As world leaders converge in New York for the annual UN Climate Summit, a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the world’s top-ranked think tank for science and technology policy, finds that Mission Innovation (MI)—an international commitment to accelerate innovation and double public investments in clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D)—is falling far short of its stated goals.
“Neither the current technologies available nor pace of innovation globally is sufficient to address the dual challenges of expanding access to cheap, clean energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said ITIF Senior Policy Analyst Colin Cunliff, author of the report. “The global transition to zero-carbon energy requires innovation on a massive scale to lower costs and improve performance, and without the necessary public investments and policy alignment across member nations, rising energy demand will continue to outpace the clean energy transition.”
The report, a companion to ITIF’s Global Energy Innovation Index, examines the progress of MI and assesses the health of the global clean energy innovation system across three key indicators: public investment in clean energy RD&D; high-value patent applications in clean energy technologies; and carbon prices and fossil fuel subsidies.
- Public investment: Public investment in clean energy RD&D among MI members increased by $2.6 billion from 2015 to 2018—far less than the $4.6 billion members have reported and less than a third of the $9 billion increase needed for MI to meet their doubling commitment by 2020.
- Patent applications: Patent applications have declined across all major clean energy technologies, indicating a slowing pace of innovation. From 2011 to 2016, patent applications in clean technologies declined by 39 percent. Renewable energy has seen the sharpest decline in new patent applications, followed by carbon capture, smart grids and energy storage, and clean transportation technologies such as electric vehicles and fuel cells.
- Carbon prices and fossil fuel subsidies: Carbon prices are still too low to accelerate the clean energy transition. Moreover, seven MI countries continue to subsidize fossil fuel consumption. And after declining for four consecutive years from 2012 to 2016, fossil fuel subsidies increased in 2017 and 2018. In fact, when fossil fuel subsidies are taken into account, the effective carbon price is negative $3.44/tCO2, indicating that clean energy doesn’t even face a level playing field.
“Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Mission Innovation members have not come close to meeting their goals. R&D investments are not increasing on pace, patent applications in clean energy continue to decline, and fossil fuel subsidies are increasing,” said Cunliff. “To have any hope of solving climate change, Mission Innovation members need to make good on their commitment to double investment in clean energy RD&D and align their policies to support clean energy.”