Energy Research on Wartime Footing

In this recent article in Nature, two British scholars call for putting energy research on a wartime footing. Kyoto has failed they say. It should be jettisoned and new agreements entered into.

We stare at stark divergences of trends. On the one hand, the International Energy Agency predicts a doubling of global energy demand from present levels in the next 25 years. On the other, since 1980 there has been a worldwide reduction of 40% in government budgets for energy R&D6. Without huge investment in R&D, the technologies upon which a viable emissions reduction strategy depends will not be available in time to disrupt a new cycle of carbon-intensive infrastructure.

So investment in energy R&D should be placed on a wartime footing. This is a cause that embraces the political spectrum, including Kyoto supporters. In 1992 former US Vice-President Al Gore called for a ‘strategic environment initiative’ as part of his vision for a ‘global Marshall Plan’. The conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC also supports primary research on sustainable new energy technologies. In 2006, Lord Rees, the president of Britain’s Royal Society suggested that major public investment in R&D should be kick-started by a global investment in energy technologies research on the scale of the Manhattan Project7.

Time to Ditch Kyoto
It seems reasonable to expect the world’s leading economies and emitters to devote as much money to this challenge as they currently spend on military research — in the case of the United States, about $80 billion per year. Such investment would provide a more promising foundation for decarbonization of the global energy system than the current approach.

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