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  • Author: Varun Sivaram, Matt Bowen, Noah Kaufman, Doug Rand
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: President-elect Joe Biden has called climate change one of the four most important crises facing the country and pledged ambitious climate action.[1] At the heart of his strategy to slash US and global emissions is a focus on developing new and improved technologies to make clean energy transitions more affordable. During the campaign, Biden pledged a “historic investment in clean energy innovation.”[2] Indeed, boosting funding for energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) is widely popular among both Republicans and Democrats and represents a rare legislative opportunity for advancing climate policy under a razor-thin Democratic majority in Congress.[3] In December 2020, Congress passed the most sweeping energy legislation in a decade, attached to the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package, and authorized boosting clean energy RD&D funding.[4] Yet such investments alone may not be sufficient to successfully commercialize critical clean energy technologies. Today’s energy industry presents daunting barriers that impede the swift adoption of newer, cleaner technologies. As a result, the private sector underinvests in scaling up promising technologies and building out clean energy infrastructure.[5] Therefore, in addition to funding energy RD&D (“technology-push” policies), government policies should bolster market demand for clean energy to encourage private investors and firms to scale up and commercialize new technologies (“demand-pull” policies). Still, there are steep political obstacles in the way of many ambitious demand-pull policies. For example, President-elect Biden has called for economywide measures such as a clean electricity standard and $400 billion of public procurement of clean products such as electric vehicles.[6] These policies would create large markets for mass deployment of clean energy and speed a clean energy transition. But enacting them requires substantial new regulations and appropriations from Congress, a challenging feat even given the new Democratic control of both chambers of Congress. Fortunately, there is a set of targeted demand-pull measures that the Biden administration can immediately use—with existing statutory authority and without requiring massive new appropriations—to create early markets for promising clean energy technologies. These measures, which we call “demand-pull innovation policies,” fill a niche between RD&D investments that create new technology options and policies that support the large-scale deployment of clean energy. Demand-pull innovation policies focus narrowly on creating and shaping early markets for emerging technologies. For example, targeted government procurement, prize competitions, or milestone payments can provide early markets for clean energy technologies that have been developed with the aid of public RD&D funding. The government can also coordinate private procurement or otherwise catalyze private market adoption through certification and standard-setting processes. Such demand-pull innovation policies have extremely high leverage and have transformed limited public investment into flourishing private commercial markets across the space, medical, and energy fields.[7] Coherently pursuing demand-pull innovation policies will require coordination across the federal government. To this end, the incoming Biden administration should consider creating a new government office, the Energy Technology Markets Office (ETMO), to spearhead the scale-up and commercialization of promising clean energy technologies. The ETMO could be housed within the Department of Energy (DOE) to take advantage of the DOE’s deep expertise in energy technologies and markets. Indeed, in the recently passed Energy Act of 2020 (Division Z of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021), Congress directed the DOE to build its capabilities to pursue demand-pull innovation policies.[8] In the same legislation, Congress also authorized the DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions, which could alternatively lead the demand-pull innovation agenda. Regardless of whether the administration creates a new office or augments an existing one, in order to maximize their potential impact, demand-pull innovation policies should not be the domain of only the DOE. Rather, the DOE should collaborate with a range of federal agencies—many of which, such as the Department of Defense, have sizable resources to invest in emerging technology procurement—to enact policies and pursue public-private partnerships to build market demand for the innovations critical to decarbonization. In concert with new RD&D investments in clean energy innovation, demand-pull innovation policies could be a powerful tool to speed the adoption of new technologies and cultivate advanced energy industries that can manufacture and export US innovations.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Science and Technology, Green Technology, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Matt Bowen
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Nuclear power is considered in many countries a critical facet to maintaining reliable access to electricity during a global transition to low-carbon energy sources. One challenge to its potential in the United States, however, is the current standstill regarding a disposal pathway for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from commercial reactors. This impasse has a negative bearing on nuclear energy’s ability to supply more zero-carbon electricity and may cost US taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in government liability for failing to meet contractual obligations to take possession of the waste from utilities. Despite the scientific community assessing that commercial SNF and other high-level radioactive waste (HLW), such as from defense activities, can be safely isolated in deep underground repositories, US efforts to license and operate one have flatlined. The original plan for siting at least two repositories for such waste was abandoned first by DOE and then by Congress. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was designated in law as the nation’s sole potential disposal site by Congress in 1987, fomenting the state’s opposition to the project. As a result of that opposition, Congress has not funded the project since 2010. Still, progress has been made over the last few decades in nuclear waste disposal programs in countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Canada. And the United States has seen the successful opening and operation of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico to dispose of generally less radioactive but long-lived transuranic nuclear waste from defense activities. Such programs offer insights for how the United States can try to resolve the challenges with commercial nuclear waste disposal and potentially alleviate one obstacle to wider adoption of nuclear energy to decarbonize the US economy. This report, part of wider work on nuclear energy at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, explains how the United States reached its current stalemate over nuclear waste disposal. It then examines productive approaches in other countries and a few domestic ones that could guide US policy makers through options for improving the prospects of SNF and HLW disposal going forward
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Nuclear Power, Nuclear Waste
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Richard Nephew
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: For energy markets, the profound economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus have broken the arrangements of the OPEC+ oil exporters to limit production, as Russia and Saudi Arabia failed to agree on production caps. Oil prices plunged as producers ramped up output, made worse by the demand shock created by the spread of Covid-19 and resulting plunging global economic activity as countries have sought to cope with the widespread infection and mortality. The global economic shocks and humanitarian crises have left US sanctions policy in a deeply uncomfortable spot. The United States has prioritized using sanctions as a means of creating leverage for resolving myriad foreign policy crises, arguing in part that using sanctions is a more humane option than the alternatives. The United States has long argued that without sanctions, some problems would either get far worse, with their own unpleasant consequences (such as human rights violations, regional aggression, and acts of terrorism), or would be met by US military force instead. Though some would disagree with the notion that sanctions are ever moral or just, it is on this basis—taken in combination with the presence of humanitarian exceptions to sanctions—that US policymakers across the political spectrum have asserted that their approach is appropriate and consistent with humanitarian values.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Oil, Natural Resources, Sanctions, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Christof Ruhl
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Oil markets are sending confusing signals at a time when more confusion is the last thing anyone needs. When Russia walked out on OPEC+ rather than contribute to more output cuts, Saudi Arabia turned on the crude taps. Whatever Riyadh’s intention, this “price war” was quickly made meaningless by the impact of the new coronavirus on global oil demand. The price collapse has been beyond anything anyone could have imagined. Now, storage room for crude is becoming scarce. Analysts warn darkly that plunging prices may threaten global economic stability. Equities follow the oil price news. Everyone seems to agree that prices should stop falling; and yet no one seems to argue that a very low oil price is exactly what the world’s economy needs to recover. The combination of price war and pandemic is also creating strange bedfellows. Some American shale producers are advocating that their country blocks Saudi oil imports, others want to talk to OPEC. President Donald Trump’s government has expressed an interest in cooperating on global oil supplies with Saudi Arabia and Russia; it’s nudging OPEC+ to reconvene, or an even wider group of producers to meet. Could we be witnessing the emergence of an unholy alliance of Saudi Arabia, Russia and the U.S., to “manage volatility,” and incidentally shore up the price of oil?
  • Topic: Energy Policy, International Trade and Finance, Oil, Natural Resources
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Marianne Kah
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The rapid expansion in tight oil production with its associated natural gas has made the United States the fourth largest source of flared gas in the world. The waste, emissions, and pollution caused by this flaring threatens not only the environment and human health but, ultimately, the license to operate for oil and natural gas companies. Responding effectively to the challenge of flaring requires technically and economically sound solutions that also enjoy political credibility and support. To be most credible, solutions for flaring need to be developed through open and transparent processes that provide for candid and constructive engagement by a diverse group of stakeholders. In January 2020, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and the Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin gathered senior executives from the US oil and natural gas industry; current and former state government regulators; technical, market, and academic experts; and non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives with expertise in this topic for a workshop under the Chatham House Rule to discuss challenges and potential solutions to gas flaring, primarily in the Permian Basin. The gas flaring workshop focused on trends in gas flaring and greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, flaring and public policy, the disconnect between production growth and midstream infrastructure capacity, best practices and technological solutions for minimizing flaring, and regulatory and other solutions. Participants identified challenges to tackling flaring in the Permian, including poor data quality, the disconnect between the start of associated gas production and the availability of pipelines and other takeaway capacity, and the competition gas faces in the important Texas and California markets from lower-emission energy sources, and from coal in Texas. Participants also discussed potential solutions to these and other Permian flaring challenges.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, International Trade and Finance, Oil, Natural Resources, Gas
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Matt Bowen
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Nuclear energy has shown much promise and faced considerable challenges since its origins in the mid-20th century. While the United States drove the early charge for safe nuclear power around the globe, its leadership has waned in recent decades. US reactors now under construction—following no orders for such plants in the United States for several decades—have gone well over planned budgets and schedules. And while the United States was once the leading international supplier of reactors, other countries have since stepped forward to fill that role. Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, as part of its wider work on nuclear energy, is examining the impact of potential American disengagement from nuclear power’s development and where opportunities exist to step back in and shape its future. The program also will assess the US nuclear waste management program and efforts to collaborate with other countries on advanced reactor development, as well as options for improvement on both fronts. This effort will begin with a two-part commentary on some of the benefits the United States might derive from increasing its engagement on nuclear power. The first in the series, this piece, explores the important role nuclear energy can play in lowering greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst potential outcomes of climate change. The second piece will examine the geopolitical and national security implications of the United States and its traditional allies effectively ceding the international nuclear energy marketplace to the Chinese and Russians. The nuclear program’s ultimate goal is to inform readers—policy makers, industry leaders, academics, and others—with objective, research-based analysis. It will strive in the months and years ahead to contribute constructively to a necessary dialogue on the future of nuclear power.
  • Topic: Environment, Nuclear Power, Pollution, Air Pollution, Nuclear Energy
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Richard Nephew
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Since taking power in January 2017, the Trump administration has overseen a dramatic escalation of sanctions[1] to pressure and punish US adversaries, including high-profile cases against Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela. Against this background, the Center on Global Energy Policy is publishing a short series of critiques of the Trump administration’s sanctions in the four cases mentioned. The series utilizes findings from the author’s book The Art of Sanctions, which recommends policy makers evaluate their sanctions decisions regularly to assess whether they are using sanctions effectively. It counsels that policy makers should have alternative strategies under development for use if they determine sanctions have or will likely fail to achieve their objectives. Further, the author enjoins those intent on using sanctions to recall that, like all foreign policy instruments, sanctions are only as good as the underlying strategy being pursued. This commentary, the fourth and last in the series, examines the effectiveness of the sanctions put in place against Venezuela. It assesses the sanctions approach within the parameters of the framework outlined in The Art of Sanctions and concludes with recommendations for the Trump administration. The Trump administration began with a conundrum: how to exert leverage on a country that is not only hostile to the United States but also an economic mess. Diplomatic engagement appeared an implausible path toward resolving US concerns with the country—not least of which centered on its potential to be disruptive to the region as a whole—but these concerns did not reach the level that would merit the use of military force. Such situations are usually tailor-made for the application of sanctions pressure, but, in Venezuela’s case, the country was already suffering under considerable economic strain that was entirely self-administered. Sensibly, the Trump administration declined to undertake major new sanctions initiatives for over a year. But upon doing so, the administration found itself in a wholly new and arguably more difficult situation: imposing sanctions on a country in the midst of a contested political transition. To date, the sanctions approach selected has been largely reasonable in this context, but impatience over the slow pace of the aforementioned transition could prompt error, especially if the administration loses sight of the desired end goal and begins to see sanctions pressure as an end unto itself.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: South America, Venezuela, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Noah Kaufman
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: As governments plot their responses to the COVID crisis, it’s difficult to find an influential voice who is not calling for economic stimulus legislation that simultaneously aims to achieve climate change goals.[1] As International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva put it: “We are about to deploy enormous, gigantic fiscal stimulus and we can do it in a way that we tackle both crises at the same time.”[2] After all, governments will spend trillions of dollars to put people back to work. This could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape massive government expenditures in a lower-carbon direction. Europe appears poised to take this advice, with the European Commission crafting a “Green Deal” at the center of a recovery package.[3] Many European countries have strong climate policy frameworks in place, including emissions regulations and net zero targets. In these countries, clean energy investments within economic stimulus packages can combine with these existing policy frameworks to enable even faster and cheaper decarbonization.[4] Here in the United States, the situation is starkly different. Expectations for climate progress from economic stimulus should be low, for two (related) reasons. First, the United States has no national climate plan in place, and the ability of clean energy spending to deliver emissions reductions without accompanying emissions regulations is very limited. Second, political opposition can prevent or severely weaken climate measures in economic stimulus for the foreseeable future. The climate measures with a plausible chance of inclusion in economic stimulus will, at best, enable the United States to continue muddling along on an incremental decarbonization pathway while temperatures rise to increasingly dangerous levels.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Green Technology, Recovery, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Matt Bowen
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Nuclear energy cooperation between the United States and its allies has been important for over a half century. Bilateral cooperation agreements with key countries date back to the 1950s, and the United States played a principal role in the development of several allied nuclear energy programs. Today, the international nuclear energy marketplace has changed, and the supply chain is globalized—the US program, for example, depends on working with allies for major safety-related components. However, limitations imposed by legacy US statutes and other obstacles are hampering greater collaboration in areas that would enhance the country’s nuclear program today. Developing advanced reactors to produce dispatchable zero-carbon electricity and heat as part of global efforts to address climate change would be aided by greater cooperation and utilization of resources and financing across countries. Deeper cooperation with like-minded allies would also allow the United States to better compete against other supplier countries that have different commercial and geopolitical objectives. If the challenges facing the US nuclear program are not overcome, the country risks further ceding its role as a leading nuclear technology exporter to China and Russia. Already China and Russia are growing their domestic nuclear energy programs and offering attractive financing to prospective customers of this technology around the world. These nuclear competitors may place differing priorities on areas such as nonproliferation, and therefore maintaining a US role in the nuclear supplier regime is connected with national security considerations. This paper, part of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s nuclear power program, examines part of what may be required for the United States to regain momentum in the nuclear power industry after an erosion of domestic capabilities stemming from a long hiatus in new reactor orders. The paper discusses the historical importance of nuclear cooperation between the United States and allies, some of the challenges that the US and some allied nuclear energy programs are facing, and how cooperation could be reinvigorated to the benefit of the United States and its allies.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Energy Policy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Energy
  • Political Geography: Europe, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Jason Bordoff
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: In the U.S. Democratic Party, perhaps no issue has risen more in prominence during this election year compared with prior ones than climate change. The number of self-identified Democrats who consider it a “major threat” is up from 6 in 10 in 2013 to almost 9 in 10 today. A slew of proposals—from the Green New Deal embraced by many progressive environmental groups to a new 538-page climate plan released by Democratic members of a special committee on the climate crisis in the U.S. House of Representatives—lay out various policies. Yet while these plans offer much to celebrate, all of them fall short by focusing on domestic actions while paying scant attention to the global nature of the crisis. Every ton of carbon dioxide contributes to climate change no matter where it is emitted, so an ambitious climate strategy cannot only be domestic—it must put the issue squarely at the center of U.S. foreign policy. Past U.S. efforts to advance global action, such as Washington’s leadership to help secure the 2015 Paris climate agreement, have been key to progress. Yet given both the urgency and global nature of climate change, the issue cannot be siloed into U.S. State Department or Energy Department offices and spheres of diplomacy. Many aspects of U.S. foreign policy will impact, and be impacted by, climate change. An effective foreign policy requires taking climate change directly into consideration—not just as a problem to resolve, but as an issue that can affect the success and failure of strategies in areas as varied as counterterrorism, migration, international economics, and maritime security. Human rights offers some important lessons. In the wake of the Vietnam War and the United States’ secret bombings of Cambodia, public concern for human rights was on the rise. Upon taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter declared human rights to be a “central concern” of U.S. foreign policy. In contrast to the realpolitik promoted by outgoing Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Carter argued that protecting human rights would advance U.S. interests and was too important to be divorced from other aspects of U.S. foreign policy. Rather, human rights must be “woven into the fabric of our foreign policy,” as then Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher testified before a Senate subcommittee. Despite Carter’s mixed foreign-policy success, climate change demands a similar centrality. As the defining challenge of our time, climate change must be elevated to a foreign-policy priority and cannot be addressed with a compartmentalized approach. It is necessary, of course, to rejoin the Paris agreement, contribute to international finance efforts such as the Green Climate Fund, curb multilateral coal financing, and collaborate with other countries on clean-energy innovation. Yet all these efforts add up to an international climate strategy, not a climate-centered foreign policy. Truly making climate change a pillar of a foreign-policy strategy would have five key elements.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, International Cooperation, Paris Agreement
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: David B. Sandalow, Xu Qinhua
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: On June 14, 2020 New York time and June 15, 2020 Beijing time, the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and Center for International Energy and Environment Strategy Studies at Renmin University convened a joint Zoom workshop on green stimulus programs in the US and China. The workshop offered a chance for scholars from the two universities to explore the recent economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stimulus measures adopted to date and green stimulus proposals in both countries. Participants also discussed other measures to promote clean energy and low-carbon development in the US and China.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Green Technology, Paris Agreement
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Jose Ignacio Hernandez
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The Latin American experience with international sanctions has been mostly as sanctioned states rather than targeting states. This is not merely because Latin American countries have lacked the interest in using sanctions tools but also because of more complex factors, including the historical evolution of Latin American nationhood, a set of cultural values rooted in the defense of national sovereignty, and opposition to any foreign intervention. Although those values were embraced as a result of defending the independence of Latin American nations against European dominance, the values were also applied in intraregional relations in Latin America. As a result, there is not a strong culture of international sanctions imposed by Latin American countries. With few exceptions—such as Cuba—Latin American countries tend to rely on diplomatic negotiations conducted under the nonintervention principle. The unparalleled crisis in Venezuela has produced a change in perspective. While the main actions adopted regarding this crisis were undertaken to facilitate diplomatic negotiations with the Venezuelan government, Latin America—particularly within the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS)—has started to implement international sanctions as a tool to promote a transition in Venezuelan governance. This shift has not been without controversy in Latin America. Consequently, the principle of nonintervention as relates to the use of sanctions is under stress in Latin America and merits re-examination. This paper, part of the International Security Initiative at the Center on Global Energy Policy, reviews the history of international sanctions in Latin America in the context of broader diplomatic developments.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Imperialism, Sanctions, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: South America, Latin America, North America
  • Author: Richard Nephew
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: For several months, it has seemed likely that the Trump administration would elect to pursue the reimposition, or snapback, of UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against Iran. For those less steeped in the terminology, the concept of sanctions “snapback” is one developed as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It refers to the ability of the United States and other partners to quickly reimpose the sanctions that were suspended as part of the quid pro quo that saw Iran accept significant restrictions and transparency requirements for its nuclear program. Conceptually, this was necessary because Iran had the ability to restart its nuclear program if the United States or others were seen as cheating on the deal. The United States and its partners needed some assurance that, if Iran were found to be cheating, they could react just as swiftly. On August 20, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finally submitted the notification that, according to the US government, would trigger a 30-day timeline for the reimposition of these sanctions. In the US view there is now no stopping the return of the UNSC’s original Iran sanctions regime, though there may be some procedural wrangling over how and when the measures will be reimposed. It is not clear, however, whether this will be the case. A fair amount of analysis has gone into the fundamental question of whether the United States has the standing to trigger snapback, which is an issue I explored in 2019.[1] European, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and other observers argue that the United States has no such standing, because, under the terms of the UN Security Council resolution that created the snapback mechanism (UNSCR 2231), it is no longer a “participant” of the JCPOA following its withdrawal in 2018. Even former National Security Advisor John Bolton—who was in large part responsible for the US withdrawal from the JCPOA—tends to agree with this reading.[2] The Trump administration obviously disagrees. It is an important question, and one that speaks to the underlying credibility and integrity of the US snapback decision as well as its results. But, ultimately, there is no way of finding a conclusive answer. International law being what it is, there are no authoritative arbiters available to determine whether the United States or its many critics are right. Snapback is happening and will have consequences, we now need to shift to considering what comes next. I see four main outcomes that are directly relevant to this decision and the future of US sanctions policy and negotiations.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, United Nations, Military Strategy, Sanctions, JCPOA
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Richard L. Kaufman, David B. Sandalow
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic is creating extraordinary financial challenges for state governments. Tax revenues are plummeting and social service expenses increasing, leaving budget shortfalls projected to exceed $750 billion over the next three years.[1] For state governments to continue playing important roles in promoting clean energy, they will need to adopt strategies that leverage their limited funds. This commentary proposes four principles to guide state governments in spending limited funds to promote clean energy and discusses recent programs that applied those principles in New York State. One of the authors, Richard Kauffman, played a central role in the development of those programs as New York State “Energy Czar” from 2013 to 2019 and continues to serve as Chair of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Renewable Energy, COVID-19, Safe Energy
  • Political Geography: New York, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Matt Bowen
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Nuclear energy has shown much promise and faced considerable challenges since its origins in the mid-20th century. While the United States drove the early charge for safe nuclear power around the globe, its leadership has waned in recent decades. US reactors now under construction—following no orders for such plants in the United States for several decades—have gone well over planned budgets and schedules. And while the United States was once the leading international supplier of reactors, other countries have since stepped forward to fill that role. Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, as part of its wider work on nuclear energy, is examining the impact of potential American disengagement from nuclear power’s development and where opportunities exist to step back in and shape its future. The program also will assess the US nuclear waste management program and efforts to collaborate with other countries on advanced reactor development as well as options for improvement on both fronts. This effort includes a two-part commentary on some of the benefits the United States might derive from increasing its engagement on nuclear power. The first in the series explored the important role nuclear energy can play in lowering air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst potential outcomes of climate change. The second part of the series, this piece, examines the geopolitical and national security implications of the United States and its traditional allies effectively ceding the international nuclear energy marketplace to the Chinese and Russians. The nuclear program’s ultimate goal is to inform readers—policy makers, industry leaders, academics, and others—with objective, research-based analysis. It will strive in the months and years ahead to contribute constructively to a necessary dialogue on the future of nuclear power.
  • Topic: Security, Energy Policy, National Security, Nuclear Power
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Mauricio Cardenas, Juan Jose Guzman Ayala
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: In 2020, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) will experience the most severe economic recession in decades. This paper looks at the challenges confronted by LAC and proposes a series of actions to structure a recovery plan that minimizes potential moral hazard effects while aligning fiscal, social, and environmental sustainability priorities.[1] High pre-pandemic sovereign debt levels, worsening credit ratings, and low tax revenues limit the much-needed fiscal space to overcome the present health and economic crises. Most countries in the region are at risk of losing two decades of progress in the fight against poverty and inequality, while their upper-middle income status makes them ineligible for debt relief and aid packages from advanced economies. The focus on solving the current crisis may also delay much-needed progress on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, as well as overall improvements in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We propose a combination of fiscal policy responses combined with new sources of financing to unlock a sharp recovery with minimal harm to fiscal sustainability in the long run. Through expanded public-private partnerships and blended finance structures, governments should be able to leverage private financing in large job-creation undertakings. Additionally, the issuance of SDG-linked sovereign debt and Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) with SDG conditionality could also provide much-needed liquidity at low cost.
  • Topic: Environment, International Cooperation, Global Recession, Sustainable Development Goals, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Latin America, Caribbean, North America
  • Author: Noah Kaufman, Yu Ann Tan
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, which are global pollutants, should ideally be coordinated across broad geographic and economic scopes. That way, climate policies can capture important interactions across sectors and borders. However, the United States has repeatedly failed to implement national and economywide climate legislation. That failure has led to an increasing focus on climate actions that are much narrower in scope: sector-specific regulations from subnational governments. A prominent recent example is New York City’s Local Law 97, which limits carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from a large segment of the city’s residential and commercial buildings. This law is among the most ambitious building emissions regulations in the world, but this commentary focuses on a concern with the design of Local Law 97. The law does not account for the planned decarbonization of the local electricity grid over the next decade, and thus fails to sufficiently encourage a shift from fossil fuels to electricity (or “electrification”), a critically important strategy for achieving a low-carbon building sector. Such a narrow focus is common for sector-specific climate regulations. The following sections explain the importance of electrification to deep decarbonization and the failure of building regulations to encourage it, focusing on New York City’s Local Law 97. Fortunately, solutions to the overly narrow focus of the New York City buildings law are readily available, including via New York State’s comprehensive climate strategy, which can align climate action across economic sectors within the state.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Law, Green Technology, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: New York, North America, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: On July 2, 2020, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) and Harvard University jointly hosted a virtual roundtable on climate-oriented economic recovery and stimulus packages. Stakeholders included senior experts from universities and policy institutes as well as former high-level government officials. Key questions discussed at the roundtable, held under the Chatham House Rule, included the following: What are the appropriate objectives of economic stimulus and recovery packages? What clean energy lessons from the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act are most relevant to the design of economic stimulus legislation today? What climate and energy policies are best suited to deliver on both economic stimulus and climate objectives? How does near-term climate-oriented stimulus complement medium-term climate policy and yield progress on long-term climate goals? The following is an overview of the discussion.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Economic Recovery
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Richard Nephew
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The last four years have borne witness to a range of new sanctions, policies, and approaches around the world. Some of these were predicted in November 2016, as Donald Trump took to sanctions far more than his predecessors, using them to tackle virtually every foreign policy problem he encountered. In fact, Trump’s use of sanctions transcended their typical usage in both form and content, as he employed tariffs and other more traditional “trade” tools to try to manage a bevy of nontrade problems. The long-term effects of this decision have yet to be felt or properly understood. It may be that Trump was ahead of the curve in seeing the fracturing of the global liberal economic order and employed the US economy for strategic advantage while it was still ahead. It may also be that Trump undermined the US position in the global economy through his policies, if not actually hastened the demise of this system of managing global economics. Time and the evolution of policy in other global power centers will eventually tell. The shifting approach to sanctions policy by a variety of other states is a manifestation of the potential effects of Trump’s policy choices in using US economic power. From the EU to Russia to China, other countries have changed long-standing policy approaches as they relate to sanctions, either to respond to or perhaps to take advantage of the new paths forged by the United States. The actions that they have taken are not “unprecedented” per se, as each of these countries or organizations has—at times—embraced policies that are consistent with some of these current actions. But, in aggregate, they describe an overall shift in how the world treats sanctions and trade policy, particularly that as practiced by the United States.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, International Trade and Finance, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: China, Europe, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: A.J. Goulding, Mugwe Kiragu, David Nour Berro
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented changes in the ways people interact and approach economic activities. Electricity demand has declined and usage patterns have been altered, changes that could remain even after the pandemic ends. Failure to properly account for these declines in demand could lead to excess capacity in the electric power sector, added costs for consumers, and losses for investors. This paper, from the power sector program at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, presents a methodology to quantify potential permanent reductions in demand triggered by the pandemic. The authors first identify how electricity demand changed in the United States following the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, or “Great Recession,” the last event to cause a major reduction in consumption. They then analyze the unique ways in which demand patterns may change over the next three to five years as a result of the coronavirus, followed by some illustrative calculations of the potential impact. Finally, the authors discuss the implications for policy makers with regard to electricity sector evolution. The paper finds that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to result in a long-term decline in annual electricity consumption, though less than that observed after the global financial crisis. It is also likely to accelerate changes in the structure of electricity demand that were already underway.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Electricity, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Mauricio Cardenas
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Since nearly the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic and political analysts have seen an urgent need – and opportunity – for Latin America to pursue reform. The argument is simple: The aftershocks of the current crisis will be devastating and long-lasting unless the region takes steps now to strengthen its labor markets and improve fiscal sustainability. That means taking advantage of unusual political circumstances to rally support for difficult decisions that have been put off for far too long. A failure to act would risk turning COVID-19 into the preamble to another lost decade. Unfortunately, there is little to suggest that governments in the region are prepared to use crisis in the present to prepare for the future. Throughout Latin America, the general response to COVID-19 has been to confront the challenge with increased spending. This will not have a happy ending. Governments will inherit massive debts, making it hard to deal with social unrest resulting from increased poverty and unemployment. Instead, the region needs to start making adjustments now – not only to spur economic recovery, but also to plant the seeds for a more sustainable performance down the road. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week added its voice to the chorus of those urging governments not to delay reform. As the region takes on debt to deal with the crisis, it will need to avoid falling over the fiscal cliff once the pandemic subsides, according to the IMF. That could mean, for example, pre-approving tax increases or the reduction in certain spending to be implemented once economic conditions return to normal. Labor laws could be changed to make it less costly for firms to hire (or hire back) workers, at least for the time being. Indeed, the right mix of reforms would have benefits in the short term as well. Given a better reading of future economic risks, markets and credit agencies would likely give countries increased fiscal space and capacity to deal with COVID-19 right now, when it is most needed. But there is little to suggest an appetite for reform. Few if any governments in the region have seriously pursued policy changes with a view not just of the short-term crisis but also their countries’ long-term health. Seldom has the disconnect between the opportunity for reform and the interest in pursuing it been so great. Instead of simply trumpeting the importance of reform, then, it’s important to also ask why it isn’t happening.
  • Topic: Public Health, Sustainability, Pandemic, IMF, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Latin America, North America
  • Author: Noah Kaufman, John Larsen, Ben King, Peter Marsters
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Two linked and frequently raised concerns about putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are whether such a tax would unintentionally advantage foreign competitors and, as a result, lead to increased emissions outside American borders. The tax could make American products more expensive than those made by companies in countries not imposing comparable climate regulations, which could lead to shifts in production overseas. Because a central aim of climate policy is to reduce global emissions, the “leakage” of production overseas would run counter to this goal. To avoid this outcome, carbon tax proposals commonly include a border carbon adjustment (BCA), which would impose the carbon tax on imported energy-intensive and trade-exposed products and provide a tax refund for exports of the same products. This commentary, part of a series of joint research on carbon tax policies by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and Rhodium Group, highlights an alternative way to ensure that US firms remain on a level playing field with foreign competitors: output-based rebates (OBRs). While a BCA would focus on imports and exports, an OBR would instead compensate vulnerable US firms based on their production—a simpler process. Both BCAs and OBRs have their benefits and drawbacks, but nearly all carbon tax bills recently proposed in Congress included a BCA, and none included OBRs. This commentary reintroduces output-based rebates as an alternative to BCAs, analyzes US industries that could be compensated with OBRs, and estimates the costs of doing so. A border carbon adjustment is an appealing concept: simply apply the same carbon tax to foreign firms that is applied to domestic firms. The key advantage of OBRs is avoiding the most significant administrative hurdles of BCAs, including the complexities of determining the carbon content of foreign goods and providing foreign firms credit for climate regulations in their home countries. The proposed (but not passed) American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, commonly called the Waxman-Markey climate bill, included compensation for energy-intensive and trade-exposed (EITE) US firms with OBRs. This commentary uses the Waxman-Markey proposal as a guidepost to analyze the potential scope and costs of OBRs today.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Natural Resources, Carbon Tax, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Avi Zevin, Sam Walsh, Justin Gundlach, Isabel Carey
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Zero-carbon electricity will be the backbone of a net-zero economy, not only keeping the lights on in our homes and offices but also powering our transportation systems and industrial processes. Indeed, research indicates that in order to decarbonize the economy at a reasonable cost and within a reasonable time frame, we must rapidly decarbonize and grow the power sector. Electricity—how it is generated, moved along the transmission and distribution grids, and used—is already undergoing a rapid transformation in the United States. This transition has been supported over the last decade by steep cost declines for wind, solar, and battery technologies as well as cheap natural gas produced via hydraulic fracturing. But the transition to a net-zero power sector needs to accelerate to mitigate climate change, which is already impacting the health of people around the country and world. New long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines will be vital if the United States is to deploy enough renewable generation capacity to decarbonize the power sector and to integrate it cost-effectively, as well as electrify our economy in time to meet the targets established in the Paris Agreement. Because Congress may not take timely action to remove barriers to these power lines, policy makers and the incoming Biden administration should explore how the federal government could use existing authorities to foster new long-distance transmission line development. This paper seeks to explain steps that the federal government—particularly from within the US Department of Energy and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—could take to facilitate development of a future grid that is capable of supporting a reliable, affordable, and increasingly zero-carbon power sector. Consistent with the mission of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA to advance smart, actionable, and evidence-based energy and climate solutions through research, education, and dialogue, the goal in publishing this paper in partnership with NYU School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity is to provide insights that are useful to policy makers in the format and time frame needed. We hope that this report contributes to supporting informed dialogue on potential tools for building a sustainable power sector in the United States.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Natural Resources, Electricity, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Aimee Barnes, Fan Dai, Angela Luh
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Averting global climate catastrophe depends in large part on progress by the world’s two greatest powers and emitters: the United States and China. However, relations between these two countries—particularly on climate action—have deteriorated over the past four years. With a new presidential administration set to enter the White House in January 2021, there is an opportunity for the US and China to build trust and cooperation on climate change in a way that supports a cooperative and dynamic bilateral relationship more broadly. This commentary takes a close look at the Biden-Harris presidential platform with respect to climate action and China, and assesses China’s domestic and international climate efforts, particularly with respect to the status of its 14th Five-Year Plan. Importantly, what emerges from this examination is a starting point for China and the US to improve their relationship through climate action and collaboration. China’s announcement that it would seek to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 is an important step towards such cooperation.[1] The most promising potential areas for US-China cooperation fall into three broad categories: renewing a shared commitment to global climate governance under the Paris Agreement; building trust to enable renewed bilateral cooperation, such as on technology innovation and investments; and supporting subnational leaders' progress in both countries through platforms where they can productively convene. Recognizing that a climate-safe future is bound up in our mutuality, these two world powers can promote a new era of climate action and resiliency.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Diplomacy, Energy Policy, Environment, International Cooperation
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: David Sandlow, Anders Hove
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: At least 1.5 million electric vehicle (EV) chargers have now been installed in homes, businesses, parking garages, shopping centers and other locations around the world. The number of EV chargers is projected to grow rapidly as the electric vehicle stock grows in the years ahead. The EV charging industry is a highly dynamic sector with a wide range of approaches. The industry is emerging from infancy as electrification, mobility-as-a-service and vehicle autonomy interact to produce far-reaching changes in transportation. This report compares EV charging in the world’s two largest electric vehicle markets -- China and the United States – examining policies, technologies and business models. The report is based on more than 50 interviews with industry participants and a review of the Chinese- and English-language literature. Findings include: 1. The EV charging industries in China and the United States are developing largely independently of the other. There is little overlap among the key players in the EV charging industries in each country. 2. The policy frameworks with respect to EV charging in each country differ. The Chinese central government promotes the development of EV charging networks as a matter of national policy. It sets targets, provides funding and mandates standards. Many provincial and local governments also promote EV charging. The United States federal government plays a modest role in EV charging. Several state governments play active roles. 3. EV charging technologies in China and the US are broadly similar. In both countries, cords and plugs are the overwhelmingly dominant technology for charging electric vehicles. (Battery swapping and wireless charging have at most a minor presence.) China has one nationwide EV fast-charging standard, known as China GB/T. The US has three EV fast charging standards: CHAdeMO, SAE Combo and Tesla. 4. In both China and the United States, many types of businesses have begun to offer EV charging services, with a range of overlapping business models and approaches. A growing number of partnerships are emerging, involving independent charging companies, auto manufacturers, utilities, municipalities and others. The role of utility-owned public chargers is larger in China, especially along major long-distance driving corridors. The role of automaker EV charging networks is larger in the United States. 5. Stakeholders in each country could learn from the other. US policymakers could learn from the Chinese government’s multiyear planning with respect EV charging infrastructure, as well as China’s investment in data collection on EV charging. Chinese policymakers could learn from the United States with respect to siting of public EV chargers, as well as US demand response programs. Both countries could learn from the other with respect to EV business models. As the demand for EV charging grows in the years ahead, continued study of the similarities and differences between approaches in China and the United States can help policymakers, businesses and other stakeholders in both countries and around the world.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Infrastructure, Green Technology, Electricity
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Asia, North America
  • Author: Richard Nephew
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Though historically China has been a sanctions recipient, with only a few isolated incidents of using sanctions in return, this situation is likely going to change in the years to come. China’s global economic position — as well as its ambitions to serve as not only a global power, but also potentially the leading international power — will push it to consider means of exerting international leverage. The United States has shown vividly in the last 30 years that sanctions are one means to this end, and Chinese scholars are demonstrating increasing facility with sanctions doctrine. China’s increasing assertiveness in economic sanctions will allow it to not only hit back directly against the United States with retaliatory measures, but also to develop independent rationales to apply sanctions in pursuit of Chinese policy objectives. China may begin using sanctions as an affirmative instrument of policy. The United States is vulnerable to disruptions in U.S.-Chinese economic ties. The U.S. reliance on Chinese financing, especially for U.S. national debt, and Chinese economic growth in areas where the U.S. typically excels demonstrate China’s capacity to target the U.S. To combat this potential emerging threat, the United States should seek first to negotiate with China on ways to avoid conflict. But, given the likelihood of competition nonetheless, the United States should also add sanctions development to its crisis management process, and increase intelligence and analytical capabilities that focus directly on Chinese sanctions doctrine and practice.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Sanctions, Global Political Economy
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Asia, North America
  • Author: Johannes Urpelainen, Wolfram Schlenker, Alice Tianbo Zhang
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Dams are a major source of electricity globally, with hydropower generating 16 percent of the world’s total electricity and 71 percent of all renewable electricity in 2016. Many developing countries possess great untapped hydropower potential. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is estimated to have tapped less than 8 percent of its hydropower potential. Proponents of dams praise them as a source of low-carbon electricity, estimated to reduce annual emissions by about 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Dams also provide wide-ranging benefits in terms of flood control, irrigation, navigation, and job creation. But harnessing the power of the river comes with concentrated costs, from fragmenting the river system and destroying natural habitat to triggering ecological hazards and displacing millions of people. As the world is undergoing an energy system transformation toward renewable sources to combat climate change and meet emission reduction targets outlined in the Paris Agreement, understanding the costs and benefits of dam construction has important policy implications. In this project, the authors compiled a global geospatial database of dams, the GDAT, to enable rigorous research on the costs and benefits of dam construction. The project was motivated by the absence of a comprehensive, reliable, real-time, easy-to-use database on global dam construction. Such data could allow policymakers to make informed decisions on the use of hydroelectric power in the future, based on systematic evaluations of the costs and benefits of hydroelectric dams along the dimensions of energy access, climate change mitigation, water supply, ecological preservation, and population displacement. Below is a summary of findings: Globally, the authors identify 36,222 dams that are spatially concentrated along major river basins in Asia, North America, South America, and Europe. Compared to two widely used datasets, AQUASTAT and Global Reservoir and Dam (GRanD), GDAT has not only 144 percent and 419 percent more dam observations, respectively, but also more comprehensive attribute information, such as completion year, geographic location, main purpose, and reservoir and generation capacity. Dams are used for a variety of purposes, with considerable heterogeneity across continents. Worldwide, dams are mainly used for irrigation and hydroelectricity, representing 34 percent and 25 percent of the data, respectively. There are notable differences in the distribution of dam completion year across continents. While most developed countries in North America, Europe, and Oceania have witnessed a decline in dam construction since the 1970s, developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America are experiencing a continued increase in the number of dams currently planned or under construction. GDAT makes three important contributions: First, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, no prior effort has been made to consolidate official records with existing datasets such as AQUASTAT, GRanD, and World Resources Institute (WRI). By collecting and compiling primary data from administrative sources and secondary data from existing databases, the authors have offerred the most comprehensive geo-referenced data on worldwide dam construction to date. Second, through extensive cross-checking and manual validation, the authors fill in important data gaps on key attributes and correct erroneous observations in previous datasets. Third, existing datasets are often static and not frequently updated. Efforts are underway to develop a framework for making the data collection and compilation process easily reproducible, so that it can be updated on a reasonable time interval to facilitate intertemporal analysis. Upon publication of academic research papers, the authors are planning to release the entire dataset and documentations to the public, free of charge.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Water, Displacement, Electricity, Renewable Energy, Dams
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, North America