Published at The Huffington Post
In a major departure from conventional climate wisdom, Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that the UNFCCC framework is broken and should be replaced by a global competition in the clean-tech industry, which he says the United States can and should lead. “Let the Earth Race begin,” he declares, contrasting this with the long-dominant “Earth Day” strategy:
“This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need…
Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth… An Earth Race led by America — built on markets, economic competition, national self-interest and strategic advantage — is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, nonbinding commitments at a U.N. conference.”
Friedman is right. The race to develop competitive clean-tech industries is the critical element with the potential to motivate enough development and deployment of clean technologies – far more than any potential “legally-binding” global emissions treaty, as we’ve seen with the failure of the Kyoto Protocol and the inability of the UNFCCC framework to produce a meaningful treaty at Copenhagen. The International Energy Agency estimates that $10.5 trillion of global investment in clean technology and energy efficiency is necessary over the next 20 years to stay below 450ppm – an unimaginable sum under any UNFCCC treaty.
Moreover, building the long-term political support of a broad segment of the American public requires a national agenda centrally focused on competing in the clean-tech growth industries of the future. As Friedman explains, “If you start the conversation with “climate” you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a “whole new industry” — one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry — you get the country.”
Indeed, countries like China, Japan, and South Korea are already launching massive government investment programs to dominate this industry – not because their priority is reducing carbon emissions, but because they recognize the economic potential. In our recent report, “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” we found that China, Japan, and South Korea – Asia’s “clean technology tigers” – have already surpassed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies, an advantage they are solidifying and expanding with direct, large-scale government investment strategies.