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Michael Jacobs - Stories of Change

Updated Monday 30th November 2015

Professor Michael Jacobs, special adviser to Gordon Brown from 2004-10, is interviewed by Roger Harrabin for 'Stories of Change'.

Michael Jacobs Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Michael Jacobs Michael Jacobs is visiting Professor, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and School of Public Policy, University College London

He is an economist, writer and consultant on climate change policy and strategy. From 2004-10 he was special adviser to Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, with responsibility for environment, energy and climate change policy. From 2010-15 he acted as strategic adviser to a number of governments, international institutions, philanthropic foundations and NGOs. He helped to found the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and was a co-author of its its reports Better Growth, Better Climate (2014) and Seizing the Global Opportunity (2015). He has written widely in both academic and public spheres on environmental economics and politics; his books include The Green Economy: Environment, Sustainable Development and the Politics of the Future (Pluto Press, 1991), The Politics of the Real World (Earthscan 1996) and Rethinking Capitalism  (co-edited, Wiley Blackwell 2016).

Michael Jacobs Website

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Transcript

Stories of Change Project

Michael Jacobs interview

Key

RH:      = Roger Harrabin, interviewer

MJ:      = Michael Jacobs special adviser to Gordon Brown from 2004-10, participant

 

RH:         So I’m in a restaurant in Bonn and the climate change talks have just broken for the evening, in so far as they ever do properly break, and I’m sitting having a beer, a Kölsch, which is a speciality beer from Cologne which is just down the road from Bonn, and I’m sitting with Michael Jacobs who was Gordon Brown’s Special Adviser on Climate Change and who I’ve met along the way several times in this great odyssey of climate change talks, and he’s been here for a few days now. I want to catch up on what he’s noticing about what’s different this time from that cataclysmic conference in Copenhagen. Michael, can we start there, go back to Copenhagen and think what’s changed since then.

MJ:         I think the most important thing that’s changed is not in the talks about climate but in the real economy of climate. In Copenhagen countries were being asked to make emissions cuts, which they really didn’t know whether they could do or not. This was particularly true of the developing countries, China and India and others, who had just started the process of looking at the emissions impacts of their growth development pathways and they were emitting very large amounts of carbon and it wasn’t clear to them how they were going to reduce those. Six years later it’s much clearer. Both countries, both India and China, and almost every other emerging economy, has now invested in renewables quite considerably over the last few years, invested in energy efficiency, in urban transport, and it’s much clearer how you can reduce emissions and the cost of doing so has dramatically fallen. So the cost of solar power, installed solar power, has dropped about 80-90% in that six years, wind power about half. Now this changes the economics of acting on climate change and it changes the confidence of countries that they can make emissions cuts and those changes in the real economy then translated a country’s willingness to take political commitments and reach agreement between them.

RH:         There has been a huge change, particularly in the attitude of China, I think, and in its relationship with the USA?

MJ:         So China’s position is pivotal; it is the world’s largest polluter in carbon terms now and the world’s largest growing economy, and frankly the world will not tackle climate change unless China does so. And China over the last few years has made great strides towards trying to get carbon out of its system, not principally for climate reasons but for air pollution reasons. Fossil fuels are both climate pollutants but they are also the main cause of localised air pollution and China’s cities are choking under diesel from cars and coal from nearby coal-fired power stations and China’s air quality is terrible, it has awful health effects.  Many millions of people around the world and a lot of them in China are dying from air pollution. So China has got a real imperative to try and take carbon out of its economic system. It’s also trying to rebalance its economy, so it’s been a very heavily polluting economy because it’s had a lot of heavy manufacturing and it’s trying to rebalance its economy away from heavy manufacturing towards services and that also means they’re trying to get carbon effectively out of the system. So China’s attitude towards this whole set of issues has very dramatically changed over the last few years and at the same time the US and China have found something that they can agree on. China and the US have an interesting geo-political relationship, climate is one of the areas that they, broadly speaking, have the same objectives. So it’s very interesting to watch them growing closer on climate as part of their wider geo-political and diplomatic relationships.

RH:         I think it’s been remarkable for me to see them go almost hand-in-hand with a series of choreographed announcements of what China would do, with those announcements being made in Washington. Absolutely extraordinary, we could never have conceived of that a few years ago.

MJ:         One of the interesting things about American climate politics has been the fear of China and this is not just about climate change but the anxiety about China’s growth as an economy, which in many ways is competing with the US now in ways that it wasn’t in the past. And it’s been, not surprisingly, one of the sources of resistance to climate policy in the US has been the sense that China wasn’t acting and if China wasn’t acting could the US afford to? Wouldn’t it get into competitive difficulties with China undercutting American companies, if American companies were being forced to cut their carbon and Chinese companies weren’t? So for America –

RH:         Which environmentalists criticised but actually is a legitimate concern?

MJ:         It’s an absolute legitimate concern, it’s the same concern that European companies have too. If your competitors are not required to take action that you have to take, and the action that you’re taking has some cost, then there is the risk of being undercut and being competitively squeezed and so for American companies and for American politicians this was always a source of resistance to domestic climate policy in the US. So for the US Government, which wants to act at home, it was a very important part of the politics of this to show that China was also acting and it’s been interesting that China’s been happy to be part of the argument within the US. As you say, making Chinese announcements on American territory in a joint statement with President Obama is an interesting acknowledgement that China understands that it’s got to encourage the rest of the world and it’s a kind of leadership, actually, to say, ‘We need to bring the US into the system of climate control and if that requires us to make announcements on American soil to persuade an American audience that we are acting, then we’ll do it.’ And I think that’s been a very interesting development.

RH:         And in terms of President Obama himself, his attitude seems to have changed towards domestic policy and also towards international policy?

MJ:         I think for President Obama climate change has become what’s now known as a cliché, as a legacy issue, it’s one of things he wants to say, ‘I achieved in Office.’ And he has been able to do this because he has got executive authority to act on climate change under the Clean Air Act which he doesn’t have in other areas of policy. So as we know, he’s not been able to do everything he would like because Congress hasn’t agreed with him, climate change is one area where Congress still doesn’t agree with him in part, but he’s been able to act because he has executive authority. And so he’s now taken a very strong stance on trying to get carbon emissions out of the American power system and out of vehicles by improving vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and for him this is an important part of the legacy of his Presidency and he wants to achieve it at home and he wants to say, ‘We’ve also managed to get China and the rest of the world to do it as well.’ So for him the international agreement is a crucial part of it.

RH:         So we’re here now in Bonn, the next set of talks is in Paris, the big talks where the leaders will turn up; where do you think the sticking points still lie?

MJ:         It’s still difficult to find an agreement that all countries feel comfortable with because all countries come to this with quite a long legacy of their own positioning, so for the developing countries they have the longstanding sense, which is not unreasonable, that this is a problem, climate change, caused by the emissions of developed countries over a couple of centuries; their own contribution to the problem, the developing countries’ contribution, has been small historically, and they feel the developed countries must act first and largest and should take responsibility. And they want to see an agreement that in that sense is equitable, that doesn’t require too much of them and requires more of developed countries. For developed countries they need to see the big, emerging economies acting, otherwise the cuts that they’re making just aren’t worth it because most of the future emissions, although most of the past emissions have been from developed countries, most of the future emissions come from developing ones, they’re the ones that are growing now, whereas developed country emissions are now falling. So the historical sense of the issue between the developed and developing world is very different and that is going to be reflected in the agreement itself but reaching a compromise between those two positions is still difficult, so that core dynamic between the developed and developing countries is less than it was, but it’s still there and that will be one of the most difficult things to find a way round in Paris.

RH:         Just run through for me what you think will be the biggest sticking points.

MJ:         Finance is always a sticking point in climate change negotiations. Under the Convention on Climate Change, which this is all based on, developed countries committed to supporting developing countries in tackling climate change and under the Copenhagen and then the Cancun Agreement, which was the last time we reached a big agreement, $100 billion a year was promised by developed countries, not just in public finance but in private finance as well, by 2020. Those commitments matter to developing countries, particularly to the very poorest countries who are really struggling now to cope with the climate change that’s already occurring, let alone future climate change, and they would like to see more money on the table from the developed world.

               The developed world has just come out of a recession, public finances in almost every developed world country are very constrained, it’s difficult for developed countries to find that kind of money; they’ve got to find support for it at home and most people in most developed countries don’t see giving money to the poorest countries as their highest priority.

RH:         You see, often these talks are categorised in the media as the good guys versus the bad guys. In fact it is a genuinely difficult and in some ways intractable situation we’re in globally; you can sort of sympathise with everyone really?

MJ:         I think that’s exactly the way to look at these talks. Every country comes with domestic politics and those domestic politics are always difficult, so it isn’t that you get a free ride into the negotiations from your public at home; your public at home want you to act primarily at home and therefore for developed countries to provide more money to developing countries it is always difficult. For developing countries, being asked to do things when it looks like the developed world is not doing enough is also difficult at home. So finance will be one of the major sticking points.

               A second major sticking point will be the extent to which the agreement requires countries to carry on doing more and more. Most countries now, 150 of them, possibly more by the time we get to Paris, have brought forward their national climate plans through to 2025 or to 2030. But we know that those don’t add up to enough at the global level when you add them all together to put us on a safe pathway to controlling climate change below the two degrees, which is  the global goal to limit warming. And so the agreement is going to… many people want the agreement to try and not quite force but very strongly encourage countries to improve those commitments and to do them and to make them stronger. But countries are a bit nervous about that, they’ve just about managed to make these commitments for the next 10 years or 15 years; they’re not sure how much further they can go, so there’s a tension between the desire to make this a stronger deal, pushing on greater ambition in the future, and countries’ nervousness about making commitments that they’re not sure that they can sign up to; so that’s going to be another major part of the negotiations.

RH:         And there’s the issue of transparency as well and how much the UN is allowed to delve into each country’s affairs to make sure they’re doing what they said they would do, maybe even recommending that they do things they’re not doing. That’s quite contentious too.

MJ:         Yes, so every country needs to be confident that other countries are acting, so there’s a core principle of transparency which everybody accepts, but in practice that is difficult for countries, particularly developing countries who have not had to have inspectors looking at whether or not their statistics are true. And for many countries which jealousy guard their national sovereignty, that’s quite a difficult thing to accept and for many developing countries the capacity to monitor their emissions closely and to publish statistics every two years, for example, they don’t have that capacity, they don’t have that developed form of institution to do that. So the transparency mechanism is still an area of contention in the talks.

RH:         I must ask you one thing, it’s a bit of a wild card question, but if you read some newspapers in the UK you could be forgiven for thinking that actually climate change wasn’t a very big deal, that we’re not going to get much warming and what warming we get might actually be beneficial and that these climate talks are a kind of waste of time and will never achieve anything. Do you ever see any of that conversation reflected here?

MJ:         There is absolutely no climate scepticism expressed in the climate negotiations and it’s a very interesting phenomenon because in the UK to an extent and the US to quite a lot and in one or two other countries, notably Australia, climate scepticism is part of the national debate, people still think climate change is controversial, some people do, despite the scientific evidence, which is overwhelming. In the rest of the world those debates don’t occur, there is almost no climate scepticism in the vast majority of countries and when they come to the talks, there is no sense that one of the arguments going on is whether this is really real, whether we really need to act, whether in fact global warming could be beneficial. Nobody says those things because those debates don’t occur. This is very English-speaking phenomenon, this climate scepticism. It’s an odd feature of a very small number of countries.

RH:         How about OPEC, the Saudis, how are they reacting at the moment? Historically they have said, ‘If you want us to leave our oil in the ground, you’re going to have to compensate us.’

MJ:         Climate change talks are difficult for the oil producers, particularly those that are very dependent on their oil, because ultimately when emissions have to fall and have to fall to near zero, this is not simply a question of taking emissions out of a sector by moving to some other form of production; this is actually saying there will not be an oil sector at some point in the future. Now a very long time in the future, but nevertheless this is a difficult prospect for those countries which are very heavily dependent on oil, and they would like to see some kinds of compensation for their economies during this process. Now that’s unlikely to occur, I think, but it is a real concern and you’ve got to understand this. In a negotiation where you’re trying to get agreement amongst all countries you have to understand the perspective of countries that are very dependent on fossil fuels and one of the things that this agreement will have to do is to find a way for those countries to diversify out of their existing dependence. Now the interesting thing is many of them are already trying to do that, many of them, for example, are realising that solar power is a very good source of electricity for their own economies, Saudi Arabia included, but the diversification of those economies, this is going to be a gradual thing, it’s going to be difficult and everybody’s got to understand that.

RH:         The G7 produced a remarkable statement recently saying that we will have to end use of fossil fuels; it’s an extraordinary thing to say with the entire history of world prosperity over the past couple of hundred years dependent on fossil fuels. I mean that is really an incredibly difficult and ambitious task these people here are trying to undertake.

MJ:         There’s been an important change over the last two or three years in our understanding of what acting on climate change means. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in their fifth assessment report which came out in 2014, made a statement which was clearer than ever before that if you want to stabilise the temperature, in the end you have to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero, because as long as there are emissions occurring temperature will rise. That is the greenhouse effect which we’ve known for a hundred years. It’s a basic function of the chemistry and the physics, and ultimately it doesn’t really matter what level you want to stabilise the temperature at, any level of stable temperature requires greenhouse gas emissions ultimately to fall to zero, and that clear statement by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the scientists, has gradually been understood. And the G7 in its statement in the summer of this year, 2015, was basically acknowledging what the science tells us, which is if we want to control the temperature, we have to, in the end, reduce our net emissions: that’s emissions minus the sinks that absorb the emissions which we can obviously increase, to near zero. And it was a brave recognition but it was only a recognition of what the science tells us. That does mean that by the end of this century, a little before the end of this century, but during the second half of this century we’re going to have to get a very long way towards decarbonisation. But it is only what the science says so in many ways the politicians are just acknowledging the science.

RH:         And we’re going into this negotiation for Paris with the acceptance that the offers the countries have put on the table probably or most certainly will overshoot the two Celsius temperature increase mark which is seen to be a safety threshold and it seems to me just from these negotiations there doesn’t seem to be a lot of appetite for doing anything about that at the moment.

MJ:         One’s got to recognise that these negotiations are not about the level of commitment to emissions reduction which countries are making today. Each country has now, nearly all countries, have now put forward their national climate plan and some of these are very ambitious but together, collectively at the global level they don’t add up to enough to keep us on a pathway that will hold global warming to two degrees or under. But these commitments that countries have made are not being negotiated, so we’re not going to Paris to argue with the US or China or India to say, ‘Could you do a bit more?’ They are being asked to do what they feel they can do and those commitments are nationally determined, in the jargon of the talks. Rather what we’re doing in Paris is creating a set of rules which will govern how countries need to carry on taking action on climate change in the future and the rules create the opportunity to say, ‘OK, this is as much as the world seems committed today but in the future we’re going have to do more.’ And so one of the big arguments in Paris is going to be do we have a process by which every country has to come back every five years to say, ‘What are we now going to do, more than we did last time?’ Are they going to review the commitments they’ve already put on the table to say, ‘Maybe we can do more than we thought five years ago,’ and is this constantly what’s being called a progression towards the further and more ambitious reduction of emissions? So that’s going to be one of the big arguments in Paris and that’s going to be supplemented by an argument about whether we should have a much clearer long-term goal of where we’re headed.

Many countries want there to be a goal which says ultimately we need to phase out emissions or net emissions altogether, it will be a long time ahead in the second half of the century, but nevertheless we ought to be identifying where this is all going to lead. Other countries are very nervous about doing that. So another one of the big negotiations is going to be about do we have some kind of long-term goal that is clear about where this is all headed? And the reason countries want that is because they know that in the end it’s not countries which reduce emissions; it’s energy producers and manufacturers and industrial companies, and they need signals for the kind of investment that they’re going to make and what the countries that want a long-term goal believe is that they need a signal to those companies, to the investors, to the businesses, to say ultimately this is where we’re headed, so invest in low carbon not high carbon. And that’s why there’ll be a big argument about this in Paris; it’s not because the words matter for the countries, it’s because they matter to the investors.

RH:         There has been something of a move recently by leading industrialists, the oil companies and also some senior political figures to try to get a carbon tax, a global carbon tax agreed. Do you think there’s any chance of getting that through in Paris or is this just coming in from left field too much?

MJ:         The Paris talks won’t introduce a global carbon price per se. There is no space in the agreement for a collective action of that kind. All the specific policies are determined at national level or at regional level, so the European Union obviously has a carbon price through its Emissions Trading Scheme and countries can collaborate on trading schemes, and there is now collaboration, for example, between American and Canadian States on trading schemes, and when China introduces its national trading scheme in 2017 there will definitely be attempts to link that with the European scheme and potentially with the American ones, so countries and groups of countries can act on carbon pricing and more and more are doing so. There are about 40 countries now around the world which have either a carbon tax or emissions trading schemes, but the agreement will leave that in the hands of countries and groups of countries to do, it won’t mandate it, and those people who are asking for the agreement itself to mandate a global carbon pricing mechanism will be disappointed, but they shouldn’t be disappointed because we know that that’s not what the talks will do. But what the talks should do is to stimulate more and more countries to go down the carbon pricing route, because if you’ve made a commitment to reduce emissions and if you know you’re going to have to make further commitments in the future, one of the obvious ways to do that is through carbon pricing, and that’s why so many countries are now doing it. So we will definitely see further moves in that direction but it won’t be as a result of particular words written down in the agreement.

RH:         So when you’re looking forward to the Paris meeting, what degree of optimism or pessimism would you hold, not just about the meeting but about the future of the climate and energy generally?

MJ:         I think there is greater optimism around the field of climate change than there’s ever been before. People are optimistic about Paris because it looks like countries want to deal; it’s going to be very difficult to do it and it could be a weaker or a stronger deal, but there’s a very strong sense that we have to do this now and there are very few countries which look like they would want to resist that. But more importantly in the real economy as it were, the trends seem to be going in the right direction: the cost of renewable energy is dropping still rapidly and more renewable energy in the electricity sector, for example, is being put in now than fossil fuels. The trend of technologies is really exciting, so energy storage is beginning to come in much more rapidly than people thought it would just a couple of years ago and its costs are falling. Electric vehicles now look as if they’re well established in the market; the sales of electric vehicles, could accelerate very dramatically. Countries are looking at the way they develop and seeing air pollution being a real problem for development, which is helping to push climate policies as well. So there’s a lot of optimism that in the real economy things are moving in the low carbon direction. It’s still not happening fast enough, and that’s the anxiety which is, in a way, not because we’re not doing enough now but because we didn’t do enough in the past. Had we started this process 20 years ago, which is when the original Convention asked us to. The original Convention on Climate Change expected countries to act earlier; then we would be much further down the road. But from where we are now, the prospects look much better moving ahead than they have been in the past.

RH:         Would you like to apportion some blame as to why we’ve not started earlier or do you think it’s best left unsaid?

MJ:         I don’t think there’s much point looking backwards and saying why didn’t we act before. There are many reasons why countries, societies, didn’t take climate change sufficiently seriously in the past to want to act, and in many ways the situation that we have now where the cost of acting looks much less and indeed it looks like this is a beneficial path, makes it very different, the situation now very different from the past. One of the most remarkable things that’s happened over recent years is that acting on climate change no longer looks like a sacrifice. In the past we really thought there was a burden that had to be shared, we used the language of burden-sharing, it was all going to be costly and it was up to us to try and divide the cost between countries. Countries don’t think that now, they are willingly going down the low carbon route because you get so many benefits from it. You get more energy security, you get much less air pollution, you get cities that work much better because they’re not congested, so this is no longer a burden that countries feel that they have to bear and ideally somebody else should bear it; it’s a development path which looks like it’s beneficial for many reasons and that makes it much easier to act and it creates lobbies for action, political lobbies, economic lobbies, businesses who benefit from action. That makes the politics much easier.

RH:         It is extraordinary that there may be this massive, unintended benefit from climate change policy, ancillary benefit, but do you think any of these changes or all of them would have happened without the climate change threat?

MJ:         What’s interesting about the way in which the climate change talks, climate change science and the economics of climate change interact is that there’s a kind of iterative process, so the science motivates action, so you get a little bit of action when the economics don’t work very well and that was the period that we had really up till relatively recently, up until about five years ago, the science was motivating action, but because the economics seemed to be against it we didn’t get very much, but we got enough that the economics started to change. We invested in solar and wind and suddenly the volume of investment was sufficient to reduce the price and to incentivise innovation in those technologies. Once you get that working these things become cheaper and so it’s easier to do them, you get businesses whose interests are in supplying these technologies and installing them, which changes the politics. That enables governments to do a bit more and that enables them to reach agreement with other governments that more can be done, that then induces more innovation and you get this sort of virtuous cycle that begins to emerge in which it becomes easier and easier to do this, you stimulate more and more technological development, you reduce the cost and then countries feel that they can do it and the domestic politics get easier. And luckily we’ve now reached that virtuous cycle which doesn’t make it easy, there’s always resistance, but it makes it much easier than it did in the early days, but we needed those early days in order to get the process going.

RH:         We’re sitting here in Germany now. I do feel that the Germans have not had their just credit for the… what at that time looked like an incredibly quixotic policy of demanding a million solar roofs in cloudy Germany, but shortly after that policy I was in California talking to a venture capitalist who said, ‘OK, we can see a market here that’s big enough, we’re going to chuck a lot of money at this.’ And then we saw the Chinese coming in, spotting a market with solar panels and the price tumbling. I actually think the world probably owes Germany a rather great debt.

MJ:         I would agree with you and it’s a very good example of how policy can push technology. A lot of people say, ‘We can’t do this because the technologies aren’t there, let’s wait for the technologies to develop,’ but technologies don’t develop in a vacuum. People who develop technologies need the incentive to do so and the incentive is the market, so you need policy which generates the market and what Germany did here was to generate a market for solar power by going with a policy first and then seeing the technology develop and reduce in cost in order to meet the market that they created, and that has had this global spin-off in which solar technologies have now gone global because of the price reduction that was generated through the market in Germany, which was generated by policy. And it’s a very important lesson: policy can drive technology, and that’s one of the ways we’re going to have to do this, we’re going to have to have policy which is a bit in advance of what looks as if it’s possible and economic, but it will change what’s possible and what’s economic, and that’s an experience that we’ve had and it’s now reaping the rewards globally.

RH:         There is a growing movement towards saying these climate change policies are not really working. We haven’t had much of a drop in emissions. In fact emissions have continued to go up. What we need really is more research and more money into research and development.

MJ:         We do need more money into research and development. We’re now pretty clear what the technologies are up to about 2030 which can take very significant quantities of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions out of the global economy, particularly in the energy system. But beyond 2030 we’re going to have to go much further and that will require, for example, taking emissions out of industry, which may mean capturing carbon dioxide and burying it in so-called carbon capture and storage, and that technology is not yet at a cost which makes it look viable. We will need to find ways of controlling emissions from agriculture, which we still don’t know exactly how to do and which certainly haven’t been used on a very wide scale, so there’s definitely a need to invest more in research and development. And by and large research and development funding has declined, particularly in the public sector over recent years, so that is definitely something we have to do, but it’s not an argument for not doing anything until those technologies have come on stream. We have plenty of technologies which can reduce emissions now, which can still be deployed, and we know that you have to have the policy to create the market which then incentivises technological development and the advances. So these are both and, this is not either/or.

RH:         I’m not sure whether I really know whether you’re optimistic or not, you hedged round the last answer?

MJ:         Optimistic about what?

RH:         About the climate and the situation with energy.

MJ:         We’re going to have climate change and it’s going to be nasty. We’ve already got it, so optimism has got to be tempered by realism. There is going to be climate change, which is going to cause immense damage, a lot of suffering and a lot of disruption and that is inevitable now because of the past emissions which have built up in the atmosphere and which will cause temperature rise over the coming couple of decades. I’m much more optimistic about our ability to slow that temperature rise down and ultimately control it because of the way in which the economics of acting on climate change have changed and the ways in which technologies are now being developed to do so, and because countries are much more cognisant of this, and I think societies are much more aware of the risks that are being run. So I think the tide has turned in terms of political commitment, but it’s always got to be renewed. You can always have a reaction and there will always be parts of the public and politicians who say it’s too costly it can’t be done and there are always vested interests, and so this is not a battle which has ever been won; we’re going to have to reduce emissions a very, very long way and it’s going to be difficult always because even though the next bit of emissions reduction might be relatively cheap, the one after that still looks difficult. So this is not a struggle which at any time going to feel as if we’ve nailed it, and that is going to create difficulties and that’s why optimism will always have to be tempered by some realism.

RH:         I want to ask you the question that I have to ask everybody, which is when did you first get interested in energy?

MJ:         I wrote a book about environmental economics which came out in 1991 and in that book climate change was one of several environmental issues that I thought was important, reflecting the general sense of the science at the time, and that it wasn’t the overwhelming priority that it has since become. And in that book I discussed the particular role of renewable energy as being a source of energy that didn’t produce pollution and that ultimately that was the kind of energy we had to have, an energy form that didn’t produce pollution. And that book acknowledged that the issue wasn’t the fact that there were limited supplies of fossil fuels, it was the pollution that they generated. Now at that time it was widely believed that fossil fuels would eventually run out and it could happen quite soon. We now know that the world is absolutely full of fossil fuels and they’re not going to run out any time soon, so it was interesting that my analysis of this was that the fact that these were non-renewable was not the point; it was the fact that we couldn’t absorb the pollutants that they generated. So I first got interested in energy as a thermodynamic problem and the thermodynamics underpinned the whole of our economies. Our economies basically run on the laws of thermodynamics because the whole of the world runs on them but particularly because of the throughput of energy materials that powers the creation of value; that is what economies do. So I suppose I first got interested in this as a way of thinking about environmental economics in the mid-1980s, the late 1980s, when I was writing that book. And much later the actual mechanics of energy policy became obviously the thing that people interested in climate change had to do, and that, I suppose, mainly occurred for me in the early 2000s, particularly when I began to be interested in what the British Government was doing, and eventually when I became an advisor to the British Government. Climate policy is very largely energy policy, not entirely but very largely energy policy, so I had two periods, as it were, of interest in the subject.

RH:         OK, Michael, thank you.

<End of Interview>

 

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