CAMBRIDGE MA. – David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, expressed his optimism for European leadership on climate policy in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here. A transcript of the interview is available here
Hosted by Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Environmental Insights is intended to promote public discourse on important issues at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.
Victor, who serves as co-chair of the Brookings Institution Initiative on Energy and Climate and served as a coordinating lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), voiced his concern about the uncertainty surrounding climate policy at a time when countries are having to direct their resources into large-scale economic stimulus programs to help soften the blow from the coronavirus pandemic. And many questions remain, he said, about public confidence in federal leadership and in the capacity for governments to act effectively right now.
“What I really worry about is that there's been a huge test of government and that governments have varied enormously in their competence. And in particular, I'm deeply worried about the federal government in the United States,” he said. “And the contrast this time with the 2008-2009 financial crisis is really striking because back in 2008-2009, depending on how you count, up to 15% of the stimulus money went into low carbon trajectories. And a lot of it was spent well, and this time outside of Europe, we're not seeing that. So that to me is the really big lesson emerging out of the pandemic that's going to affect the future of energy and climate.”
He continued, “I think the world is really looking to Europe actually more than the United States right now for guidance and a vision of how you would do large green infrastructure spending effectively.”
In particular, Victor pointed to the interesting work on climate and energy taking place in Norway.
“The Norwegians have shown, even for a small population of highly committed people, that you can make big bets on new technologies. And where those bets are successful, that in effect, you push the frontier and you steer the whole industry,” he said. “And so, Norway is a small country economically in terms of population, but is engaged in leadership in the way that leadership might create followership.”
Victor also expressed guarded optimism that while the Paris Agreement, which has been ratified by 125 parties since its approval in 2016, has some flaws due to its very structure, it is a first step toward an effective international effort to combat climate change.
“I expect that Paris is valuable because it's there; it's a city on the hill. It's got goals that a lot of people are talking about. It's got legitimacy, and that's an enormous contribution that we've not had to date,” he remarked. “But then we should expect almost all the serious work's going to happen in clubs of countries working outside Paris in ways that are consistent with Paris. And I think most of the diplomats are overly focused on Paris, and under focused on this – the real engines of progress.”
Victor’s interview is the 15th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.
“Environmental Insights is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection,” said Stavins. “We speak with accomplished Harvard colleagues, other academics, and practitioners who are working on solving some of the most challenging public problems we face.”
Article Author: Doug Gavel