Paris deal could help narrow the US political divide on climate

If the aims of the historic Paris climate deal are to be met, a moonshot effort to develop technologies that can decarbonise the world economy will be needed – and the US has been positioning itself to lead this push.

The accord involves 195 countries pledging to achieve voluntary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of the US, president Barack Obama has vowed that by 2025, its overall carbon emissions will be at least 26 per cent lower than in 2005.

Until recently, the partisan divide in the US on climate issues looked unbridgeable. Top Republicans in Congress have repeatedly threatened to block climate legislation.

Yet in recent years an important new paradigm has been emerging, one reinforced by the ambitious Paris deal – the need for a step change in clean energy technologies. The idea is not to make fossil fuels more costly, but to make clean technologies cheaper and more effective.

Obama, together with billionaire philanthropists and other governments, has already led pledges to seed this private effort by funding energy research.

No more dirty development

The challenge is to produce technologies that enable countries such as India to “skip the dirty stage of development”, said Obama during the announcement of a pre-summit initiative. “If we put our best minds behind it and we have the dollars behind it, we will discover what works.”

“Private companies will ultimately develop these energy breakthroughs,” added Bill Gates in an interview, “but their work will rely on the kind of basic research that only governments can fund.”

Congress has a long history of bipartisan work to fund basic scientific research …

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