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Why won't "brute force" mitigation work? Galiana and Green point out that current emission reductions targets imply vastly faster rates of emission reduction than have been the case in past decades. Consider a global emission reduction target of 80 percent by 2100. That would require carbon emissions to fall by 1.8 percent per year. But say economic growth averages 2.2 percent between now and 2100: That implies a 4 percent average annual decline in the amount of carbon-based fuels used to produce goods and services.
To date, Galiana and Green note, the global average rate of decarbonization, the amount of carbon that is emitted per unit of goods and services produced, has been 1.3 percent. To illustrate the economic consequences of trying to boost the rate of decarbonization through brute force mitigation, they generously assume that the decarbonization rate could rise to 3.6 percent annually. But this would still entail a cut in global economic growth from 2.2 percent annually to 1.8 percent. Such a reduction in economic growth would cost an undiscounted $86 trillion in 2100 alone and add up to an undiscounted $2,280 trillion over the next 90 years. And without new low-carbon energy technologies, the authors argue that the assumption of 3.6 percent rate of annual decarbonization is just a fantasy. So likely economic damages will be even larger. "Climate change is a technology problem," Galiana and Green conclude, "and the size of the problem is huge."
Their solution is spending $100 billion per year on energy research and development financed through a $5 per ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions that would be funneled into Clean Energy Trust Funds. The tax would be scheduled to double every ten years as a way to give a forward price signal to encourage the deployment of the new low-carbon energy technologies that they hope will emerge from the labs. They calculate that every dollar spent on new low carbon energy R&D would avoid $11 in climate damages.
"It is much easier to spend on R&D than assure the monies are well spent," Galiana and Green acknowledge. Much current government R&D funding is politically directed and largely wasted. To overcome this problem, they somewhat lamely suggest creating a system of research competition overseen by a panel of independent experts. Oddly, they do not consider deregulating energy markets so as to provide greater incentives for private R&D and investment in new energy production and improvements in efficiency. In any case, Galiana and Green make a very strong case that current energy technologies cannot meet the ambitious emissions reductions goals being advocated by Congress and the United Nations without clobbering the economy.
The CCC expert panel is meeting this week to consider the various proposals for mitigation, adaptation, technology breakthroughs, and geo-engineering. At the end of the week, the panel will rank them by cost-effectiveness. I will report the results of their deliberations once they become available.
Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.
Disclosure: Danish taxpayers paid my travel expenses to cover the Copenhagen Consensus Center's second conference last year. There were no conditions placed on my reporting.