Energy Innovation is Key Part of Paris Climate Conference
The Paris climate summit provides a foundation for countries to curb emissions through domestic climate policies that ratchet up over time, with the goal limiting global temperature increases.
The fanfare that erupted when the deal was struck on the final day was heavily covered by the media. But many missed the development that came on the conference’s first day, noted Columbia University professor Jason Bordoff in an article published by the university’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
Philanthropist and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates announced the world’s largest clean energy research and development partnership, and a group of nations, including the United States, that agreed to double their clean energy R&D budgets.
“Deep carbon reductions will require new breakthroughs in clean energy, not merely increased use of wind, solar or even nuclear power,” noted Bordoff. “To succeed, the new negotiating framework of national plans to reduce emissions, therefore, will need to be accompanied by a dramatic increase in clean energy R&D in both the public and private sectors.”
Unfortunately, the record of both the U.S. public and private sectors have been anemic. In fact, according to Bordoff, the trend has been for declining resources to be allocated to this area.
“U.S. government investment in energy innovation has declined for decades,” he wrote, “with energy research funding smaller than in other sectors like biotech or than in other industrialized nations.”
Meanwhile, the private sector has underinvested in early-stage R&D as is its usual pattern.
“Government funding is therefore needed to target long-term, high-risk R&D efforts, such as the sort pursued by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy,” wrote Bordoff. But the private sector must also play a key role. “Government spending can only go so far,” wrote Bordoff. “Private capital is going to fund much of the new technology breakthroughs, and certainly the very large amounts of capital that will be necessary for their deployment in the energy system.”
Organizations like Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Coalition will bring together some of the world’s wealthiest individuals to deploy their resources as well as their business skills and savvy to help the most promising clean energy technologies find commercial viability.
“All this exciting new technology will be viable only if national policies create markets for them,” Bordoff concluded, “and that is where the Paris Agreement comes in.”