Dec 12, 2018 - Energy & Environment

Energy research and development pledges are falling short

A new report finds that a key multilateral initiative to scale up clean energy R&D and demonstration funding, called Mission Innovation (MI), isn't on pace to hit its targets.

Data: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios
Data: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

What's happening: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation takes the pulse of the program launched in late 2015, in which a suite of nations, including the U.S., pledged to double the clean energy R&D over 5 years to jointly reach roughly $30 billion.

Where it stands: "Early signs indicate that MI is spurring greater investment in energy R&D, though at the present rate, public RD&D among MI nations will increase by about 50 percent in 5 years, a far cry from doubling," ITIF senior policy analyst Colin Cunliff writes.

  • The chart above compares the "baseline" funding from select MI nations and their progress toward the goal of doubling investment.

Why it matters: ITIF's tally comes on the heels of major scientific reports about the dangers of climate change and fresh evidence that the global emissions trajectory is nowhere near what's needed to hold warming even relatively in check.

  • Global CO2 emissions rose in 2017 and this year after a 3-year plateau.

Threat level: While deployment of existing zero-carbon options is expanding rapidly worldwide, Cunliff argues that much more robust investment in technology is badly needed:

"[O]nly significantly greater levels of public investment in clean energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) will produce the level of innovation necessary to dramatically reduce emissions from unabated fossil fuel consumption."

ICYMI: The major UN climate science report in October found that to hold global temperature rise to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, net human-caused CO2 emissions must decline by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, and reach "net zero" by roughly midcentury.

What's next: Cunliff says countries should use the ongoing UN climate talks in Poland to reaffirm their commitment to the 2021 doubling goal.

  • He also calls for greater MI focus on economic sectors that are tough to decarbonize, including cement and steel production and transportation.
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