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Why Invest More in Climate Change R&D?
Why Invest More in Climate Change R&D?
Togzhan Tolegen
By Togzhan Tolegen
Aug 04 2022 · 6 min read

Illuminem Voices
Sustainability · Renewables · Adaptation

Air is becoming saturated. Insatiable mosquitoes and other insect creatures are leaving the corners of the planet and starting to live in new places, infecting people after people. Waters are unexpectedly washing away a large portion of corn crops. The cattle feed is gone. A farmer won’t be able to keep cattle alive for long. Of course, this scenario does not happen in one day, but, from a long-term perspective, if no one bothers about climate change, this path is certainly possible. Luckily, climate change became a cool trend for many people: going to grocery stores with eco-friendly bags (no plastic!) and talking about climate change in classes. People contributed to it in their way. Many countries went to the notable Paris Agreement in 2016 and invested in climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, countries with good GDPs, in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe, should invest in research and development (R & D) to fight climate change.

Climate change has already affected global food production. As reported by Ray et al. (2019), “since the 1970s, the global surface temperature warmed at an average of 0.16 ̊C to 0.18 ̊C per decade” (p. 2). During that period, the growing season temperature — over all harvested areas for the top ten largest crops (barley, cassava, maize, rice, oil palm, rapeseed, sorghum, sugarcane, soybean, and wheat) — increased from 0.5 ̊C to 1.2 ̊C (Ray et al., 2019). To see the picture, the relationship between weather and crop yields is significant in 54% to 88% of harvested areas globally across crops (Ray et al., 2019). For instance, recent yields have decreased for rice (~-1.6 million tons annually) and wheat (~-5.0 million tons annually) and increased negligibly for maize (~0.2 million tons annually). If we convert them into food calories, these numbers equal to an annual 0.4%, 0.5%, and 0.7% decrease in consumable food calories available from rice, wheat and maize respectively globally. Ray et al. (2019) tells us that recent change in climate decreased yields across Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia and had mixed responses in North and Central America and Asia. In 2008, Ray et al. (2019) estimated that out of the studied 53 countries with a hunger index of serious, alarming, or seriously alarming, 27 countries (or ~51%) had already decreased consumable calories due to mean climate changes. From the Paris Agreement, countries recognize that climate change has effects and aims to decrease global warming. When the temperature changed, so did essential food production that keeps us alive longer.

Figure 1: Landscape of a lake and a mountain range.
Figure 1: Landscape of a lake and a mountain range.

Benefits and Recommendations

The governments should fund research and development that contribute to reducing climate change. The funds will aid people in the long-term. As their effect would bring a positive result, the outcomes of climate disaster would not add up, one on top of the other.

Global investment in climate change is relatively small. Gates (2021), co-chair of the Gates Foundation, states that one of the most important things to fight climate change is direct public investment in research and development, but “governments are not doing nearly enough of it” (p. 213). In total, government funding for clean energy amounts to about 0.02 percent of the global economy, or $22 billion a year (Gates, 2021). Gates (2021) asserts, the R & D budget is a powerful indicator of how governments seriously take the problem, and he compares this ambition with the National Institutes of Health with a budget of about $37 billion a year, which developed life-saving drugs and treatments that people rely on every day. Similar to Flavelle (2020), Julie Gorte, senior vice president for sustainable investing at Impax Asset Management, says that regulators have the power to make the risks of investing in energy smaller. Governments’ support is crucial to battle climate change.

Investing in research and development about climate disasters would improve the lives of farmers and the agriculture sector. Per my previous comment, agriculture is heavily related to climate. It constitutes — for example, in Finland — around 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, being the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the energy sector Sorvali et al., 2021). In line with Sorvali et al. (2021), agriculture “will face severe challenges due to climate chage,” such as higher risks for pests and disease outbreaks, extreme weather events and variable weather conditions (p. 2). 74 percent of the 38,091 farmers in Finland agreed with this statement: “climate change is clearly understood as a threat to global agriculture” (Sorvali et al., 2021, p. 6). It seems apparent that it is hard for farmers to successfully cope with weather-related risks.

In addition to helping farmers with agriculture, government funds for R & D will help people improve or maintain their quality of life. Earlier invested in research and development for climate change, more people will avoid being victims of poverty (food, employment) and health issues (disease, heart stroke). On March 17 of 2021, Charles Hernick, vice president of policy and advocacy for Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, testified before Congress. His message in sum: Congress should harness the free market and empower companies to achieve their self-set goals about climate (Conservative group, 2021, para. 3). His suggestion: to make a strategic investment in R & D that serves all climate-related approaches, including fuel efficiency, new clean energy, and electrification (Conservative group, 2021, para. 3). To empathize its value, Hernick compared it with its alternative path where the government (not businesses) “reinvent wheels,” which creates barriers. In response, Ranking Member Graves agreed to encourage the ingenuity, adaptability, and responsibility of businesses (Conservative group, 2021, para. 5).

Counterargument

However, governments should make bigger bets on high-risk, high-reward R & D projects. Besides how much governments spend, what also matters is what they spend it on. Policymakers invested in clean energy before, but, in some cases, have been burned by it. Gates (2021) found that the government looked as if they were wasting taxpayers’ money in the Solyndra scandal — the collapse in 2011 of California solar panel producer Solyndra after it received a federal loan — , but this fear of failure “makes R & D portfolios shortsighted” (p. 214). The real value of government leadership in research and development is taking chances on “bold ideas that might not pay off right away” (Gates, 2021, p. 214). Let us consider the Human Genome Project led by China, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. Although the project took 13 years and billions of dollars, it has pointed the way to new treatments “for dozens of genetic conditions,” including Alzheimer’s disease, familial breast cancer, and inherited colon cancer (Gates, 2021, p. 215). The investment generated more money in returns to the governments’ economy.

Conclusion

To conclude, the governments’ role in climate change is to invest in R & D. Their support for research and development matters so much. As a result, people will avoid the unwelcome consequences of climate change on agriculture and other fields, which will cause a positive impact on a country’s economy as well.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

References

Conservative group testifies to congress: Empower the free market, invest in R&D to fight climate change: “The Energy Act of 2020 is proof that bipartisan clean energy and climate solutions are possible. My hope is that Congress can pass bipartisan infrastructure legislation to put transportation sector emissions on the right trajectory.” Charles Hernick, citizens for responsible energy solutions. (2021). PR Newswire. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/docview/2501863788?pqorigsite=primo&accountid=4485

Flavelle, C. (2020). Climate change poses “systematic threat” to the economy, big investors warn. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/climate/investorsclimate-threat-regulators.html

Gates, B. (2021). How to avoid a climate disaster. Alfred A. Knopf and Alfred A. Knopf.

Ray, D., West, P., Clark, M., Gerber, J., Prishchepov, A., & Chatterjee, S. (2019). Climate change has likely already affected global food production. PloS One, 14(5), e0217148– e0217148. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217148

Sorvali, J., Kaseva, J., & Peltonen-Sainio, P. (2021). Farmer views on climate change — a longitudinal study of threats, opportunities and action. Climatic Change, 164(3–4). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-021-03020-4

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Togzhan Tolegen
About the author

Togzhan Tolegen is a finance student at Cleveland State University, beyond that she is also an aspiring author focused on numerous topics which concern the lives of multiple society members.

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