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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.

Is the renewable energy target for India within reach?

Daniel Kammen's picture

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 long and winding road to the Green Climate Fund

Athena Ballesteros's picture

Photo courtesy: IISD

 

The UN Climate Talks in December 2010 concluded with a set of decisions known as the Cancun Agreements, which included the establishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Having been involved in many of the negotiating sessions, I know that this fund is seen by many, particularly developing countries as an opportunity to create a ‘legitimate’ institution for delivering scaled-up finance to address climate change. However, there remains significant skepticism on whether or not this Fund could deliver adequate and predictable resources in a timely manner. Much work has yet to be done before the Green Climate Fund could become a reality.

 

Getting organized

In Cancun, the COP decided to set up a Transitional Committee (TransComm) and entrusted it with the task of developing the operational documents for the GCF and making recommendations to the COP in Durban. The Transitional Committee will include representatives from 25 developing countries and 15 developed countries. Some countries have announced their nominations, while others are still in the process of finalizing. The delay comes as no surprise of course. Nominations within regional groups remain a highly contentious and political issue. With limited seats countries are grappling to ensure they have a voice in the body that will design the Fund. I’ve heard the mix of skills and expertise on finance, climate and, development represented in the individuals nominated and they vary from country to country.

Ecosystem services: Seeking to improve human and ecological health together

Daniel Kammen's picture

While attending the CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan, late last year, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that we must foster development and reduce poverty, and at the same time preserve and improve the planet’s biodiversity and ecological resilience.

 

He noted during a speech at the Cancun COP16 Climate Convention that “empty forests are greatly diminished.” He is completely right, but globally efforts to achieve ecologically sustainable development have been difficult and fraught with failure. Sadly, to some the issue is yet another complication to be ignored or avoided.

 

I spent this weekend at the Mpala Research Center, in Laikipia, central Kenya, which is a remarkable partnership with the National Museums of Kenya, its local partners in Laikipia district, the Smithsonian Institution, and Princeton University in the United States.

 

Mpala is very dear to me. Working more than a decade ago with a remarkable doctoral student of mine who is now a professor, Majid Ezzati, and a fabulous team of local Kenyan medical and energy researchers and extension officers, we completed a detailed “dose-response” study of the health benefits of improved cookstoves. We found that while initial particulate levels were very high–7,000 or more micrograms of particulates per cubic meter (mg/m3)–combinations of improved stoves and clean burning fuels could reduce the incidence of acute respiratory illness by 50%.

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.

 

 

What forests can now do for Africa

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture

One of the concrete things to come out of Cancun was the agreement on REDD+ or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The "+" includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The decision in Cancun establishes a framework for rich countries to pay for preventing deforestation in developing countries. While the details are yet to be worked out, the setting up of the mechanism itself was a big step.

 

REDD+ is clearly one of the 'winners’ from Cancun. It is an important development for Africa, where a critical piece of the climate change puzzle lies in preserving and managing its forests well. Although Africa currently contributes only a small amount to global greenhouse gases, the main source of the continent's emissions is deforestation.

 

Over the years we have been engaged in many forest management projects across the continent.  The World Bank has been working with several countries to pilot approaches in sustainable forestry that have provided valuable lessons for the REDD+ mechanism being set up now. During Forest Day in Cancun, many of us discussed how to make the most out of REDD+, and how to ensure that the lessons learned from the Forest Investment Program (FIP) activities in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana can help Africans get more value out of conserving forests than chopping them down. This approach is critical, given Africa's development needs and growth in population. How do we create REDD+ partnerships that bring real value and payments for conservation? How do we ensure the playing field is level for all countries and players in REDD+? Answering these questions will be key to fostering an integrated mitigation and adaptation approach to Africa's forests.

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