Carbon lock-in is one of the key insights of recent work in “directed technical change” by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and colleagues. They find the most cost-effective way to address climate change is early action on both fronts: pricing carbon and supporting low-carbon innovation. Acemoglu and co differ from traditional economic models of climate change by properly considering how new technology emerges, instead of treating it as an “exogenous” process that suddenly arrives like manna from heaven.
Early policy intervention is crucial. It can change the path of innovation from “dirty” (carbon-intensive) to “clean” (low-carbon) and then once clean innovation gains a sufficient advantage it can be left alone, as profit-maximising firms will pursue clean innovation in their own interests.
This Is A Job For States
If markets left to themselves will continue to merely pump out “innovations” along certain pathways, then it is up to the state to play a more direct role in starting a “greentech” revolution. Mariana Mazzucato, in her book The Entrepreneurial State, argues that major advances in tech from the internet to nanotechnology to pharmaceuticals were born either directly from government research or because governments made the risky investments necessary for the private sector to act.
The good news is that not all money is the same, and those behind Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition seem to have read Mazzucato. They explicitly reference “patient capital” which can reduce the risk of uncertain technological investments. There is no question this is a major step in the right direction.
Governments certainly need to price carbon, but they should also act as entrepreneurs and market-creators to kickstart innovation for the green growth of the future. If we are underspending on this by orders of magnitude, then doubling is not nearly enough.
Christopher Grainger, Doctoral Candidate in Energy and Economics, UCL
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.