowledge that the theory has been well-developed to explain how excessive leverage makes investors sell in emergency conditions, accelerating market crashes. But they suggest that, until now, the empirical research has been lacking—and the China crash finally offers empirical evidence.

The researchers analyzed account-level data for hundreds of thousands of investors in China’s stock market. Because leverage was introduced in mainland China only in 2010, Bian, He, Shue, and Zhou were able to examine the implications of leverage-limiting regulations imposed in this decade. During the first half of 2015, there were two sources of leverage for Chinese investors—regulated brokerage houses and nonregulated online lending platforms. The latter, along with other nonbank lenders such as trust companies, formed the shadow-banking industry in China. The researchers thus studied the effects of each type of borrowing. more>

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Updates from ITU

ITU brings new clarity to 5G transport
ITU – 2018 has seen the launch of a major ITU drive to define the requirements of IMT-2020/5G systems as they relate to transport networks, the extremely high-capacity optical networks that form the ‘backbone’ of the ICT ecosystem.

These 5G transport projects have built strong momentum, drawing on the expertise of a wide range of working groups within ITU’s standardization expert group for ‘transport, access and home’, ITU-T Study Group 15.

The baseline for this work was established in February 2018 with the release of an influential ITU Technical Report placing emerging 5G radio requirements in the context of their demands on transport networks.

The second version of this Technical Report was agreed in October 2018. Download the report… more>