Sunday, August 2, 2020

Monday Asia Events August 3 2020

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. 10:00am (CT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist. Speakers: Scott Sagan, Political Scientist, Stanford University, Member, Bulletin’s Science and Security Board; Allen Weiner, International Legal Scholar, Stanford University; Sara Kutchesfahani, Director, N Square DC Hub, Bulletin columnist. 

TECH WARS, THE LIBERAL ORDER AND THE RISE OF CHINA. 5:30pm (IST), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor:  Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Speakers: Elsa B. Kania, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security; James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President and Director, Technology Policy Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

ASEAN FORUM 2020: RESPONSES TO COVID-19. 8/3, 9:00pm - 8/13, 5:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: New York Southeast Asia Network (NYSEAN); University of Sydney. Speaker: Dr. Thushara Dibley, University of Sydney; Gregory Fox, Associate Professor, University of Sydney; Jeff Neilson, Associate Professor, University of Sydney; Dr. Sandra Seno-Alday, University of Sydney; Dr. Aim Sinpeng, University of Sydney.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Monday Asia Events July 27 2020

IS THE US READY FOR AN INDO-US PARTNERSHIP? 7:00–9:00pm (IST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Speakers: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations; Jeff Smith, Research Fellow, Heritage Foundation Asian Studies Center; Sanjaya Baru, Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defense Studies & Analysis & United Service Institution. Moderator: Rajeswari Rajagopalan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF.

EXPANSION OF MARITIME ACTIVITY IN THE BERING STRAIT REGION: MITIGATING EXISTING AND FUTURE RISKS. 11:00am-12:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Polar Institute, Wilson Center. Speakers: Mark Everett, U.S. Coast Guard District 17 Incident, Management & Preparedness Advisor, Co-Chair of the Joint Planning Group for Russia-U.S. Joint Marine Pollution Contingency Plan (JCP); Dr. Natalia Kutaeva, Counsellor to the Director of Marine Rescue Service (MRS), Co-Chair of the Joint Planning Group for Russia-U.S. Joint Marine Pollution Contingency Plan (JCP); Ed Page, Executive Director, Marine Exchange Alaska; Yaari Walker, Indigenous Consultant for Alaska Pacific University; Margaret Williams, Director, WWF US Arctic Program. Moderator: Ambassador David Balton, Senior Fellow, Polar Institute, Former Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries, U.S. Department of State.

THE FUTURE OF THE US POSTURE IN THE GULF. 10:00–11:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: IISS. Speakers: Daniel Benaim, Fellow, Century Foundation; Kirsten Fontenrose, Director for Regional Security, Middle East, Atlantic Council; Becca Wasser, Fellow, Defense Program, Center for a New American Security. Moderator: Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, IISS.

OFFSHORE WIND: UNLOCKING POTENTIAL FOR A GREEN STIMULUS. 10:00–11:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: Thomas Brostrøm, CEO, Ørsted North America, Offshore Wind; Karen Douglas, Commissioner, California Energy Commission; David Hayes, Executive Director, State Energy and Environmental Impact Center; Hannes Pfeifenberger, Principal, Brattle Group. Moderator: David Goldwyn, Chairman, Energy Advisory Group.

ANOTHER AUGUST SURPRISE: WHAT IS PUTIN UP TO IN UKRAINE? Noon–1:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: Pavel Felgenhauer, Columnist, Novaya Gazeta; David Kramer, Senior Fellow, Vaclav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy; Hanna Shelest, Director of the Security Studies Program, Foreign Policy Council “Ukraine Prism”. Moderator: John Herbst, Director, Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

CHINA 101 BRIEFING SERIES- FEEDING THE DRAGON: THE ROLE OF CULTURAL DIPLOMACY IN US-CHINA RELATIONS. 1:00-2:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: US-Asia Institute (USAI). Speakers: Chris Fenton, CEO, Media Capital Technologies, Trustee, USAI; Zak Dychtwald, Founder and CEO, Young China Group.

UNDOING 70 YEARS OF WAR: A ROUNDTABLE ON ADVANCING PEACE IN KOREA. 1:00-2:30pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Quincy Institute. Speakers: Katharine Moon, Professor of Political Science and the Wasserman Chair of Asian Studies at Wellesley College; Lt. Col. Daniel Davis (Senior Fellow and Military Expert at Defense Priorities, Henri Feron, Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy; Jessica Lee, Senior Research Fellow on East Asia at Quincy Institute; Adam Mount, Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists; and Hazel Smith, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS, University of London.

A CONVERSATION WITH MARY L. TRUMP. 5:30pm (EDT), LIVE STREAM. Sponsor: The Washington Post. Speaker: Mary L. Trump, Author, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, President Donald J. Trump's niece; Moderator: Robert Costa, Columnist, The Washington Post. PURCHASE BOOK

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Things Japanese in Washington

Japan in DC

JAPAN IN DC is a 128-page full color, high-quality paperback, based on the writing, photography, and creative expressions of Washington, DC students who spent their summer 2017 investigating the presence of Japan in their own hometown. The adventure was coordinated by Globilize DC. It is a quirky, curious albeit heart-felt addition to Washington's travel literature. The students encounter not just the obvious, but discover Japan's complex involvement in the nation's capital.

They visit memorials, museums, theaters, gardens, nonprofits, exchange programs, Japanese markets, Japanese restaurants, veterans groups, foundations, think tanks, companies, and the Embassy of Japan. 

One stop they make is to the Navy Yard where in 1860 the first Japanese delegation to the U.S. arrived to visit Washington. At the Yard's National Museum of the U.S. Navy the students marvel at the WWII guns. Yet, missed was the 14 foot model of the USS Houston (CA-30). The sinking of this heavy cruiser in the Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942 marked the end of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. Only 368 of the total complement of 1011 men of the Houston managed survive the sinking and machine gun attacks.The survivors became POWs of Japan and most were sent to the Thai-Burma Death Railway as slave laborers. Of this group, 79 died of maltreatment and starvation.

The book is destined to be a significant artifact of Abe Administration public diplomacy. Tourists and historians are encouraged to purchase a copy. A bargain at only $16, your purchase is also a good deed. All proceeds from the sale of the book support Globalize DC's Japanese language and culture programs offered at no cost to DC public high school students.   

PPP Loans for the Asia interested

Tracking PPP loans via ProPublica Database

Selected Asia interested organizations that received PPP money from the USG:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Real Cause Of The North-South Korea Crisis


By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

Toyo Keizai, June 23,2020

As tensions rise between North and South Korea, attention has understandably focused on the role of the Dear Sister, Kim Yo Jong. The sibling of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has emerged as the face of a nasty and provocative assault on South Korea.

Once the symbol of Pyongyang’s ‘smile diplomacy’ toward South Korea, the stern Kim now issues snarling denunciations of South Korean president Moon Jae-in. In her recent public statements, she claims to be in charge of unleashing the military to threaten the south and literally dismantle the few symbols of more than two years of North-South engagement.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un remarks largely out of sight, prompting ongoing speculation on his health and encouraging analysts to see the recent tension as mostly a platform to elevate his sister as his successor. But a deeper look inside North Korea points to a different culprit behind this new crisis – the Covid-19 virus.

Already struggling to overcome the impact of international sanctions, the North Korean economy has suffered a sharp downturn due to the need to seal the country off to prevent the spread of the virus from China. The economic distress seems to have made the regime even more worried about its control over a restless population. And it has added a level of desperation to the need for aid from the outside.

The escalation of rhetoric is intended to convince the South Korean government and ruling party to “break from the U.S.-driven sanctions regime,” a senior U.S. official in Korea told me. “I think they want the South Korean government to put into place legislation that would open up funding streams,” he explained, which would mean scrapping restrictions on trade and investment with North Korea, bypassing international sanctions.

North Korea’s economic situation was difficult last year but its trade with China and Russia - both official and illicit transfers that evade sanctions -- combined with the growing role of the market, made things manageable. “The overall situation was improving modestly over past years,” reports a Western aid worker who visits the North regularly, most recently late last year. “It reflects the determination of the people to survive and because they had a bit more freedom to make money in the market.”
The Pandemic Hits North Korea

Then the virus hit in January. The North Korean regime had experience with the previous epidemics of SARS and Ebola, says the aid worker, who has extensive knowledge of the medical system. It moved quickly to close the border with China on January 21, mirrored by Chinese efforts to seal the border from its side. According to the U.S. official, additional units of the Korean People’s Army were deployed on the border to crack down on smuggling operations.

“They didn’t have much choice,” the Western aid worker told me. “They know what could happen and that is why they reacted the way they did. They know their health care system is weak.”

The border closure sent a shock wave through the North Korean economy, cutting off the flow of tourists and their hard currency, curbing what little investment came from China, and drastically cutting official and unofficial trade. Almost overnight, Chinese exports to North Korea dropped to nearly zero, along with official North Korean exports to China (see graphic below). Some smuggling seems to have continued but analysts believe the border closing affected that as well. Bottom line - the flow of money and credit from China dried up.

The virus-driven downturn comes at a moment when the state-run sectors of the economy were already facing a systemic collapse. “Their planning system is completely broken down,” says William Brown, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who specializes in the North Korean and Chinese economies. According to Brown, there has been no mention of a new 5-year plan to replace the one that ends this year. Important segments of the economy – mainly large state enterprises that produce steel and other key goods – still depend on the planned system to deliver inputs and provide rations and wages to their workers.

Kim tried to get Trump to lift the sanctions last year at the Hanoi summit but failed, triggering a re-examination of North Korean policy in the aftermath. In a major policy turn in 2019, the North Korean leadership re-emphasized the need for “self-reliance,” once a watchword of their ideology. Now, says the former CIA analyst, “self-reliance means that you be self-reliant, not the nation.”
North Korea’s monetary problems

Monetary policy is a key weakness of the regime, argues Brown. The fear of uncontrolled inflation meant the adoption of a tight monetary approach, limiting the printing of the Won. On the plus side, it yielded some 5 years now of a steady exchange rate, creating the appearance of stability, and also encouraging growing use of hard currency in circulation. But on the downside, the state is not capable of pumping credit into its state-run enterprises. “They are telling the big steel mills and others, become self-reliant – don’t ask for money from us,” reports Brown.

Now the virus shut off the flow of hard currency from cross border trade and tourism and investment. In response, the regime announced in mid-April it would issue public bonds for the first time in 17 years. The bonds were to be used instead of cash to pay factories for materials needed to carry out big state projects, such as a massive new hospital in Pyongyang. But they were also aimed at forcing individuals and firms to turn in cash they had hoarded cash, including dollars, in exchange for the bonds.

This is hardly a popular decision, and the regime is cracking down on resistance. According to a report in Daily NK, which relies on defector networks, the director of a mining operation was arrested by state security and executed for criticizing the bond issuance at a meeting.

In April, the North Korean authorities also reportedly told private traders that they could restart their activities only if they gave significant foreign currency payments to the regime and imported from an approved list of goods, half of which would be required to give to the government. Smugglers were ordered to shift away from profitable electrical appliances and focus on basic food goods. According to a May 11 report by Radio Free Asia, the state banned the use of foreign currency for most transactions.

A meeting of the senior leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea on June 6 and 7, chaired by Kim Jong Un, focused on the economic situation. At the top of the agenda was the need to urgently reconstruct the chemical industry, mainly to produce fertilizers, on a “self-reliant” basis – a clear signal that there are shortages of the plastics and fertilizers needed for agriculture. Due to sanctions and the border closing, “farmers don’t have the inputs they need – fertilizers, plastic sheeting, spare parts, fuel, not to mention tractors,” reports the Western aid worker, who has traveled extensively outside of Pyongyang over the past year. “We are heading for difficult times.”

Food supply always is in shorter supply at this time of year as the stocks from the previous harvest are depleted and there is not yet enough fresh food available. “It is not easy for people and especially those living in remote areas where farming is not easy to do,” the aid worker told me. “Spring and summer have always been difficult. Trading is now at near halt and there is a quarantine impact on cargo. There is not much gasoline available for internal transport. All this is putting more and more pressure on the regime.”

The second item at the June Political Bureau meeting was equally telling – “immediate issues of ensuring living conditions in the capital city.” This is a sign that the regime is having difficulties keeping up the flow of goods to the core elite living in Pyongyang, which has been essential for buying their loyalty.

Beginning last year, after the Hanoi failure, Pyongyang criticized the South for its failures to act independently of the U.S. But the current assault is a clear step up in attempts to coerce the Moon administration and the ruling progressive party. “The reason that the north-south agreements…did not see any light of even a single step of implementation was due to the noose of the pro-U.S. flunkeyism into which [Moon] put his neck,” Kim Yo Jong wrote in her June 17 statement.

Whether the Moon government is ready to open its coffers to the north remains to be seen. So far, the North Korean moves have been carefully calibrated not to provoke an uncontrolled ladder of escalation. The initial step of blowing up the joint liaison office took place on North Korean territory. Even the threatened moves to dismantle the progress in demilitarizing the border areas does not directly touch on U.S. or United Nations Command forces.

“They’re going to take their time with this,” predicted the U.S. official. “I don’t see the impetus to escalate quickly. They may overshoot the mark but if they are thinking rationally, they will take an action, take some time to see how Blue House responds to it, and then ratchet it up again.”

Meanwhile the pressures within will continue to mount on a regime that has no real answers for a population long tired of belt-tightening in the name of an unresolved civil war.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

America’s Big China Mistake

Globalization has failed to make the country more democratic. It’s time for a different approach.

By Clyde Prestowitz

Washington Monthly, June 7, 2020

Since President Nixon’s historic “opening to China” in 1972 and President Carter’s formal recognition of the communist regime in Beijing, U.S. policy has been to promote trade and investment with China. I myself was a leader of the first U.S. trade mission to Beijing in 1982. Our strategy then and thereafter was founded on the notion that free global trade and investment would stimulate not only economic growth but also the spread of democracy and peace.

At the time, it seemed like a smart bet. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 statement that “to get rich is glorious” seemed to confirm our ideas. Both unleashed euphoria in the West. Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History and the Last Man, was widely acclaimed. Despite having shot at least several hundred and perhaps thousands of its own students in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, the Beijing regime was welcomed as a trading partner by the free world. Clinton campaigned for President under the slogan “no coddling of dictators from Baghdad to Beijing,” but as President adopted a policy of “positive engagement,” eventually negotiating to bring China into the World Trade Organization. Of China’s attempts to censor the internet, he joked: “I’d like to see them try to control the internet. It will be like trying to nail jello to the wall.”

But from early on, it should have been clear that this policy was misguided. The Clinton administration’s argument for bringing China into the WTO, widely supported by the economics and foreign policy establishment, was that doing so would liberalize China while dramatically reducing the U.S. trade deficit with Beijing. None of this took place. China became more authoritarian. The deficit mushroomed from about $80 billion annually to $500 billion. Many U.S. companies moved their factories to China to take advantage of cheap labor, the absence of unions, and the lack of safety and environmental regulations. Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), meanwhile, began to raise billions of dollars of new capital by listing their shares on the New York Stock Exchange without meeting the same accounting standards as U.S. corporations.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama adopted similar policies, with similarly dangerous consequences. In 2005, as they continued to move production to China, free-world companies began suffering theft of their innermost secrets by hackers with ties to Beijing. Few people raised alarm. Similarly, no one seemed to be concerned when in 2012, General Electric Chairman Jeffrey Immelt, then also Chairman of President Obama’s Commission on Jobs and Competitiveness, transferred GE’s U.S.-based avionics division to China as part of a joint venture with China’s state-owned Avic. Because avionics is not labor intensive, cost reduction could not have been the reason for the move. Clearly, China had let GE know that if it wanted to sell avionics in China, it would be best to make them there.

It was all evidence that, rather than disappearing, SOEs were consolidating and becoming ever more powerful—as was the Communist Party. China began subsidizing economic sectors such as the semiconductor industry in pursuit of international leadership. Its SOEs began investing heavily and strategically abroad in everything from ports in Europe to telecommunications infrastructure in Australia. The country began dredging reefs and militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea, along with sinking the fishing boats of other nations—all as part of its plan to seize control of the Sea. It began mass arresting its Uyghur minority.

This was not at all in keeping with the long held free world expectations, and eventually, even the biggest cheerleaders of free trade began to admit that, far from becoming a “responsible stakeholder in the liberal, global order,” China was bent on becoming the hegemon of its own authoritarian order. On March 1, 2018, The Economist announced in its cover story that the West had made the wrong bet on China. It simply wasn’t becoming more market oriented or liberal.

By now there has already been talk of companies targeted by China’s industrial policies “de-coupling” from the country: leaving completely. They began to move production to places like Vietnam and even back to the United States. There has also been economic analysis by MIT Professor David Autor and others showing that the offshoring of U.S. jobs has contributed to overall unemployment, and that it has been a drag on working—and middle-class incomes.

Still, there’s resistance to departing China by many companies. Billions of their dollars have gone into putting factories and supply chains in China and training their workers. The cost of tearing it all down and moving elsewhere, even if elsewhere has cheaper labor, seems daunting.

Now, however, the COVID-19 virus, China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea, its drive for high-tech autarky, and its muscling of Hong Kong have put the cost question in a different light. Previously, few asked about the potential cost of over-dependence on fragile supply chains anchored to a single production site in a somewhat hostile country. What would be the costs to the company or to a country if that supply chain went down? What was the cost of not being able to obtain key drugs, masks, ventilators or anything else that you had once made but had long ago outsourced? The virus has revealed the answer to be “very high indeed.”

Simply questioning the Communist Party invites retaliation, as Australia discovered when it called for an international inquiry into the origins of the virus pandemic. The world is slowly realizing that the risks from dependency on China are much greater and more dangerous than ever imagined. The United Kingdom, once ready to embrace Huawei technology, has said it will not. Countries like Japan have already budgeted billions of dollars to assist their companies in bringing their factories back home. Germany and others have imposed strict limits on investment in their countries by Chinese companies. The United States must learn from this experience and these examples. Indeed, there is already a bill in the U.S. Congress to add $100 billion to the budget of the National Science Foundation specifically for the purpose of maintaining U.S. technology leadership over China. The Trump administration is also now limiting exports of some advanced U.S. semiconductor technology to China.

This is not to say that globalization can or should be halted. But it is to say that globalization must be guided by better understanding of its true costs and benefits—and by consideration of the welfare of all citizens, not just that of big corporations. No democracy with a rule of law can afford to be tightly coupled economically with an authoritarian China.

Clyde Prestowitz

Clyde Prestowitz is the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute. He formerly served as counselor to the secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration, as vice chairman of President Bill Clinton’s Commission on Trade and Investment in the Asia-Pacific Region, and on the advisory board of the ExIm Bank. His most recent book is The Betrayal of American Prosperity. He is a Senior Fellow at Asia Policy Point.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What Happens to APP Interns II

The Paths to Net Zero: How Technology Can Save the Planet

By Inês Azevedo,  Michael R. Davidson,  Jesse D. Jenkins, Valerie J. Karplus, and David G. Victor
MICHAEL R. DAVIDSON is Assistant Professor of Engineering and of Public Policy at the University of California, San Diego; MIT PhD; APP Intern 2007.

Foreign AffairsMay/June 2020

For 30 years, diplomats and policymakers have called for decisive action on climate change—and for 30 years, the climate crisis has grown worse. There are a multitude of reasons for this failure. The benefits of climate action lie mostly in the future, they are diffuse and hard to pin down, and they will accrue above all to poor populations that do not have much of a voice in politics, whether in those countries that emit most of the world’s warming pollution or at the global level. The costs of climate action, on the other hand, are evident here and now, and they fall on well-organized interest groups with real political power. In a multipolar world without a responsible hegemon, any collective effort is difficult to organize. And the profound uncertainty about what lies ahead makes it hard to move decisively.

These political hurdles are formidable. The good news is that technological progress can make it much easier to clear them by driving down the costs of action. In the decades to come, innovation could make severe cuts in emissions, also known as “deep decarbonization,” achievable at reasonable costs. That will mean reshaping about ten sectors in the global economy—including electric power, transportation, and parts of agriculture—by reinforcing positive change where it is already happening and investing heavily wherever it isn’t.

In a few sectors, especially electric power, a major transformation is already underway, and low-emission technologies are quickly becoming more widespread, at least in China, India, and most Western countries. The right policy interventions in wind, solar, and nuclear power, among other technologies, could soon make countries’ power grids far less dependent on conventional fossil fuels and radically reduce emissions in the process.

Technological progress in clean electricity has already set off a virtuous circle, with each new innovation creating more political will to do even more. Replicating this symbiosis of technology and politics in other sectors is essential. In most other high-emission industries, however, deep decarbonization has been much slower to arrive. In sectors such as transportation, steel, cement, and plastics, companies will continue to resist profound change unless they are convinced that decarbonization represents not only costs and risks for investors but also an opportunity to increase value and revenue. Only a handful have grasped the need for action and begun to test zero-emission technologies at the appropriate scale. Unless governments and businesses come together now to change that—not simply with bold-sounding international agreements and marginal tweaks such as mild carbon taxes but also with a comprehensive industrial policy—there will be little hope of reaching net-zero emissions before it’s too late.


From today’s vantage point, no single domain offers greater opportunities for deep decarbonization than electric power. The use of electricity does not increase or reduce emissions in itself; electricity delivers energy that may or may not be clean depending on how it was generated. An electric car, for instance, doesn’t do much good against global warming if all the electricity comes from conventional coal plants. Still, electrifying the economy—in other words, designing more processes to run on electricity rather than the direct combustion of fuels—is essential. This is because, compared with trying to reduce emissions in millions of places where they might occur, it is far easier and more efficient to reduce emissions at a modest number of power plants before distributing the clean electricity by wire. Today, Western economies convert about 30 percent of their energy into electric power. If they want to get serious about decarbonization, that fraction will need to double or more.

No single domain offers greater opportunities for decarbonization than electric power.

Getting there will require progress on two fronts. The first is the electrification of tasks that use vast amounts of energy but still rely on fossil fuels, such as transportation and heating. Overall, transportation accounts for 27 percent of global energy use, and nearly all of it relies on oil. The car industry has had some success in changing this: the latest electric vehicles rival high-end conventional cars in performance and cost, and electric cars now make up around eight percent of new sales in California (although only 1.3 percent nationwide) and nearly 56 percent in Norway, where the government offers massive subsidies to buyers. With improved batteries, heavier-duty vehicles, including buses and trucks, could soon follow. In fact, China already fields a fleet of over 420,000 electric buses. By contrast, aviation—which makes up only two percent of global emissions but is growing rapidly and creates condensation trails in the sky that double its warming effect—presents a tougher challenge. A modern battery can store only two percent of the energy contained in a comparable weight of jet fuel, meaning that any electric airplane would need to carry an extremely heavy load in batteries to travel any reasonable distance. Even in the best-case scenario, commercial electric aviation at significant scale is likely decades away, at least for long-haul flights. Long-distance shipping also faces challenges so daunting that electrification is unlikely to be the best route. And in each of these areas, electrification is all the more difficult because it requires not only changing the conveyances but also building new charging infrastructures.

Besides transportation, the most important electrification frontier is heating—not just in buildings but as part of industrial production, too. All told, heating consumes about half the raw energy that people and firms around the world use. Of that fraction, some 50 percent goes into industrial processes that require very high temperatures, such as the production of cement and steel and the refining of oil (including for plastics). These sectors will continue to rely on on-site fossil fuel combustion for the foreseeable future, since electricity cannot match the temperature and flexibility of direct fuel combustion. Yet in other areas, such as lower-temperature industrial processes and space heating for buildings, electrification is more practical. Heat pumps are a case in point: whereas conventional heaters work by heating up indoor air, heat pumps act like reversible air conditioners, moving heat (or, if necessary, cold) indoors or outdoors—a far more efficient approach.

Electrification, of course, will not on its own reduce emissions by much unless the power grid that generates and distributes the electricity gets cleaner, too. Ironically, some countries have made modest progress on this front even as they have doubled down on fossil fuels. China, for instance, has swapped out aging coal plants with newer, more efficient ones, cutting emission rates in the process. (The country’s most efficient coal plants now emit less carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than comparable U.S. plants.) The United States, for its part, has cut down on its emissions thanks to innovations in horizontal drilling and fracking that have made it economically viable to extract shale gas. In 2005, when this technology first became commercially relevant, coal accounted for half of all the electricity produced in the United States; today, coal’s share is down to one-quarter, with much cleaner and inexpensive natural gas and renewables making up the difference.

In theory, fossil fuels could still become much cleaner, even nearly emission free. This could be possible with the help of so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, which capture the carbon dioxide emissions created by industrial processes and pump it safely underground. In practice, investors have remained wary of this approach, but in both the United States and some European countries, recently introduced subsidies are expected to unleash a wave of new CCS projects in the years ahead. One CCS scheme, currently being tested by a group of engineering and energy firms, completely rethinks the design of power plants, efficiently generating electricity from natural gas while capturing nearly all the carbon dioxide produced in the process at little extra cost. In regions where natural gas is cheap and abundant, this technology could be a game changer.

For now, improved fossil fuel technology has amounted to shallow decarbonization: it has reduced emissions enough to slow the rate of climate change—in the United States, emissions from the power sector have dropped by 29 percent since 2005 thanks mainly to the shale gas revolution and growth of renewables—but not enough to stop it. To prevent the world from warming further will require much more focus on technologies that have essentially zero emissions, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear power, in addition to CCS, if it proves commercially scalable. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, these low-carbon technologies would need to generate 80 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050 (up from about one-third today) in order to limit warming to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Renewables, in particular, will play a central role. Thanks to decreases in the cost of wind and solar power equipment—and thanks to a mature hydroelectric power industry—renewable energy already accounts for over one-quarter of global electricity production. (Nuclear provides another ten percent.) In the United States, the cost of electricity from large solar farms has tumbled by 90 percent since 2009, and wind energy prices have fallen by nearly 70 percent—and both continue to drop.

Given those plunging costs, the main challenge is no longer to make renewables cheap; it is to integrate them into the power grid without disruptions. To avoid blackouts, a power grid must align supply and demand at all times. Energy output from wind and solar plants, however, varies with the weather, the season, and the daily rise of the sun. The more a power grid relies on renewables, then, the more often the supply will not match the demand. In the extreme, extra power must be dumped—meaning that valuable capital and land were used inefficiently. To be less vulnerable to such shocks, utility companies will need to expand the size of their power grids, so that each can draw on a larger and more diverse array of energy sources. In order to deal with excess supply from renewables—a condition that will become much more frequent as the share of renewables rises—they must also create incentives for users to vary their demand for power more actively and find ways to store surplus electricity on a much larger scale. Today, nearly all bulk storage capacity takes the form of hydroelectric pumps, which store electricity by moving water uphill and recovering about 80 percent of the power when it flows back down. In the years ahead, soaring demand for electric vehicles will drive down the cost of lithium-ion batteries; those batteries could become an affordable way to store energy at the grid level, too. And as the need for storage increases, even cheaper methods may come on the market.

The main challenge is no longer to make renewables cheap; it is to integrate them into the power grid without disruptions.

To better integrate renewables, policymakers can also rely on the strategic use of another zero-emission technology: nuclear energy. Although most efficient when running flat out 24 hours a day, nuclear power plants can also operate flexibly to cover the supply gaps from wind and solar power. Some of France’s nuclear reactors, for instance, already cycle from about one-quarter to full power and back again, sometimes twice a day, to compensate for fluctuations in the supply and demand of renewables.

Independent of renewables, nuclear power already contributes massively to cleaner grids. Every year, some 440 operational nuclear reactors account for lower global carbon dioxide emissions of an estimated 1.2 billion metric tons. In the United States, research suggests that keeping most existing nuclear plants open would be far less expensive than many other policy options. In fact, most countries would do well to expand their nuclear power even further to cut back on their emissions. In the West, however, major expansions are not on the horizon: public opposition is strong, and the cost of building new reactors is high, in part because countries have built too few reactors to benefit from the savings that come with repetition and standardization. Yet in other parts of the world—especially China and South Korea, which have more active nuclear power programs—the costs are much lower and public opposition is less pronounced. Moreover, whereas countries once designed and built their own reactors, today many simply import them. That model can create new risks—the sector’s leading exporter today is Russia, a country not renowned for its diligence regarding reactor safety or the security of nuclear materials—but it also has the potential to make commercial nuclear technology available to many countries that could not develop and deploy it safely on their own. Abu Dhabi’s purchase of four gigantic South Korean–built reactors, the first of which is set to start operating next year, shows the promise of this model. The same approach could work for other countries that currently satisfy their large energy needs with fossil fuels, such as Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to the precise technological makeup of a future decarbonized economy, expert opinions diverge. Engineers and economists, for the most part, imagine solutions that bundle several approaches, with both CCS and nuclear power acting as important complements to renewables. Political scientists, on the other hand, tend to see a bigger role for renewables—one of the few areas in energy policy that usually garners support from across the ideological spectrum, including in the United States. Yet even this rather popular solution can prove divisive. Fierce debates rage over where to locate generators such as wind turbines, including among putative environmentalists who support the technology only if they don’t have to look at it. Public opposition to new wind turbines in Norway—even in already industrialized areas—and to offshore wind parks in the eastern United States are harbingers of tough siting fights to come. The same issue arises when it comes to power lines: making the most of renewables requires longer, more numerous power lines that can move renewable power wherever it will be needed, but public opposition can make such grid expansions a bureaucratic nightmare. In California, for example, the most recent big power line designed to move renewable power where it will be useful—in that case, from the sunny desert to San Diego—took a decade to build, even though the technical engineering and construction portion of the project should have consumed no more than two years. China, by contrast, has blown past the efforts of the United States and Europe, with dozens of ultrahigh-voltage lines, most of them built in the last decade, crisscrossing the country.


Political obstacles notwithstanding, expanding the electrification of transportation and heat and the production of low-carbon electricity offers the surest path to a clean economy to date. The latest analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for instance, suggests that more pervasive use of clean electricity in the global economy would cover more than half the cuts needed for deep decarbonization. Yet just how big a role electrification will ultimately play is hard to predict—in part because its impact will depend on the future trajectory of rival solutions that are only just beginning to emerge and whose potential is impossible to assess precisely.

Hydrogen, in particular, could serve much the same function as electricity does now in carrying energy from producers to users—and it offers crucial advantages. It is easier to store, making it ideal for power systems dependent on ever-fluctuating supplies of renewable energy. And it can be burned—without producing any new emissions—to generate the high levels of heat needed in heavy industry, meaning that it could replace on-site fossil fuel combustion in sectors that are hard to electrify. Hydrogen (either in its pure form or mixed with other chemicals) could also serve as liquid fuel to power cars, trucks, ships, and airplanes. A zero-emission economy could integrate the two carriers—electricity and hydrogen—using each depending on its suitability for different sectors.

The technology needed to turn hydrogen into an energy carrier already exists in principle. One option is to break up (or electrolyze) water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could then be stored or transported through the natural gas pipeline networks that already string across all advanced economies. Once it reached its user, it would be burned for heat or used as an input for a variety of chemical processes. So far, this approach is too expensive to be viable on a large scale, but growing investment, especially in Europe, is poised to drive down the cost rapidly. Initial tests, including planned networks of hydrogen pipelines outside Stockholm (for making steel), Port Arthur in Texas (for industrial chemistry), the British city of Leeds (for residential heat), and the Teesside area (for several applications, including power generation) and numerous other ventures, will soon yield more insights into how a real-world hydrogen economy would fare.

CCS is somewhat of a wildcard, too. Some industrial processes produce prodigious and highly concentrated streams of carbon dioxide emissions that should be relatively easy to isolate and capture. The production of cement, which accounts for a whopping four percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, is a good example. But firms operating in global commodity markets, where missteps can be economically disastrous, are hesitant to invest in fledgling systems such as CCS. To change that, state-supported real-world testing is overdue. A nascent Norwegian project to collect carbon dioxide from various industrial sources in several northern European countries and inject it underground may provide some answers.

Another promising area for reducing emissions is agriculture, a field in which advances on the horizon could yield large cuts. More precise control over the diets of animals raised for food—which will probably require more industrial farming and less free grazing—could lead cows, sheep, and other livestock to emit less methane, a warming gas that, pound for pound, is 34 to 86 times as bad as carbon dioxide. (It would also help if people ate less meat.) Meanwhile, a host of changes in crop cultivation—such as altering when rice fields are flooded to strategically determining which engineered crops should be used—could also lower emissions.

Agriculture’s biggest potential contribution, however, lies belowground. Plants that engage in photosynthesis use carbon dioxide from the air to grow. The mass cultivation of crops that are specially bred to grow larger roots—a concept being tested on a small scale right now—along with farming methods that avoid tilling the soil, could store huge amounts of carbon dioxide as underground biomass for several decades or longer.

As the hard reality of climate change has set in, some have begun to dream of technologies that could reverse past emissions, such as “direct air capture” machines, which would pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground. Pilot projects suggest that these options are very costly—in part because it is thermodynamically difficult to take a dilute gas from the atmosphere and compress it into the high concentrations needed for underground storage. But cost reductions are likely, and the more dire the climate crisis becomes, the more such emergency options must be taken seriously.


The ramifications of climate change are proving more disastrous than originally thought, just as politicians are realizing that cutting emissions is harder than anticipated. That leaves a large and growing gap between climate goals, such as the Paris agreement’s target of limiting warming to 1.5–2.0 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the facts on the ground. The world has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees, and at least another half a degree is probably inevitable, given the downstream effects of today’s emissions, the inertia of the climate system, and the inherent difficulty of reshaping industrial infrastructure.

The defining industrial project of this century will be to leave carbon behind.

To close the gap between aspirations and reality, governments need to grasp that they cannot rely solely on hard-to-enforce international agreements and seductive market-based approaches, such as carbon pricing, that will work only at the margins. The world needs new technology, and that means more R & D—much more—and a lot of practical experience in testing and deploying new technologies and business strategies at scale. To stimulate that progress, governments need to embrace what is often called “industrial policy.” In each major emitting sector, authorities should create public-private partnerships to invest in, test, and deploy possible solutions.

The details will vary by sector, but the common thread is that governments must directly support fledgling technologies. That means tax credits, direct grants, and promises to procure pioneering green products even if they are more expensive than their conventional alternatives. These steps will ensure that new low-emission products in sectors such as cement, steel, electricity, plastics, and zero-carbon liquid fuels can find lucrative markets. The need for such government intervention is hard to overstate. Producing steel without emissions, for example, could initially be twice as expensive as producing it in the traditional way—a penalty that no company operating in a global, competitive commodity market will accept unless it has direct support in developing the necessary technology, reliable markets through government procurement, and trade protections against dirtier competitors.

For now, no major government is taking these steps at a reasonable scale. The much-touted Green New Deal in the United States is still weak on specifics, and the more concrete it becomes, the harder it may be to form a supportive political coalition around it. Its counterpart, the European Green Deal, is further along yet also faces political challenges and administrative hurdles. If these schemes focus on making critical industries carbon free and provide lots of room for experimentation and learning, they could prove effectual. If they become “Christmas-tree proposals,” with ornaments for every industrial and social cause imaginable, then they may collapse under the weight of their cost and poor focus.

A bigger supply of new fundamental ideas for decarbonization is essential. On the first day of the 2015 Paris climate conference, a group of 24 governments, along with the eu and the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, pledged to double their spending on clean energy R & D. So far, the group’s self-reported data show that it is at 55 percent of its goal; independent and more credible assessments suggest that the actual increase is only half of that. Mission Innovation, as the collective is known, has also set up working groups on solutions such as CCS and hydrogen, but those groups have little capacity to develop and implement a collective research agenda. What is needed instead are smaller, more focused groups of high-powered backers. Powerful governments have a part to play, but not an exclusive one, considering that some (such as the United States today) are unreliable and therefore less important than subnational actors, such as California, or even wealthy philanthropists.

Initiatives such as Mission Innovation are essential because markets for clean technology are global. Three decades ago, when diplomatic efforts to combat climate change began, most innovation in heavy industry, including in the energy sector, came from a small number of Western countries. No longer. When it comes to electric buses and scooters, China is king, with India taking some baby steps. For electric cars, U.S., Japanese, and European manufacturers are in the lead technologically, but Chinese firms have larger volumes of sales. Innovation in ultrahigh-voltage power lines is coming particularly from engineering firms based in Europe and Asia. The explosion in China of low-cost production of solar photovoltaics was initially geared to supply the highly subsidized German market.

Given this geographic breadth, nationalist trade policies that limit cross-border exchange and investment could easily gum up the works. In particular, the United States should reform its approach to foreign investment in sensitive technologies. Instead of the current review policy—an opaque process managed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States—regulators should follow the “small yard, high fence” rule proposed by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates: identify a short list of technologies that are truly sensitive and protect the United States’ advantage in those areas while opening the doors to the power of globalization for all others.