COPENHAGEN – There is a dangerous misperception that willpower and political agreement are the only missing ingredients needed to combat global warming. In fact, there is also a colossal technological hurdle. Ending our reliance on fossil fuels requires a complete transformation of the world’s energy systems.
No alternative form of energy is efficient enough to compete with fossil fuels at scale. Other than nuclear power – which is still much more expensive than fossil fuels – all of the known possibilities require significant research and development.
Consider the frightening, absurd fact that the research relied on to advance the cause of carbon cuts uses economic models that simply assume that technological breakthroughs will happen by themselves. On our current complacent path, with a meager $2 billion of public funds spent annually worldwide on researching and developing green energy sources, the necessary breakthroughs will not happen in time.
In that case, governments will try to cut carbon emissions through taxes and trading schemes without effective replacements. We will then make virtually no impact on climate change in the future, while in the shorter term there will be significant damage to economic growth, leaving more people in poverty and the planet in a much darker place than it could be.