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80% of all energy could be from renewables by 2050...with the right policies

Daniel Kammen's picture

In just one day, the sun delivers about as much energy as has been consumed by all human beings over the past 35 years. So why haven’t we exploited more than a tiny fraction of this potential? There are many reasons: cost, storage, transmission, distribution, entrenched subsidies and technological challenges are but a few of them.

But the reasons not to take advantage of renewable energy are falling away. A report published this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that close to 80% of the world’s energy demand could be met by tapping renewable sources by 2050, if backed by the right enabling public policies. I served as a Coordinating Lead Author for the Policy and Deployment chapter of the report, as well as member of the Summary for Policy Maker’s team, and I can attest to how much rigorous analysis and effort comparing data and sources went into this process and document.

The same Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation found that the technical potential of renewable energy technologies “exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount—globally and in respect of most regions of the world.”

These encouraging findings were released Monday, May 9, after being studied carefully, examined, and then approved by member countries of the IPCC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Shutterstock Images, LLC 

Can East Asia do for Green what it’s done for Growth?

Andrew Steer's picture

East Asia has shown us how economies can grow at a pace unparalleled in human history. What made it happen? Key ingredients included high savings rates and a willingness to invest them for the long term in people and infrastructure, leaders who kept their eyes on the long-term transformation of the economy, and a lot of serious attention to how investors respond to incentives.

But aren’t these some of the same ingredients we’ll need to make growth green?

This was one of the topics we discussed this week at the first Annual Conference on East Asian Development in Singapore organized by the Bank’s East Asia Pacific region and Singapore’s Institute for Policy Studies.  This brought together senior policymakers and academics from throughout the region. Is it possible that the Region that brought us growth, could also be the leader in making that growth green?

But first, just how green has East Asia’s growth been so far? To over-simplify, the region has made pretty good progress in reducing the environmental damage per unit of output, but this hasn’t been able to keep up with the astonishing growth of the output. So, real GDP is up by near 400% since 1990, while energy use is up by 150%, sulfur dioxide emissions up by about 60%, and carbon dioxide up by nearly 200%.

This is a lot better than it might have been – but the environment is still getting worse at a serious rate. And this says nothing about water stress, loss of biodiversity and a host of other issues. (On a positive note, particulate emissions are down by 50%, and lead in fuel has almost disappeared).

Does East Asia need to lower its growth to ensure that the environment doesn’t deteriorate further?  No, but it will require the same degree of commitment and long term focus that inspired the strong growth in the first place – but this time by internalizing environmental costs.   

Come to this Malaysian province to see an alternative path on energy

Daniel Kammen's picture

 

   Photo courtesy Willem V.
   Strien/Flickr under Creative
   Commons License

It is all too easy to see environmental protection and economic development simply as competing philosophies, and nothing more. A range of studies attest to the fact that this is a false dichotomy. In my earlier blog, I described the alternative vision that became a reality in a small Nicaraguan coastal community that chose to invest in a diverse set of clean energy alternatives.  Even with cases like this one described in the literature, there remains in some circles a sense that these must be concocted.

 

The headlines often reinforce this simple dichotomy of environment versus economic growth, where the choice presented is “preserve a forest and forego the lumber”, “save a river and deny a community hydropower”, or “find the financing for more expensive solar power or accept ill-health and global warming from coal.” I have been convinced that another path or paths exist, ever since reading a remarkable paper on the `valuation’ of a tropical rain forest (Peters, Gentry and Mendelsohn, `Valuation of an Amazonian Rainforest', Nature). This short paper got me thinking about how we ignore the longer-term economic wins of sustainability for short-term profit.

 

I recently had the wonderful fortune to get involved in a case that reinforced the fact that options always exist, if we work together to find them.

 

Early in 2010, a consortium of citizens from Sabah, Malaysia came to my laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, convinced that unexplored options must exist to provide the energy needed for this Malaysian Province without placing a 300 MW coal fired power plant on the edge of the ‘coral triangle’ off the coast of North Borneo. This plant was planned at a site only 20 kilometers from the last remaining reserve for the critically endangered Sumatran Rhino of Borneo (of which there may be only 30 individuals or so remaining). This plan would have required the weekly import of coal from South Borneo (Kalimantan). Just a few years ago, the coal plant seemed inevitable.

Will China and the US be partners or rivals in the new energy economy?

Daniel Kammen's picture

When Chinese president Hu Jintao visited the US this month, many issues made headlines, but one that didn’t is nonetheless important: clean energy cooperation, competition, or both. This issue is a litmus test for the two superpowers’ ability to build a partnership based on mutual needs and opportunities. The outcome will affect our global economic, environmental and geopolitical future, and may influence the range of clean energy opportunities for emerging economies in fundamental ways.

 

Cooperation does exist between the US and China, with longstanding joint work on energy efficiency standards, and through a new but underfunded US-China Clean Energy Research Center. But the game has to be raised with higher-profile actions. Far more can be gained globally if a spirit of cooperation permeates the high-level political dialogue. These are not the only two nations to watch, but because they are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and the two largest economies on the planet, signs of a shared vision of the future would mean a great deal.

 

The two countries need each other to build the clean energy economy. China needs energy to grow, and can drive the exponential growth needed to move renewable energy to the center of the global energy system. The US has a nimble and deep research and development system, and serial innovators and entrepreneurs whose Silicon Valley mentality has created wealth many times over. US capital market and enterprise management capacities are huge.

A world of action in Cancun: Don't listen to your grandma

Andrew Steer's picture

Negotiators have worked through the past three nights in search of agreements that all nations can sign up to (see my last blog).  At 3 am this morning they reached consensus on a package of decisions that represents progress in the journey towards a global deal.

 

But most of those in Cancun have more down-to-earth reasons for being here.  They’re here to initiate action – to share experiences, learn from best practice, forge new partnerships, and launch new programs.

 

Here’s a sample from the past 48 hours of some of the action that we’ve been moving forward, when many heads of state, ministers and global leaders such as Ban Ki Moon and Bob Zoellick were in town.

 

Developing Countries push the frontiers on Carbon Markets:

A new Partnership of Market Readiness was launched by the World Bank and by ministers from 15 countries  with the purpose of supporting innovation in developing nations on market based instruments. Countries like China, Chile, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Ukraine and many others – are introducing their own market based instruments. This new facility – now US$30 million but expected to rise to US$100 million – will provide technical support to these efforts, and seek to share practical lessons for others to follow.

 

This is part of a much bigger movement on carbon markets here in Cancun. The Clean Development Mechanism is in need of reform so that transactions costs are reduced and low income countries get better access to funds. [So far around US$25 billion has flowed to developing countries through carbon markets, but only 2% of this goes to Africa.] The High level Advisory Group on Finance  estimates that US$30-50 billion could flow annually to developing countries through the offset markets by 2020 with moderate progress in policies. The fact that so many leading developing countries are now creating their own internal markets could help hugely in driving down the cost of mitigation, bringing in new technology and, over time,  building a linked global market

 

Negotiators at Cancun. Photo by IISD

 


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