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In a sense the world is already equipped for the task at hand. Wind and solar power have, after huge subsidies, joined nuclear reactors and dams as affordable ways of generating gigawatts of electricity without burning fossil fuels. As our Technology Quarterly this week shows, parts of the energy system not easily electrified—some forms of transport, industrial processes like making steel and cement, heating offices and homes—could also be decarbonized with coming technologies. And policymakers have tools to bring about change, including carbon taxes, regulation, subsidies and, if they choose, command and control.
Yet when the parties to the convention on climate change meet again in Katowice, Poland, on December 2nd, it will be against a backdrop not just of rising temperatures but also of rising despair. The problem is obvious: the stakes are huge; solutions are within reach. So why is the response inadequate?
The chief reason is that the world has no history of dealing with such a difficult problem，nor the institutions to do so. The harm done by climate change is not visited on the people, or the generations, that have the best chance of acting against it. Those who suffer most harm are and will be predominantly poor and in poor countries. The people called on to pay the costs of reducing that harm are and will be mostly much better off.
The better off are more able to adapt to climate change than the poor, and thus have less cause to avoid change. And making the poor wealthy enough to adapt involves economic growth that is still mostly powered by fossil fuels. Although no one should be asked to forgo that growth，it has consequences.
What might produce a moment of clarity to break this impasse? One possibility is th sheer impact of climate change. Geophysical features of Earth are already being redrawn. The dry edges of the tropics are heading pole wards at about 50km a decade. The line of aridity defining the American West has moved roughly 230km east since 1980. The sea ice in the Arctic is a shadow of its former self. Nobody can know whether the world will one day wake up and cut emissions to zero. Even if it does, the main problem — the stock of greenhouse gases already emitted — will remain. A crash programme to suck carbon dioxide out of the air would take vast resources and years to make a difference.
Another spur might be innovation. The world would have many fewer firms developing electric cars were it not for Elon Musk and Tesla. But without policies to spread innovation, such as a carbon tax or subsidy and regulation, inventiveness alone is insufficient. The technology that matters is the technology being used.