Monthly Archives: November 2016

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Dennis Grube

In the final days of an extraordinary campaign, a public official inserted himself into the very heart of the 2016 US presidential election.  I’m referring to FBI Director James Comey and his decision to reveal the re-opening of his investigation into the emails of Hillary Clinton.

My question is a simple one:  What would you have done?

If he had said nothing, and it later emerged that the emails showed evidence of wrongdoing, Comey would have been accused of supressing information that voters had a right to know before the election.  By saying something, he was accused of having released information likely to damage public perceptions of Hillary Clinton in the midst of an election campaign.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

What’s the lesson for us as students and practitioners of public policy?  It’s a reminder that public policy is not a value-free space, where objective policy analysts create and cleave to a higher form of knowledge that is unstained by the darker world of politics.  Non-elected public officials face challenging ethical decisions in a real-world environment in which politics cannot simply be treated as an annoying variable to be modelled out of the way.

In their award winning 2006 article ‘In Search of Prudence’ John Kane and Haig Patapan suggest that public administrators should cultivate a sense of ‘prudent’ judgement.  Prudence is defined as ‘practical wisdom’ – an Aristotelian marriage between philosophical understanding and contemporary reality that guides decision-makers through the ethical minefields of public life.

There are many legitimate grounds for both attacking and defending Comey’s decision to go public with his renewed investigations into Clinton’s emails, and his equally abrupt decision on the eve of the election to clear her of wrongdoing.

In a situation where there is no clear right or wrong answer, what do you think was the ‘prudent’ thing to do?

Dr Dennis Grube is Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and a faculty member of the MPhil in Public Policy (MPP). His bio is available here.

Technology Innovation in Energy in the Run-up to Marrakech

By Dr. Laura Diaz Anadon 

Today the COP22 (Conference of Parties) of the United Nations Framework Convention in Climate Change starts in Marrakech.  For the next two weeks, representatives from governments, civil society, the private sector and academia from all over the world will discuss some of the most important actions that need to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the 2oC global average temperature goal.

COP22 is meant to advance the agenda put forward by the December 2015 Paris Agreement in COP21, which entered into force last Friday.  There is relative consensus around the fact that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) presented to fulfill the Paris Agreement will not result in sufficient greenhouse gas emissions reductions, even if successfully implemented. This is why over the past year, a growing amount of attention and initiatives have focused on the role that technology innovation can play by reducing the costs of climate mitigation and thereby enabling more ambitious national goals.

Two particular new efforts have catalyzed most of the attention. The first is the Mission Innovation pledge, in which 20 major countries committed to doubling public energy R&D investments between 2015 and 2020. The second is the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a commitment from 28 high net worth individuals (to date) to complement Mission Innovation with patient and long-term private sector funding and expertise.  I recently presented in different events aimed at exploring how to accelerate technology innovation in clean energy technologies in the context of both of these efforts.

In early October I was invited to speak at the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum (ICEF 2016) in Tokyo. This was the third installation of an annual event organized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) and the New Energy Development Organization (NEDO) of the Japanese Government focused on the role of technology innovation.  In my panel on the “Desirable R&D for Innovative Technologies and the Potential for International Collaboration” there was widespread agreement that the focus should now be on how such efforts should be structured. I also participated in an International Symposium organized by the Canon Institute of Global Studies on “The Role of Innovation for Long-term GHG Mitigation”.

Panel Discussion of the International Symposium on “The Role of Innovation for Long-term GHG Mitigation” organized in Tokyo by the Canon Institute of Global Studies on October 7

Together with Professor David Victor (from UC San Diego), Professor Carlo Carraro (from FEEM, and Vice Chair of the IPCC WG III), Dr. Yoichi Kaya (President of RITE, in Japan), Professor Jun Arima (from the University of Tokyo), and Dr. Yarime Masaru (CUHK) (see picture above) we presented on and discussed the institutional, organizational and technological requirements of domestic and international efforts in technology innovation. It was refreshing to see that instead of focusing on how much support for energy R&D is necessary (an important area that many of us have contributed to for many years), the conversation is now also including research on what types of funding and institutions are necessary for what technologies and actors (from startups, to universities, to large firms); on how to learn from past experience; and how to build stable collaborations.  Recent work with colleagues published in Nature Energy on the U.S. National Labs as well as our 2014 Transforming U.S. Energy Innovation book  and ongoing work on public private partnerships were of particular interest.

Dr Laura Diaz Anadon

Dr. Laura Diaz Anadon, during her presentation at the CIGS Symposium in Tokyo

And just last Friday I presented in a session on Demand Pull Policies and Energy Innovation at the 38th Fall Annual Research Conference organized by the Association in Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) in Washington D.C. It was wonderful to see so many great colleagues again and to have the chance to discuss the work with Prof. Claudia Doblinger and Dr. Kavita Surana on the impact of different types of partners and partnerships on the performance of clean tech startups. The focus of institutional design in the session continued with Prof. Nemet’s work on technology demonstration projects, Prof. Tobias Schmidt’s work on the location of learning across different types of energy technologies, and Prof. Varun Rai’s work on learning in solar PV in China. Many of my colleagues in these panels are able to make it to Marrakech, so I am sure the conversation on the “how” will have a chance to move forward!

Dr. Laura Diaz Anadon is University Lecturer (Assistant Professor) at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge. She is also a Bye Fellow at Peterhouse, an associate researcher of the Energy Policy Research Group at Cambridge, a Fellow at C-EENRG, and a Research Associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) at Harvard University.