With the latest round of international climate negotiations coming to an anticlimactic close in Durban, South Africa, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s chief advisor Andrew Charlton offers a pragmatic “Plan B” for tackling the challenges of climate change and energy access. Writing for the Canberra Times, Charlton promotes an agenda centered on technological innovation and the expansion of human welfare.
Our goal should be to create a world with abundant, clean and cheap energy for all. This is an objective that reconciles progress and planet. This is a challenge that can bring rich and poor countries together in a common goal. If we are to address climate change, we must turn to humanity’s familiar benefactor – technological innovation – and apply it to developing better clean energy.
Charlton, breaking with former Prime Minister Rudd’s laser-focus on an Australian emissions trading scheme, here advocates an agenda that prioritizes making clean energy cheap over making dirty energy more expensive. “In addition to direct investment in clean-energy technology,” he writes, “we need massively increased support for research and development of new technologies because our current technologies are not good enough to deliver clean-energy infrastructure at scale at an acceptable price for the rich countries, let alone the poor ones.”
In “Climate Pragmatism,” we prioritize the reset of international climate action and the recognition of fundamental principles of political economy. In his piece, Charlton matches his policy prescriptions with an evaluation of the UNFCCC negotiations process, noting that “the Copenhagen Accord, widely seen as a failure because it was not a legally binding treaty, may actually represent a step forward towards a more flexible framework that allows countries to formulate their own strategies.”
As Charlton emphasizes in his closing, technology is not the cause of our problems; it is the solution.
The point is not that technology is the easiest solution; it is that technology is the only solution. Only when clean energy is as cheap and reliable as fossil-fuel energy will it be adopted at scale in the poorest countries. Only when carbon capture and storage technology is mastered will China’s newly built coal-fired power stations stop belching carbon into the atmosphere. Only with better energy storage can we ease our reliance on dirty transport fuels. Our efforts to develop the technology to deal with climate change must be unremitting and ever-increasing.