On December 11, 2020, the MIT-ESI Rapid Response Group hosted this virtual panel discussion for an audience of U.S. congressional staffers, in which three MIT professors share their thoughts on high-leverage priorities for congressional and executive action on climate change under the Biden administration. David Goldston, Director of the MIT Washington Office, moderated. The panelists are:
John Sterman, Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society, and Director of the MIT System Dynamics Group and MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative.
Jessika Trancik, associate professor in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, with a focus on energy services including electricity, transportation, heating, and industrial processes.
Christopher Knittel, George P. Shultz Professor and Professor of Applied Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Director of MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
[David Goldston] Good afternoon, everybody.
Welcome to this MIT congressional webinar
Thanks for joining us.
We have three experts from MIT today from a variety of fields.
You already know their bios, so I won't take time on that.
I'm David Goldston of MIT's Washington Office.
I want to thank two MIT students, Jessica Horowitz
and Melissa Stok, who are involved with the Environmental
Solutions Initiative at MIT for getting us going on this
and helping arrange it.
A couple of quick things.
We are recording this, and it will be available afterwards.
So just be aware of that.
Some of you may have heard as we were
trying to figure out exactly how we're handling that.
We will take the questions through chat.
So just please chat to everyone with any questions
you have, and I'll moderate and ask them.
We'll start with some opening comments from our speakers.
I'll have a few questions, and then we'll
start taking questions from all of you.
So we're going to get started with our speakers each
talking about what they think are the steps that are most
needed to address climate in the near-term.
And it'll be John Sterman, then Jessika Trancik, then
They'll each talk for about five minutes,
and then we'll go to the Q&A. So John, take it away.
[John Sterman] Great.
Thank you very much, David.
And welcome, everybody.
I thought what I would do is use our interactive climate policy
simulator, En-ROADS, which we developed at the MIT Sloan
Sustainability Initiative jointly
with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Climate Interactive,
to make a couple of points.
And I know a number of folks in the audience today
have seen it, but perhaps you have not
seen the most recent update which
was just made public last week.
And you should be seeing the screen.
And what you're seeing is that in the new reference baseline
global primary energy use on the left, emissions on the right–
due to changes in the economy, greater progress
in renewables, cost reductions in renewables
and other changes, the baseline is now
suggesting an expected level of warming
of 3.6 C or 6.5 Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.
I'm going to use Fahrenheit today because
of being in this country.
But you'll see both here at any time.
So what I wanted to do was very quickly
go over some of the main policy and actions
to address the climate crisis, starting
with things that many people are advocating for
but that don't seem to be high leverage.
Remember that what we need to do is cut emissions by about half
globally in the next decade in order
to have a decent chance of limiting
the expected warming to no more than 3.6 Fahrenheit
(2 C) and even deeper cuts to be on a one and a half degree pathway.
And then we have to go all the way
to zero by 2050 approximately, and possibly
need some negative emissions.
That's very ambitious.
So normally what we do is we have you experiment.
And remember, this model is completely free and available
for you at en-roads.org, so don't take my word
for what's happening here, but try it out yourself.
So let's take a look at some ideas that
are very common and popular here for addressing the climate
And one is the Trillion Trees Initiative: afforestation
on a massive scale in the United States and globally.
So we're at 6.5 Fahrenheit right now,
3.6 C. We need to get down to 3.6 Fahrenheit,
2 C. Let's plant a trillion trees and see what happens.
And it simply doesn't make much difference.
It's worth a tenth of a degree.
And the reason for that is it simply
takes so long to acquire the land, plant the trees,
and especially for all those trees to grow large enough
to be removing significant amounts of carbon
from the atmosphere.
It also takes a very substantial amount of land
to do that, here,
approximately twice the total land area of India
to get that impact.
So while planting trees, reforestation,
is important on many grounds–
ecological preservation, extinction risk reduction,
and so forth–
it simply is not a significant lever on the climate crisis.
Well, what about a radical technical breakthrough?
For example, fusion power, or an artificial leaf
that would turn sunlight directly
into electric power, or hydrogen?
Let's try that.
Now, this is a technical breakthrough.
Of course, you can't schedule a breakthrough,
but what if we were able to have a major breakthrough today
and produce electricity with no carbon whatsoever?
And what you see is, it makes relatively little difference
0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, 0.1 degrees C.
And maybe the breakthrough isn't big enough.
I'll make it even bigger, meaning it's happening sooner,
it's commercialized quicker, and it's even cheaper
relative to coal than the first one.
And it still doesn't make that much difference.
And you can see why very clearly.
First of all, it just takes a long time
to go from the breakthrough in the lab,
to commercial viability, to adoption and diffusion,
and scale up around the world.
And in the meantime, you're still
burning all the fossil fuels.
And every minute they're in the atmosphere,
they're warming the climate.
A more subtle effect is – and you can see it in this graph
on the left –
that as the zero-carbon energy is adopted,
it's squeezing out fossil fuels, but it's also suppressing
the other renewables.
The green band here is renewables, including wind,
solar, geothermal, hydro,
and you get a lot less of those if there's
this magical new source.
So that also is a relatively low-leverage action.
Same is true for conventional nuclear.
You get a lot more of it,
doesn't make a difference to the climate
because it takes so long to permit, design, build,
and commission conventional plants,
and it also suppresses the other renewables.
Bioenergy, likewise, has a relatively modest effect,
and in fact, the dominant form of bioenergy in the world today
burning wood for electric power.
And it actually is harmful to the climate over the rest
of this century because you're getting more CO2 per kilowatt
hour of usable energy from burning wood than you do from
the fossil fuels, even coal,
whereas the regrowth of those harvested forests
is not certain and takes a very, very long time.
So those are some policies that are widely discussed but don't
have high leverage.
So what does have high leverage?
Well, there's a variety that do.
Notably, a price on carbon.
That has a big impact.
We went from 6.5 to almost a full degree Fahrenheit lower,
and that's only at $74 a ton.
If we rounded up to $100 a ton, you
have a full degree Fahrenheit of impact.
That's a very effective policy.
Of course, you want that to be fair and equitable,
so the revenue from that price on carbon
should be fully rebated to the people,
either per capita at equal basis, or perhaps especially
directed at low and moderate income folks.
So that's very helpful.
What else is very helpful?
[David Goldston] John, if you could start winding up, that'd be great.
[John Sterman] I'm sorry?
[David Goldston] If you could start winding up, that would be great.
[John Sterman] Yup. Other highly effective policies are
energy efficiency in transportation
and buildings and industry,
electrification of both of those sectors once you've
decarbonized the energy system,
reducing deforestation, and especially
cutting the emissions of methane and the other non-CO2 gases.
And here we are with a 3.6 –
2 degrees C – scenario without any technological magic.
So we have a wide range of high-leverage policies here
that can make a significant difference in the United States
and around the world.
None of them require magical technical breakthroughs
that can't be scheduled, and all of them
can be done with what we have in hand today,
plus the normal innovation and improvements that
come from scale and learning.
[David Goldston] Great.
[Jessika Trancik] Great.
I'm going to focus my remarks on a key priority
for federal climate policy, which is to accelerate
And here technology means not just
hardware and physical infrastructure, but also
software, business models, and other forms
of codified knowledge that support
institutional and behavioral change.
And the main point I'd like to share
is about how we can be more intentional and ultimately more
successful in using government policy to accelerate
beneficial technology innovation by applying
new insight on the process of policy-induced innovation.
I should say that everything I'm saying here
sort of builds upon and is not in disagreement
with what John Sterman just said.
When we think about innovation, we're
thinking not just about new technology,
but it's a constant process that's evolving.
So whatever carbon price and suite of other policies
that are there, the more we can accelerate that process
of beneficial technology innovation,
the faster the emissions reductions
and other benefits can –
that other benefits can accumulate.
And so it's really important to think about this process
of technology innovation.
It's one of our highest leverage policy actions
that can be taken.
OK, so how does the process of policy-induced technological
innovation work, and how do we shape it
toward greater benefit?
This is really what I've been looking at in my research
over two decades.
And I've gone deep under the hood of technology innovation
to understand the process at several interacting levels,
including the level of devices, the physics
and the engineering, company strategy,
and emergent phenomena like economies of scale,
and the role of government policy,
and this has led to some useful policy insight.
So let's look at the case of solar energy costs, which
have fallen by 99% over the last four decades.
In a recent paper we asked, what was
the role of government policy?
And specifically, two different types:
funding for research and policies
that stimulated market expansion.
What we learned was that these two types were both pivotal.
We estimate that 30% of the cost decline in solar energy
was stimulated by government funding for research,
and about 60% by market expansion policies
around the world.
And these are things like feed-in tariffs,
renewable portfolio standards.
They could be carbon prices in the future.
One important conclusion is that it's very unlikely
that research funding alone would have
brought about the same results.
So market expansion policies jump-started
this massive process of competition and innovation
in private industry policy, and industrial innovation activity
in the private sector went hand-in-hand.
So looking forward, this process can be repeated and improved
upon for faster progress, but it's not
going to happen on its own.
We need to tailor policy nudges to characteristics
of technologies and stages in technological development.
So let's take another example of nuclear fission.
Here, the trends in cost are in the opposite direction.
US nuclear costs have been increasing.
And when we apply that same mechanistic modeling approach,
we uncover different priorities than for solar energy.
The priorities in this case are for research development
and field demonstrations of designs
that move more of the construction process
into manufacturing plants, and thereby address
these ballooning construction costs.
Now, when we look at battery technologies,
we learn about key research funding priorities
to avoid premature technology lock-in
and ensure scalable materials.
And different tailored insights emerge
for how to nudge forward innovation
for many other technologies.
Now, importantly, nudging the innovation process forward
with policy means defining that word "forward."
For this, we need metrics to measure progress in individual
technologies against energy system-wide goals.
And this can help unleash a competitive process
toward a common goal, so many different efforts
all working toward a common goal.
And when we look at electric vehicles, for example –
just to take one example – we learn
how to measure charging station rollout strategies
against people's needs.
Or for grid-scale storage, we learn how much
costs have to fall to enable further renewables
integration without increased electricity costs.
Critically, through measuring progress, we must track –
measuring progress, rather, means
tracking the distribution of impacts on communities.
We really have to and can do better
in accelerating innovation that equitably benefits and involves
communities, while growing high-quality and sustained
jobs and local economic growth opportunities, supporting
these growth opportunities.
So the new mechanistic insight on innovation that I described
allows us to intentionally support
these beneficial outcomes that go
far beyond simply reducing the costs of low-carbon technology.
So to summarize, a key priority for federal climate policy
in my view is to be more intentional in finding
the right nudges to accelerate innovation,
shape it toward beneficial outcomes.
We need to support portfolios that are diverse enough
uncertainty about the future, but not so diverse as
to slow progress.
And I'll go through some specific examples of –
maybe if we have time, David –
of government initiatives.
But some of them involve –
I can go through this a little bit later, but some of them
involve supporting energy services as a whole,
not just looking at electricity, transport, industry
and heating sectors in silos, changing
institutional structures to allow cross-agency
cooperation, and then systematically supporting
community involvement in the innovation process.
This is all very doable, I believe.
And really, there's two reasons why I have this optimism.
First, we have several low-carbon technologies
that have entered these virtuous cycles in the marketplace,
including solar energy, wind energy and batteries.
And second, we have new knowledge
of the process of policy induced technology innovation
that can allow us to be more intentional and ultimately more
So thank you.
[David Goldston] Thanks, Jessika.
Appreciate the remarks.
Just a reminder to everybody, feel
free at any point to start putting questions in the chat
and we'll start taking them after I give some questions
to our speakers.
[Chris Knittel] Great.
And thanks for everyone who are attending, and good afternoon.
So I wanted to actually key in on something
that Jessika was talking about, which is an equitable transition.
And first, a bit of a plug of a large-scale research
project going on at MIT right now.
And this is led by Ernie Moniz, and we've called
it the Roosevelt Project.
And this is a joint initiative between MIT CEEPR –
the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research –
And actually, the goal of this research project is
to understand how we can transition to a low-carbon
economy in a way that produces high-quality jobs,
minimizes worker and community dislocations
especially among at-risk communities,
and really harnesses the benefits of these new energy
technologies in a way that can actually spur
regional economic development.
And I'm going to focus my five minutes on
two maps that I generated as part of this Roosevelt Project
that I believe is both a challenge and an opportunity
for climate change policy.
So before I show you my maps, I just
want to say that the Roosevelt Project is
split into two phases.
The first phase we wrote roughly nine white papers that really
take both a retroactive and a prospective stock of what
transitions we successfully navigated
in the past, what will be required
to navigate successfully this new transition in the future.
I put the website there where you can freely
download these white papers to understand what we've done.
And we're now in the second phase,
where we're in four communities, actively working
with the communities and policymakers
inside those communities to pilot and test
different ways to speed up
the transition, and also
transition in a way that, like I said,
can safeguard those at-risk communities.
So please, come back to that website in about six months
to a year to understand the lessons
that we've learned there.
So as part of this project, I created along with Tomas
Green, who was a former graduate student at MIT,
the two maps that I'm going to show.
And this first map is the average carbon footprint
for every census tract in the US.
And there's about 72,000 census tracts,
so this is a very granular scale to really understand
carbon footprints and how they're
distributed around the US.
And this is the challenge and the opportunity.
So the challenge here, as you can see,
is that carbon footprints are much higher in middle America
than they are on the coasts.
And if I were to zoom in on urban areas,
you would see they're much lower in urban areas
relative to rural and suburban areas.
This is going to be a challenge because we really need
to understand how a policy,
a given policy, is going to impact
different regions of the US and the people that
live in those regions.
It's a potential opportunity in the sense
that, if we can adopt policies that both decarbonize
and generate revenue at the same time, like a carbon tax
that John was talking about earlier,
then we can use those revenues internally
to the policy to safeguard these communities.
And what we work out in the paper
is ways to design a cap and dividend
plan that keeps the money inside of different regions in the US,
so you're not sending money out from middle America
to the coasts and from rural communities into the cities,
which I think would be devastating and probably death
blow to a particular policy.
The next thing I want to mention and show
is a map of what electricity-specific carbon
footprints look like.
So if you look at just the electricity
side of the total carbon footprint
that I showed you before, I think the challenge
is even tougher here.
And the one thing that I'll mention
is, many of the policies that we tend
to rely on, or at least potentially
advocate for at a national scale, might actually
lead to a lot of money flowing out
of those rural communities and middle America into the coasts.
So just imagine, for example, a clean energy standard
or a renewable portfolio standard that's nationwide.
If you don't design that correctly
then what you're effectively going to be doing
is taxing all of the red and purple areas on this map
and subsidizing all the green, yellow, and blue areas.
And again, that seems to me as an amateur political scientist
a policy that will have a number of negative ramifications,
either before it's adopted or after it's adopted.
So I think we need to be smart.
We need to think about policies that
can generate the revenue to undo the negative effects of carbon
I think we are fooling ourselves if we
think that this is a free lunch for everybody,
so that we really do need to be thoughtful about which
policies we adopt and the specifics of those policies.
And I look forward to working with anyone on the call today
to design policies to safeguard those at-risk communities.
And with that, I'll turn it back over to David.
[David Goldston] Thanks, Chris.
Before I get to some general questions,
one question in the chat is specifically on the map,
so why don't I turn to that immediately?
The person is asking, why would upstate
New York, which is relatively rural and cold,
have such a low carbon footprint?
[Chris Knittel] Yeah, so that's partly because their electricity
is very clean.
And also just that there's two effects, not only the carbon intensity
of the fuel or product you're using, but also
how much you're using.
So they have relatively clean electricity
and they're not consuming a ton.
Even though they're using propane and natural gas
for heating, on the electricity side,
they're not consuming a lot of electricity as well.
[David Goldston] Great, thanks.
So let me start with a general question to all of you,
and this came up a little bit already in several
of the presentations,
about the nature of where we are on technology.
So, to what extent is getting where
we need to go to meet the Paris targets a matter of scaling up
existing technology, and what are the main barriers to that?
And to what extent is it that we actually need technologies
that we don't have now?
Say, better energy storage, for example.
So Jessika, why don't I start with you, and then –
[Jessika Trancik] Yeah, sure.
Thanks for the question.
So, you know, we've made a lot of progress in technology,
but the way I think about it is –
and I think it's a useful way to think
about it – is that this is a constantly evolving process.
So some technologies are already taking off in the marketplace,
solar energy, wind energy, electric vehicles
to some extent.
Others are much further from that point.
And in some cases for these more difficult to decarbonize energy
services, or at least currently more difficult,
like certain processes in industry,
air transport, other kinds of long-haul transportation,
there we need more.
We're starting with R&D, so research funding
and trying to –
the idea would be to fast track that.
So maybe I can get into a little bit of specifics.
But really, David, the way I think
about how we can approach this question
is that we are actually –
we know a lot more now.
So I talked about how we can find those effective nudges
for individual technologies, how we're
able to come up with these more satisfying and more effective
metrics for measuring progress.
So we can think about slotting this into an energy transition
map with innovation goals and sort of portfolios
of policies and technologies in the immediate, medium and longer
But some of the areas that I think maybe
aren't discussed as much, and this audience
may or may not know, but that I feel like I should mention,
some specific opportunities
are in two – I'm going to split them up
into two categories of technology: in non-hardware
technology, or what I call soft technology.
That's often overlooked.
And then I'll talk about some hardware
or physical technologies that I think need to be focused on.
So in soft technology, some of the key opportunities –
and this includes software, business models, new approaches
to institutional design –
some of the key opportunities are
in new business models for electrification, and heating,
and transportation for electric vehicle charging,
and vehicle sharing.
And it's important here that we think about equitable access.
I think that's really critical.
It's not the direction that I see us going in right now,
and we can do it.
Also, smart and secure algorithms
to avoid privacy risks and stressing the electric power
In general, artificial intelligence
could push us off the track of emissions reductions
and some of these other goals that we are talking about,
or it could be a hugely powerful tool,
but it really needs to be managed and shaped
toward beneficial outcomes.
New kinds of demand management.
There's a lot of talk about long-duration energy storage,
but there's another kind of energy storage, which
doesn't involve any physical technology at all,
which is about shifting demand in time and space.
I see a lot of promise there. And better ways, business
models and ways of providing access to solar energy systems
and other clean energy services in many communities
that do not have access currently.
And then, finally, this idea of institutional design
to bring in community involvement.
And I could talk –
I don't want to take too much more time,
but just in terms of hardware and physical technologies,
it is true.
We need to work on low-cost, ultra-long-duration storage,
new battery chemistries and materials,
low-carbon fuels like hydrogen and ammonia.
I think the recent House report rightly pointed out
that this could potentially provide
a number of different energy services,
but we don't yet know whether it's going to be feasible.
We need to look at that.
And even tailored biofuels for certain applications.
But there, we need more sophisticated metrics
to measure the environmental and social impacts.
So those are some specific examples.
[David Goldston] I want to go to John in a second,
but can you just say a word about AI
throwing things off the track?
I assume that's because of the electricity
use required for AI.
Is that what you're thinking there?
[Jessika Trancik] Yeah,
or just, if certain segments of the population, especially –
and it would tend to be more wealthy, currently –
would be able to spend much more time moving around
in their vehicles with less of a cost
to their own personal time.
First of all, that's a problem because it's
a hugely inequitable outcome, but it also
would increase energy consumption.
And that's just one example, but there is –
I could go on for like an hour.
And on the other hand, I do think
it's very much possible to shape this
in a beneficial outcome for the climate,
but we need to get moving on that now, in my view.
[David Goldston] Great, thanks. John, what about you?
What's your thinking in terms of scaling and need
for new technologies?
And also, how does En-ROADS handle
that question of technologies that don't exist yet
but need to?
[John Sterman] Yeah.
And Jessika did a great job describing
some of the opportunities to take technologies we already
have today, and improve them further, and deploy them
at greater scale.
I think the point that I'd like to make is, first of all,
we already have essentially all the technologies we need.
Further improvement is, of course, welcome.
But we don't need to throw any Hail Marys, put
all our resources into some exotic technological
That's actually a huge distraction.
So for example, the greatest potential impact
to reduce emissions and at the same time
create jobs, improve our health, create community resilience,
and foster economic and community justice
is energy efficiency.
It is by far the fastest, safest, cheapest way
to lower our emissions, and we have what we need to do that.
The problem is not the lack of innovation
in the technological side.
It's the lack of innovative social contracts
and institutional arrangements.
So just as an example, my house where
I am coming to you from right now, it's about 95 years old.
We did a deep energy retrofit five years ago, which is mostly
about lots of insulation, good quality windows, tighter
building envelope, LED lighting, high efficiency appliances,
heat pumps instead of natural gas for heating
and cooling, and solar on the roof.
And so, over the past five full years, we have made almost 50%
more energy than we use here with zero fossil fuels.
And it was cost-effective.
And this is possible now.
At the Sloan School of Management,
we built a new building that we occupied 10 years ago.
And the post audit of that project showed that the energy
efficiency technologies that we deployed there,
all of which were ready to go off the shelf,
not only reduced the emissions for heating and cooling by 70%,
but generated an economic value for MIT of almost $10 million
in net present value.
And that's a 10-year-old building.
You can do much better today.
So the big opportunity in energy efficiency
is not just institutions like MIT
or faculty who, quite frankly, are affluent
compared to the average American,
but in low and moderate income housing in the United States.
This is going to be a huge opportunity.
The poor we know are living in the oldest,
least efficient, leakiest, least healthy housing.
They have the highest absolute energy bills
and it consumes a bigger chunk of their income
than for any other group, and they
don't have the capital or funds to make the upgrades,
and their landlords,
the building owners, aren't willing to do it.
This is a solvable problem.
There's already private businesses cropping up
to do it.
And it creates an enormous potential
to not only cut emissions, but to do so
in a way that generates a lot of economic and social value.
So energy efficiency is the number one thing
we ought to do while we're decarbonizing the electric grid
and dealing with the problems that Chris's maps so
The second thing I want to point out here
is that, whatever the federal government may choose
to do in the way of promoting renewables, decarbonization,
energy efficiency, and so forth, it
is a tiny amount compared to the amount of private capital
that would be unleashed if we had a meaningful price
on our carbon emissions.
As Chris pointed out, that's a non-trivial policy design
issue, but a solvable one.
And what you would find if there was
a meaningful price on carbon emissions
is a huge flow of private capital, venture capital,
private equity, reallocation of capital budgets
from large incumbent firms once there's clarity about pricing
things more appropriately.
And the innovation that will be unleashed by that
is going to be dramatic,
it's going to be quick, and it's going
to make a huge difference.
[David Goldston] Great, thanks.
I want to get back to a carbon tax as well
as to the question in the chat.
But first, Chris, what's your thinking on this scaling
and still-needed technologies?
[Chris Knittel] Yeah,
I'll just say that that last part of John's talk
stole my thunder, in the sense that my number one point was
going to be that we need to think about how we could
harness the marketplace to create better incentives
I can sit here and speculate what I think
the next technology we need is.
If I had to speculate, it would be long-term storage, or CCS,
or maybe something that dropped the cost of electrolysis down.
But the great thing about the marketplace
is, if you set up the right incentives,
it'll find the lowest hanging fruit.
And as of now, we just don't have very large incentives
for innovation in carbon-reducing technologies.
We have incentives for innovation
in things that might be related to carbon-reducing technologies,
like cheap electricity via photovoltaics,
but we're not doing that in particular for carbon.
So really, and this is why webinars like this are great,
what we need is policy at the federal and state level
that can harness the marketplace and find the best technologies
or the holes in the technologies that we
need for meeting Paris or even more aggressive commitments.
[David Goldston] Great.
Well I'm going to come back
on a question on carbon tax in a moment.
But we've got a question in the chat
about the usefulness of energy efficiency
in terms of making an impact in the developing world.
What's the thinking on that?
John, as the prophet of energy efficiency,
do you want to start on that?
[John Sterman] Sure.
Well, so there's no question that folks in the developing
world have so far contributed the least to the climate crisis
and are going to suffer the most from its harms.
It seems to me that the duty, obligation,
and opportunity of the affluent,
the developed countries,
is to provide the technology, the resources, the assistance
to enable those countries to leapfrog the fossil economy
that they're trying to build but haven't built out
to a full extent yet, and jump straight
to a clean, green, sustainable economy.
In the same way that in Africa, they never
built out landline telephony and instead
jumped straight to mobile,
and, oh, by the way, were able to innovate
with mobile in ways that weren't happening in the developed
M-Pesa mobile money being a great example of that.
So this is absolutely doable.
And instead of – and as we do it,
what we're going to find is it's helping us,
we in the developed world, in the United States,
by reducing the migration, the forced climate migration,
the drought, crop failures, and other harms from climate change
that are going to not only affect everybody
in Africa, Latin America, South Asia,
but hurt us also, and benefit our economy
and our national security.
[Chris Knittel] David, if I could add just –
[David Goldston] Yeah, Chris.
[Chris Knittel] And this is a point where John and I might disagree on,
but that's OK.
The world has about 100 years worth of coal available to it.
One of the things that keeps me up
at night is, will the world –
not just the US, but the world –
leave that coal in the ground?
And if they don't, then that really
opens the door for carbon capture and sequestration
as a game changer here, in the sense
that coal can still be burned but reduce
the climate impacts of that.
So that is one area where, if the US can innovate on that,
lower its costs so that developing countries would
have less of an issue with adding that on.
Because, other than carbon requirements,
they would have no incentive to do that.
I see a potential there, only because of the risk
of having to hope and pray that the 100 years of coal
will be left in the ground.
[John Sterman] So David, since Chris said there might be a disagreement here--
[David Goldston] Sure.
Then we'll go to Jessika.
[John Sterman] I'll just quickly comment that if we had a meaningful price on carbon
pollution around the world, then if CCS technology turns out
to be cost-effective or enough R&D
goes into it that it becomes cost-effective, then great.
It can be deployed, it'll be an enormously important part of the solution.
But I'd rather not pick winners and losers here,
especially for countries that would
suffer from some of the other environmental harms of coal,
such as mercury pollution, fly ash, mountaintop removal,
and the social harms that come from coal mining.
So let's – you're absolutely right, Chris.
We have to keep the fossil carbon, not just the coal,
but the oil and gas, too, we have to keep it in the ground.
There's no way to limit the warming
to as much as 2 degrees C –
3.6 Fahrenheit – without doing that.
Let's let the market and the innovation
that it will generate figure out whether CCS or bioenergy
with CCS is going to be a meaningful part
of the solution.
[David Goldston] Jessika?
[Jessika Trancik] Yeah.
Just a couple of quick comments to add to these points.
One of the reasons I think it's useful to think
about this broad definition of technology that doesn't just
but other forms of codified knowledge,
is that we can actually think about energy efficiency
improvements, which are stimulated by various policy
innovation toward these could be stimulated using
a range of policy instruments.
But this codified knowledge, this knowledge that allows
for energy efficiency,
if it is codified, it's something
that could potentially be shared across locations.
So this is something that doesn't just
have an impact in local areas, which
is how we've traditionally focused on energy efficiency.
It's a bit more locally-focused. But I think
one could do more to develop global markets for energy
efficiency with this kind of definition of technology.
And then the other thing I wanted to mention
is that energy efficiency often goes
hand-in-hand with transitioning to lower-carbon energy sources.
So if you think about certain smart devices
or smart management of your home energy services,
this can allow people to potentially adopt
electric vehicles, which then charge
at times that allow them to access cheaper electricity
and benefit the grid overall.
This can allow for comfortable living environments and also
the integration of solar energy.
And so anyway, these things go hand-in-hand.
And then finally, what I expect,
and what we're already seeing, is
a lot of great ideas on energy efficiency,
on low-carbon solutions, coming out of the developing world,
more rapidly growing economies.
And so that's something else that I
wanted to point out as well.
[David Goldston] Thanks.
So I want to get back to the –
I'm sure we'll come back to energy efficiency as well,
but at least two of you have made the case for carbon tax.
And yet, that doesn't seem something
that is in the immediate offing in Congress.
And in fact, in many policy circles,
seems to actually be falling away
as one of the things that's even on the discussion list, in favor
of things that –
standards and other proposals like that, which may implicitly
have a price on carbon, but not in a comprehensive way.
If someone said the carbon tax or direct carbon
price through cap and trade is off the table,
what are the next tools that you would say, let's
try this, at least for starters?
Either comprehensively, or by sector?
Just again, I'm looking at the US now.
Anyone want to take a crack at that to start with?
[Chris Knittel] I'm happy to.
So there's two benefits,
key benefits, from carbon pricing versus standards, say,
CAFE standards or clean energy standards.
One is that those standards tend to be sector-specific,
so you often get too much mitigation in one sector
and not enough in the other.
And then the other is that they tend
to actually artificially depress the price for either of those.
So you just do too much consumption
of electricity or driving.
So at least on the first one, we can let these standards talk
to each other.
It wouldn't be difficult to design a clean energy
standard, and a fuel economy standard,
or a low carbon fuel standard, where the permits are tradable.
And there you would actually capture
the benefits of sector-specific or sector leveraging
I will say, though, that the big challenge to all of those
is that my work and the work of others
has shown that these standards are very regressive,
and they will hurt certain parts of the US more.
So my big concern is that, if we want
to protect those at-risk communities,
we're going to have to have a second policy
or a third, fourth policy that's generating revenue somehow
to protect those communities.
And that's I think the biggest concern.
We might get enough votes on the climate-specific policies
and not enough support for the revenue generation side.
[David Goldston] Or, at least use existing revenues in a different way.
Before I turn to the others, I know you've also done some work
recently on how a relatively small carbon tax,
even though I just talked about taking it off the table,
could actually be a sort of a booster to the standards
Do you want to say a word about that?
[Chris Knittel] Yeah.
I didn't talk about that because you took it
all the way off the table.
You let it inch its way on the table.
Yeah, so that work is showing that,
especially when we have deep decarbonization goals,
that a little bit of carbon pricing goes a long way.
And the reason for that is, as we think about completely
decarbonizing the economy, the marginal costs, or the costs
of getting those last few percent out
of the economy of carbon, is very, very expensive
without a carbon tax.
So what we show in that paper, and it's available on the CEEPR
website as well,
that if you added, just did the last 5% or 10%
of the reductions via a carbon tax
and leverage standards the other way,
you can reduce the costs by as much as 60%.
So a shout-out to AOC,
a wimpy carbon tax goes a long way
when you're meeting or setting very deep decarbonization
[David Goldston] Great, thanks.
John or Jessika...
[John Sterman] Yeah, so let me build on that if I may, real, real fast.
A couple of quick points.
So first of all, I fully agree with Chris
about the value of even some level of carbon price
to aid the standards.
And one of the benefits of that is, it
helps not only with equity if you give the money back
to the people –
and you could clearly design a policy instrument
that would give the revenues back to people based on their,
say, prior five-year carbon footprint,
so as to address the problem that
showed up in Chris's map there.
The second thing is, a price on carbon emissions
helps tamp down on rebound effects.
If people drive more efficient cars
because you've mandated it, they've
got more money in their pocket.
And the research shows that they're going to drive a little
more, not that much,
but they're also going to spend that money.
And that drives a rebound effect in emissions that
undoes a lot of the benefits.
So whatever policy mix we've got,
we have to take steps to mitigate the potential rebound
effect, or we go to a lot of trouble
without really addressing the fundamental problem.
There's a lot more to say about this,
but I hope we can get to some questions
from folks, so let me leave it there.
[David Goldston] Yes.
And I just want to again encourage people
to put questions in the chat.
As you can tell from the ones we've gotten,
we will get to them right away.
Jessika, thoughts on this?
[Jessika Trancik] Yeah.
I mean, basically the way I think
about it is that we need some sort of control or policy
that addresses emissions directly.
And this is carbon dioxide,
it's other greenhouse gases as well,
methane leaks, that's critical.
And then also you need those instruments
that support innovation and come in and support
that whole process from research to development, demonstration
So these are the needs.
And we don't live in a perfect world,
so we have to work with what is possible.
And there are different ways to go about it.
And then the third major need is this one
that Chris has talked about, which
is the uneven and unfair impacts of these policies that
is also needed.
And, as was mentioned, these can be addressed in different ways.
It can become quite complicated, but yet I
think we can do it even if we're limited
in what policy instruments we're able to adopt.
[David Goldston] Let me turn, and again I encourage questions from the audience,
but let me turn back to the international issues
for a moment.
US will presumably be rejoining Paris.
Even with Paris, there's both the concern
about the extent to which countries are meeting
their targets, and the extent to which the targets are
adequate to begin with.
There's been some short-term gains
because of the economic impact of COVID.
How would you assess where things stand internationally
in terms of reaching targets and the kinds of steps
that are needed, and where COVID fits in on that.
John, do you want to start on that?
[John Sterman] Sure.
So the estimates are – we're not quite done with 2020,
but the estimates are that global emissions will
be 7% to 10% lower as a result of COVID this year.
But two quick points on it.
That's not enough to stop the accumulation of greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere.
We're emitting at about twice the rate that carbon dioxide is
being removed from the atmosphere by plants
and as it dissolves in the ocean.
So CO2 concentrations are still going up.
And the second point is, that's no way
to address climate change.
The idea of hundreds of thousands of deaths
and harming the economy, this is not
how we want to address climate change, and it's not necessary.
The technologies we have in hand today,
especially efficiency, but also in the renewables
and the soft and hard technologies
Jessika pointed to –
these are deployable today,
they save money, they create jobs, they improve our health.
What we need to do is use the pandemic
as the opportunity to rebuild our economy faster, safer,
and get us on that pathway to be consistent with the Paris
No nation on Earth is consistent with their Paris promise right
now, and even full compliance with Paris
would not get us on that pathway.
And you can take a look at the brand new UNEP Emissions Gap
Report just published this week to see the details.
So we need a much more aggressive global approach
The United States plays a critical role in leadership
If we're not going to take significantly stronger actions
even than our Paris commitment, I
don't see how we persuade the other countries
of the world where most of the emissions
are generated today to be more ambitious.
[David Goldston] So before we get to our other speakers answering
that if they're interested in doing so, let
me ask the question from the audience
that's in the chat that picks up on,
John, both your initial talk and also a little bit of what
you just said.
Which is, are there other agriculture
related policies that are more effective than afforestation?
Do you want to take that first?
Then we'll go to the others as well on that question.
[John Sterman] Who wants to take that one?
[David Goldston] All right.
Anyone have enough ag expertise to have at that one?
[Chris Knittel] Well, having taught at UC Davis,
that I guess gives me some street cred on the topic.
Not that I have specific numbers,
but there are a whole host of potential policies
that can be applied to ag.
There are things like what's known
as biochar that could be long-term sequestration
of carbon that could leverage the agricultural industry.
I'll say that the agricultural industry tends to get somewhat
of a free ride on a lot of discussions
about what we're going to do.
So the incentives that we tend to think about
on the ag industry tend to be offsets,
where we pay them to do something
that they might have done if they were actually
There are such things as methane capture among livestock.
There's different ways of over fertilization and overwatering
that, if we clean those portions of the ag industry up,
could provide reductions.
I don't have En-ROADS in front of me
to run those through John's carbon model,
but they are important questions about, can we
rank order what we could do in the agricultural industry
from cheapest to highest?
[John Sterman] Yeah.
They're pretty high-leverage. They're hard to enforce
It's hard to verify that you've really sequestered carbon
in your soils, et cetera.
But there's a lot of opportunity here.
The IPCC 1.5 degree report from two years ago
goes into some detail on the opportunities here.
I'd recommend that to folks.
[David Goldton] And what – presumably this will become a higher profile issue
if there really is an all-of-government approach
in the Biden administration.
Jessika, did you want to add anything on that?
[Jessika Trancik] Yeah.
I mean, let me just kind of pick up
on that all-of-government approach
because I think that's really critical.
And one of the things that was called out in the recent House
report as well is this idea of regional partnerships.
I think that's going to be important in the case
And here I think we shouldn't be thinking about necessarily –
and actually, for a lot of these what I consider to be soft
technologies that require coordination,
that there are many different stakeholders,
and that require this kind of consultative process –
I don't actually think we should necessarily be going
for complete coordination,
but at least we should have these platforms
where coordinated efforts can emerge
and consultative processes can emerge.
And so I think that's a really important
institutional innovation that should be pursued.
[David Goldston] Great, thanks.
As we're coming toward the end, I just
want to tell people that the three
speakers will be available for a little bit after
the recorded session ends at three,
if people want to ask questions at that point.
[Jessika Trancik] And David, could we come back to your question about recovery
and sort of the US –
[David Goldston] Please, go ahead.
[Jessika Trancik] – role?
So just kind of coming back to that,
I think it's such an important point
because really, when I think about innovation,
it's not just to have some fancy new technologies.
It's really about this clean energy transition.
But it's about providing new opportunities.
It's about providing opportunities for homegrown
innovation and the growth of jobs and economic opportunity
But this doesn't happen on its own, as many of you know.
So just having a few policy instruments out there,
if we don't do it right, I don't think
we're going to get the outcomes that we want
and the results from innovation.
So on the one hand, there's this huge opportunity
to sort of really stimulate economic recovery,
revitalization, do things differently,
and at the same time address climate change.
It sounds like a lot to do at once,
and many people question whether that's possible.
I think it is possible, but it's going
to be really key to steer and sort
of harness those technology innovation forces.
The other thing I want to say about the role of the US
is that, of course, the US has been
a bit absent on the international stage.
Really, it's important to jump right back
into the international process and adopt climate policy
But things haven't stopped internationally.
I think the opportunity for the US
is to get back in, move markets forward, have access
to these markets.
And that's also going to –
the US does still have this unparalleled capacity
for technology innovation.
And so the US getting back in I think
will act to encourage other countries
to increase their ambition.
So I don't think it's too late.
There's still this opportunity to really get back in,
to boost American competitiveness,
and that way encourage recovery.
But we have to find those right instruments and nudges
for the marketplace to do that.
[Chris Knittel] Yeah.
And I was going to fill in on the policy side.
I think the US is uniquely positioned to move the world.
Not only because we're the largest economy in the world
and we have the most emissions up in the atmosphere so
there's a moral obligation to try to move the world,
but we also import the most in the world.
So we can move other policy by putting a carbon tax adjustment
at the border, if we had our own set of strong carbon policies.
That would incentivize other countries that we would say,
we're going to tax your imports at the carbon intensity
unless you're doing as much as we are in abating
Europe's thinking about doing that right now.
But if the Europe and the US as a bloc of countries
would do that, that would make it
in the interest of those other countries
to adopt their own carbon policy.
[David Goldston] So thanks for adding that.
One last question that maybe someone can answer in a minute
We've got a question about what people
think about the idea of creating an ARPA-C,
an ARPA focused on climate, as there
has been an ARPA-E and IARPA and some of the other DARPA
I think we only have time for probably one person to –
[Jessika Trancik] Yeah.
Maybe I could jump in there.
And just quickly I wanted to mention also,
in talking about international involvement of the US,
I do want to just acknowledge the really important role
that US cities and states have played,
in fact, in keeping the US on the scene internationally.
But obviously the US federal government can do so much more.
On this question of ARPA-C and ARPA-E,
I guess just really briefly what I'll
say there is that it is important to be moving
beyond these siloed approaches to energy
services like electricity, transportation, et cetera,
or even to energy and ag emissions.
We need to be taking this whole-climate approach.
And so I think an institution is needed to do that, and also
bridge the early development of technology and market entries.
There's a lot of opportunity there.
So just to give a specific example,
electricity is ahead in terms of decarbonization
related to, say, transportation, heating, industry,
but the thing is that heating, transportation, industry
can also help electricity to decarbonize
that final amount to reach deep decarbonization targets.
So we should be supporting these kinds
of innovations and improvements in technology and energy
[David Goldston] Great, thanks.
John, do you want to give a quick thumbs up or thumbs down?
[John Sterman] Well, so –
[David Goldston] We're over time, but if you want to say –
[John Sterman] In 20 seconds, no MIT faculty member is ever
going to say that we should not increase federal support
for R&D. However, I think we'd get more bang for the buck
and quicker emissions reductions when we have so little time
to bring them into reality by devoting
those funds to the things that make a big difference today.
And that's efficiency and promoting renewables.
[David Goldston] So thanks to our speakers and for those who attended.
We are going to hope to send out a survey early next week to see
how helpful you found this and if there are things we could
do to make it more helpful,
so that can inform how we do webinars next year.
And again, thanks to the students
who enabled us to do this and got us going on it,
and I appreciate our three speakers.
They're obviously all reachable.
You can find their email addresses at MIT,
and the Washington Office is happy to be
helpful in that regard as well.
And so that concludes our recorded program.
Again, if anyone wants to stay on for a few minutes
and ask questions, we can do that.
But thanks again for being with us this afternoon.