Building the Energy Innovation Consensus

How Innovation Became the Overarching Goal of Global Climate Talks

I have a new piece at Zócalo Public Square on the Paris climate negotiations and energy innovation. It's a riff on these two very different assessments of the climate challenge from Al Gore and Barack Obama.

Gore: “We have everything we need now to respond to the challenge of global warming … we have all the technologies we need.”

Obama: "The truth is if we adapt existing technologies and make them cheaper and faster and more readily available—if we improve energy efficiency—we’re still only going to get part of the way there and there’s still going to be a big gap to fill."

As I say in the piece, Obama's statement would have been unthinkable for a liberal world leader a decade ago:

With all of the talk of cheap solar, Tesla Roadsters, and nuclear startups, it might be easy to miss the massive shift that has taken place in the climate conversation. But make no mistake: A decade ago, climate change was seen far more as a moral and political problem than a technological one. Obama’s framing of the problem sits in stark contrast to Gore’s, and points the way to a new, more constructive era of climate politics.

Today, of course, we have Obama, Bill Gates, and others making energy innovation the toast of Paris, with the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and Mission Innovation.

My piece traces some of the history that led to today's energy innovation consensus. Here's some more:

So much of this work was supported initially and consistently by the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Pritzker Innovation Fund, who were jointed by other foundations, investors, and political leaders over the years.

The most important truth about climate action is that we have many technologies today that can accelerate decarbonization, but the path from here to a high-energy, zero-carbon planet will require new and improved technologies as well. "Deployment" and "innovation," as the dumb discourse has called them, are both required. Thanks to the experts listed above, and countless others, that truth is now the overarching mission of the UNFCCC.

Image credit: AP Images