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Review of Designing Climate Solutions

by Buddy Burch, The Climate Center

Hal Harvey’s 2018 work entitled Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy, provides the reader with a primer in constructing effective policies to avoid catastrophic global temperature rise. Harvey is deeply ingrained in the climate movement. A graduate of Stanford University with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Engineering, he is the founder of ClimateWorks Foundation and Energy Foundation, and he is the CEO of Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC. He was appointed to energy panels organized by Presidents Bush and Clinton, and he is active on many other boards and foundations that are doing important work to mitigate climate change.

I read this book as part of an ongoing examination by The Climate Center on policy in the climate movement. We are searching for the best strategies to align the movement, and we argue that having strong policy criteria gives organizations something powerful to work with. My mission aside, Harvey is clearly an expert in the material, and I personally look forward to having this book on my shelf as I enter graduate school for urban planning.

The work starts with the premise that humans must achieve a 1,185 Gigaton emissions reduction in order to have a 50 percent chance of avoiding a 2-degree Celsius global temperature increase. He then divides the book into sections based on the five sectors in which these emissions ought to occur: power, transportation, building, industry, and cross-sector. Within each of these sectors, Harvey lays out criteria (he calls them “policy design principles”) for success that he has identified over the course of his research. These include building in continuous improvement, setting long-term expectations for fair planning, avoiding loopholes, eliminating unnecessary soft costs, and more. They are a consistent and helpful lens used throughout the book to demonstrate that policies cannot just be good in theory. They have to be thoughtfully executed.

Designing Climate Solutions can be a difficult read if you are not an environmental policy expert, but I believe that it is still worth the challenge in order to be better informed about the policies being implemented by your government. Being informed helps us ask for what we need. My only criticism is that, while Harvey goes into depth on the relationship among the five sectors and how to establish a strong portfolio of policy for each, he does not acknowledge how policy fits in with other strategies utilized by organizations in the climate movement.

At The Climate Center, we agree with his emphasis on policy solutions, but we also observe that not all organizations recognize the need for policies that offer speed and scale solutions. Many opt, instead, to educate people about the facts of climate change, exhort them to take individual action, or continue research efforts with little applicability. Given Harvey’s enthusiasm for policy, it would be helpful to hear more about his process of recognizing the importance of strong policy over other strategies.


Isabella Burch works for The Climate Center as a legislative research assistant. She graduated from Claremont McKenna College in 2016 with degrees in government and philosophy. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in urban planning, concentrating on sustainability and environmental policy.