Sunday, October 6, 2019

What's the Climate Change Policy With the Most Potential?

No it's not yet more proclamations of doom unless we zero out worldwide fossil fuel usage by 2028 (which definitely ain't gonna happen). The answer instead is public clean energy R&D. That's the conclusion of a new report by the effective altruism group Let's Fund. As approvingly summarized by David Robets on Vox, here's their argument--which seems very sound to me if we look at the challenge in its proper global perspective:
"1) Emission reduction in emerging economies matters most.
By 2040, 75 percent of global emissions will come from emerging economies like China and India. It is understandable, and noble, that wealthy advanced economies want to reduce their territorial emissions, and they should continue doing so, but if emissions don’t fall in emerging economies, all is lost. Advanced economies could flatline their emissions tomorrow and all would still be lost.
2) Thus, “the best climate policies are those that stimulate clean energy innovation.”
How can advanced economies induce emerging economies to develop along the cleanest possible lines? Restraints on growth imposed by international institutions are doomed to failure. The only thing that might work is making clean energy cheap and then sharing it with those economies (technology “spillover”). Cheaper clean energy technology is a global public good, and advanced economies are both morally obliged and economically well-positioned to provide it.
3) Public R&D creates the most spillover.
“Many policies stimulate clean energy innovation and create global technology spillovers (e.g. carbon taxes, subsidies for renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies),” says the report. “But the most effective policy is increasing government budgets for public clean energy research and development (R&D).”
4) Public R&D is woefully neglected but politically tractable.
Just $22 billion a year is spent globally on clean energy R&D. That is a pittance — a drop in the bucket of the $600 billion in annual military spending in the US alone.
And pretty much any advanced economy could substantially, and unilaterally, increase that number. That’s why the researchers call it tractable; it doesn’t require international coordination. Anyone can just go ahead and do it."
So let's stop the rending of garments about impossible things that can't and won't be done and focus instead on what might actually work.
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Using public clean energy R&D to spur innovation is overlooked and underfunded.

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