Dieter Helm is Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford and author of Burn Out: The End Game for Fossil Fuels. Since climate change began to gain political traction in 1990, very little has been achieved. The concentration of carbon in the atmosphere has kept going up. We remain well on course for exceeding 2C warming. The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, timed to frame the Conference of the Parties in Poland in December, sets out what would have to happen to hold the line at 1.5C. The mitigations proposed are simply non-credible: nobody thinks they are actually going to happen. It’s time for a rethink. The claim that global decarbonisation can be done at little or no cost is nonsense. On the contrary, switching from an overwhelmingly carbon to a non-carbon-based economy in the space of just two or three decades is really expensive. A credible climate action plan needs several things. It needs the truth, not spin, about costs. It needs to recognise that top-down approaches like Kyoto and Paris are not going to work. Most of all, it needs to make sure that the very limited amount of money that current customers and voters are actually prepared to pay is spent wisely. The money needs to go on those things that might actually make a real difference. The world in which we have to tackle climate change is made up of robots, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and with this comes enormous flexibility in energy consumption. It is a world of batteries, fuel cells and smart systems, of new materials like graphene, and of opening up the light spectrum, using solar film and nanotechnologies. Instead of putting all the money in the conventional wind and solar panels boxes, some of it should go on research and development. It’s time to get real: climate change is a global phenomenon without much chance of the top-down solution that the UN and the Paris processes promote. Yes it is good to talk; but it is better to invest in these new technologies that might actually make a difference.
FT 29th Nov 2018 read more »