David Sandalow is the Inaugural Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy and co-Director of the Energy and Environment Concentration at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He founded and directs the Center’s U.S.-China Program.
David is as a director at Fermata Energy and senior advisor to APL. He is a member of the Zayed Future Energy Prize Selection Committee, Global CO2 Initiative Advisory Board, Electric Drive Transport Association’s “Hall of Fame” and Council on Foreign Relations.
David held senior positions at the White House, State Department and U.S. Department of Energy. At DOE he served as Under Secretary of Energy (acting) and Assistant Secretary for Policy & International Affairs. Before joining DOE, David was a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Executive Vice President at WWF.
David holds a B.A. from Yale University and J.D. from University of Michigan Law School.
Guide to Chinese Climate Policy (2019)
Carbon Mineralization Roadmap (November 2021)
Michael Liebreich: Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is David Sandalow. David is the Inaugural Fellow at the Centre on Global Energy Policy at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He's held senior positions at the White House State Department and US Department of Energy, where he served as acting Under Secretary of Energy and Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs. Let's welcome David Sandalow to Cleaning Up. So, David, welcome to Cleaning Up.
David Sandalow: Good to be here. Michael. Great to see you.
ML: Now, you were at COP 26 in Glasgow last week, when did you get back home?
DS: End of the week, end of week two. And it was great to be there. I have to say like many of the people who were there, it was my first international trip since Covid. And it was great to see people from all around the world who I've worked with for many years on this issue. And I took more COVID tests than I've ever taken. That was it. But it was very reassuring. I have to say to know that everybody in their convention hall was getting a negative test every day before they walked in.
ML: Well, I bet you you were glad to get home because of course had you tested positive. It's not just you'd have been confined to your hotel room, you would not have been flying home for 10 days or so. So, I think you know what happened to me, which is I went up I did this tremendous Climate Action Solution Center out at the Blair Estate, which I understand you visited the first week just triumphant, the conversations, the people, you know, this was the doers COP and we were at the heart of it. And then after a week, my wife came up to visit and she tested positive, and I basically missed the second week after all.
DS: How's she doing, Michael?
ML: She's good. She's good. She's absolutely, you know, she's recovered. She's tested negative. You know, like, we're all doing tests every day now. And we've had since that middle weekend, pretty much we've been testing negative. But, but you made it out to the Climate Action Solution Center. So that was good. You saw the Blair Estate, the castle.
DS: Really remarkable. I have to say first, the physical setting was beautiful, just extraordinary castle, and then the dialogue was really tremendous.
ML: Can I ask which day you were there for?
DS: Wednesday, I believe and that was good.
ML: What was the topic?
DS: Geopolitics. And we had a very good, very good discussion on the geopolitics, both involving Russia and China. And then in the US, and what the domestic politics in the US are doing as well. It was it was just it was a tremendous group very well moderated and it was the only missing element was you, Michael, but we managed to have a good conversation without you would have been better with you there.
ML: You You're very kind. You're very kind. But I understand that the folks from Atlantic Council just knocked it out of the park day after day. But it's a great segue geopolitics because I want to actually start with, you know, the sort of David Sandalow potted history of his involvement in COPs because you I understand we're a COP 1.
DS: I was a member of the US delegation is part of the White House staff at COP. Michael. That's absolutely right. And a good trivia question is for your audiences who was the chair of COP 1? And the answer was a young, very talented and promising environment minister named Angela Merkel, who did a tremendous job as the chair of this conference, which was in Berlin. And then I spent much of the 90s as a climate negotiator for the US government and I have to say, those were some of the most sleep deprived, stressful experiences of my life you know, there's this culture at the COPs among the negotiators have staying up all night in negotiations and then staying past the deadline for another night of endless negotiations. I’m thinking of writing something actually called a tale of two COPs in contrasting that culture within the government negotiators with the rest of the world that kind of comes and releases reports it does you know dinners like the kind of fabulous ones you were doing makes big announcements, but isn't dragged into all these you know, interminable negotiations.
ML: So I talk about three COPs every COP is actually three COPs as the kind of the negotiator COP, which is all about the dots and the commas and the square brackets and the sleepless nights. Then there's the activist court, which is always this is a terrible waste of time, and you grow up to doing nothing and the day ends in the streets. And, and it's, I mean, I shouldn't be flip I should be I shouldn't be, you know, disparaging because actually, the civic society keeping pressure on all of us is actually the that is the mainspring of why we, you know, what, why we've got to the point we've got, but there is a lot of theatre around the activism. And then there's the kind of what I call the doers cop, which I've seen grow from, you know, the first time that business was invited, was I think in Warsaw, COP 20, I'm going to say, when there was an actual formal sort of track for business or formal activity set for business, the side events have just gone, you know, ballistic, and now we're talking about the financiers, you know, I was sort of was a bit like an alien abduction, I was suddenly invited to have dinner with Larry Fink, in a hotel in, in Glasgow, that would never have happened five years ago, he just wouldn't have been there. But there was all this financiers, there was business people, there was so much going on. And you know that. And so, you know, depending on which of those COPs you attended, I think you get a very different picture for what just happened, I've got this very optimistic picture of the most extraordinary progress, because I could see, I was with all these people who are, you know, whether it was finance, whether it was hydrogen, whether it was, you know, deep penetration of renewables, whether it was nuclear, whether it was carbon removal, there was just so much happening, real deals, real conversations.
DS: I think those are really astute comments. And I agree completely. And I think if the standard for measuring the success of a COP is did we solve global warming? No, we didn't do that. And no COP is ever going to do that. But did was real progress made, I think real progress was made at COP 26. And that's it's really, this is my view, the point of COP is to bring forward action like this to provide a platform for this to happen. And, you know, climate change is a problem caused by invisible odourless gases. Unless we create events where people need to come forward and be responsible and address the issue, it's going to be much harder to move forward. And I think it's part of the, the whole theory of the Paris Agreement is to create these events where we're countries are required to come forward with action. And then we're civil society, you know, businesses, everyone has an opportunity to come forward and do the same thing. And just, and you're hearing, I'm in the streets of New York, so you may be hearing this siren come by, it's not the last time that you will hear a siren. My apartment is on Broadway. So you're hearing the sounds of Broadway.
ML: I thought that was your car arriving.
DS: Yeah, exactly. But when coming on the activism, Michael, you know, I just want to underline and agree with the point you made that the activist and in that third COP, which you very correctly, point to the third COP on the streets is really important. I mean, I think that that type of activism is what drives a lot of the agenda, and we need it out there and, you know, sober, you know, older people like me, and, you know, the less older like you, you know, may sometimes think, oh, my God, they're overstating their case and that type of thing. But I think that activism is essential to forward motion on climate change.
ML: I think there is a danger to that community, and it's not my role to advise them. But I think there is a danger because the overstating, you know, they have to communicate with a greater sense of urgency or desperation, whatever, you know, to be heard. The worry is that actually, most people are not aware of some really basic things like, emissions have actually peaked. There's some data that came out on 4 November, early in the first week of COP that showed that because I've been saying, Look, energy emissions have only gone up 2% in the last eight years, despite economic growth, so the energy emissions have nearly peaked. We're pretty much we're either at or near a peak. It's possible 2019 was the peak. But if you then add in land use, you know, brackets, yes, there's lots of error bars. But actually, emissions have peaked a decade ago. And people are blissfully unaware of this out there in the real world. And then of course, you get this kind of still this steady, you know, drumbeat of promotion of disaster scenarios, which frankly, the work of people like you over. I mean, I guess and COP1, we're talking, you know, two and a half decades, but also all the investors I've ever worked with all the entrepreneurs, all of the businesses, we are actually getting a purchase on this problem. We are actually not ended up we're not going to go off to five degrees, seven degrees centigrade of warming, not even four degrees, and now not even three degrees, and yet there isn't awareness and I worry that the activists in a way that overstatement they get locked into it restating the same case. And at some point, you know, at some point, it's like, look, you've got all these pledges, what the activist need to do is say “deliver the pledges”. Not you're doing nothing. But you know, you've made the pledge, now deliver the pledge, and we're going to monitor that rather than say, oh, it's all a catastrophe.
DS: Yeah, look, there's I don't know, that activist in any generation have ever done nuance, I think that it's really important to be out there making the case. And we could talk about some of the…
ML: The difference here, if I might, David is that these activists generally who are saying follow the science. Right? Most activists don't do that they just activists, they're just activist on their topic. But here your activist saying follow the science, and the science has actually moved on.
DS: Well, look, Fatih Birol if all of the pledges are fully implemented, we will hold warming to 1.8C, his conclusion. And, you know, the track record since Paris is a countries aren't coming close to following through on all of their pledges. So I my bottom line is less optimistic than what you just related. I think we are at serious risk of you know, dramatically overshooting even the two degree goal of Paris. And certainly the 1.5 degree is its way out of reach. And, and the science makes clear that that that is going to lead to significant damage of the kind that we've seen this year, you know, all over the world. So I wouldn't be sanguine. My concern is not doing you know, too little on this topic. I think we haven't begun to grab this problem and solve it in any meaningful way.
ML: And don't get me wrong. I'm not optimist. I'm not blindly optimistic. I'm just saying that, you know, we should be realistic about where we are and where we aren't headed. But that's like I said, that's, that's advice to people who might not sort of you know, I'm not, I'm not really able to advise, it's just an observation. But there was one real breakthrough, one real piece of what happened in Glasgow, which must have really resonated with you, which was there came a point where things were looking sticky. And the US and China got in a room and came up with this US-China declaration. And it was like, Well, hang on a second. I've seen this film before. But actually, you've you actually were the producer on the film, when that happened before the COP 21 Paris again, that was it was about six months before COP 21. I think. So this US China access. It's really fascinating. Its role in keeping the thing moving forwards. And that's really one of your great specialist topics.
DS: There's a lot to say about this, Michael. And yeah, I've been going to China since I was young. It was a real privilege back many years ago, I was right out of college, the US and China normalised relations. And I had always, as a kid wanted to go to China, it was impossible for someone from the United States in that period to even do it. And in this just to date myself more in the summer of 1981, I looked around for an exchange programme that would get me over to China. And the internet didn't exist back then. But I managed to find a programme at Columbia University, where I now am and where I was not affiliated in any way at the time. But I went to with exchange programme spent the summer in Shanghai in the summer of 1981 incredibly different China as you can I mean, we as we flew in, there were no lights at night in the city and I've been going back ever since. And for me in China's an endlessly fascinating country. The rise of China in the past four decades in my professional life has been, I think, by far the most important geopolitical development of two generations. And the US China relationship now is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, I think 22 countries and it's incredibly fraught and difficult right now. And many people in the climate community looked back to the agreement in 2014. And in 2014, with great leadership from government, I was actually out of the Obama administration by then I had. I was in the Obama administration until from beginning until 2013. And spent a lot of that time working on US China energy relations, we created something called the Clean Energy Research Centre, US China Clean Energy Research Centre, which worked on it cooperatively in a number of different clean energy technologies, and built up a series of cooperative efforts to address climate change. And then by 2014 a bilateral agreement was reached that was signed by or announced by President Obama and President Xi. It was the first time that China Chinese government had ever agreed to a limit emissions, an absolute an absolute limit on emissions that agree that was when the agreement to peak in 2030 was announced. President Obama announced ambitious target for the United States and I think many observers of I've heard say that that provided a key foundation for the Paris agreement. Even Laurence Tubiana, to be honest, says some version of without the without the US China Agreement, it's not clear we would have had the Paris Agreement. So it's really important. Well, that brings us to the present, where the US China relationship is incredibly fraught and difficult, filled with tensions. And I think it's really striking that the one issue on which the two governments have been able to reach some agreement to have productive dialogue is climate change. And it's very encouraging, I think. And the agreement that was announced in Glasgow is, it's really an agreement to talk and to have constructive dialogue. But even then, in the context of the challenging relationship, I think it's important. And the most important and interesting provisions in that agreement, I think, are on methane, or methane, I think, if you say in the UK, and the methane provisions are actually quite specific, and the Chinese government agreed to develop a national action plan on methane for the first time. And the two governments set forth a schedule for discussing what to do about this. And obviously, methane emissions, offer real opportunity for relatively quick, quickly addressing some climate change issues. So I think there's a lot that's really encouraging there.
ML: Well, there's a lot of time there is a lot to unpack, I don't I had sort of ascribed the success in 2014. I said it was six months before Paris, it was actually a year and a bit before, I sort of describe that to you, because I identify you so strongly with this US China, sort of agenda. And to two episodes ago, we actually had Todd Stern, and we spoken to Laurence Tubiana and I've actually spoken to so many of the people behind the Paris agreements. And this topic of this the role of that, US China, sort of, you know, in unblocking that agreement in unblocking the drains before the Paris Agreement. To what extent what I'm fascinated by in the in the Glasgow declaration is why did China not sign up to the methane pledge? Which is this sort of multilateral, it was the EU and the US. But then there's a whole bunch of other countries 30% reduction in methane by 2030, which by the way, I've considered to be completely inadequate and completely unambitious ridiculously so, but nevertheless, that was the big initiative. But why did China not sign up to that, but then sign up to something sort of methane-y, you know, just literally a few days later, as a bilateral with US?
DS: I don't know the answer to that question, Michael. It's a good one. But here's my speculation, I think if the Chinese government is never going to sign on into a quantitative pledge that it is not confident it can meet. And my guess is that the analysis had not been done within the Chinese government or the broader intellectual, or the broader community in China on Chinese ability to meet that pledge, and I think it's possible, but with the work that's gonna go on in the next year, that Chinese government might come around actually sign that pledge, you know, based upon further analysis, but they just weren't, weren't ready to do so.
ML: And it's fascinating, because this is all the kind of the content in the content and context of the climate discussions. I'm always interested in the meta discussion, you know, that China is very interested in doing bilateral with the US because it sort of emphasizes how important China is that there are only these two, the sort of the G2 is something that China is very keen on promoting. That's my impression. I always want wonder whether the original pledge of net zero 2060 was that mischievously done to drive a wedge between the EU and the US at a time when China was getting a lot of flack, because of the Uyghurs, because of Hong Kong? You know, what are the kind of am I wrong to think that there are these kind of there's a meta level of, in a sense, sort of pros and cons or benefits that China is playing for that and really not about methane at all, but they're about what conversations they're in and how they're perceived.
DS: You know, there that some of those factors may come into play. But I think that foreigners often tend to overestimate the extent to which they are important in the development of Chinese policy. And I think that the Chinese government is fully behind, fully committed to the science of climate change. They’re no they’re no known climate deniers in the Chinese government, they believe climate change is a problem, it's a threat to the country. And, and is looking at a way to address climate change consistent with economic development goals. And it's obviously, you know, can be a challenge for any country, for a country that has extraordinarily abundant and cheap coal it's a particular challenge. And in a country where the, in addition, the legitimacy of the government really depends upon steady economic growth, you know, I think it's important difference between the Western and Chinese political cultures, we tend to judge legitimacy of our governments by the consent of the governed, that is not a framework that is part of Chinese political history that can see the legitimacy as a function of continued economic growth. And, and so I, I read the 2060 pledge as a commitment to address climate change, which the Chinese government believes is real. It's one that that the wheels are starting to turn to get there. It's a long-term process. But I think it's genuine. I think, certainly in the United States, because of our political cycles, and the way that our administrations, you know, can be so different in their policies, we tend to discount long term goals, because we just don't have the systems to implement them in the United States. We it's, that's a whole other topic conversation. But, but we don't you know, in, in China, historically, they do. I mean, China's currently on its 14 five year plan. The Chinese government has what are known as the centenary goals, and it has it literally has a goal for 2049 to be a prosperous middle class society. And, and so there's a planning framework and a planning mentality within the Chinese government that I think it's different the United States.
ML: Can I ask. You said that China's committed to addressing climate change. And there's a number of different reasons why that might be, you know, maybe they have, you know, full faith in the science of climate change, and they've got plenty of low lying, you know, Shanghai, etc. That's, you know, so that sea level, and therefore, there's the actual sort of, in a sense, the, you know, the physical reasons, but there's also you've sort of discounted the diplomatic games potential reason. But there's another one, which is addressing climate change does drive a changing of the guard technologically, so from internal combustion engine cars to electric cars. To what extent do you think China's commitment to dealing with climate change is about owning the industries of the future, completely separate to in a sense, whether it's really happening or not? Is there any element of just you know of that?
DS: Absolutely. And it's most clear, for example, with electric vehicles, and the Chinese government looked 20 years ago, as it scaled up. It's, you know, auto industry, we are never going to be, you know, ahead of the West, when it comes to internal combustion engines they had 80 year headstart, but let's invest in in electric vehicle sector. And now more than half of electric vehicles sold in the world last year was sold in China, there's a lot of innovation happening in electric vehicles in China. And that's just one example. There are a number of others. So yeah, there's definitely an alignment between seizing markets for clean energy technologies and fighting the climate change problem. And, and by the way, I don't want to overly discount the diplomatic imperative, but I didn't mean to suggest that that was absent. And in particular, I think the Chinese government is concerned about its continued leadership within the G77. It's one factor, and there are a lot of poor, you know, low lying countries that just want the emissions to stop. And I'm right, I have one particular incident. I remember it. I during the 1990s, when I was planning to go through as we discussed, I would often, you know, in the halls of these COPs be criticized by diplomats from small island states, United States was the largest emitter at the time. And then I didn't go to COPs, much in that period when President Bush was in office in United States been in 2009, returned as a government official to a COP. And I will never forget talking to the president of a small island state, who all he wanted to talk about was criticism of China, not of the United States, because by 2009, China was the world's leading emitter, and it was quite a change. And I don't think that's a comfortable place for the Chinese government right now. They want to show that they're being proactive in addressing this as part of their diplomatic relationships.
ML: Right, but that that's a fantastic segue to something I wanted to bring up which is, you know, that uncomfortable place. Just got a hell lot more uncomfortable, because China and India insisted on this last minute change in Glasgow from phasing out coal to phasing down coal, which is, in many ways you could say, you know, it could be the death knell of some of these low lying island states. And my understanding is, they were deeply, deeply unhappy with that, and, you know, sort of went ahead, you know, went along with the agreement in Glasgow, with a huge sense of foreboding, and actually anger at China and India for that move.
DS: That's quite true and right, which just shows I guess that that imperative did not win out for Chinese diplomats, it at this meeting that comes to the this was more important to them than staying on the side of their colleagues in the G77 on this issue. But my favorite comment I've seen about that was from my friend that CO Hain is now at CTS. And he said, climate change is not going to be solved with a thesaurus. It's going to be solved with technologies. And, you know, I think there is the debate between phase out and phase down, which got a lot of media. That's a reflection of where governments are, it's, it's not… That alone, it's not gonna solve the problem, what we need to do is implement it, develop and deploy the clean energy technologies, the technologies and other sectors that are really going to solve this problem.
ML: Right now, and I agree with you, I looked at that, you know, that wording question. So well, you know, I think that you can talk about phasing down. But as soon as you do, your cost of capital goes up, your ability to acquire talent is non existent, who wants to who's going to want to graduate as an engineer, and going to coal when it whether it's being phased down or phased out is totally irrelevant. It's not where you put your career. So I wouldn't be at all surprised. In fact, we've seen it repeatedly, as soon as a strong signal comes actually innovation that runs way ahead of the signal itself. And I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see that also on coal. But nevertheless, it was it was interesting to see. And the I guess there's this - China wants to show that leadership, but then that was that was, you know, they definitely they definitely didn't make any friends amongst the low lying, you know, island states on that count. Yeah, one of the things you talked about the longevity of the plans and the planning system in China, there's also the longevity of a key character. Xi Zhenhua who has been their negotiator has been involved in you've worked very closely with him and Todd Stern worked closely. I don't know how long he's been in place, but he really has, has been pretty much a constant in this process for some time, has he not?
DS: No question. And he, you know, he was in high positions 20 years ago, is a minister ahead of their of the domestic environmental agency. And it's been top negotiator now, since at least, you know, the middle of the last decade. And yeah, well, extraordinarily capable person, you know, very, very smart, very articulate, really charismatic, often in the way he presents things. And, and, in my experience, you know, somebody who responds thoughtfully to, to ideas that are proposed from negotiating counterparts, and clearly says, what, what he can do and what he can't and when, when you're negotiating, that's what's important. I mean, uh, you know, we we've, certainly, when I was in government, you know, been very frustrated with him at times, but always respected the, you know, perspective that he brought to brought to the negotiations.
ML: Well, maybe I should try and get him on to Cleaning Up. And we had a very interesting Saudi analyst who came on this year, Yousef Alshammari, young guy, really smart, very well connected, and I love to get these different perspectives on these questions, so maybe we can work on that. But in Glasgow at COP, you were also presenting a report because now that you're not in government, you get to kind of do things that your broader set of things that you're interested in, and you were presenting a report on mineralization of carbon, right? Tell everybody what that is? Because I think that this doesn't get enough air time.
DS: It couldn't agree more Michael's very, so we released the roadmap on carbon mineralization. And I have to say, you know, after working in climate change policy for many years, this was a topic I knew almost nothing about until about nine months ago when I started working on this project. And assuming that lots of your audience is the same. Let me just explain that carbon mineralization is a natural process in which carbon dioxide is incorporated into rocks, particularly calcium and magnesium burying rocks and turns into carbonate minerals. And to natural process it happens very slowly in every year, about 0.3 GT of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon mineralization. So that's you know, that's what about 0.6% of overall emissions,
ML: Because it's 1% of energy emissions…
DS: So point 0.6% of overall emissions. So, the natural you know, it's so it's sometimes it's called the slow carbon cycles part of the slow carbon cycle. So, what we look at in this, in this roadmap is are there ways to use this natural process to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And if there were, it would be tremendous from a couple of different standpoints. One, this is permanent removal, I'm you're literally this binds carbon dioxide into rocks. Another very important feature is, this doesn't require energy. I mean, this happens naturally, it's, you know, for this is exothermic, that process actually generates heat when you do that. And third, these rocks are located all over the world, subsurface and on surfaces.
ML: Fourth, David, it's fabulously benign, they're not radioactive. They're not poisonous. They don't go into the water table. They don't do they just it's just, it's just sand or it's just rock. Right?
DS: Exactly right. In fact, there ways that this can help manage local environmental problems. So what we discussed are a number of different strategies, and one of them is take, taking industrial wastes or mining waste, some of which, you know, sometimes have metals, that can be a problem if they get into water. And there are ways, then to grind them and make sure that they absorb the carbon and turn into carbonate minerals, which can help manage the local environmental problem and absorb carbon. And if you can do that without spending a lot of energy to grind the rocks, or if you've got rocks that have already been ground, because they're part of an industrial process sitting in big waste files, or mining tailings, you can make a contribution. This is certainly a strategy that any mining company should be looking at to get to net zero emissions. But but it's even bigger than that, I think. And then there are strategies for pumping water or CO2 enriched water underground into rock caverns that have these types of that have magnesium and calcium bearing rocks. And then the rocks absorb the carbon dioxide from the water. There's some interesting experiments being done, including one by my Columbia colleague, Peter Kelemen, who's doing this off the coast of Oman. And the main point of our roadmap is, this is a topic that doesn't get enough attention, it should get a lot more, we need dozens of pilot projects around the world. To explore the potential for using this to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, we need much more attention in R&D programmes, incentives, government procurement programmes for products that may come out of this. Eventually, it may be soon, we could give credit for some of this in emissions trading programmes. And we're just trying to shine the spotlight on this as an opportunity because I just find so few people know about it.
ML: Now it's fascinating. The one that I'm aware of is up in Iceland, where there's carbon being captured from the air and put into basaltic rocks. I'm not sure if I've pronounced that right, but but the problem with that one is, of course, that the capturing the carbon from the air is so ridiculously expensive, that it just feels like a like a bit of a kind of, I don't know, what can I call it more of a distraction than something real. But the basaltic rock stuff is really interesting.
DS: No, it's so yeah, thank you for mentioning that. That's called it's a card fix project up in Iceland. And so, it's first time we're just being done at that scale. But no, I would not be as discouraged by the cost of direct air capture, as you just suggested, this is you know, one of the initial deployments of direct air capture technology, it's very early stage, the cost of that technology will come down dramatically with increasing deployment. And, and so I think, a project like the one in Iceland, you mentioned, which can power the removal of carbon dioxide from the air with renewable energy, so in a net zero, and then pump it underground into these rocks is tremendously productive. So
ML: Let's not go down the rabbit hole of direct capture, I'd love to, because I'm very concerned that it's being held out but you know, as much a much bigger part of the solution than the economics would justify, but, but we will go down a rabbit hole on learning curves and where they are and where they might end up. But it's certainly, just one question. If you look at that sort of never mind that direct capture. If you're talking about just grinding the stone and then exposing it to sun. It's mineralizing with carbon, turning into carbonates do you get in your report do you include an estimate of the carbon cost per tonne. Do you go as far as that?
DS: It's gonna vary widely. So. So we don't and it's currently expensive, this will be expensive. But But I think costs can come down with greater deployment and learning curves. One thing we do so there's peer reviewed literature that says that this process could be used to get 10 GT of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year. And that's obviously that if that happened, that would be an enormous contributor to getting to net zero emissions
ML: That’s a huge scale up, I mean, that's from 300 million tonnes to 10 GT. So that's a fact. You know, 30/40, more.
DS: Also vary significantly, this peer reviewed literature does not have any timeframes in it, we were not able to find timeframe. So we then our team, in this report estimates that with strong policy support and scale up, we could to 1 GT per year by 2035, and potentially 10 GT by mid century. That's not a peer reviewed result. That's something we discussed among our expert team. And it requires more work. But that's, I think, the scale, if we really had some support from policymakers that could happen. And I want to, by the way, want to note, this is part of a series of roadmaps that have been done in connection with the ICEF conference, the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum, and if you which is a conference hosted by the Japanese government every year, and we've done a series of roadmaps, and if you're interested in this topic, you can find the report.
ML: We’ll have a link to it in the show notes, no problem. We'll put a link in the show notes. And I will say to you know, I'm aware of this because you know, I went down the rabbit hole a little while ago looking for Olivine, Olivine is one of the rocks that can absorb this CO2. And I wanted to buy olivine sand which I could strew over my garden, but you know, I want a few hundred kilos of it. And there are no olivine sand retailers in the UK, I can tell you that. You're working on also, food and climate change. And we had the great privilege of having your Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack also came to the Blair Estate, not on the same day as you. And we talked about agriculture. And, and my sense was, if you look at all the other sectors, energy transport, aviation, the difficult to decarbonize sectors and so on, they were all basically saying, we will do what we can, we'll get our emissions down near to zero, but not quite zero, and then we'll do some offsets. And those offsets will broadly be in agriculture and forestry, which will have to go negative, but nobody's told the agriculture sector. Is that fair?
DS: Well, like I think, the two way I've been paying attention to this. So it's we've discussed I've been doing climate change policy for many years, but mainly with an energy focus. And I started reading a couple years ago on this topic, and came across the statistic that 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the food system 30%. And I've been to lots of meetings where the power sector is discussed, the transport sector is discussed, but food system emissions are not on the table, so to speak. And I thought that was an oversight and that more attention needed to be paid to this. So along with some colleagues here at Columbia, and at New York University in it, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, we've created something called Food Climate Partnership. And also, for your programme notes, you can go to foodclimatepartnership.org and read more about what we're doing. I think, in some ways, although that statistic seems large 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in some ways, it's not surprising, since everybody on the planet eats food every day, or most almost everybody does. We hope everybody does. And so a lot of the infrastructure that we have in the world relates to what we all do every day, which is eating food. And so that 30% includes clearing of forests for agricultural production and includes fertilisers. It includes the emissions from night from machinery for agriculture production includes the shipment of food, refrigeration of food, cooking of food, and then disposal of food. So that entire chain goes… So we're looking at a food systems approach. And if a number of articles looking at the emissions and and thinking about how you think about this holistically in a way that might reduce emissions. And one, that one particular piece of this that I think is important, but very politically fraught, involves livestock production and livestock production is a major contributor to growth. greenhouse gas emissions in particular methane emissions from livestock mainly comes out of the front end of livestock by the way, not the back end of livestock. But, but there's a couple of so reducing consumption of beef is absolutely a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There's at least two observations I'd make about that from a social cultural standpoint. First is, I don't think that, that there is any moral basis for preventing anyone in poverty or, you know, in poor countries from moving towards more livestock consumption. I think the notion of people from wealthy countries saying that people in poor countries, you shouldn't eat beef after we've, you know for generations prospered from that I don't think it's even remotely appropriate. And then beyond that, even in developing countries where people eat way too much beef.
ML: In developed you mean.
DS: I'm sorry, developed it, sorry, thank you, in developed countries, this is a we I don't know, if we'd say a third rail in US policy, you know, it's too hot to touch. And people don't want to be told that not to eat beef. So it's a very, it's a very challenging topic. There's interesting technological solutions. I mean, there's plant based proteins, which, you know, look and feel like, like hamburgers and work on cellular beef. So there's a lot here. And I think this neat, I've rambled a lot without addressing your specific question about I think you're right, that the agriculture sector, you know, it's not moving in quite the same way. And we need a variety of technological solutions in order to have the agricultural sector be part of the net zero emission story.
ML: It's a ferociously complex space where, you know, I think, I certainly don't feel qualified to, you know, to have a point of view, it's quite rare for me, as I'm sure you will appreciate, because so much of the solutions lie in agricultural systems. And you know, your average climate wonk is urban, has studied in urban universities, you probably grew up in a city. How many of us really understand the sort of farming system farming way of life? Or even frankly, the ecology of agricultural and mixed use land? I don't know, I've been trying to learn about this space for about, I would say, five years reading everything I can. And my main conclusion is, it's really complicated. And anybody who says the answer is x is just wrong. So if they say, Well, the answer is don't eat me or reduce meat consumption, then you get all of these counter arguments about how how the ungulates, and the how the, you know, the larger animals are needed for a healthier ecology. Now, we obviously have a lack of large predators, so we have to play that role. But a landscape that has no, no angulate is also not a healthy one. And it's not capturing carbon. So it's, it's, it's such a complex and culturally fraught, as you say, you've got the vegans who are always younger and urban think they know everything. And then you've got the farmers, and they're always older and rural. They also think they know everything. And they're very, very few discussions between those two groups that aren't just name calling.
DS: Well, if you want I agree with all that, Michael, if you want a short summary of this, anyone, let's think we wrote something about a year ago called the food and climate change info guide, it's about 20 pages, where we try to just summaries some of the basic facts to get people started. And there's, and I would come to our website at foodclimate partnership.org There are some, you know, amazing experts who are, you know, devoting their lives to these issues. And some of my colleagues said, you know, really call out Cynthia Rosenzweig at Columbia Francesco at the Food and Agriculture Organization, Matthew Hayek at NYU there, they're all doing, and many others are doing tremendous work in this area.
ML: Well, when I next come over to the US, maybe I'll time it so I can participate and continue my education because it really is nothing more than that my involvement in that space. I feel much, much, much more comfortable saying when you will or won't get an electric tractor or whether you need to do a hydrogen tractor and those sorts of things. That's kind of my you know, I'm okay there, but I'm just conscious of time, there's another topic that I will put all those in the show notes. Another topic that I know that you're working on, and is maybe a little bit more in my wheelhouse, which is vehicle to grid. So a huge range of stuff you do but tell us about what you're doing on vehicle to grid.
DS: I think it's a really exciting area right now. So I've served on the board for vehicle to grid company for many years. The name is
ML: David. We need to tell the audience… Some of them are as wonky as you and me and some of them won't have a clue what we're talking about with vehicle to grid, maybe start with a definition and then then go back to your thought.
DS: Thank you. So the idea here is that electric vehicles can be enabled to not just take electricity from the electric grid, but also return electricity to the grid or to a home or to a business. And it's quite simple to do that the battery is discharging anyway in the vehicles is charging to the wheels essentially. And it can be enabled to just charge off the vehicle and into an external source. And, and the pure, once there are many electric vehicles out on the road, the energy storage capacity in those in those electric vehicles is extraordinary. And can do lots of things for the electric grid and for homes. I mean, we have huge challenges, for example, in terms of balancing renewable power and variable renewable power, like solar and wind power, and a lot of effort is going into developing storage and cheap storage in order to help do that. We've got a large lot of storage capacity in vehicles and maybe there ways to enable these vehicles to help balance solar and wind power on the grid. This can also be could be a tremendous asset for energies for resilience and protecting against blackouts. We had terrible blackouts in Texas, United States, you know, earlier as earlier this year, people without power for three days if if they had electric vehicle in their home that could power their house, some of the worst outcomes could have been avoided. Now, this is a bit of a moment for this that right now the Ford Motor Company has a pickup truck that is the best selling vehicle in the United States called the Ford F 150. Pickup Truck. Right. And Ford has announced an electric F150 pickup truck, which is wildly oversubscribed, it's going to be in showrooms soon. And this electric F150 pickup truck is bidirectional. You can use it to power appliances at a campsite. Or if a lot of F150 are used at work sites construction sites, you can use it to power tools at a worksite. Or you can keep your home, an average American home could be powered for about three days with the battery with this capacity of an F 150. And Ford is marketing this very heavily as a feature of the F 150. So I think we're at a moment where the borderline between the transport sector and the power sector is being eroded. And we're going to and this area broadly, a vehicle grid integrations can be really important in the years ahead, I'm really excited about.
ML: So yeah, and all of that just for some scale perspective, all of the scenarios and models, whether it's Bloomberg NEF or whether it's the IEA or whether it's the EIA, whatever, all of them forward looking. Actually, EIA doesn't really do a kind of climate, a kind of one and a half degrees or a deep, deep low carbon scenario. But all the people who do DNV GL, BP, Shell, the storage is always in the 80% 90% of the storage is in vehicles. It's not grid, there is some grid connected, but most of it is going to go into vehicles, most of all of the batteries or lithium ion, whatever solid states are going to go into the, big chunk of it into vehicles. But I was always skeptical about vehicle to grid, this idea that you would power your home or something or your tools out of the vehicle. I always thought there's no question you need smart charging. So you can't have everybody come home from the day of work or at college and plug in just at the point when the sun goes down, there'll be this huge spike of demand on the on the grid. So I thought smart charging, yes. But vehicle to grid-no. Because, you know, my calculation was very simple. I said, look, the battery costs, you know, $40,000, and you get 1000 cycles. So each cycle costs you $40 You do $40 of damage to your button to your battery each time you do a cycle. And therefore, you know, providing $40 of utility by selling electricity is very, very hard to do on that scale. But of course, now, the batteries cost broadly $10,000 and they lost 10,000 cycles. So what used to cost $40 now it costs $1. And so I've had to rethink and I'm now much more positive about vehicle to grid and much, much more positive than I used to be which was not at all.
DS: Well, that's interesting. Why in addition to the point you just made about the drop in battery prices. You don't need a full battery cycle to get value from a vehicle I mean, even a very you know 10% of a cycle or 5% of a cycle can provide value for frequency regulation for example, or you know, or a relatively small percentage can help cut off a demand charge, you know, an extra charge for excess use of electricity. So in a lot of places in the United States, at least, some of the biggest charges that businesses pay are for spikes in electricity. And if their fleets could handle that instead, their vehicle fleets could handle that instead of having to draw power from the grid when there was a spike in electricity use, that could save a lot of money. And I think, I think that the initial adopters of this technology are highly likely to be commercial fleets. And the best application here by the way, are school buses, school buses, are such an underutilised asset. You know, they are on the road for four or five hours a day at most. And otherwise they sit parked and what if they could earn money for the school district, because are electric vehicle and they could be used as an energy storage asset while they sit unused, it is a tremendous opportunity. And, and that's true for lot vehicles in general are an incredibly underutilised from a time of day standpoint, they're, you know, sitting parked 90% of the time. So this is an opportunity, we are in our programmes for our companies Fermata Energy, we have managed to fully pay for the lease costs of some of the vehicles with avoided demand charges and other you know, grid facing payments or payments from the grid. I think this is, you know, one potential benefit or by the way is making it once once I think we have initial adoption through commercial fleets in this become rolls out more, this can be a way of making electric vehicles more affordable for low income and for moderate income owners, I mean that you can really reduce the cost of electric vehicle ownership with this. So I think there's huge potential here.
ML: I would agree with that. And I think I just smiled when you said school buses because I have literally been banging on about school buses, I think for 10 years, or better part of 10 years. And it's brilliant, because they are, of course parked up doing nothing. When the sun shines and the peak right the way through the day, they don't do anything, most of them. And the amazing is, you probably know how many school buses there are in North America?
DS: I don’t know the number how many?
ML: 480,000 of them. It's an astonishing number. There's a lot of kids, it turns out, and there's so there's nearly half a million school buses, and then they sit around you could as long as they were somewhere that you could plug them in and soak up all that solar power during the day. And then you know, in the evening, you know, after they've dropped off their charges, then they are dropped off their charges get it, no dropped off there pupils, they could then drop off their charge and <inaudible> into the school into a home or whatever. That's fabulous. And again, we'll put a we'll put a link in the show notes for Fermata Energy. Well, so we're almost out of time. I'm going to ask you one final question, which is, you know, you've got the US China, you've got the your involvement in COPs, US China, we've talked about mineralization, we've talked about food and agriculture, we talked about the vehicle to grid. What are the other things that you wish if you had more time, or maybe when you roll out of those things that you'll get involved in? What are some of the other big things that you just think, hmm, you know, this is not getting enough attention. I want to do some work on x. What is x?
DS: Amazing you ask that question, Michael, because I've I have been thinking about exactly that. And I know the answer is cryptocurrency. I think that it's a topic that I've just started to weigh into. And so don't feel any real expertise, but I think it's going to be quite important. And I think it's going to be important from an energy standpoint, it already is important from an energy standpoint. And it may well be important from a financial system standpoint. And again, with the caveat that I really feel like I'm just starting to climb the learning curve on this for those who are not familiar with this. Bitcoin now has almost if not over a trillion dollars of market capitalization. So it is not a trivial phenomenon, the Bitcoin phenomenon. There a number of other cryptocurrencies out there, crypto, the energy, the energy use. So electricity is in particular associated with Bitcoin mining was so significant that Bitcoin miners were just kicked out of China. And you see varying statistics, I'm not sure which I believe, but I think there's a what, there's an enormous amount of energy that's being used for Bitcoin mining. And I think there's a whole very strong community that believes that cryptocurrencies are a thing fundamental threat to or will fundamentally transform the financial system and you hear people say, we're at the same place with cryptocurrencies today that we were in the internet in the 1990s. I don't know whether that's true. But I'd say there it there's a lot of a lot of people who are very expert in this stuff. We're saying that and actually, just in the last couple of days, the one of our major sports arenas in Los Angeles was just bought. And it's being named, I think, crypto.com. So there, and those sports arenas are not cheap. So anyway, so that's a topic that I think is not getting enough attention. I think it's important from an energy policy standpoint, there's, there's some strategies, some companies have to try to use cryptocurrencies to actually help address climate change. At a minimum, it needs to be thought of in terms of energy demand. So there's a lot there. And I'm curious what, what your thoughts are on this topic, Mike?
ML: The funny thing is, I stood up in front of the Bloomberg NEF summit in it's gonna be 2016. So, I think it was 2016, maybe 2017. And I said, Ethereum, smart contracts, forget Bitcoin, smart contracts, here are all the different ways that you could use it for, you know, carbon registries for you know, wholesale transactions, I'm not very keen on the peer to peer, I think that the transaction size relative to the energy cost of the transaction was too high. But I stood up and I did this whole thing. And the audience was like, whoo, wow, you know, that sounds really amazing. Isn't Michael smart, etc, etc. Except, what I didn't do is take $1,000 or $10,000, and buy Etherium or Ether or or whatever, they whatever, I’m showing my ignorance here, but if I had bought $10,000 Worth, now, it would have been worth quite a few millions. So it turns out that I'm actually not that smart after all, damn it. But it's very difficult to interpret. I agree that first there's the energy, the energy used in crypto, which is clearly a big a big challenge. But you know, when you say things like, oh, let's a trillion dollars of course, a trillion dollars never went into crypto, right? The actual results is the transfer of money in whether it's people selling dollar dollars and buying crypto, then of course, there's somebody else has sold the dollars. But the what's actually happened is some billions have gone in maybe some tens of billions. And then then the cryptocurrencies have been traded between people who trade them up and up and up and up and up to the point where they're a trillion dollars. But that doesn't, it's not actually a trillion dollar market in the sense that somebody bought something for a trillion. That's not what happened.
DS: That's true. But that's, that's true. But that's the same for the value of Tesla, right or for the value of Apple that is that. It just appreciate the value of the stock appreciated, and it's not worth that much money.
ML: Correct. But there are people buying Tesla's for tens of billions every year. And it's not clear to me what this crypto is actually being used for in the real economy. And we all know about the dark and the dark web and what it's being used for in the nefarious space. But to what extent and I suppose I have held back I have no involvement, no investment, I've watched other people become very wealthy, you know, to say, I myself failed miserably to time it right. But I want to see more interaction with the real economy, you could talk about as a store of value and what they're doing in Nicaragua or whatever. But until somebody is buying that stuff, keeping it for 10 years, and then selling it and buying a condo in Florida with it, and that all works nicely. I just finding it very hard to you know, to sell my gold, which I don't have either. But there you go.
DS: Well, if it's the if the important topic that I have been spent the most time on to say that they were the answer to your question.
ML: I’m also fascinated by its use in facilitating and reducing costs. And I heard of a great use case where you could put the oil being extracted from every little nodding donkey onto the blockchain and then all of the different royalties because there's the farmer gets some and then there's the state that gets arm and, and all of that could be administered with no accountants being involved, which is always a good thing in my book. And so there are use cases where it really, really makes sense from an administrative cost perspective. So I I'm fascinated, I look forward to hearing the results of your deep dive.
DS: Well and with your financial expertise Michael, I look forward to your further thoughts on this. I see that as the hour has progressed the sun at my window has shifted and I'm now getting a quite a glow. So, you know, I'm not sure what that's a metaphor for.
ML: Exactly. So are we are out of time you aren't how backlit beautifully there. You're right, the lighting has changed. But I think that is a sign that we are out of time. David, it's just such an enormous pleasure always to talk to you. I'm so sorry that I missed you in Glasgow. I hope that I can travel again to the US soon or that you will come back to Europe and I very much hope to be meeting you in person.
DS: Thanks for having me, Michael. Great to see you as always.
ML: Thank you. Bye, bye. So that was David Sandalow Fellow at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, former acting US Undersecretary of energy. My guest next week on Cleaning Up will be Mariana Mazucatto, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, author of books like ‘The Entrepreneurial State’, ‘The Value of Everything’, and most recently, ‘Mission Economy’. Please join me this time next week for a conversation with Mariana Mazucatto.