National Perspective: At United Nations Climate Summit Expect More Hot Air, Few Realistic Solutions


Twenty-four years have passed since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, the first major global agreement promising to reduce carbon emissions. Since then, the world has hosted hundreds of climate summits and rich countries have reliably spoken green; but the emissions have continued to rise because no leader wants to make his citizens pay the enormous price.

In a very candid analysis of the last decade of climate policy, the UN calls the 2010s “lost decade. “The world body reports that it can’t tell the difference between what happened and a world that hasn’t adopted any new climate policies since 2005. Think about it: after all those climate summits and all these climate promises, looking at the actual emissions, we can’t tell the difference between the world we live in and a world where we haven’t done anything about climate change since 2005.

This puts Biden’s challenge with the upcoming climate summit into perspective. The president can choose to do what world leaders have been doing for decades and contribute to a new climate meeting in a world teeming with well-meaning climate summits. Nation after nation will come forward and make great promises such as the transformation of their electricity sector into renewable energies. There is a good chance that these promises will end up turning out to be as empty as promises of the past decades, because citizens will reject the bill.

And remember: the electricity sector is only responsible for 19% of all energy consumed in the world. Even though we have managed to get all of our energy from wind, solar, biomass and water, we still have to solve the massive emissions from heating, transportation and the production of goods like steel and fertilizers. . The International Energy Agency estimates that even if all nations kept their current climate promises, the use of fossil fuels would still represent 73% of the energy mix by 2040.

Or Biden could take America’s leadership role seriously and take a different path.

The real challenge with the current approach to climate policy is that as long as reducing emissions is expensive, leaders will talk a lot but do little. In the rich world, it is a question of avoiding following in the embarrassing footsteps of French President Emmanuel Macron who had to reverse the yellow vests movement after proposing a modest increase in gasoline prices. In the poorer world, nations have much higher priorities, such as stimulating economic growth and lifting their people out of poverty.

What is needed is more emphasis on green energy research. If the world could innovate in green energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels, we would have solved global warming. Everyone would change – not just rich, well-meaning countries like the United States, but everyone, including China and India. Work with 27 of the world’s top climate economists and three Nobel Prize winners, my think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, found that the most effective long-term climate policy is to invest many more resources in green R&D.

At the Paris climate summit in 2015, then-President Barack Obama and some 20 other world leaders pledged to double R&D spending on green energy innovations by 2020. Unfortunately, the Most countries do not keep these promises. In 2015, the United States spent $ 6.1 billion per year on green innovation; it should have hit $ 12.2 billion in 2020. It missed its target of $ 4 billion.

Instead of making big and expensive promises that future presidents will have to renege on once people protest the rising electricity bills, Biden should rally all nations by immediately spending much more on green R&D. Not only have most countries already made this promise, but compliance can be verified within 12 months. And the total cost to each nation will be much lower than current climate policies. For 2030, our Nobel economists have suggested that the world increase spending by an additional $ 70 billion per year. Compare that to the $ 195 billion we are currently spending to subsidize inefficient green energy.

The President would be well advised not to repeat what has failed over the past two decades, but to focus on a better, cheaper and smarter way forward that will actually solve climate change: investing significantly more in green R&D to ensure that we innovate in technologies that can help the whole world move away from fossil fuels at a lower cost.

Bjorn Lomborg is Chairman of the Copenhagen Consensus and Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His new book is called “False Alarm – How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet”. He wrote this for

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