Elon Musk Can Rescue the Paris Climate Summit (version with links)

The author's Tesla Model S above the Conoco refinery in Rodeo, California.
The author’s Tesla Model S above the Conoco refinery in Rodeo, California.

This OpEd appeared in the San Jose Mercury-News.  I will be in Paris November 28-December 13. Contact me to help promote the message!

By Felix Kramer, Sunday, November 8, 2015 print edition and online without the links you can find below.

Elon Musk is the best-positioned world leader to turn around next month’s COP21 Paris climate summit.

No one else dares to say: “Right here, right now, is our best opportunity for every country to set a timetable on pricing climate pollution.”

He’s been invited to top government and media events in Paris. He’s so busy, so far he hasn’t said yes. Will he recognize these invitations as opportunities to inspire the world? Anyone who’d criticize him for losing business focus doesn’t appreciate the value of saying on global platforms, “It’s time to start running most devices on renewable energy.” What a loss if Paris hosts have to settle for someone less compelling!

Hosts and organizers recognize he’d provide transformative thinking. He’s already done his share of changing business as usual. As Tesla’s CEO he doesn’t have to protest too-high emissions standards. As SolarCity’s Chairman he’s shown how anyone can afford zero-carbon electricity. As SpaceX’s CEO he out-competes giant companies and even countries with better technology. As he scales to profitability he galvanizes us about what human beings can accomplish.

He’s already said directly that putting a price on carbon will reduce emissions and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. He nailed it twice in a September speech: Any action to increase the price of CO2 will reduce the error in the market system….Since we set a price of zero, which is wrong, we try to make up for it with all these incentives and subsidies….Price CO2 directly and then good things happen.”

In Paris Musk can energize the new Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition‘s hundreds of global leaders, companies and nonprofits, the IMF, the World Bank. Without him, they’re just sending polite messages about someday pricing emissions. Without him, we’ll be lucky to keep alive two proposed, still-unaccepted sentences on carbon pricing, in the preface and buried on page 18 of the 51-page draft agreement. We’ll continue to ignore addressing the core economic drivers of climate change.

It takes years to get everyone to come together for two weeks to save the world. If we pass up this best chance for a new pathway, we’ll lose too much time. Yet while saying progress would be easier with a carbon price, UN climate chief Christiana Figures recently informed investors in London that: “It would be simple…but it’s not quite what we will have.” She identified as impediments varying approaches dozens of countries and jurisdictions already use. Perhaps she was inviting pushback.

The 2009 Copenhagen climate summit ended with facesaving down-to-the-wire negotiations. This time, pricing carbon can be a far better late-stage addition. Actions can start even before we have a global framework integrating multiple pricing flavors — taxes, fees, exchanges. Those who eat, drink, breathe and sleep policy — thousands of diplomats, negotiators, economists, executives, think-tanks — can work on that. But they all have to know it’s coming. Six European oil companies agreed in June: carbon pricing helps reduce uncertainty.

The Paris delegates are already gearing up for letdowns. As of now, Paris’s main outcome will be aspirational “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” by most countries. Even if all pledges are met, they won’t keep us under 2 degrees Celsius — itself a compromise goal. Reassurances of stronger future measures don’t justify taking action off the table. Launching pricing solutions everywhere will support these Intentions.

Musk has chosen to work on three of the world’s biggest challenges — as he says, “I try to be useful.” He’s succeeding on all fronts. Now he can step up even further, to make history by helping the climate summit get real.

Felix Kramer is a Tesla Model S driver and an ex-entrepreneur working on climate change awareness and solutions, with projects at BeyondCassandra.org.