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Global Cooperation Is Not Necessary to Fight Climate Change

Efforts to promote multilateral coordination to mitigate climate risks are most likely doomed to to fail in today’s fraught geopolitical environment. But a global race to subsidize renewable energy may encourage the development of cheap sustainable technologies, sparking a twenty-first-century green revolution.

PROVIDENCE – This week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt highlights the growing consensus that multilateral cooperation is necessary to avert environmental catastrophe. But with geopolitical tensions spiking and the US-China rivalry heating up, such efforts seem doomed to fail, much like previous efforts to promote global coordination on vaccines, trade, technological innovation, and macroeconomic policy.

The good news is that the consensus may be wrong: A lack of multilateral cooperation need not be fatal to the climate cause. The existing frameworks for international coordination are outdated anyway, and technological competition, fueled by the United States’ climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), may prove to be a more potent driver of innovation, ensuring that the fight against climate change continues apace.

So far, the main framework for promoting multilateral cooperation on climate change has relied on the principle of “cash for cuts,” whereby developed countries offer financial aid to persuade developing countries to launch ambitious decarbonization efforts. But this approach is no longer credible, given that the international community has failed to meet its financial commitments and has shown no sign of improving.

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