Climate concerns boil over
Tensions are rising on Monday over contentious comments by Sultan Ahmed al Jaber, the oil executive and Emirati politician presiding over the COP28 climate summit.
His skepticism about the world’s ability to halt a rise in global temperatures by reducing the use of hydrocarbons is casting fresh doubts over the U.A.E.’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis.
Al Jaber struck back against critics of fossil fuels, who want to see them phased out in the coming decades in an effort to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, a level considered disastrous by many experts. “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phaseout of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 C,” he said at an event before the summit.
The controversy revived concerns about his role as leader of COP28, given that he is also the chairman of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Al Jaber has long contended that fossil fuel companies should play a prominent role in the world’s energy transition to bring down global temperatures.
His words struck a nerve with climate hawks. Critics and scientists called al Jaber’s pronouncement “farcical” and “alarming.” And John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, dismissed his take as out of touch with the latest scientific research: “Every decision we make should be geared to say, ‘Does this advance the 1.5 degrees or is it going to be more destructive and take us in the wrong direction?’” he told CNBC.
On Monday, al Jaber tried to tamp down the uproar. At a hastily organized press conference, he said his comments had been taken out of context, and acknowledged that “the phase-down and the phaseout of fossil fuels is inevitable.” He added, “I respect the science in everything I do.”
Other experts wonder if the 1.5-degree goal is even achievable. Bill Gates, for one, thinks that limiting a rise in global temperatures even to less than 2 degrees Celsius is unlikely.
Other news from COP28:
Fifty oil giants, including Exxon Mobil and Saudi Aramco, pledged this weekend to cap methane emissions from operations. The catch: None of the companies intend to cut back on oil and gas production, and the planned cuts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, will be mostly voluntary.
The Biden Administration announced regulations that will require energy companies to detect and fix methane leaks from their operations.
Kerry said the world should stop building coal-fired power plants.
More than 20 countries, including the U.S., Britain and South Korea, have pledged to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050, calling it important to reducing carbon emissions. The cost of building nuclear power plants has soared recently, in part because of high interest rates and inflation, forcing some developers to pull out of these expensive projects.
Artificial intelligence has played a prominent role at COP28, with providers pitching their technology as ways to help countries achieve their emissions goals.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Supreme Court will hear arguments over a sweeping OxyContin settlement. Justices will consider whether the pact reached between Purdue Pharma, the bankrupt producer of the opioid, and victims violates federal law. The settlement would shield members of Purdue’s controlling Sackler family from civil lawsuits; scrapping it could have wider implications for other corporate bankruptcies tied to claims of mass injury.
Alaska Airlines tests regulators’ tolerance for industry consolidation. The carrier agreed to buy a rival, Hawaiian Airlines, for $1.9 billion, creating a regional titan for the Western U.S. and the South Pacific. Antitrust watchdogs, who have sought to block deals involving JetBlue and other airlines, may focus on whether the tie-up unfairly reduces competition in areas like Hawaii.
Spotify lays off an additional 1,500 employees. The job cuts, which represent nearly a fifth of its work force, are the third and biggest round by the streaming giant this year. It’s the latest effort at Spotify to reduce costs and more consistently make money, as investors push streaming services to prioritize profitability over growth.
China Evergrande gets a lifeline. The bankrupt Chinese property developer was granted a two-month extension to work out a deal with foreign investors, helping it narrowly avoid a widely expected liquidation. It may be only a short reprieve, however, as Evergrande still confronts the challenge of working out $300 billion in defaulted debt.
How close is too close?
Sam Altman’s return as the C.E.O. of OpenAI after his drama-filled ouster ended with a shake-up of the startup’s corporate governance. Among those changes was the appointment of interim directors — with Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor, gaining a nonvoting observer role on the board. But some antitrust experts say that could be problematic.
It’s a question of competition. The two companies say they are collaborators, as shown by how much Microsoft is incorporating OpenAI’s services into products like Bing and Office 365. But Microsoft is also developing its own artificial intelligence capabilities; the urgency of those efforts became apparent amid the tumult of Altman’s removal and reinstatement, showing how much the tech giant needs to have in-house capabilities.
With access to the OpenAI board’s deliberations, Microsoft could face greater scrutiny from watchdogs.
That raises questions about how the observer role is structured and what guardrails are put in place, to avoid running afoul of rules governing interlocking directorates, or shared directors. Under a broad interpretation, companies could be seen as competitors if they work independently in the same sector, according to Maurice Stucke, a law professor at the University of Tennessee and a former senior adviser to the F.T.C.
Regulators may also be worried about broader questions involving the concentration of power in the A.I. industry. “The evolution of A.I. will entrench the dominance of a few players,” Stucke told DealBook; government agencies may try to get ahead of that.
Elon Musk’s tumultuous relationship with A.I.
Elon Musk has repeatedly made clear his worries about artificial intelligence and the dangers it may pose for humanity. (Among the less attention-grabbing things he said at the DealBook Summit last week was his prediction of how quickly A.I. might evolve.)
But Musk has also been deeply invested in A.I. for years, and sometimes even been an advocate for faster technological advances in the field. In a lengthy examination of the beginnings of the current A.I. arms race, The Times takes a look at how he came to invest in DeepMind, a research lab later acquired by Google, after meeting with a co-founder, Demis Hassabis, at a conference organized by the tech investor Peter Thiel:
Dr. Hassabis secured a tour of SpaceX headquarters. Afterward, with rocket hulls hanging from the ceiling, the two men lunched in the cafeteria and talked.
Mr. Musk explained that his plan was to colonize Mars to escape overpopulation and other dangers on Earth. Dr. Hassabis replied that the plan would work — so long as superintelligent machines didn’t follow and destroy humanity on Mars, too.
Mr. Musk was speechless. He hadn’t thought about that particular danger. Mr. Musk soon invested in DeepMind alongside Mr. Thiel so he could be closer to the creation of this technology.
The Times also reports that Musk left OpenAI after seeking to wrest control of the operation to help it commercialize products faster. When an OpenAI employee told him his plans were reckless, the billionaire called him a “jackass.”
The week ahead
The jobs report and a smattering of earnings will be in the spotlight this week. Here’s what to watch.
Tomorrow: The health of the auto market will be in focus, with AutoZone and Nio, the Chinese electric vehicle maker, set to deliver results.
Wednesday: Earnings reports are due from GameStop and C3.ai, with shares in the latter up roughly 175 percent this year amid investor enthusiasm for artificial intelligence.
Thursday: Lululemon and Dollar General report results.
Friday: It’s the jobs report. Economists have estimated that employers added roughly 200,000 positions last month, which would keep the unemployment rate unchanged at 3.9 percent. Market watchers will be paying particular attention to wage gains and revisions of previous months’ data for an indication of whether the labor market is cooling off, or if October’s tepid report was just a blip.
THE SPEED READ
Roche agreed to pay up to $3.1 billion for Carmot Therapeutics, as drugmakers race to get a hold of a new class of weight-loss drugs. (Bloomberg)
The proposed sale of the N.B.A.’s Dallas Mavericks to Miriam Adelson and others associated with the Sands Corporation underscores the growing links between pro sports teams and gambling giants. (NYT)
The A.I. start-up CoreWeave secured a fund-raising round from investors including Fidelity and State Street, reportedly at a valuation of $7 billion. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
The life and untimely death of a Disney executive turned self-help influencer. (WSJ)
HBO is developing a movie about George Santos, the recently expelled New York congressman accused of ethics violations, that will be overseen by Frank Rich, the former Times columnist and an executive producer of “Veep” and “Succession.” (Deadline)
How getting older disturbs “sleep architecture” and makes a good night’s rest more elusive as we age. (Salon)
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