The Cost of Cooling the Climate:

Congress is considering climate change legislation more seriously than ever before. While there are several legislative proposals in the House and Senate, some of which could be quite costly, none of the bills would make an appreciable impact on future climate change. This is the nub of the climate change problem: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to make a difference will require cuts far greater than anyone is willing to pay for — and this will remain the case until there are substantial technological breakthroughs to reduce the cost of controlling emissions or sequestering carbon.

Today’s Washington Post highlights the economic aspects of the problem

Here’s the good news about climate change: Energy and climate experts say the world already possesses the technological know-how for trimming greenhouse gas emissions enough to slow the perilous rise in the Earth’s temperatures.

Here’s the bad news: Because of the enormous cost of addressing global warming, the energy legislation considered by Congress so far will make barely a dent in the problem, while farther-reaching climate proposals stand a remote chance of passage. . . .

The potential economic impact of meaningful climate legislation — enough to reduce U.S. emissions by at least 60 percent — is vast. Automobiles would have to get double their current miles to the gallon. Building codes would have to be tougher, requiring use of more energy-efficient materials. To stimulate and pay for new technologies, U.S. electricity bills could rise by 25 to 33 percent, some experts estimate; others say the increase could be greater.

Most of the technologies that could reduce greenhouse gases are not only expensive but would need to be embraced on a global scale, scientists say. Many projections for 2030 include as many as 1 million wind turbines worldwide; enough solar panels to cover half of New Jersey, massive reforestation; a major retooling of the global auto industry; as many as 400 power plants fitted with pricey equipment to capture carbon dioxide and store it underground; and, most controversial, perhaps 350 new nuclear plants around the world.

If anything, the Post account understates the costs of meaningful emission reductions, insofar as it relies on Nicholas Stern, author of the the Stern Review. A companion story looks at the combinations of policies necessary to produce meaningful emission reductions.

One important debate in climate change policy today is over which, if any, government policies can meaningfully accelerate the discovery and deployment of new technologies. Some believe adopting a cap-and-trade regime and other emission control technologies will induce technological innovation. Others believe policies that are more focused on technological innovation, as such, would be more effective. What is clear is that without new cost-effective technologies, there will more talk than action on carbon emissions.