Automatgenererad bild.

13 November 2014

Future climate research
after IPCC report

In mid-October, some of the world’s leading climate researchers met in Gothenburg to discuss which new research initiatives are needed to tackle the conclusions in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. One overall lesson is that carbon taxes are important, but insufficient as the only tool. We need to know more about which other ways forward are effective and politically feasible.

The ‘Beyond IPCC — Future Paths for Climate Research’ conference was arranged by Thomas Sterner, Professor of Environmental Economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg. Sterner is also active in the Mistra Indigo programme.

The purpose of this conference was to carry out an inventory of research requirements that have arisen after the latest IPCC reports, of which Sterner was one of the main authors. There is, for example, a need to identify new research areas in behavioural economics and political economy, and how they relate to the climate issue.

Although numerous climate conferences are held around the world, an unusually large number of the most prominent researchers came to Gothenburg. One of them was Marianne Fay, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Climate Change, who spoke about growth without fossil fuels. Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, also took part, presenting the key points made in the Fifth Assessment Report and how he sees the climate research of the future.

‘We are enormously pleased that nine professors from the IPCC chose to attend this particular conference, along with many other eminent climate researchers. Several of them said afterwards that this was the best scientific discussion they’d taken part in for many years. And they didn’t say it just out of politeness,’ Sterner says.

Pointed out many ways forward

Two days of intensive researcher dialogue is, he thinks, not exactly easy to summarise, but he nonetheless mentions a few fragments he personally found interesting.

‘One is that the analysis many of us economists arrived at when the climate crisis started, that a high carbon price would solve the crisis, has proved to be an oversimplification. The issue is considerably more difficult and complex than that.’

Thomas Sterner still thinks that a high carbon price is an important contribution to attempts to mitigate climate change. The new aspect is that this is not the only way: price mechanisms need to be supplemented with other tools.’

‘We must also become better at understanding which restrictions on politicians’ action exist, and why they don’t manage to reach better decisions.’

More renewable energy: a positive trend

Another key conclusion from the conference was that support for renewable energy has been highly successful.

‘It’s one of the few trends that are favourable — even better than expected — and in a context where almost everything else is worse than we have a right to demand.’

According to Thomas Sterner, wind and solar energy in particular are developing fast while their costs are falling.

‘This success can now be used when other policy instruments are introduced. We know that as the costs of a sensible climate policy fall, acceptance for it will be easier to obtain.’

Although numerous other current trends and, for example, the international climate negotiations do not reflect the same positive direction, Sterner sounds somewhat optimistic.

‘New technology has saved us from many of the earlier environmental problems. The fact that renewable energy is now showing such a positive trend can be the factor that enables us to successfully implement other essential ingredients in a climate policy, such as international agreements and national policy instruments, that can bring about innovative solutions such as ways of boosting energy efficiency.’

Text: Per Westergård, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

mistra indigo

This programme combines research with policy activities to support climate policy outside the international climate negotiations. Activities are divided into four integrated areas focusing on a global trading system for carbon markets, the distribution effects of climate policy, the interplay between climate policy and incentives for technological development, and how businesses act strategically on the basis of climate policy.

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