Path to Zero
Path to Zero
2.21 - The Science, Policy and Economics of Decarbonization

“I am one who thought we accomplished a lot.”

That’s the assessment of MIT climate policy expert Dr. Sergey Paltsev, who recently returned from the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.

In a far-reaching conversation, Dr. Paltsev talks to Tucker about the outcomes of the Glasgow summit, coordinated action to decarbonize the planet, financial risks associated with climate change and the different types of energy needed to stabilize the climate.

Dr. Sergey Paltsev and the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Dr. Paltsev is the deputy director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. He’s the author of more than 100 peer reviewed publications in scientific journals and books on climate. Paltsev was also selected by the United Nations to be a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC.

When it comes to climate change, Paltsev says it’s important that science and policy are put on equal footing because both are extremely important.

“Put simply, our mission at the joint program is to save the world,” says Paltsev. “We are trying to create and communicate actionable analysis which decision makers can use in order to decarbonize our world.”


Dr. Paltsev was among the delegation from MIT that traveled to Glasgow for COP26, where international negotiators sought to keep global climate goals on track. He spoke during the opening week of the conference and presented findings from the latest MIT Global Change Outlook. The analysis shows a wide gap in emissions reduction pledges made by countries— and the reductions needed to put the world on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and the new climate pact negotiated at the Glasgow meeting.

Members of MIT’s COP26 delegation stand for a portrait in Glasgow, Scotland.
Photo courtesy of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative.

Paltsev says it was important for President Biden to attend COP26 and make the statement that the United States was back to the Paris Agreement and global leadership position on climate change.

“We need this type of meeting where 200 countries with very different demands come together so we can really start aggressive decarbonization,” says Paltsev. “I’m pleased that we are making progress.”

Economics of Decarbonization

The MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change does a great deal of research on the financial impacts of climate change.

Paltsev says decarbonization projects require investment and he also points to the importance of considering the financial risks of the energy transition. He cites an example of the joint program working with the Bank of Canada to analyze the future of Canadian industry. The country relies heavily on exports of both oil and gas. Paltsev says they have to take into consideration transition risks and how it impacts financial institutions.

Carbon Price

When Tucker asked Paltsev about the one thing he’d like to see happen to make the biggest impact on mitigating climate change, he said the most efficient way to decarbonize is not popular with policy makers-carbon pricing. “We need to determine a way to implement a carbon price without creating complicated regulations which can actually make things worse,” says Paltsev. “We have done studies where we’ve illustrated that you can do it the right way where you take into consideration the cost to society and the cost of economic growth.”