Walking out of Keflavik airport as the arctic breeze hit my face at 50 km per hour, I thought to myself, “I love my job.” A job that makes a tropical citizen like me enjoy the hospitality of the very warm Icelanders and allows me to learn from their experience is hard to top. With 320,000 citizens and just the size of the U.S. state of Kentucky, subpolar Iceland has a lot to teach us development practitioners.
We are only beginning to put together a vision for how to deal with the dilemma of a warming-- and therefore more unpredictable and punishing--climate and ever increasing energy needs. But Iceland has long ago put its mind to the challenge and now lives productively and peacefully in an environment that throws at it tremendous challenges and great gifts.
My appreciation of Iceland's strategy to make use of its environment and harness its renewable energy rose as I visited Hellisheiði Geothermal Plant. Feeling the rumbles of the earth and looking at the steam that puffed from its heart against the backdrop of a volcanic landscape, I was in awe both of nature and the people who have embraced its imposing power.
Can emerging markets make economic growth compatible with climate action? Can the trade-off between growth and rising emissions be influenced by policy?
For a country like Turkey – with the lowest carbon footprint in the OECD (around 5 tons per person in 2008), but also one of the highest rates of growth of carbon emissions over the past two decades – these are not idle questions. A recent talk with a senior Turkish policy maker about how Turkey is adjusting its policies to meet the challenge of growing green left me feeling optimistic about the role Turkey can play in this discussion. I believe that for Turkey, growing green is an opportunity. Let me explain why I think so:
It’s been clear here at the World Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi that the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, is fast emerging as a leader in forging a more sustainable energy future. With 159 countries—plus the EU— having joined it, a staff of 70 and a $28-million annual budget, IRENA held its third Executive Assembly here, making an impressive show on the sidelines of the summit. One example is its Renewable Energy Roadmap, which attracted lively interest among delegates.
As the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) and its stakeholders from the private sector, government, the multilateral development banks, civil society and indigenous peoples’ groups gathered in Istanbul to participate in the first CIF Private Sector Forum, their attention is increasingly focused on synergies between the private and public in addressing climate change. There is a growing understanding among both governments and private sector players - from investors to small project developers to large utility companies - that gains are much larger if common strategies are developed and new partnerships are forged.
Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, opened the day with an energetic keynote address, provocative and positive, setting up the stage for the day by announcing the scope of challenge and opportunities for dynamic, and pragmatic climate investment strategies. Sessions on private sector adaptation, and business attitudes towards climate risk followed. The `Matching Expectations' panel brought together indispensable partners, the triangle of project developers-investors-policy makers, into discussion of regulations, fund raising challenges and investors' expectations and requirements.
The day also showcased five CIF projects, beginning with the highlight of the Morocco Ouarzazate CSP project, a unique PPP model, presented by Paddy Padmanathan, the CEO of the project's developer ACWA Power.
Consensus emerged that the private sector will deliver much of the innovation and finance required for investments in low carbon technologies and climate resilience in rich and poor communities alike. With scientists warning that we are not on a path to limit global warming to 2° or less, there is growing urgency to identify effective ways in which the public and private sectors can best work together to tackle and adapt to climate change. The CIF provide a platform for learning by doing to develop such models for effective collaboration and share experiences among the network of CIF recipient and contributor countries.
“We could go a week without working. But now there isn't one day without work.”
At her hair salon an hour outside Nairobi, Kenya, Elizabeth Kyalo is talking about the impact of electricity. Specifically, the reliable supply of power that has allowed her to bring in more clients and build her business. “It has really helped us,” she says.
Energy is a primary driver of development. A steady supply of electricity allows students to study at night, health clinics to expand services, markets to stay open later, and small businesses such as Elizabeth Kyalo’s to grow, creating jobs.
Even if most news media dismissed last month’s Rio+20 summit as a failure, the conference did produce an agreement that may well wind up being its most positive legacy.
It was approval to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. Another initiative that was launched at Rio+20 – the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative – is sometimes cited as an illustration of what SDGs would look like for the energy sector.
More broadly, these SDGs transfer the methodology of the poverty-focused Millennium Development Goals, largely seen as a successful work-in-progress, to address the sustainability challenge.
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During the second half of 2011, relations between Africa and Brazil continued to flourish as part of the historic trade, cultural and economic rapprochement of the two economic juggernauts. Specifically, African governments asked for more financing from the South American country to implement development projects, according to Brazil’s National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES).
Key reasons for intensifying this relationship include the fact that Brazil is now the world’s sixth-largest economy (after China, the United States, France, Germany and Japan) and that it has become a major player in South-South cooperation.
Almost 400 million Indians—about a third of the subcontinent’s population—don’t have access to electricity. This power deficit, which includes about 100,000 un-electrified villages, places India’s per capita electricity consumption at just 639 kWh—among the world’s lowest rates.
The access gap is complicated by another problem: more than three-quarters of India’s electricity is produced by burning coal and natural gas. With India’s rapidly-growing population— currently 1.1 billion—along with its strong economic growth in recent years, its carbon emissions were over 1.6 billion tons in 2007, among the world’s highest.
This is unsustainable, not only from a climate change standpoint, but also because India’s coal reserves are projected to run out in four decades. India already imports about 10% of its coal for electricity generation, and this is expected to reach 16% this year.
India’s national and state governments are taking action to correct this vicious circle of power deficits and mounting carbon emissions. The national government has set a target of increasing renewable energy generation by 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2022, up from current capacity of 15 GW, itself a threefold increase since 2005. Still, renewable sources account for just 3.5% of India’s energy generation at present, so the scale of the challenge is formidable. The cost of meeting it will be high unless the tremendous innovative capacity of India and market reforms can be coordinated to make India a clean energy leader.
The last few days at COP16 have, in a low-key way, accomplished more than I have seen at the COP meeting for some time (and I have been attending them for over a decade now).
For example, there have been a series of business-led discussions and proposals on how to develop energy-efficiency master plans at all levels—company, municipality and country. An exciting aspect has been the presence of so many innovative industry partners and governments that have not only developed, but started practicing important renewable energy and energy-efficiency solutions.
I had the pleasure of moderating a stimulating event that the World Economic Forum hosted Monday that really got into the nuts and bolts of energy efficiency. This event included small NGO representatives, the venture capital community, Fortune 500 technology companies, utility CEOs from developing nations, and Energy and Environment Ministers from four nations. There have been fruitful discussions on specific mechanisms—from feed-in tariffs, community aggregation of clean energy purchase plans, to very large-scale government procurement of clean energy services.