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Friday, February 22, 2008

Sachs: We Need Global Cooperation to Promote Clean Energy Technology

Jeff Sachs says that if we leave development of technology to combat global warming to the private sector, we won't get the technology we need fast enough, if at all. What's needed is a cooperative global effort to encourage companies to pursue technological development:

Using technology to address poverty and the environment, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Commentary, Project-Syndicate: ...We are used to thinking about global cooperation in fields such as monetary policy, disease control, or nuclear weapons proliferation. We are less accustomed to thinking of global cooperation to promote new technologies, such as clean energy, a malaria vaccine, or drought-resistant crops to help poor African farmers. By and large, we regard new technologies as something to be developed by businesses for the marketplace, not as opportunities for global problem solving.

Yet, given the enormous global pressures that we face, including vastly unequal incomes and massive environmental damage, we must find new technological solutions to our problems. ... Current reliance on coal, natural gas, and petroleum, without regard for carbon-dioxide emissions, is now simply too dangerous...

The National Academy of Engineering identified some possible answers. We can harness safe nuclear energy, lower the cost of solar power, or capture and safely store the carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels. Yet the technologies are not yet ready, and we can't simply wait for the market to deliver them, because they require complex changes in public policy to ensure that they are safe, reliable, and acceptable to the broad public. Moreover, there are no market incentives in place to induce private businesses to invest adequately in developing them.

Consider carbon capture and sequestration. The idea is that power plants and other large fossil-fuel users should capture the carbon dioxide and pump it into permanent underground storage sites, such as old oil fields. This will cost, say, $30 per ton of carbon dioxide that is stored, so businesses will need an incentive to do it. ... Likewise, new regulations will be needed to ensure compliance with safety procedures, and to assure public support. All of this will take time, costly investments, and lots of collaboration between scientists and engineers in universities, government laboratories, and private businesses.

Moreover, this kind of technology will be useful only if it is widely used, notably in China and India. This raises another challenge of technological innovation: We will need to support the transfer of proven technologies to poorer countries. ... Thus, technological developments should involve a collaborative international effort from the start.

All of this will require a new global approach to problem solving. We will need to embrace global goals and then establish scientific, engineering, and political processes to support their achievement. We will need to give new budgetary incentives to promote demonstration projects, and to support technology transfer. And we will have to engage major companies in a new way, giving them ample incentives and market rewards for success, without allowing them to hold a monopoly on successful technologies...

I believe that this new kind of global public-private partnership on technology development will be a major objective of international policy making in the coming years. ...

Rich countries should fund these efforts heavily, and they should be carried out in collaboration with poor countries and the private sector. ... This will be an exciting time to be a scientist or engineer facing the challenges of sustainable development.

Global cooperation would be good, but I'd settle for my own government doing more to encourage technological development in this area.

    Posted by on Friday, February 22, 2008 at 01:57 PM in Economics, Environment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (40)

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