January 23, 2013

Read These Now: Energy & Climate Recommendations for the Second Term

As President Obama begins his second term, there is no shortage of recommendations for how he should prioritize and shape his agenda moving forward.

Two new publications from the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offer sensible recommendations for how the administration should take advantage of the opportunities and confront the challenges of America’s windfall production in unconventional hydrocarbons – principally shale gas and tight oil. Both hark on the need for a balanced approach that would allow the United States to reap the energy and economic benefits from increased domestic energy production while seriously addressing the climate consequences of continuing to burn petroleum.

In their piece, “Energy and Climate: Black to Gold to Green,” Charles K. Ebinger and Kevin Massy of the Brookings Institution write that the United States can take advantage of oil and gas exports to energy hungry Asia while using the revenue from those exports to fund two potentially transformative technologies that are essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – carbon capture and sequestration technology and advanced batteries.

Here’s their recommendation at length:

By adopting policies that encourage the development and export of U.S. hydrocarbons including oil, coal and gas, the United States can take advantage of the rising demand for these fuels in developing and emerging economies around the world. As a condition of greater exploration, production and trade in these fuels, the Federal Government should impose a modest but meaningful volumetric or carbon-based tax on their production, with the resultant revenues allocated specifically to the development of two technologies that are essential to global efforts to fight climate change: carbon capture and sequestration; and advanced batteries, both at the grid and vehicle scale.

In a related piece, “Managing the Unconventional Oil and Gas Bonanza,” David Burwell and Deborah Gordon of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace write that the United States needs presidential leadership on energy policy:

The full promise of America’s rich, new energy endowment can only be realized through strong and effective policy leadership. Otherwise, production uncertainty and price volatility will increase as new oil and gas supplies with vastly different energy cost structures, product yields, and carbon footprints come onto the market. This price volatility could sacrifice energy diversification by crushing nascent renewable energy markets that are vitally needed to complement (and eventually compete with) fossil fuels as the world seeks to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts of climate disruption.

Burwell and Gordon’s recommendations concretely tie energy and climate change together in important ways. They offer a mix of policy prescriptions that aim to allow the United States to take advantage of energy production in a responsible way while emphasizing the need to reduce risks by properly preparing for the impacts of climate change that would manifest in a 2⁰C warmer world – which scientists say we will be on track to reach if serious efforts to reduce emissions are not met by 2017.  In particular, they recommend that the security community:

Expand energy security beyond its traditional scope to include climate security. Direct the Department of Defense to assess the security risks associated with the impacts of a 2° to 6° C increase in global temperatures. All branches of the military should convey to the public the importance of minimizing these risks.

Both of these reports offer a good frame for thinking about the energy and climate discussion moving forward. Importantly, they emphasize that energy and climate change are inextricably linked and cannot be divorced from each other in sculpting an agenda for the way ahead.  

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