A new bipartisan paper released today called “Climate Pragmatism,” co-authored by a broad range of energy and climate policy thought leaders, adds to the large and growing energy innovation consensus.  In response to the ongoing gridlock in domestic and international climate negotiations, the paper outlines a new climate strategy focused on three areas — energy innovation, resilience to extreme weather, and “no-regrets” pollution reduction — which the authors believe can guide a more productive and pluralistic approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. As the press release summarizes:

Climate Pragmatism, a new policy report released July 26th by the Hartwell group, details an innovative strategy to restart global climate efforts after the collapse of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. This pragmatic strategy centers on efforts to accelerate energy innovation, build resilience to extreme weather, and pursue no regrets pollution reduction measures — three efforts that each have their own diverse justifications independent of their benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation. As such, Climate Pragmatism offers a framework for renewed American leadership on climate change that’s effectiveness, paradoxically, does not depend on any agreement about climate science or the risks posed by uncontrolled greenhouse gases.”

The authors include scholars from Oxford University, London School of Economics, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Arizona State University, McGill University, University of Colorado at Boulder, Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Breakthrough Institute, and Third Way.

Energy innovation policy is the first and foremost area the paper identifies for progress.  The authors note (emphasis added):

“Both incremental and radical innovations are therefore required across the full suite of low-carbon technology options. Without such innovation and improvement, the rapid pace and massive scale of low-carbon energy deployment required to meet global energy demand while averting potentially catastrophic climate risks will prove all but impossible to achieve. This central innovation challenge must be tackled directly and proactively.

Fortunately, with a diverse array of emerging technologies at hand, the energy sector holds huge potential for innovation, and the United States is well poised to drive this clean energy transformation. The United States has led the world in energy technology transformations in the past just as it has led in most other domains of technological innovation. Indeed, the US innovation system — its key institutions, as well as its human resources and vibrant private sector — are assets that can make America a global leader in developing the affordable,scalable, low-carbon energy sources needed to fuel the world.

…Put simply, we must make clean energy cheap. For emerging and immature energy technologies, deployment subsidies therefore need to better reward innovation and price improvements, not simply production of more of the same. At the same time, the nation must ramp up today’s paltry national commitment to energy innovation to the scale of a true national priority — from just $3-4 billion annually today, to reach $15 billion or more annually.

Furthermore, whatever the level of investment, policymakers must reform and strengthen the energy innovation system, including more productively focusing on commercial-oriented innovations; supporting more high-risk but high-reward research; effectively linking the various stages of the innovation process through better institutional arrangements; and fostering collaboration between public and private sector researchers, universities, technology companies, manufacturers and suppliers, and investors.”

Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh reports (emphasis added):

“The challenge will be to develop low-carbon alternatives that can compete with fossil fuels on price. (Subsidies are limited — already, even ultra-green countries like Germany are cutting back aid for renewable power because of the rising price tag.) In some places and some conditions, renewables are already winning — for example, in rural areas of Cameroon, where I’m currently traveling, it’s often cheaper to support off the grid solar than run power lines to remote villages. But if alternatives are going to win they need to get a lot cheaper and a lot more efficient, and that’s going to require vast increases in the amount of basic R&D spent on energy. The American Energy Innovation Council — a heavyweight lobbying group that includes Bill Gates — has suggested that the U.S. should increase funding for energy research around $3 billion a year to at least $15 billion annually. Some of that money could come from a small price on carbon, just as the federal gasoline tax raises money for highway construction and maintenance.

…Most of the proposals put forth in the “Climate Pragmatism” paper aren’t new — which in some ways is their virtue. Nationally and internationally, climate politics are deadlocked, even as carbon emissions keep rising and the most of the U.S. sweats through a summer that feels like a trailer for global warming to come. What’s needed in this long hot season is an oblique approach to climate change, one that sidesteps the roadblocks by taking advantage of popular, no-regrets actions that are worth doing even if global warming wasn’t real. It’s not as simple or as elegant as one global deal — but it might actually work.

The full paper deserves review here.  Climate Pragmatism is an important and welcome contribution to the debate and will surely spark much-needed rethinking among energy and climate policy advocates.


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