May 29, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 17

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    Harris School participates in energy policy colloquium

    By Elizabeth Jenkins
    Harris School of Public Policy Studies

    Americans are increasingly tuned into the effects of climate change—from the talk around carbon emission of the cars they drive to melting ice caps.

    “Lots of people see that the writing is on the wall and it’s time to get serious about [energy research],” said Tracy Terry, technical director of the National Commission on Energy Policy.

    According to Terry, Congress recognizes the need to act, and within the next few years, will probably place some type of mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

    “I think everybody recognizes finding new and better technology is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as is required,” said Terry. Among current climate-change legislation, one bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would allocate approximately $150 to $300 billion over 10 years for energy research, development, demonstration and deployment—steps taken to develop new, efficient technology.

    While one of the pending bills could see action this year, Terry estimates Congress will not pass comprehensive legislation for at least another year or two.

    In an effort to help determine how best to spend future funding and how to coordinate government, private and academic research, the Harris School and the NCEP hosted a colloquium on Tuesday, May 6 and Wednesday, May 7 on managing climate change research and development. The conference was held in association with the Chicago Council for Science and Technology, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Illinois, Northwestern University and Illinois Institute of Technology.

    “The Harris School is honored to have played a role in such a critical conversation,” said Susan Mayer, Dean of the Harris School. “We hope the questions raised and issues discussed at this conference lead to effective use of funding and resources needed to help our future generations.”

    The conference covered topics including major climate-related energy research, development and demonstration programs under way at national labs and major universities, current models best suited to exploring this set of issues, and whether a new management structure is needed. The colloquium was aimed at ways to support research on a variety of technology in all types energy—from wind and solar renewable energy to carbon capture and storage to nuclear power.

    “Improving the menu of energy technologies that can deliver the energy that society needs without wrecking the climate should be one of the top science and technology priorities of our time,” said NCEP co-chair and Harvard professor John Holdren. “This workshop was a useful contribution on how to get it done.”

    So what has caused the new awareness of the need for better energy technologies to address the climate-change issue? According to Terry, a “confluence of events” has stressed the damaging effects of climate change. This includes both scientific findings and the public education work of former Vice President Al Gore, which have increased public awareness and pushed lawmakers to introduce new policy.

    “Certainly, if you look at some of the impact from climate change, they are accelerating more quickly than we thought even five or ten years ago,” said Terry. “So, there is more urgency to address this now.”