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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: 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: 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: 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: 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