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January 2011

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.

Are buildings an important piece of the climate puzzle?

Alan Miller's picture

 

 

They inhabit two different worlds—buildings and climate change—both outside and within the World Bank. It should not be that way as the building sector could be central to both mitigation and adaptation efforts.  

 

Buildings are important for climate mitigation because they account for about 30% of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy agency (IEA), energy use in this sector is expected to increase globally about 30 % over the next two decades if recent trends continue; however, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report concludes buildings offer by far the largest potential source for low cost reductions in CO2 emissions. The World Bank has many projects and analyses addressing this opportunity including a recent ESMAP (Energy Sector Management Assistance Program) report on the benefits and obstacles to effective building codes. These could address over 60 % of building energy use but remain weak and often unenforced in most Bank client countries.

Cities get the call in Cancun

Dan Hoornweg's picture

If you closely read the 20-page draft decision on the Clean Development Mechanism prepared at COP16 in Cancun, you will see a tiny reference to the possibility of including ``city-wide programs’’.Those few words represent an enormous effort: mainly championed by Amman, Jordan, with support from the World Bank, the European Union, UN-HABITAT, C40 Cities, ICLEI, United Cities and Local Government(UCLG) and others.

 

There is reason to be excited. Cities are the every-day face of civilization, the rough and tumble, action oriented arm of government: The ones you call when you need to get things done. And in Cancun they got the call.

 

Making sense of the COP, the ‘Conference of the Parties’ (cities would call it a meeting, ‘fiesta’ if you added beer and a beach) is a full time job. Thousands of people jet across the planet arguing over commas and clauses while climate change waits for true political will. But that political will does not come from countries at a COP. No, first and foremost it needs to be understood, nurtured, and acted-upon in cities. Countries get their marching orders mainly from urban residents, not the other way round.

Kenya steps ahead into solar future

Daniel Kammen's picture

For Africa’s poorest families, lighting is often the most expensive item in their budget, typically accounting for 10–15 percent of total household income. The energy poor in Africa spend about US$17 billion a year on fuel-based lighting sources. To put the full energy sector in perspective, independent estimates place worldwide spending on fuel-based lighting in developing countries at $38 billion.

Beyond household use, commercial use of fuel-based lighting can have even more acute economic impacts. Fishermen on Lake Victoria in Kenya, for example, often spend half their income for the kerosene they use to fish at night. Yet, while consuming a large share of scarce income, fuel-based lighting provides little in return. Fuel-based lamps, such as kerosene lamps, are costly, inefficient, and provide poor lighting. The smoke they emit causes respiratory and eye problems, while the flames from kerosene lamps are responsible for thousands of severe burns among children every year, along with untold numbers of devastating house fires.

 

But many African countries are making strides to put fuel-based power behind them. Kenya, for example, as I discuss in an article this week posted on InterPVNet, has one of the largest and most dynamic per capita solar PV markets among developing countries, with over 300,000 households having installed solar PV systems since the mid-1980s. Since 2000, annual sales for these systems have regularly topped 15 percent, and they account for roughly 75 percent of all solar equipment sales in the country. In addition, exciting and rapid developments in off-grid lighting with highly efficient long-lasting light emitting diodes (LED) lamps are also changing the set of options in formerly neglected markets.

A carbon footprinting tool for a cool climate

Daniel Kammen's picture

More and more people are interested in carbon emissions analysis and management. You can see this in the growth of awareness-raising campaigns to promote lower-carbon lifestyle choices, as well as voluntary carbon offset programs and proliferating  online household carbon footprint calculators. 

 

Now that interest is being harnessed at the community and country level. At the World Bank, partnerships for low-carbon communities are underway with over a dozen cities, as well as several countries. These include efforts to analyze carbon emissions profiles. At the city level, it’s the first step to prioritizing action to not only reduce emissions, but also deliver better services to the poor.

 

Calculators and tools help people understand the greenhouse gas benefits of effective climate action, but not all tools are created equal. A good calculator should be comprehensive and sophisticated, but also transparent and user-friendly. The best ones not only calculate emissions, but help people manage them.

 

One example is the CoolClimate Calculator which was developed by a team of students under my direction at the University of California, Berkeley. Chris Jones, Mia Yamauchi, Joe Kentenbacher, and Gang He, among others, developed the tool at the University of California, Berkeley. It measures carbon impacts of specific transportation choices and of energy use, but also includes impacts of water, waste, food, goods and services for both households and businesses. These indirect sources of emissions account for more than 50% of the total carbon footprint of the typical U.S. household.