Technology Transfer Could Drive Down Global CO2 Emissions by 25 Percent

Exporting green technology will help lower emissions—but not without pools like the Green Climate Fund.
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a briefing at the White House on June 2nd, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a briefing at the White House on June 2nd, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump's speech on withdrawing from the Paris Agreement has been fact-checked and found misleading and inaccurate, as were remarks by Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, at a follow-up press conference.

But there's new evidence that at least one of Pruitt's comments is true—namely, that exporting American technology around the world could help drive a 25 percent decline in global greenhouse gas emissions within a few years.

"Exiting Paris does not mean disengagement," Pruitt said last week. "To export our innovation, to export our technology to the rest of the world, to demonstrate how we do it better here is, I think, a very important message to send."

New research led by scientists with the Berlin-based Mercator Research on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) shows just how important exporting that technology could be—if Pruitt is serious. The study found that standard pollution-cutting equipment could lower CO2 emissions by eight gigatons per year if it were widely applied in developing countries to the most carbon-intensive industries, like refineries and chemical, steel, and cement production.

Emissions saved through technology transfer could be enough to make up for Trump's reneging on U.S. climate targets.

That's more than twice as much as estimated by previous studies used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and could even be enough to make up for Trump's reneging on United States climate targets under the Paris Agreement. The U.S. emits about 6.8 gigatons of greenhouse gases annually, according to the EPA.

"It's not even about cutting-edge technology," says MCC scientist Hauke Ward. As long as diplomatic climate policies to reduce emissions are delayed, technology transfers offer an alternate path, he says.

Ward says earlier studies focused narrowly on energy efficiencies in manufacturing, and on the carbon footprint of end product.

The new research, published on May 26th in the journal Resource and Energy Economics, looked at the entire value chain, from mining to manufacturing, distribution and end use. For example, for automobiles, that includes the production of the raw steel and rubber, then the various components of the cars. Researchers from Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg and the Zuse Institute in Berlin also contributed.

As directed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in response to President Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, One World Trade Center is illuminated with green light in New York City on June 1st, 2017.

As directed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in response to President Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, One World Trade Center is illuminated with green light in New York City on June 1st, 2017.

The study identified where technological improvements would do the most good in terms of carbon reduction, including metal processing and the production of chemicals. Using carbon-efficient machines is one quick-fix carbon reduction scheme, and offers some short-term relief from the pressure to transform energy systems—"a cost-effective way to limit dangerous climate change," Ward says.

"This [research] shows that it is fully possible to reduce global CO2 emissions substantially with existing technologies, without having to change consumption patterns dramatically," says Norwegian climate economist Knut Einar Rosendahl, who was not involved in the study.

While the idea of technology transfer has benefits, the political path is not clear.

"The global climate regime is, to a certain extent, a game, where most countries want other countries to do more and themselves to do as little as possible—or at least not more than others," Rosendahl says. "Since it's not without costs to implement these technologies, many countries are reluctant to pay the extra price or force their industry to do it."

Based on their findings, the MCC researchers advocate supporting the transfer of technologies to the the relevant industries via climate financing mechanisms that can subsidize technology transfer, such as the Green Climate Fund.

Developing countries would benefit greatly from the transfers, even if the technologies aren't top-tier, says co-author an Steckel, head of the MCC working group on climate and development.

The researchers says that the transfers can be profitable because the improved technology will boost productivity in the countries receiving the technology.

"Companies and patent holders could both get a return, if they share the additional profit. That would increase the political feasibility,” Ward concludes.

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