Climate Change Solutions in a New Age


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I recently stumbled across an interesting article in the May 26 issue of The Economist, which argues that human impact on the planet is so immense that we have ushered in a new geological age, which they call the Anthropocene: the age of man.

The thinking behind this is that the fossil record of the present era will reflect disruptions to the various systems that keep the planet running. One of these is the carbon system. The article describes what we’ve done in a single, crisp sentence: “In the past couple of centuries people have released quantities of fossil carbon that the planet took hundreds of millions of years to store away.” Just think about that — hundreds of millions of years!



Slowly, we’ve come to realize that there’s a downside to this — changes to ocean chemistry, rising sea levels, creeping desertification, and possibly permanent changes in weather patterns. It’s not exactly clear what needs to be done in response; politicians, scientists, activists, businesses and other groups have been squabbling over these questions for some time.

The Economist marks this new Anthropocene age as “the emergence of a form of intelligence that allows new ways of being to be imagined and, through co-operation and innovation, to be achieved.”  I agree – through co-operation and innovation, we make progress on difficult climate issues. One thing I’ve learned working with public-private partnerships is that when diverse sectors come together, results can be transformative. I can’t help thinking that in this new age, PPPs will play a big role in solving climate change issues.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to explore this idea through the articles published in the latest issue of Handshake, IFC’s journal on public-private partnerships. I believe that how we deal with infrastructure, especially energy and transport, is part of the solution. I haven’t decided what issues to dive into yet — renewable energy, regulatory issues, and the business case for low carbon investment are a few I’ve been considering — so I welcome suggestions from readers. What role do you see PPPs playing in this new age?


David Lawrence

Communications Consultant

Join the Conversation

Shaun Fernando
July 29, 2011

I've recently joined IFC from a consultancy background in London, specialising in clean tech and climate change. My clients have been both public and private, looking at everything from regulation to behavioural change to energy and carbon analysis and financing. While PPP is probably better associated with 'hard' stuff like infrastructure, I'd like to comment quickly on the scope for PPP in dealing with climate change through regulatory reform issues.

A recent trend I've seen is that where a regulatory vacuum exists, some private companies are keen to self-regulate. That is, establishing their own standards framed in a response to climate change and enforcing these standards upon their suppliers. This can happen in a Western European country where consumers and end-users of services can demand them (because of fashionable trends, education, whatever), but may not in middle- and low-income countries where consumers are less discerning about climate change considerations and more concerned with costs.

One client of mine was an environmental regulator in Australia which has a significant mining and metals industry for whom the key customer is China. They were fearful that the pace of demand growth for bauxite, aluminium, etc was faster than they could regulate for and they risked being left behind. We helped them streamline reporting standards from process-driven to outcome-driven (e.g. reduction in energy intensity per volume mined) and helped them better engage with the primary industries sector.

From this, I think the regulatory environment is a key area to 'get right' through PPP - public regulators need to become more kinetic in responses to private sector and market-driven growth. This has applications in all countries but I'd suggest more so in MICs which will grow rapidly in the next few decades.

My two cents!

July 29, 2011

That could be one school of thought. However in developing countries like India and Pakistan where to launch a PPP initiative is time cosuming and a strain on the exchequer of said particular countries it would be more wise to ensure that policies are set and complied with. The implementation of such policies should be transferred to private players. Energy efficiency is the battlecry as efficient energy management and behavior change will probably offset more CO2 than renewables like wind, solar, etc.

Rasika Gokhale Athawale
August 29, 2011

I agree a lot with Shaun that 'the regulatory environment is a key area to get right through PPP'. Some of this trend is also being witnessed in India, where the Electricity Regulatory Commissions are showing a lot of enthusiasm in putting regulations for energy efficiency & promotion of renewable energy. Talks are on to introduce Energy Reduction Certificates on the national power exchanges, in the same way the Renewable Energy Certificates have been introduced, some time back.

However, some part of caution here is not to just blindly copy regulations which have been effective in the west - since the whole dynamics of power sector in India may be very different from that in those countries.

David Lawrence
September 14, 2011

Thanks everyone for your interesting comments. There is indeed a lot that governments can do on the regulatory front to reduce GHG emissions. Governments can include climate-friendly provisions in PPP agreements when building hospitals, schools and infrastructure. See the latest post on green buildings.