Association Webinars: Policy Design to Address Climate Change with Dynamic Technologies



We need a new approach to climate policy that puts innovation and adoption of low carbon technologies at the center. Unexpectedly large improvements in low-carbon technology over the past 20 years have made decarbonizing the world economy far more feasible; we can peak emissions soon, rapidly decline to zero, and do so in a way that enhances human well-being. At the same time, three decades of dithering on policy action combined with heightened estimates of climate sensitivity and their human impacts have made the climate problem more urgent. The extent of change required to the world economy is massive and robust public policy is necessary to accelerate sufficient change. Wind, solar, and batteries have improved by a combination of enabling science, supportive policies, and a variety of receptive markets, all of which have led them down the technology learning curve. That has made a transition to a low carbon economy far more affordable, on the scale of trillions in savings over the century. Further, other emerging technologies show strong potential to follow a similar learning curve leading to improved performance and low costs. In particular, electrolyzers, small scale direct air capture, and heat pumps could play central roles in a decarbonized world economy, especially if they improve like solar, wind, and batteries. General purpose technologies such as digitalization and synthetic biology can enhance these systems. I argue, we should focus our policy efforts on improving and adopting these technologies. The goal should be to expand the set of choices we will have in the future rather than on minimizing costs today. Successful examples indicate that this approach has a few core characteristics: it requires multiple ppolicy instruments, not one; it involves deeper engagement by the state in low carbon innovation; and goes beyond just the technology itself to elevate the role of social acceptance; and its goals reflect urgency and acceleration. As a result it looks more like industrial policy than environmental policy. That gives us the best chance of leaving a zero-sum world that sets the environment against the economy and embracing an innovation-oriented approach where new possibilities are continuously created and put to use.

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Gregory F. Nemet is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the La Follette School of Public Affairs. He teaches courses in policy analysis, energy systems, and international environmental policy. Nemet's research focuses on understanding the process of technological change and the ways in which public policy can affect it. He received his doctorate in energy and resources from the University of California, Berkeley. His A.B. is in geography and economics from Dartmouth College. He received an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in 2017 and used it to write a book on how solar PV provides lessons for the development of other low-carbon technologies: “How Solar Energy Became Cheap: A Model for Low-Carbon Innovation” (Routledge 2019). He was awarded the inaugural World Citizen Prize in Environmental Performance by APPAM in 2019. He is currently a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th Assessment Report.

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Event Date: April 29, 2021

Event Time: 9:00 - 10:00 AM Eastern Time

Topic: Policy Design to Address Climate Change with Dynamic Technologies

Price: FREE for IAEE Members

Speakers: Gregory F. Nemet

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