<img alt=“57109091 g wind water and sun.jpg” src=“http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/57109091%20g%20wind%20water%20and%20sun.jpg” width=“480” height=“280” align=“right” hspace=“10px”//>Whatever happens at the Copenhagen climate summit this December the world still desperately needs an action plan for reducing carbon emissions. Two opinion articles in Nature this week look beyond the diplomatic bargaining over emissions targets to the new energy technologies needed to actually achieve emissions reductions.
Away from the all-consuming focus on targets much hope is pinned on increasing new energy supplies – especially low-carbon or carbon-free power sources. But if history is any guide, industry and governments will be hard pressed to develop and deploy new energy technologies quickly enough. What can policymakers do to accelerate the transition to a carbon-free world?
Economists Isabel Galiana and Christopher Green from McGill University argue in their Nature article that rather than horsetrading over emissions targets, governments should make long-term commitments to invest in energy R&D — financed by a slowly-rising ‘carbon tax’ to promote low-carbon technologies over the next century. We need an energy technology revolution, say Galiana and Green, and it has not yet started.
Scientists Gert-Jan Kramer and Martin Haigh from Royal Dutch Shell also believe that transforming the global energy supply is the key to lowering emissions. But they argue that proposals by Al Gore and others to ‘repower’ the world in a decade are unrealistic. They say the rate at which low-carbon energy technologies can be deployed is limited by the massive scale of the energy system. This means governments need to design specific policies that can accelerate technology deployment and to take more action on the demand side to increase efficiency and curtail energy consumption.
Elsewhere in Nature this week, Jeff Tollefson reports on efforts to include discussions of technology transfer from rich to poor nations at the climate talks in Copenhagen. “You have to come back to the basic question about how technology is flowing to the developing world, and it’s primarily flowing through transactions within the business community,” Björn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Geneva, Switzerland, tells Nature.
Two concrete proposals – for a centralized UN-run technology transfer body or decentralized regional technology centres – are up for discussion in Copenhagen. But neither deals head-on with the thorny issue of access to patented technologies. Developing nations are calling for compulsory licensing of some energy technologies, but industrialized nations are more likely to respond with protectionist measures during the current economic slump.
Sarah Tomlin is a Commissioning Editor on Opinion with Nature.
Image credit: Sarah Leen/National Geographic/Getty