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Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs, professor i ekonomi, ordförande för the Earth Institute vid Columbia University samt rådgivare åt FN:s generalsekreterare.

Foto: © Project Syndicate


Where are the global problem solvers?

One odd and disturbing aspect of global politics today is the confusion between negotiations and problem-solving. We have a few months to reach a global agreement on climate change in Copenhagen.

Governments are engaged in a massive negotiation, but they are not engaged in a massive effort at problem-solving. Each country asks itself, "How do I do the least and get the other countries to do the most?," when they should be asking instead, "How do we cooperate to achieve our shared goals at minimum cost and maximum benefit?" 
 These might sound like the same thing, but they are not. Addressing the problem of climate change requires reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, which in turn involves choices in technology, some of which already exists and much of which needs to be developed.Similarly, we will need renewed public confidence in a new generation of nuclear power, with plants that are safe and reliably monitored. We will need new technologies to mobilize large-scale solar power, wind power, and geothermal power. We might try to tap bio-fuels, but only in forms that do not compete with food supplies or with precious environmental assets.

The list goes on. We will need improved energy efficiency, through "green buildings" and more efficient appliances. We will need to switch from cars with internal-combustion engines to hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-powered, and fuel-cell-powered vehicles.

The switchover to new technologies is not mainly a matter of negotiation but of engineering, planning, financing, and incentives. How can the world most effectively develop, demonstrate, and then spread these new technologies? Where the benefits are unlikely to accrue to private investors, who should pay for the early demonstration models, which will require billions of dollars? How should we preserve private incentives for research and development while committing to transfer successful technologies to developing countries?

These are pressing, unsolved questions. Yet the global negotiations on climate change are focusing on a different set of questions. The negotiations are mainly about which groups of countries should cut their emissions, by how much, how fast, and relative to which baseline year. Countries are being pressed to cut emissions by 2020 by certain percentage targets, without much serious discussion about how the cuts can be achieved. The answers depend, of course, on which low-emission technologies will be available, and on how fast they can be deployed.

A true global brainstorming approach would first discuss the best technological and economic options available, and how to improve these options through targeted research and development and better economic incentives. The negotiations would discuss the range of options open to each country and region – from CCS to solar, wind, and nuclear power – and would sketch a timetable for a new generation of low-emission automobiles, recognizing that market competition as well as public financing will set the actual pace.

Based on these building blocks, the world could agree on allocating the costs for speeding the development and spread of new low-emission technologies.

We need to think hard, and collaboratively, about the world’s real technological options, and then pursue a common global framework that allows us to move into a new era, one based on feasible and sustainable technologies for energy, transport, industry, and buildings.

Jeffrey Sachs, professor i ekonomi, ordförande för the Earth Institute vid Columbia University samt rådgivare åt FN:s generalsekreterare