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This is the first installment of a five-part blog series on scaling environmental entrepreneurship in emerging markets. In forthcoming posts, experts in the field will provide insights on how business accelerators, technical assistance providers, investors, and the philanthropic community can work with developing market entrepreneurs to increase their economic, environmental, and social impacts.

One of the greatest challenges of our time is achieving economic development without harming the planet and local communities. Entrepreneurship can play a critical role in solving this dilemma.

In fact, entrepreneurs and the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) they create contribute up to 78 percent of employment and more than 29 percent of GDP in developing economies. These types of businesses play an invaluable role in creating jobs, spurring community growth, and alleviating poverty. Some of these SMEs create even more value by generating clear, measurable environmental benefits.

But the problem is that these entrepreneurs face a host of challenges when it comes to growing their businesses and succeeding. As Global Entrepreneurship Week is celebrated across the world this week, it’s a good time to examine the importance of environmentally focused entrepreneurs as well as the difficulties they face.

Today is my first day as President of the World Resources Institute. I’m delighted to be part of this extraordinary organization that seeks enduring solutions to protect the Earth and improve people's lives.

We live in precarious times. The world has achieved unprecedented economic progress, but by living well beyond its means in terms of natural resources and ecosystems. Never has it been more important to understand the links between resources – water, soil, atmosphere, climate, biodiversity, energy, minerals – and human activity. And never has it been more imperative that economic decisions fully reflect the true value of these resources. It is only by doing so that we will succeed in eliminating poverty and enhancing lives and livelihoods permanently.

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This is a two-part series on expanding access to clean energy in developing countries. Tune in tomorrow for the second installment, which will highlight specific ways institutions can implement successful clean energy projects.

This week, key leaders from the policy, industry, government, NGO, banking, and civil society sectors are gathering in the Philippines for the 7th annual Asian Clean Energy Forum (ACEF). The event, organized by the Asian Development Bank and USAID, aims to foster discussions about how to scale up clean energy initiatives and curb climate change in Asian nations.

One the forum’s key themes is access to clean energy. In March 2012, the World Resources Institute and the DOEN Foundation also organized a workshop focused on innovative practices in providing access to clean energy in developing countries (check out the new video about this forward-thinking event). The workshop brought together an inspiring group of practitioners, project developers, and financiers who are all successfully implementing clean energy access projects in communities across the world. These practitioners are bringing efficient cook stoves to Africa, solar home systems to India, and small-scale hydro to Indonesia – reaching poor rural communities who are in great need of clean energy solutions.

More than 350 guests joined WRI last week to hear how Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Related chairman and CEO Stephen M. Ross, and former WRI President Jonathan Lash are changing our cities, our country, and our world for the better. The occasion was WRI’s “Courage to Lead” dinner, held in conjunction with our 30th anniversary. The event raised more than $1 million in critical unrestricted support, which enables WRI to respond quickly to emerging issues and new opportunities.

Many of WRI’s most important donors and partners helped make this a very special evening, including Bloomberg, Related, DuPont, Alcoa and Alcoa Foundation, and the Generation Foundation. Many other companies, individuals, and foundations contributed, and a full list can be viewed online. We appreciate all of their support.

This year, the World Resources Institute celebrates its 30th anniversary. Every organization has great backstories, and in my five-plus years here as head of External Relations, I’ve heard many of WRI’s—multiple versions of them!

Many of these tales came from WRI’s own staff and very loyal alumni, some of whom have worked for the organization nearly all three decades of its existence. More emerged from interactions with WRI’s past and present board members and with meeting many of our partners around the world. But it all added up to just a lot of interesting fragments of folklore without any real sense of how it all fit together. No one had put it all down on paper.

Clean tech in the United States has been on the rise in recent years— even through the recession and other challenges. Increasing wind power, falling solar costs, expanding electric vehicle markets, government stimulus and other investments have built a global clean tech sector that topped $263 billion last year.

In the first quarter of 2012, however, global clean energy investment dropped to its lowest level since 2008. Good news stories are being replaced with headlines about closing factories, bankruptcies, and cancelled projects. Clean tech appears to be at a crucial inflection point.

This piece was written with Graham Provost, intern at the World Resources Institute.

The agenda at this week’s Pacific Energy Summit, hosted by the National Bureau of Asian Research, in Hanoi, Vietnam, includes increasing energy security, expanding access to energy, and decarbonizing the power sector. Given these goals, plus the staggering growth in energy demand in Asia, as well as increasingly volatile fossil fuel prices and rapidly falling renewable energy costs, there are many opportunities to scale up renewable energy throughout the region. (For more on renewable energy’s rapid growth see here and here.) In order to take advantage of this fast-moving sector and develop internationally competitive domestic industries, countries need to have a strong capacity for innovation.

A new conference paper, "Taking Renewable Energy to Scale in Asia," explores these opportunities and challenges for the Summit Participants.

This post originally appeared in the National Journal Energy & Environment Expert Blog. The question was, “Where Can Government Energy R&D Have Most Impact?”

Innovation in breakthrough energy technologies is notoriously challenging, despite having potentially large rewards. Individual innovations are embedded in larger systems where change is very hard. These innovations often carry significant capital costs to demonstrate, commercialize, or reach economies of scale. Unlike the latest cell phone, consumers are often unwilling to pay more for a new energy innovation, especially when the rewards are in the future.

This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

In his annual State of the Union address, President Obama declared: “I will not walk away from clean energy.”

His words were a sharp rebuttal to critics harping on the Solyndra bankruptcy and others making dire predictions about the downfall of the renewable energy industry.

So, who is right? Will 2012 be a breakthrough year for renewable, or will it collapse?

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