The Economist’s Solution to Climate Change

We reached out to the world's most respected economists to offer their solutions for climate change. The purpose of this was not to envision a world where economic legislatures reign supreme. Rather, we recognize the critical role of economics in policy formation and aim to reconcile the divergences in interdisciplinary thought in search of a "pareto improvement" (granted that even exists). Part II and III, Wall St and the Scientist's Solution to Climate Change to follow.

Larry Summers

President Emeritus of Harvard University, Former Chief Economist of the World Bank

My sense is that cap and trade is not the route to the future. It did not make it politically in the US at a moment of great opportunity in 2009. And European carbon markets have been plagued by constant problems. And globally it's even harder. My sense is that the right strategy has three major elements. First, as the G20 vowed in 2009, there needs to be a concerted phase out of fossil fuel subsidies. This would help government budgets, drive increases in economic efficiency and substantially reduce global emissions. Second, there needs to be assurance of adequate funding for all areas of basic energy research. As a practical matter my guess is the world will produce non fossil fuel power in the next 25 years at today s fossil fuel prices or it will fail with respect to global climate change. Third, there is a strong case for concerted carbon taxes to further discourage greenhouse gas emissions. But this is a follow-on step for after the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.

Bjorn Lomborg

Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School

The only way to move towards a long-term reduction in emissions is if green energy becomes much cheaper. If it cost less than fossil fuels, everyone would switch, including the Chinese. This, of course, requires breakthroughs in green technologies and much more innovation.

At the Copenhagen Consensus on Climate (fixtheclimate.com), a panel of economists, including three Nobel laureates, found that the best long-term strategy to tackle global warming was to increase dramatically investment in green research and development. They suggested doing so 10-fold to $100bn a year globally. This would equal 0.2% of global GDP. Compare this to the EU's climate policies, which cost $280 billion a year but reduce temperatures by a trivial 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Otaviano Canuto

Senior Adviser and former Vice President, World Bank

The economist's solution to climate change can be summarized in a single statement: "get the prices right!" This means taxing fossil fuels proportionately to the amount of carbon they release, in order to correct the problem that corresponding negative spillovers of their use are not reflected in their market prices. Incentives in favor of more climate-friendly technological innovations would also be reinforced. Subsidies to these innovations, as well as to avoid deforestation would also help, as potential benefits of these mitigating factors would in turn become appropriately embedded in their reduced costs.

Jun Zhang

Director, China Center for Economic Studies

I think in the long run decelerating the change in climate is possible amidst accelerating the global industrialization, urbanization and economic growth. Created incentives for clean energy, appropriate tax and pricing policy for energy use and emissions, as well as rapid structural change and productivity growth in economic development, are all remarkable contributors.

Alex Tabarrok

Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University

Neither the developed nor the developing world will accept large reductions in their standard of living. As a result, the only solution to global climate change is innovations in green technology. A carbon tax will induce innovation as people demand a way to avoid the tax. A carbon tax, however, will be more politically acceptable if technologies to avoid the tax are in existence before the tax is put into place. Prizes for green innovations can blaze a path down a road that must be traveled, making the trip easier. The L-prize successfully induced innovation in LED technologies, the X-Prize put a spacecraft into near space twice within two weeks and Google's Lunar X prize for putting a robot on the moon is close to being awarded. Prizes have proven their worth. To speed both the creation and diffusion of green technology, green prizes should be awarded at the rate of $100-$200 million annually.

Tyler Cowen

Professor of Economics, George Mason University

This is a problem we are failing to solve. Keep in mind it is not just about getting the wealthy countries to switch to greener technologies, but we also desire that emerging economies will find green technology more profitable than dirty coal. A carbon tax is one way forward but the odds are that will not be enough and besides many countries are unlikely to adopt one anytime soon. Subsidies for technology could occur at a very basic level and we could make a gamble that nuclear fusion will finally pay off. We also need version of green technology that will fit into existing energy infrastructures and into countries which do not have the most reliable institutions. The most likely scenario is that we will find out just how bad the climate change problem is slated to be.

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