China’s cleantech decoupling carries far more risks than rewards, study finds

The current U.S. trajectory to decouple from China on clean energy technologies may harm national and global efforts to mitigate climate change, finds a new study from the University of California, San Diego published in Science.

The document contradicts common assumptions that working with China poses substantial national security and economic risks across the board. These risks have underpinned the policies of three US administrations and a majority of European governments, ranging from import tariffs to increased control of scientific collaboration. While some actions may be warranted, the study shows that for many technologies the cure is likely worse than the disease.

“The fight against climate change in the United States and especially in the developing world is highly dependent on the availability of affordable low-carbon technologies,” said study lead author Michael Davidson, assistant professor. at UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy and UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “A major benefit of integration is to make these technologies more affordable, in addition to increased innovation. Therefore, when raising barriers to integration, we must be objective about specific policy goals and how which they could influence our ability to cope with the threat of climate change.”

Davidson and his co-authors embarked on the study to investigate claims by policymakers that collaborating with China on low-carbon technologies could threaten U.S. economic and national security interests. Using quantitative and qualitative data, the paper provides a breakdown of the risks of collaborating on the development of five key technologies that reduce CO2 emissions: wind, solar, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), batteries and “green” steel. “.

“Our results reveal that national security threats are mitigated across different low-carbon technologies,” Davidson said. “For example, open research and development on batteries was cited as a security issue because batteries can be used for military purposes, but it is not the same batteries that are needed to deal with climate change in very large scale.”

The paper outlines how solar PV panels and batteries pose higher risks of supply chain disruption due to the high concentration of manufacturing in China. To mitigate these risks, the study provides a new framework that calibrates responses to industry- and technology-specific circumstances. For example, as opposed to a binary choice between open and domestic supply chains, the study identifies a range of situations where diversification can achieve risk reduction policy goals.

Job creation has been used as a justification for reducing trade with China. For example, the Biden administration has decided to use the Defense Production Act to increase domestic solar manufacturing, which will “privately benefit the companies, localities, and workers hired to produce them,” the authors write. . They note that if it increases the cost of solar PV and slows deployment, the legislation could lead to limited job creation and increased emissions.

Building photovoltaic panels is usually the least labor intensive part of the whole business. There are usually many more people involved in the project development, installation, maintenance and operation of solar energy. These jobs are difficult to outsource; however, they are impacted when the VP cost increases.

To measure levels of economic and national security risk for a given technology, the paper assesses the current degree of reliance on China across the various technology components using industry and government data. As these risks are difficult to quantify, the study provides in-depth case examples combining quantitative and subjective assessments, which are used to assign a level of risk to each category, such as job losses, intellectual property violations , supply chain disruptions, critical infrastructure and the Suite.

“For most technologies, the ‘cure’ of decoupling is likely to be worse than the evil of ‘integration’,” write the authors. “There are huge benefits to having open supply chains and research environments and policies that seek to disrupt or decouple them must be based on a robust and objective assessment of the risks and benefits.”

The study, “China Decoupling Risks on Low-Carbon Technologies,” is co-authored by Valerie J. Karplus of Carnegie Mellon University, Joanna I. Lewis of Georgetown University, Jonas Nahm from Johns Hopkins University and Alex Wang from the University of California. , Los Angeles.

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