Most people now realize the cost of inaction to deal with climate change is far higher than the cost of action. The challenge is mustering the political will to make smart policy choices.
A new report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, of which I am a member, shows climate action delivers local development benefits as well as emissions reductions. In fact, smart policy choices can deliver economic, health and climate benefits for developed and developing countries alike.
Today, about 1.1 billion people around the world live without electricity. Cities, which now house more than half the world’s population, struggle under the weight of inefficient, expensive and often-polluting energy systems. Energy access and affordability are paramount in addressing poverty alleviation and shared prosperity goals, and cleaner energy is critical in mitigating climate change.
Applications of Open and Big Data principles and advanced analytics is an area of innovation that can help address many pressing energy sector challenges in the developing world, as well as provide social and financial dividends at low cost.
The World Bank Group is committed to accelerating the use of Open Data and advanced analytics to improve access to reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity, in line with its commitment to the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. In order to increase awareness around opportunities of new data capturing and analyzing solutions in the energy sector in emerging markets, the World Bank Group and University of Chicago hosted a training session and a subsequent workshop in mid-May.
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- information and communications technologies
- information and communication technology
- Big Data Exploration
- Big Data
- open data
- renewable energy
- green energy
- clean tech
- Clean technology
- Clean energy
- access to energy
- Energy Efficient
- Energy Efficiency
- Information and Communication Technologies
- The World Region
But perhaps one of the more interesting messages was the one coming from progressive regulators here in the U.S. The head of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, noted that with renewable energy already supplying 40% of the state’s electricity a few days last year, the target for 50% renewables by 2030 is “not really a challenge”. Perhaps more interesting, he seemed very relaxed on reaching 100% renewables at some point in the future, on the back of strategic generation placement, transfers to neighboring states, and embedded storage. And note that we’re not talking about large hydropower here, which supplies between 6-12% of California’s electricity and is unlikely to increase.
Denmark has committed to renewable energy further and faster than any country in Europe. The Scandinavian nation generates a third of its annual electricity demand from wind, and solar capacity is growing as well. For countries that want to green their energy mix, there is no better place to get a glimpse of the future than Denmark.
Its pioneering spirit has brought great benefits, and international acclaim, but like all first movers, Denmark is also learning as it goes.
To tap into this learning, ESMAP—the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program—organized a study tour to Energinet.dk, Denmark’s transmission system operator, as part of its work to help client countries integrate variable renewable energy into their electricity grids. Joining the study tour were 26 participants—representatives from regulators, system operators and utilities from 13 countries, including South Africa, Chile, China, Pakistan, Zambia, and Morocco.
The past five weeks have given us what may be defining moments on the road to a Paris agreement that will lay a foundation for a future climate regime.
- On October 23, European Union leaders committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 and increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use by at least 27 percent by 2030.
- On November 12, during the APEC Summit in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama jointly announced their post-2020 climate mitigation targets: China intends to achieve peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with best efforts to peak as early as possible, and increase its non-fossil fuel share of all energy to 20 percent by 2030; and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
- On November 20, at the donor conference in Berlin, led by the U.S., Germany, and others, donors pledged about US$9.3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
China’s announcement in particular is considered by many to be a game changer. China, the world’s biggest emitter with its emissions accounting for more than 27 percent of the global emissions, is setting an example for other major developing countries to put forward quantifiable emission targets. The announcement will hopefully also brush away the “China excuse,” used by some developed countries that have avoided commitments on the grounds that China was not part of action under the Kyoto targets.
She and leaders of governments, companies and organizations like the World Bank Group were gathered to pledge record amounts of finance and country-level actions to tackle the insidious health and environmental challenges posed by the simple act of cooking.
Growing up in India, I have always been conscious of the daily grind that women and girls in remote, rural areas go through just to prepare one meal. There’s the long, arduous and sometimes dangerous walk to get firewood, sticks or charcoal – whatever one can afford to find or buy. There’s the walk home, loaded down with that fuel. This can take up to five hours in rural areas – time that could be spent at school, work or building a small enterprise. And then of course, there’s the time spent breathing in smoke as they cook an often simple meal of bread, rice, lentils or vegetables. In India alone, more than one million deaths a year are attributed to traditional cooking practices - a shocking figure by any reckoning.
December 2009 does not seem so long ago. The UN climate conference in Copenhagen had just come to a disappointing end, and I headed home feeling depressed. I returned to China for holiday and was surprised to see the widespread awareness of climate change and the collective sense of urgency for action. The concept of "low carbon" was discussed in all major and local newspapers. To my amazement, I even found an advertisement for a "low carbon" wedding. I finished my holiday and went back to Washington with optimism and hope: Despite the failings of Copenhagen, China, the biggest emitter in the world and the largest developing country, was going through a real transformational change. China clearly saw action on climate change as serving its own interest and as an opportunity to pursue a green growth model that decouples economic development from carbon emissions and resource dependence.
In the past five years, the world has witnessed the emergence of China as a leader for tackling climate change. A few weeks ago, colleagues at the World Bank Group heard an evidenced-based presentation by Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua from the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) of China, who showed what China had done in the past, is doing now, and plans to do in the future. He shared his candid assessment of the challenges, mistakes, and lessons learned from China's experience.
China’s progress is impressive. Between 2005 and 2013, average economic growth has been above 8 percent while the country’s emissions intensity has decreased by 28.5 percent compared with 2005 levels. This equates to emissions reductions of 23 million tons of CO2. These reductions were achieved through massive closures of inefficient coal fire plants, aggressive energy efficiency programs, expanding the renewable energy program, and large investments in clean technology.
While these numbers are impressive, sustaining them will be harder. Over the last 10 years, China has targeted its "low-hanging fruit" for mitigation options. The challenge today is how China will sustain annual GDP growth of more than 7 percent while continuing to reduce its economy’s emissions intensity.
This week marks the launch of the new, World-Bank supported Ethiopia Climate Innovation Center (CIC). The center joins a global network of CICs and is designed to support local Ethiopian businesses that are responding to the challenges of climate change by providing mentorship, financing, access to markets, and policy support.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy demand is likely to grow by more than one-third between now and 2035. Mobilizing investment capital is one major task. Additionally, energy infrastructure such as electric power facilities has a long time span – up to 40 or 50 years in the case of base-load nuclear or coal plants. As the new Growing Green report, released by the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region, points out, with such a long time span and the enormous amount of capital at stake, power sector investments need to consider at least three types of uncertainties—changing regulations, changing technology, and changing climatic conditions.
Regulatory uncertainty persists in countries without formal greenhouse gas emission restrictions. Even in the EU, the emissions trading system is still evolving and future prices for carbon emissions will in large part depend on political decisions. Such schemes may spread to other parts of Europe and Central Asia as the implications of climate change become more apparent and support for climate action rises. A price on carbon, either through a cap-and-trade sys¬tem or a tax, can profoundly alter the comparative economics of different power generation technologies. With a price on carbon emissions, the cost differential between fossil-fuel plants and low-carbon alternatives shrinks and in some cases disappears.
Many international firms and banks already incorporate an assumed carbon price into their financial investment feasibility calculations. Expectations of future carbon pricing have already altered investment decisions favoring natural gas over coal-fired power plants in the U.S. (although more recently the drop in gas prices has been a larger factor). Conversely, regulatory uncertainty also hinders investments in low-carbon generation. The IEA estimates (pdf) that uncertainty in climate change policy might add a risk premium of up to 40 percent to such investments, driving up consumer prices by 10 percent.
If you could have just one wish, would you choose to solve climate change or energy poverty?
Resolving these two calamities is fundamental to the wellbeing of the planet and people. Climate change is caused mainly by the consumption of energy and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy services. Helping 1.3 billion people access electricity and 2.6 billion people to have clean cooking facilities will greatly increase the world’s energy consumption and resulting GHG emissions. Spending money to mitigate climate change uses valuable resources that could more directly benefit the poor who have so little energy and such unhealthy cooking facilities. How do we address both energy poverty and climate change? This is as much an ethical dilemma as a technological challenge.