2021 felt a bit like “The Empire Strikes Back” towards the end there.
The Energy policy revolution is still frozen in carbon(ite), largely thanks to Joe “Lando Calrissian” Manchin. Combine this with fears about inflation, exploding new COVID case numbers and many of us are ready to sit out the third part of the trilogy by sticking our head in the sand. But there are important things in the works for 2022.
- A New Social Cost of Carbon. I know. You’re tired of us blogging about this. But, we are going to get the first serious and comprehensive update of the SCC since the original Interagency Working Group’s report. I am hopeful that the new analysis will make significant headway towards addressing some of the issues identified by the National Academies of Sciences with regards to climate modeling, discounting and the antiquated damage functions. Currently the interim SCC (in 2020 US dollars) for a ton of CO2 emitted in 2020 stands at $51. I have no inside knowledge whatsoever, but would not be surprised if the suggested improvements in science would at least double that number, which would have large ramifications for benefit cost analysis at the federal level and beyond.
- Major Climate Reports: The international scientific community under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes regular synthesis reports of our understanding of the physical climate science (Working Group 1 – released), Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability (Working Group 2) and Mitigation (Working Group 3). We expect the reports from Working groups 2 and 3 in March and April this year. These international reports (combined with domestic efforts like the US National Climate Assessment) are the single most peer reviewed documents on the face of the planet. Given the explosive growth of the impacts and mitigation literature, I expect this to be an even scarier read than the previous reports.
- GHG Measuring: When it comes to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions we have literally been blind, as most GHGs are invisible and hard to measure. Thanks to projects like Climate TRACE the blindfold is slowly coming off. Using satellite technology we will be able to monitor emissions, down to the facility level eventually. This is a game changer for domestic and state regulators, but also at the international level. If we can all see emissions data from everyone else, we know who is meeting their commitments (e.g., Paris) and who is not.
- Geoengineering and Capturing carbon: The discussion around geo-engineering is moving from the shadows onto the main stage and it’s super interesting. There are, however, still some dreamers who think that the best climate policy is simply to capture carbon emissions and store them. Have your pie and eat it too. The scale of the problem makes this infeasible, but at the margin it will help. For example, the pilot project in Iceland is currently capturing the combined carbon equivalent of the annual emissions from 790 cars. There are more cars than that in my neighborhood. But what I find interesting is the idea of starting to develop a global strategy of where Geoengineering and Carbon Capture fit in the broader portfolio and who pays for it.
- Fuel Economy: The EPA just finalized the new fuel economy rules for model years 2023-2026 which require that by 2026 new cars (on average) will achieve 40 miles per gallon. Fuel economy standards are not perfect, but the new regulation will further push car manufacturers here, there and everywhere to improve their fuel economy. Further, we expect an unprecedented increase in the variety of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles available to consumers across vehicle types and price points. Combined with the rapid expansion of charging networks from state initiatives, court settlements and federal regulation, we are expecting a gangbuster year of EV sales.
So am I depressed? Yes. These have been two crappy years and the next two are not looking that great either. We are trying to address at least two major planetary scale existential threats in an increasingly polarized world. So for those of you continuing to proactively work on meeting these challenges, I salute you. We can do this, but it’s going to take everything we’ve got. I hope we will keep in mind the prime directive of environmental economists: “Let’s save the world – cost effectively”.
Keep up with Energy Institute blog posts, research, and events on Twitter @energyathaas.
Suggested citation: Auffhammer, Maximilian. “Five Areas of Energy and Climate Progress to Watch for in 2022” Energy Institute Blog, UC Berkeley, January 3, 2022, https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2022/01/03/five-areas-of-energy-and-climate-progress-to-watch-for-in-2022/
Maximilian Auffhammer is the George Pardee Professor of International Sustainable Development at the University of California Berkeley. His fields of expertise are environmental and energy economics, with a specific focus on the impacts and regulation of climate change and air pollution.