Emanuele Massetti joins the School of Public Policy at the Ivan Allen College of Georgia Tech after a post-doc at Yale University and ten years as Senior Researcher at the Sustainable Development Unit of Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution in Italy devoted to the study of sustainable development and global governance. Emanuele is a CESifo Research Network member and Research Affiliate at the Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change (CMCC). Emanuele holds a PhD in Economics from Catholic University of Milan, a MSc in Economics from University College London and a MA in Economics from Brown University. His main research interests are in Environmental, Energy and Agricultural Economics
What brought you to Georgia Tech?
I found a great faculty group at the School of Public Policy with which I share many research interests on energy policy. The CEPL laboratory, led by Marilyn Brown, is a great place to discuss current policy developments, at the U.S. and global level.
I was also attracted by the possibility of being in one of the leading engineering schools in the world. There is huge potential for energy and climate policy research at Georgia Tech.
My office before coming to Georgia Tech was on the San Giorgio Maggiore Island in Venice, right in front of San Marco square. Possibly the best office location in the world. But I do not regret having left it.
Describe some of your recent energy-related work?
My recent work on energy has focused on the air pollution benefits of Greenhouse gases emissions and on modeling work to estimate investments in carbon-free energy systems.
In a recent EU-wide study we have seen that reducing coal power generation, the first logical step in any climate mitigation policy, will deliver very large benefit in terms of cleaner air. There should probably be change in perspective: reducing global warming is a side benefit of local air-quality policies.
I did a large review for the IPCC of the literature on investments and other financial flows associated with climate mitigation policies. I was surprised to find very few studies that provide estimates on investment needs for decarbonizing the economies. I decided then to take the full set of climate mitigation scenarios used by the IPCC and build my own estimates. What I find is a bit surprising. Most scenarios imply that climate mitigation policy will reduce investment in power generation rather than increasing it, mainly because of energy efficiency improvements and declining electricity demand. This is still work in progress and I was happy to receive support to work on this topic last summer from a Small Research Grant of the Ivan Allen College at Georgia Tech.
What are some of the economic impacts of climate change in the United States?
The United States is in fortunate position. Its climate is generally temperate and will not suffer from the worst impacts of climate change. Countries at the low latitudes, will suffer much more because they are already hot.
The United States has also a very advanced economy, and most sectors are relatively immune to moderate climate variations. Moderate climate change is not expected to have very large effects. Uncontrolled climate change instead, with global temperature rising 4°C and more, will likely create much higher losses, because of the wide ecological, social and economic disruption at national and international scale.
There are a lot of potential threats from climate change, but also many opportunities to adapt. For example, there is huge potential to adapt to future water shortages. Water is wasted today, even during droughts, due to an archaic set of rules that allow many users not to pay the full cost of water. A change in water management practices will deliver large benefits today, and will make the country more prepared to face future water shortages.
Policies and strategies for preventing/mitigating these events at the community level?
While mitigation of climate change is mainly a global problem, adaptation is a local problem because the response to climate will be driven by local needs and opportunities. Mitigation of climate change is plagued by global coordination problems but adaptation is not. For this reason there is likely going to be less mitigation and more adaptation than what would be optimal.
Local communities have the responsibility to get prepared to future climate change. Unfortunately, it is often not possible to know with high precision how the climate patterns will unfold at local level. Future precipitation trends are still very uncertain. For many communities it may be too soon to invest in costly projects that cannot be adapted to future circumstances. For example, we know that sea-level is going to increase but there still is a lot of uncertainty on how fast this will happen. Investing today in sea-level protection measures may be risky because we still do not know the extent of the future threat. For many communities, the best adaptation strategy today is probably to invest contingency plans and decision rules that allow to make informed decisions as new and more reliable information will be available.
Local communities can do a lot to reduce Greenhouse gases emissions and everyone should contribute by shifting to a greener way of life. But, it is important not to create false illusions. A carbon-free Georgia would enjoy cleaner air, which is a great co-benefit of mitigation, but would not make a meaningful impact on global climate change. We reduce global warming only if we act together at global level. I believe that the most important role of local communities today is to elect officials that have climate change high in their agenda, in order to promote national and global mitigation policies. Local communities can make an impact only if they push for an agenda of global change.
Through your work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), what are some of the most promising advances in our understanding of climate change?
The IPCC has played a huge role in moving forward the debate on the science of climate change from “does the problem exist?” to “how large is the problem?”. The Working Group I of the IPCC provides a shared consolidated view of the scientific literature, which helps a lot policy makers. Working Group II (impacts and adaptation) and Working Group III (mitigation) have a more challenging task because they do not deal with “hard facts” as Group I does. There is still a lot of disagreement on the effects of climate change and on the best way to reduce emissions. In some cases agreement will increase as evidence accumulates (for example, evidence on physical impacts), but there are and there will always be very large and legitimate differences about mitigation, adaptation and socio-economic impacts. It is not clear if 1,000 pages long reports that list all the possible views in the literature are going to be useful to policy makers.
If you were not teaching or conducting research, what would you be doing?
Skiing, sailing or travelling by motorbike around the world. Yes, my carbon footprint would be huge. Probably not a bad idea to keep on teaching and doing research.