From Reuters:

A South Korean group won a landmark deal to build and operate four nuclear reactors for the United Arab Emirates, beating more favored U.S. and French rivals to one of the Middle East’s biggest ever energy contracts.

Under the $40 billion deal announced on Sunday, which Seoul said it hoped would kick-start an export drive for its nuclear technology, the first nuclear plant in the Gulf Arab region is scheduled to start supplying power to the UAE grid in 2017…

A consortium led by state-owned utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) aims to complete the UAE’s four 1,400 megawatt reactors by 2020.

The South Korean president’s office described the deal as “the largest mega-project in Korean history,” while KEPCO said it was also it was in talks with Turkey to export two nuclear power reactors to Black Sea areas.

 

Earlier this month, Nature published a very good article called “Let the global technology race begin” by two economists at McGill University (one is Christopher Green, a Senior Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute). They argue for an investment and technology-centric approach to global climate change based on modest carbon pricing — with revenues invested directly into clean energy technology research, demonstration, and infrastructure — which they argue will inspire the competitive spirit among nations:

“The fixation on near-term targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions at the climate meeting in Copenhagen has resulted in insufficient attention towards the technological means of achieving them… Stabilizing the climate is a huge technological challenge and the solution of ready-to-deploy, scalable low-carbon technologies is far from being a reality… To achieve this goal by 2100, energy-technology research and development (R&D) will be essential to decarbonize the global economy, through huge scale-ups of existing low-carbon technologies as well as breakthroughs…

Our analyses show that cumulative emissions consistent with minimizing the rise in global temperature (climate stabilization) can be achieved by investing US$100 billion a year for the rest of the century in global energy R&D, testing, demonstration and infrastructure.

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From CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 blog, “Beyond Copenhagen“:

“The questions of how much each country must pledge to limit its greenhouse gas emissions and where exactly the funds will come from to help poorer, developing countries cope with climate change were left unanswered for the moment. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing because maybe the real question we need to be asking is not how to curb emissions or subsidize poorer countries but how to develop the clean energies that will make these discussions moot…

Although the ideals of reducing waste in the form of greenhouse gasses and assisting poorer countries in their efforts to develop thriving green economies might be laudable, they will, at best, only keep us from falling farther behind. They will not move us forward. For that, the delegates at the Conference would have needed to ask an entirely different set of questions, starting with: How can we increase our current levels of productivity, generate wealth and create jobs while reducing or eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels? The answer, very simply, is that we are going to need to innovate clean technologies that will eliminate the correlation between productivity and greenhouse gas emissions.

China seems to understand this. According to a 2009 report by the Breakthrough Institute and the Information and Technology Information Foundation, China, Japan and South Korea will out-invest the United States 3-to-1 in clean technologies over the next 5 years, putting them at a significant advantage with regards to jobs, tax revenues, and other benefits associated with clean tech growth. Whether or not this will put China at the head of the line to become the world’s next super power remains to be seen.

Many in the world have called on the United States to take a leadership role in the climate debates. However, it is difficult to imagine any country taking a true leadership role by looking backwards. If we expect to move beyond Copenhagen, then we must be prepared to change our perspective and look forward. Our goal must be as clearly defined as it was in the 1960s. We must expand our horizons to develop those technologies that will facilitate productivity and sustainability. Anything short of that is not an option.”

Our report that it cites is called “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant.”

jesse jenkins yael scary

 

From Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters) – A new Chinese law requires power grid operators to buy all the electricity produced by renewable energy generators, in a move that will increase the proportion of energy that comes from renewable sources in coal-dependent China…

The amendment also gives authority to the State Council energy department, together with the State Council finance department and the state power authority, to “determine the proportion of renewable energy power generation to the overall generating capacity for a certain period.” …

In China, a boom in wind-power plants thanks to government subsidies has resulted in a large amount of wind capacity that is not always properly connected to the grid…

The new requirement will also benefit China’s massive new nuclear power plants, although nuclear power is usually cheap enough to be competitive on its own.

Grid operators refusing to buy power produced by renewable energy generators could be fined up to double the loss suffered by the renewable energy generator, the amendment said.

China’s target is for renewable energy sources to make up 15 percent of its power generation by 2020, up from about 9 percent currently. It also targets a reduction in carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon produced per unit of GDP, of between 40 and 45 percent by 2020 compared with 2005.

Over at Climate Progress, Joe Romm once again uses Asia’s clean-tech policies to argue that the only way for the U.S. to win the clean energy race is to pass the American Clean Energy & Security Act, ignoring our analysis in “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” showing that it is not enough to regain U.S. competitiveness.  According to Romm, that’s just “not how we do business.”  Sounds like yet another example of “Joe Romm’s strategy to lose the clean energy race.”

 

From the fruitless discussions at Copenhagen to the stubborn refusal of the U.S. Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill, climate-conscious leaders like President Obama have been running up against a brick wall of resistance lately.  In a time of global economic crisis, political consensus on anything perceived as hurting the economy simply will not happen.

Thus, to succeed politically, the argument must be reframed in terms of economic growth – the kind that will come from heavy investments in renewable technologies.

Obama reflected this focus in his comments to Jim Lehrer on PBS.

My main responsibility here is to convince the American people that it is smart economics and it is going to be the engine of our economic growth for us to be a leader in clean energy.And if we pass a bill in the Senate, reconcile it with the House, that says we are going to invest in wind energy and solar energy and we’re going to be the guys who are producing wind turbines, and we’re going to be the folks who are producing solar panels on rooftops, and we’re going to be the country that is retrofitting all its homes and businesses so that we are 30 percent more energy-efficient than we are right now, that produces jobs that can’t be exported; it reduces our dependence on foreign oil; it is good economics; it will increase our exports – oh, and by the way, it also solves the climate problem. And that is, I think, an argument that I’m going to be making not just next year but for several years to come.

Obama is right to shift the climate conversation that just doesn’t seem to resonate with the American people to the background.  The public cares about the economy, which clean-energy does have the potential to grow, but only with sufficient investment.  And the way it stands now, we’re not getting there.

Even with the bill Obama mentions, federal investment would still fall far short of the $15 billion minimum annual requirement supported by energy experts.  But framing the argument in terms of investment and economic growth ought to at least seed the groundwork to build up to the necessary investment target.

This call for clean-energy investment comes against a background  in recent weeks of the argument for environmentalism flailing helplessly against a Congress full of obstructionists and skeptics and an American public that just doesn’t seem to get it, with poll numbers showing only 36% of Americans believing in human-caused climate change.  To counter this wave of doubt, proponents of a low-carbon path are increasingly beginning to point to a different type of green: the money that would come from clean-tech growth.

And as the President showed in these comments, the argument is starting to change course.

 

BBC World Service: Who is to Blame at Copenhagen?

I just joined the BBC World Service for a live, hour-long program called “Copenhagen: Who is to Blame?” reflecting on the outcomes of the negotiations, including BBC’s environmental analyst, a Chinese policy specialist, WWF’s Campaign Director, India’s Vandana Shiva, and other experts (the podcast is available here, and for a cliffnotes version, start at 39 minutes).

One of the central points I make is that we need to understand what happened at Copenhagen in order to move forward successfully. As I wrote on Saturday in an open letter to Bill McKibben, founder of 350, the failure to achieve “legally-binding” emissions targets is not the Obama administration’s fault, but rather the result of a flawed UNFCCC framework. If anything, President Obama should be applauded for bringing together the major emerging economies and hitting the “reset button” on the mitigation negotiation framework.

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In the Financial Times, Tricia Holly Davis writes a piece entitled “Clean technology: Investors eye Chinese approach,” that highlights the Chinese economic growth the US will miss out on without more investments in clean-energy.

According to the environmental analyst group, New Energy Finance, investments in Chinese greentech were up 20% in 2009.  The $3 trillion the Chinese government plans to invest in power between now and 2030 has inspired investor confidence in everything from wind and solar to electric cars to lithium batteries, vital for energy storage.

The Chinese solar industry, according to McKinsey, will reduce its costs by almost 80% by 2030 and continue to profit greatly from flooding the world with a supply of cheap panels.

While wind also holds great expectations for growth – to 150 gigawatts and eight times its current level by 2020 – FT projections might not tell the whole truth:

“Alan MacCharles of Deloitte cautions that the sector could be heading for a bust due to overcapacity and difficulty connecting to the nation’s power grid.”

Other markets, from the 500,000 low-carbon cars expected in 2011, to the lithium batteries have drawn great investor attention as well.  The best sign for these investments?  Warren Buffett is buying in.

 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s piece, “The New Arms Race,” in today’s Huffington Post,  highlights the exigency of the international clean-energy race and indicts obstructionist U.S. groups for hamstringing domestic efforts.

Kennedy begins by calling out the United States Chamber of Commerce, who has “battled every effort to accelerate America’s transition to a market-based de-carbonized economy” because of a constant willingness to put “Big Oil and King Coal ahead of its duty to our country.”  Most strikingly, “The Chamber has continued to argue, idiotically, that energy efficiency and independence will somehow put America at a competitive disadvantage with the Chinese.”

Putting aside for a minute the absurdity of the Chamber’s premise that the U.S. would somehow do better by ceding a booming sector of growth to China, this seems like an opportune time to mention the importance of energy efficiency investments.  A recent McKinsey study shows that through such investment, the U.S. could save $1.2 trillion by 2020 and reduce energy consumption by a whopping 23%.  Thus, the federal “Apollo project” we need on energy must bring efficiency investments in addition to technology innovation and scaling.  Doing so might not directly involve competing in an international “market,” but the resulting benefits in economic efficiency, emission reductions, and reduced demand pressures cannot be understated.

In the current market for renewables, Kennedy exhorts us to pay attention to the progress brewing in China, saying:

“The Chinese have shrewdly and strategically positioned themselves to steal America’s once substantial lead in renewable power. China will soon make us as dependent on Chinese green technology for the next century as we have been on Saudi oil during the last.”

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Published at The Huffington Post

In a major departure from conventional climate wisdom, Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that the UNFCCC framework is broken and should be replaced by a global competition in the clean-tech industry, which he says the United States can and should lead. “Let the Earth Race begin,” he declares, contrasting this with the long-dominant “Earth Day” strategy:

“This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need…

Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth… An Earth Race led by America — built on markets, economic competition, national self-interest and strategic advantage — is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, nonbinding commitments at a U.N. conference.”

Friedman is right. The race to develop competitive clean-tech industries is the critical element with the potential to motivate enough development and deployment of clean technologies – far more than any potential “legally-binding” global emissions treaty, as we’ve seen with the failure of the Kyoto Protocol and the inability of the UNFCCC framework to produce a meaningful treaty at Copenhagen. The International Energy Agency estimates that $10.5 trillion of global investment in clean technology and energy efficiency is necessary over the next 20 years to stay below 450ppm – an unimaginable sum under any UNFCCC treaty.

Moreover, building the long-term political support of a broad segment of the American public requires a national agenda centrally focused on competing in the clean-tech growth industries of the future. As Friedman explains, “If you start the conversation with “climate” you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a “whole new industry” — one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry — you get the country.”

Indeed, countries like China, Japan, and South Korea are already launching massive government investment programs to dominate this industry – not because their priority is reducing carbon emissions, but because they recognize the economic potential. In our recent report, “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” we found that China, Japan, and South Korea – Asia’s “clean technology tigers” – have already surpassed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies, an advantage they are solidifying and expanding with direct, large-scale government investment strategies.

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Andrew Revkin of the New York Times “Dot Earth” blog writes a post called “Climate Talks Make Way For Design Show,” making the case that even if enacted, carbon pricing will not be enough to transform the energy industry:

“A recent analysis of climate plans by the International Energy Agency in Paris concluded that it would take until 2025 or longer for a carbon price to reach a level sufficient to start driving big changes in energy technology, said Thomas Kerr, an analyst at the agency. He said that to fill that gap, the world’s major economies need to be spending somewhere between 3 and 10 times more than current levels on direct financing of research, development and the large-scale demonstration of technologies that could be game changers. And such investments were not a major focus of the Copenhagen talks.”

Instead of investments, the talks focused largely on carbon pricing that clearly lacked political feasibility in the current economic climate.  The International Energy Agency, as quick look around their website reveals, does claim carbon pricing to be entirely ineffective, but believes that the prices would be set far too low to stimulate adequate investment.  Either way, the politics of an extra tax, particularly in the United States, were highlighted by the situation in Copenhagen that allowed obstructionists to block a meaningful agreement.  University of East Anglia scientist Mike Hulme voices that frustration in the Times:

“We’re not even close to designing a world in which we have global climate on a leash,” he said. “Let’s forget this illusory big-picture goal and go for stuff we know we have a better chance of doing – shorter-term, smaller-scale, more diverse partnerships, less rhetoric and more delivery.”

While Hulme falls short of articulating an alternative to the “illusory big-picture goal,” his words seem reflective of the dominant tone emerging from the Copenhagen meetings.  The current methods of fighting climate change – trying to force countries to rein in economic growth – are not yielding results. Perhaps if the conversation were to change, and investments in new innovations were to take center stage, the outcome would change with it.