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Energy

Can the world avert locking itself into an unsustainable future?

Vijay Iyer's picture

“The world is locking itself into an unsustainable future.” That’s the headline on the press release for this year’s World Energy Outlook(WEO). This conclusion, coming from the sober, serious International Energy Agency (IEA), sure grabbed attention at a panel discussion I moderated here in Durban Monday.

In presenting the Outlook, Laura Cozzi, IEA’s Senior Economist, laid out the WEO’s three scenarios for the future. Two of them, the ‘Current Policies’ scenario — that is, business-as-usual — and the ‘New Policies’ one, that is, governments cautiously implement commitments already made — do not get us where we need to be by 2035. Only one of them does that, the third, so-called ‘450 Scenario’, which sets out an energy path consistent with a 50%-chance of holding global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. Past and current choices have the world ‘locked into’ a high emissions path. Laura showed that the 450 scenario takes the world to a situation of ‘no carbon space left’ for new energy generation by 2017. At that point, either only zero-carbon new energy generation can go forward or, if not, for every power plant commissioned, an equivalent dirtier one will have to be shut down. 

It provoked a lively discussion. Dr. Leena Srivastava, Executive Director of India’s Energy and Resources Institute, pointed out that the ‘lock-in’ is caused not just by current patterns of production, but also by lifestyles and patterns of consumption. This resonated with the other two panelists: Dr. Subho Banerjee, Deputy Secretary of the Australian government’s Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Department, as well as Dr. Lu Qiang, of Beijing’s Energy Research Institute, a think-tank under China's National Development and Reform Commission. They reminded the audience that policy must influence patterns of consumption along with energy generation.

Low Emissions Development: Making the sum greater than individual parts

Aditi Maheshwari's picture

As COP17 enters its second week in Durban, the most striking element for me has come from outside the negotiating rooms: the clear sense of momentum around taking action on the ground, and doing so sooner rather than later. Countries are being opportunistic and seizing the day, while the global deal continues to be worked out. The driving force behind this action is the challenge of delivering on domestic priorities such as energy security and access; productivity and competitiveness growth etc. Lower emissions and the climate imperative are a welcome co-benefit but not the main goal. Nearly 90 countries have registered plans with the UNFCCC to address the emissions intensity of their growth by 2020. This includes more than 50 developing countries (a quarter of which are low-income countries) that are pushing forwards with Low Emissions Development (LED) through outlining nationally appropriate mitigation actions.

This demand for LED has prompted a ‘thousand flowers blooming’ supply of initiatives to support developing countries in their planning and implementation. On Saturday I attended a dialogue on LED hosted by the World Bank that was a genuine conversation and sharing of ideas on how to improve coordination i.e., shift the supply of support from resembling scattered flowers towards becoming the same flowering plant. More than a hundred delegates including senior negotiators, heads of organizations, think tanks, and country practitioners actively participated in the discussion.

Support is coming for all stages of the process from the tools and analysis through to policy and program development and piloting implementation. Many organizations (CDKN, GGGI, CPI, Africa Climate Policy Centre, UNEP Risø, ClimateWorks, CMCI, IDB, CCAP, The Climate Group) active in this space outlined their work and identified opportunities where they would like to see increased collaboration, coherence, and partnerships.

Working together on adaptation-based mitigation

Rachel Kyte's picture

Over the weekend the business community held its meetings coinciding with CoP17.

In Copenhagen, the business community, especially in Europe, had mobilized for a deal and arrived in force. Even the financial and investor communities turned up. But then the negotiation process came unraveled and some blamed the business community for not mobilizing enough.

In Cancun, having licked its wounds and learned lessons, the business community adopted the classic entrepreneurial behavior of “don’t ask permission, just apologize afterwards” i.e. don’t wait for a deal- if it makes business sense go ahead.

There, the focus was on action on the ground, strategies, and innovations for firms across the world.

In Durban, things have moved on yet again – here, there is a greater focus on adaptation and, while the stories of success are powerful, there was a call for action again - for the public sector to set the conditions necessary to move ahead at speed and scale.

Will Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

The next two weeks will see nearly 20,000 people descending on Durban for this year’s Climate Change negotiations.  What might they achieve? Not much, if you believe some of the pessimistic assessments in the press. Are the gloomsters right? No, not necessarily.

What could be achieved?   

Here goes… starting with the practical decisions that are on the agenda, and could affect peoples’ lives fairly quickly:

  • A global system of technology centers that would provide access to knowledge and capacity building in developing countries for climate smart technology – which in turn could yield more investment, more jobs and lower costs.
  • A system that would help developing countries prepare and finance their adaptation plans.
  • A decision to incorporate agriculture fully into the Convention (something that, oddly, has never been done), allowing poor farmers to benefit from climate finance.
  • Simpler rules on how to credit greenhouse gases from forests, in turn making it simpler to prevent deforestation, and for forest dwellers to access support.
  • Common rules allowing city-wide approaches to dealing with climate change. (Many cities are showing more leadership than countries).
  • New eligibility procedures that would help bring sustainable energy to the 65% of African households that currently have no electricity.
  • Agreements that would encourage the development of a long-term networked carbon market that would lower the costs of addressing climate change and bring finance and technology to developing countries.

There is a risk that these measures will be crowded out by the big political decisions at Durban. This would be a mistake. While not game-changers individually, they are important building blocks towards an eventual global deal. 

Cool work with heat in Iceland inspires Africa

Vijay Iyer's picture

Iceland’s journey from being a developing country until the 1970s, to a modern, vibrant and developed economy owes much to its ability to tap into and develop geothermal energy. Its inspirational example in this regard can be replicated elsewhere, including East Africa, where geothermal potential is abundant. With this in mind, I visited Iceland last week, to assess how its story and unique expertise might provide lessons for others.

Iceland has achieved global leadership in geothermal technology and business in all its manifestations. It has an installed geothermal generation capacity of 665 megawatts, a remarkable achievement for a country with only 300,000 inhabitants. While 74% of Iceland’s electricity is generated from hydropower, about 26% comes from geothermal resources.

Iceland is also a leader in tapping waste heat from geothermal power plants to heat over 90% of its buildings at low-cost. Given the worldwide push for energy access and low-carbon energy solutions, geothermal is an attractive option where it is available.

One of those places is Africa’s vast Rift Valley, which stretches from Djibouti to Mozambique and takes in parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, among others. Lying under this expanse are 14,000 megawatts of geothermal potential—enough to deliver power to 150 million people. Properly exploited, geothermal could deliver at least a quarter of the energy these countries will need by 2030. And this would be a renewable source, clean and climate-friendly. Can Iceland’s experience provide guidance as East Africans seek to exploit their resources? I think it can, and so do the Icelanders.

From cow dung to biogas to carbon credits for Nepal

Kirtan Chandra Sahoo's picture

Early this year, I visited several households in the small village of Bela located in the Kavre district of Nepal, about 50 kilometers from the capital Kathmandu. Mr. Niranjan Sapkota’s house was located on a steep mountain surrounded by forests. I had to walk along narrow mountain paths, grabbing on to bushes and sometimes hands of accompanying local staff. I was going to verify if the biogas plant Mr. Sapkota had constructed in the February of 2005 was still in operation.  I turned the brass valve in the kitchen and with a hissing sound, gas flowed and the family pointed to the meal that they had just cooked using biogas from cattle dung that they had in plenty.

There are 225,000 such families in Nepal who now have easy-to-operate biogas plants in their backyards. Bela is considered a model biogas village with almost every house equipped with a biogas plant.

Last month, the Nepal’s Biogas Program reached an important milestone: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), for the first time approved and issued carbon credits to two Nepalese biogas projects. To date, this is the largest worldwide issuance of carbon credits, or Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), in a Least Developed Country (LDC). Two more similar projects from Nepal are now at an advanced stage of being registered with the UNFCCC. Together, these projects are expected to generate about 170,000 carbon credits per year, which is equivalent to avoiding emissions from approximately 60,000 cars every year.

For most women living in this mountainous region of Nepal, looking for firewood every morning was a daily ritual. This program reduces the time spent collecting firewood and, since they are no longer exposed to the indoor smoke from burning of firewood in traditional stoves, it also dramatically improves the health of these women and their children. Other important benefits of the program are lessening the pressure on deforestation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the passing of Wangari Maathai

Warren Evans's picture

Yale Club, New York City, 2002. Photo by Martin Rowe

I came to the World Bank in 2003 with 25 years developing country experience − but all in Asia. I knew that I needed to quickly become familiar with other parts of the world, particularly Africa. So I went on a 10-day immersion “course” to Kenya, led and managed by Professor Wangari Maathai’s daughter, Wanjira. 

I first met Prof. Maathai in one of her District villages − she was serving as a Member of Parliament and Vice Minister of Environment at the time. I was greeted at that first meeting the same way she greeted me in all subsequent meetings −with smiling eyes showing warmth and true joy in meeting me, and her embrace sending a signal of graceful strength.  Our friendship was quickly solidified when she asked me where I was from. Kansas, I had said − and she smiled and told me that she had gone to university and received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Kansas!

At that first meeting, she was surrounded by villagers who loved and honored her. I thought that I was going to see trees and hear about the way the Green Belt Movement engages women to replant degraded and denuded hillsides with indigenous tree seedlings which they raise in village nurseries. Of course that was one part of the day but the primary focus of the Professor was on helping the village deal with the struggle against HIV-AIDS.

She had arranged for the construction of a small shelter for villagers suffering from the disease, and perhaps more importantly, was teaching them to grow nutritious food in the adjacent garden that would help give strength to those who could still lead a reasonably productive life. It was a community effort in an already-impoverished community that was hard hit by HIV-AIDS. Her love for the people and theirs in return was evident at every turn and in every place where initiatives were underway to improve the quality of the lives of the villagers, in part by improving the productivity and services of the surrounding ecosystems. Prof. Maathai was thus a pioneer in applying the concept of protecting and restoring ecosystems as a fundamental element of reducing rural poverty.

Staying silent is a crime, so engage on climate change

TMS Ruge's picture

If you are like most people, the topic of climate change is not something you think about everyday. It was certainly not something that I thought about often. The subject seemed unattainable, incomprehensible and to be dealt with smart people. It was always a conversation where I thought I wasn’t qualified to engage in. What I have come to realize, is that climate change is part of our everyday conversation. We may not deal with the scientific terms or sit at the round table with think-tanks and heads of state, but we do talk about the effects of climate change in our own lives. We talk about the increasingly hot summers, or commiserate over pictures of the latest flood, or disucss the now unpredictable planting seasons. These are stories we share amongst ourselves without realizing they are small chapters in humanity’s tome to the subject.

Since climate change affects all of us, it seems appropriate that we all should have a voice at the decision-making table. All too often though, we only get to hear from the academics, the heads of state, or the violent protestors. Where are the voices of the common man, the single mother, the student? Where are the voices of the villagers in their garden on the outskirts of Marrakech, the shop owner on a busy street in Kigali, the sugar cane grower who can no longer predict the rains in Zambia? How do we determine our collective future if we don’t take time to listen to each other’s stories?

This is where the Connect4Climate team at the World Bank comes in. We are trying to reframe this critical conversation around a topic into a mutual exchange of listening and sharing. Ahead of the December 2011 United Nations Climate Change conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, Connect4Climate was launched with a photo/video competition for African youth, aged 13 to 30, in Bamako by Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank.

Innovators that could light up Africa

Daniel Kammen's picture

Everyone talks about the crisis of energy access – the 2.7 billion people who use wood and other solid fuels, and the 1.5 billion without access to electricity – but who is doing something about it?

At the African Energy Ministerial Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, today, both high-level planning and on-the-ground energy projects were visible, and truly inspiring. In a five hour Green Household Energy Solutions Expo that I had the true pleasure to chair, the Minister of Economic Development for South Africa, Mr. Ebrahim Patel, kicked off the discussion by saying that South Africa was committed to growing nation’s clean energy generation capacity for both domestic use and for export and in the process create green jobs.

The meeting marks a key chance for integration and coordination as the last regional ministerial meeting before the COP17 Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa in December of this year. The room was packed, with over 15 ministers in attendance, and the discussion turned to the benefits of regional integration of transmission systems, building wind, geothermal, and large-scale solar energy projects.

However, the focus and the stars of the meeting were the innovators at the household and local community level who showed the possibilities that exist with a range of new approaches – some technological but many managerial and social as well.

Ron Bills of Envirofit, a producer of high efficiency woodstoves said: “We have sold 300,000 stoves, and can provide high quality stoves to scale up clean energy cooking markets anywhere!” 

Awards for Change: How prizes can help us achieve energy goals

Daniel Kammen's picture

What will it take to foster and spread the ideas and practices needed for sustainable development? One thing that has stirred innovative thinking are the positive results of recent prize competitions. 

Perhaps the most notable of these – so far – has been the Ansari X Prize. The Ansari X Prize was a space competition in which the X Prize Foundation offered a US$10 million reward for the first non-government organization to launch the same reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. It was modeled after early 20th-century aviation prizes, and aimed to spur development of low-cost spaceflight. There is real brilliance in this idea, but in the specific terms of the prize, which prompted other competitors – each of whom spent far more than the prize money. The prize, claimed by Scaled Composites in 2004 for its Tier One project launched or accelerated a diverse portfolio of private space ventures, “spaceports”, and an industry now worth billions.

Since 2004, prizes have been launched. One, technology-focused competitions is the i6 Green Challenge by the US government which will reward $1 million to each of six teams around the country with the most innovative ideas to drive technology commercialization and entrepreneurship in support of a green innovation economy, increased U.S. competitiveness and new jobs. There are others with concrete objectives to addressing key issues in ecological conservation, social networking, transparent national governance, and democratic transitions of power (for example, the Mo Ibrahim prize).

Can this idea work in energy, climate, and development?

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