A central tool all use in reasoning about the problem is the Kaya identity. This was designed to allow a simple understanding of the relationship between GDP, energy and CO2 and was used by Bill Gates in his TED2010 talk.
The Kaya identity: CO2=P*(GDP/P)*(E/GDP)*(CO2/E) where CO2 is world CO2 production, P world Population, GDP world GDP, E world energy consumption.
In a world where P is rising, GDP/P is rising and E/GDP is fairly constant and hard to reduce, reducing CO2 mostly comes down to reducing CO2/E, the “carbon intensity”.
Current attempts at policy center on mandating CO2 reduction through carbon taxes and subsidizing clean energy alternatives. Both of these policies have failed. There is no agreement on CO2 reduction, and if there were it would likely fail and destroy GDP growth. Alternative energy relies completely on subsidies and its size as a percentage of energy is determined by the level of subsidy governments are willing to make. All credible forecasts for the percentage of energy from wind, solar and biomass show only a small percentage of future energy from these sources because they need subsidy into the far foreseeable future and the subsidy needed to raise their percentage would be politically untenable and likely would also destroy GDP growth.
These perspectives lead to a policy to get the horse in front of the cart and first develop viable market competitive energy technologies before mandating CO2 reduction. The policy does not specify what these technologies might be, though various nuclear technologies might fit the energy requirement but clearly would not be politically acceptable today.
Unfortunately, despite the failure of current alternative energy technologies, they are now well established industries with strong constituencies and strong ties to government and in a policy debate they will most likely prevail and oppose any policy change.
So far Terrapower is the only seriously financed attempt at a technology-led solution, but it’s hard to see private financing covering the decades and billions it will take to commercialize a new reactor technology.