Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:58 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:58 | SYDNEY

Technology and climate change


Sam Roggeveen


25 July 2008 16:00

All Roads Lead to China sees the modern China story played out in the pages of this new report by the Commission on Growth and Development, on how countries can achieve fast and sustainable growth. But the graph featured on All Roads, taken from that report, might also have some relevance for the climate change debate.

In particular, I'm thinking an interview with former Liberal Leader John Hewson on Radio National this morning. He argued that to to reach a 60% C02 reduction target by 2050, we'd have to move much faster on an interim 2020 target than either political party is contemplating. Hewson wants target of 40% reduction by 2020. He thinks the Government will go for a 20% target by 2020.

Now, take a look at this graph from the Growth Commission report:

Hewson's argument is that a lot of hard yakka to reduce emissions has to be done in the next dozen years. But consider the incredible rate of recent technological change shown in the graph. This should give us some reason to expect that we will find technological fixes to climate changes between now and 2050. And as such, it is questionable whether we should incur high economic costs immediately to reduce carbon emissions when it seems likely that we will be able to do so at lower cost in the near future.

This is not an argument for doing nothing. As Peter Drysdale has reminded me, technological innovation is closely tied to incentives, so it makes sense to tax carbon in order to encourage the innovation we're looking for. But Hewson's approach frontloads the process too much, doesn't it?