The readiness of industry for a transformative recovery from COVID 19 (2020) with Sam Fankhauser and Raphaela Kotsch. Global Sustainability, 3, E37.

Many countries are committed to emerge from COVID 19 on a more sustainable environmental footing. We explore what such a structurally transformative recovery would mean for the manufacturing sector of 14 major economies. We find that all countries have zero-carbon growth opportunities post-COVID and comparative advantages in some sectors, but industrialised countries and the East Asian economies, especially South Korea, appear best positioned, thanks a push in low-carbon innovation that predates the pandemic.

Sensitive Intervention Points in the Post-Carbon Transition (2019) with Doyne Farmer, Cameron Hepburn, Matthew Ives, Thomas Hale, Thom Wetzer, Penny Mealy, Ryan Rafaty and Rupert Way. Science. 364 (6436), 132-134. Free copy here.

Conventional approaches to mitigating climate change are not working. Despite the actions pledged under the 2015 Paris Agreement, actual progress is falling well short. Given limited time and resources, traditional efforts such as the climate stabilization wedge approach are unlikely to be effective on their own. Physical science has shown how complex adaptive systems can cross critical thresholds (“tipping points”), such that a relatively small change can trigger a larger change that becomes irreversible , where nonlinear feedback effects act as amplifiers. We propose to examine how to exploit similar sensitive intervention points (SIPs) and amplification mechanisms in socioeconomic, technological, and political systems to advance climate change mitigation. We focus on research and policies in which an intervention kicks or shifts the system so that the initial change is amplified by feedback effects that deliver outsized impact.

Revoking coal mining permits: an economic and legal analysis (2020) with Ryan Rafaty and Bjorn Hoops. Climate Policy. Feb 18:1-7 Free copy here. Short blogpost here.

Achieving mitigation targets under the Paris Agreement will depend on the early retirement of coal mines and plants. In the absence of sufficiently stringent demand-side policies, supply-side injunctions provide a potential avenue to expedite the decline of coal. We study the case of permits granted to RWE Power AG to operate Europe’s largest opencast lignite mine, situated at the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). We conduct two complementary assessments:

(i) a legal analysis finding that German law provides several grounds for the revocation of coal mining permits, particularly when linked to quantifiable damages to local ecosystems and communities; and

(ii) an economic analysis using natural capital accounting to quantify the environmental and societal costs associated with alternative scenarios of continued and halted mining activity.

We find the net present value of gains from immediately halting operations at the Hambach lignite mine to be €98–208 billion over 34-years, equivalent to 13–30% of NRW’s annual GDP. Health-related savings from avoided air pollution are 6.5 times greater than costs of replacing lost capacity with new renewable energy and battery storage infrastructure and two orders of magnitude greater than costs of compensating laid-off mining workers.

Key policy insights

  • The revocation of coal mining permits could be a legally plausible and replicable means of expediting the decline of coal.

  • Natural capital accounts highlight the third-party costs of coal mining, quantifying the often-ignored health-related damages from polluting activities.

  • Legal criteria adopted by agencies when assessing coal mining permits should be modified to accurately reflect considerations of climate change, local ecology, human health, and national policy.

  • Independent and externally reviewed natural capital assessments should be required as standard protocol for the issuance of fossil fuel exploitation permits.

  • Debates about appropriate levels of compensation to coal companies for premature mine closures should factor in the implicit and explicit subsidies such companies have received in the past.

Low Carbon Competitiveness in Asia (2018) with Sam Fankhauser and Alex Kazaglis. Economies. 6(1), 5

Environmental degradation and the risks from climate change have strengthened the need for cleaner forms of economic growth. Using patent, trade and output data, we measure the current size of Asia’s low-carbon economy and assess its competitiveness across key sectors. We look at three success factors for low-carbon competitiveness at the sector level: the ability to convert to low-carbon products and processes (measured by a specialization in low-carbon innovation), the ability to gain and maintain market share (measured by existing comparative advantages) and a favorable starting point (measured by current output and scale). Using this framework, we identify the ‘climate change mitigation technologies’ that Asian countries specialize in and can potentially scale up. The analysis shows that Asia’s top low-carbon economies are Japan, South Korea and China. The sectors in which Asia is particularly well placed to be globally competitive include efficient lighting, photovoltaics and energy storage. Overall, Asia is a specialist in innovating and exporting climate change mitigation technologies but there are significant regional disparities

Media & Consulting

Building back better with Tim Dobermann. Indian Express. Print Edition. May 2021.

We must put resilience at the heart of India’s “once-in-a-century” budget. This involves a re-invigorated focus on (a) healthcare and sanitation, (ii) climate resilient infrastructure (iii) modernised agriculture and (iv) disaster risk reduction tools like advanced weather forecasting and early warning systems.

Making India’s post-Covid recovery green will help tackle growing environment challenges and generate jobs. with Brian O'Callaghan. Times of India. Print Edition. November 2020.

The spending required to modernise agricultural practices and install pollution control equipment in thermal power plants has been difficult to mobilise in the past. However, unprecedented fiscal stimulus, galvanised by the pandemic, is now on the table. This spending could simultaneously address the immediate Covid-19 economic crisis and the quietly unfolding public health emergency of air pollution.

Can Carbon Markets Work? Discussant for David Victor and Danny Cullenward's Book Launch at the Blavatnik School of Government.

Did the Paris Climate Agreement Lead to any Meaningful Changes? with Freddi Otto and Richard Millar. Futuremarkers Podcast. November 2019.

Low-Carbon Industrial Strategies for Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines with ClimateWorks Australia and Vivid Economics. Discussion Papers. July 2019.

Green Technology: Can India Win the Green Race? with Rajat Kathuria. Op-Ed in Financial Express. New Delhi. April 2018.

Meeting the Low Carbon Growth Challenge with Shikha Jha, Minsoo Lee, David Raitzer, Sam Fankhauser and Alex Kazaglis. Theme Chapter for Asian Development Outlook 2016. Asian Development Bank.