Firestorms are a danger in San Diego County and it’s feared their intensity could increase due to climate change. Image courtesy County News Center

If the U.S. decouples itself from China on clean energy, the move could have a detrimental effect on global efforts to mitigate climate change, according to a new UC San Diego study.

The work, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that assumptions about collaboration with China presenting security and economic risks inhibit the mission of slowing, stopping or even reversing climate change.

“Tackling climate change in the U.S. and especially in the developing world is heavily dependent on having affordable and available low-carbon technologies,” the study’s lead author Michael Davidson, an assistant professor at UCSD, said in a statement. “A major benefit of integration is making these technologies more affordable, in addition to increased innovation.”

But policy responses to perceived threats from China, which range from import tariffs to enhanced scrutiny of scientific collaboration, said Davidson, part of the School of Global Policy and Strategy and the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, cause “barriers to integration.”

“We need to be objective about the specific policy goals and how they might influence our ability to address the threat of climate change,” he said.

The study explored assertions policymakers have made that collaboration with China on low-carbon technologies could threaten U.S. economic and national security.

The paper provides a breakdown of the risks of collaborating on the development of five technologies that reduce CO2 emissions: wind, solar, carbon capture and sequestration, batteries and “green” steel.

“Our findings reveal national security threats are muted across the various low-carbon technologies,” Davidson said. “For example, open research and development on batteries has been cited as a security concern because batteries can be used for military purposes, but these are not the same batteries that are needed to deal with climate change on a very large scale.”

The Biden administration has used the Defense Production Act to increase domestic solar manufacturing, which “will privately benefit the companies, localities and workers tapped to produce them,” the authors wrote. They noted that if the legislation increases the cost of solar panels and slows deployment, it could limit job creation and lead to higher emissions.

To measure the levels of both economic and national security risk for a given technology, the paper assessed the degree of reliance on China across the different technology components using industry and government data.

Since the risks are hard to quantify, the study provided case examples used to assign a risk level such areas as job losses, intellectual property violations, supply chain disruption, critical infrastructure and more.

“For most technologies, the decoupling ‘cure’ is likely to be worse than the `integration’ disease,” the authors wrote.

– City News Service


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Ellen Bullock