Alice Favero joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2014 and is a visiting Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy where she teaches Environmental Policy (undergraduate) and Climate Change policy (undergraduate and graduate). Prior to joining Georgia Tech, she was a research assistant at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She earned her Ph.D. in Science and Management of Climate Change, a M.Sc and a B.A. in Economics and Finance all from Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, Italy. Her research focuses on the optimal use of forestland as a climate mitigation strategy.
What brought you to Georgia Tech?
There are two reasons. First, I have always wanted to be a professor and Georgia Tech is just the perfect place for me with excellent students, enthusiastic and curious about what I teach. Second, Georgia Tech is the perfect environment to develop my research because of the possibility to cooperate with high-caliber researchers of all disciplines. I have learned a lot from colleagues around the campus. Thanks to them I was able to see my research topics from different perspectives: not only the economist but also the climate scientist, the political scientist and (of course) the engineer perspective.
Describe some of your recent research.
My recent research is on the optimal use of forest in order to meet the 2°C mitigation target. The carbon mitigation literature has separately considered using forests to store carbon and as a source of bioenergy. The analysis confirms that using both options is preferable to using either one alone. At first, while carbon prices are low, forest carbon storage dominates. However, with higher carbon prices, wood bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) becomes increasingly important as a mechanism to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The use of both mechanisms increases global forestland at the expense of marginal cropland. While the storage program dominates, unmanaged forestland expands. But when the wood bioenergy program starts, unmanaged forestland shrinks as more forests become managed for higher yields.
What role does bioenergy play in the transition toward a low-carbon economy?
Bio-energy can play a key role in a low-zero-carbon economy. In particular, using forests to fuel bio-energy combined with CCS technology (BECCS) is an alternative mitigation option that is cost effective at least for stringent mitigation targets. Carbon dioxide fixed in biomass through photosynthesis is captured when biomass is burned and it is then sequestered in underground deposits. BECCS is an attractive mitigation strategy because it delivers two desired outputs at the same time: it generates electricity and it lowers the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere. Many Integrated Assessment Models used to develop future mitigation scenarios (like meeting the 2°C target) require BECCS to reach stringent stabilization targets. BECCS is a novel technology and its deployment is in the development and exploration stages and it has been dependent on strong financial incentives. There is one BECCS project in Illinois that has been financed by a $99 million grant from the federal Department of Energy in 2009, the project is storing carbon dioxide, captured from a nearby plant that produces ethanol from corn, in a formation 7,000 feet underground. In 2012 it stored 317,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide; the goal is one million tons a year until the project ends in 2016. Finally, it is important to assess how and where biomass for bio-energy is produced in order to preserve old growth (mature) forest habitat and reduce the conversion from inaccessible forest to managed forests.
What did the Paris climate talks and agreement achieve?
The Paris Agreement provides a broad foundation for meaningful progress on climate change, and represents a dramatic change relative to the Kyoto Protocol.
In Paris, representatives of 195 countries adopted a new hybrid international climate policy architecture that includes: bottom-up elements in the form of “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs), which are national targets and actions that arise from domestic policies; and top-down elements for oversight, guidance, and coordination from the UNFCCC (an international institution).
Instead of setting commitments through centralized bargaining (like in the Kyoto Protocol), the Paris approach sets countries free to make their own contributions which made it easier for national governments to tailor their goals to what they know they can really achieve at home.
This flexibility increases the participation under the new Paris Agreement which is a necessary condition for meaningful action, but, of course, it is not a sufficient condition. Also required is an adequate level of ambition of the individual contributions. For instance, the initial set of commitments proposed in Paris could cut anticipated temperature increases this century to about 3.5°C, not being stringent enough to meet the frequently-discussed 2°C target. In order words, Paris has not completely solved the climate gridlock, but the new approach brought about by the Paris Agreement can be a key step toward reducing the threat of global climate change.
What infrastructure investments will be needed in the United States and globally to create a pathway consistent with achieving global average warming below 2°C?
In the article “Investments and public finance in a green, low carbon, economy” with Carlo Carraro and Emanuele Massetti we answer this question. The paper evaluates the impacts on investments and public finance of a transition to a green, low carbon, economy induced by climate mitigation policies.
We show that under a 2°C target, investments are diverted from coal power generation to Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear and renewable. Cumulative investments in renewable power increase by 48% during 2020–2035 with respect to the baseline scenario (without climate policy) and by 55% during 2035–2050. Cumulative investments in nuclear power increase by 50% during 2020–2035 and by 56% during 2035–2050. Finally, IGCC power plants fuelled by coal and biomass are the real “game changer” in power generation. In the 2°C target scenario investments in IGCC with CCS during the period 2035–2050 amount to 36% of total investments in the power sector, approximately the same share that coal has in the baseline scenario. In absolute terms, IGCC with CCS attracts approximately US$ 4.5 trillion of investments during the period 2035–2050, an average of US$ 300 billion a year.
For a real-world perspective, for the first time last December, 20 governments and a coalition of business leaders led by Bill Gates announced plans to ramp up investments in research and development on clean energy such as advancing cheap, extensive battery storage to maximize the potential of solar power, safer nuclear power plants and technologies to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere.
If you weren’t teaching or conducting research, what would you be doing?
I would be either a writer (in my ideal world) or an engineer like my dad. I would either write children books about my childhood in the Italian countryside with animals and vineyards or work on buildings and infrastructures with my dad trying to reduce their environmental impacts and increase their energy efficiency. Probably I would be less worried about the economics of the technologies and more focused on their environmental benefits.