Blog Posts: investment
This article first appeared in Project Syndicate
Water is never far from the news these days. This summer, northern India experienced one of its heaviest monsoon seasons in 80 years, leaving more than 800 people dead and forcing another 100,000 from their homes. Meanwhile, Central Europe faced its worst flooding in decades after heavy rains swelled major rivers like the Elbe and the Danube. In the United States, nearly half the country continues to suffer from drought, while heavy rainfall has broken records in the Northeast, devastated crops in the South, and now is inundating Colorado.
Businesses are starting to wake up to the mounting risks that water – whether in overabundance or scarcity – can pose to their operations and bottom line. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, experts named water risk as one of the top four risks facing business in the twenty-first century. Similarly, 53% of companies surveyed by the Carbon Disclosure Project reported that water risks are already taking a toll, owing to property damage, higher prices, poor water quality, business interruptions, and supply-chain disruptions.
The costs are mounting. Deutsche Bank Securities estimates that the recent US drought, which affected nearly two-thirds of the country’s lower 48 states, will reduce GDP growth by approximately one percentage point. Climate change, population growth, and other factors are driving up the risks. Twenty percent of global GDP already is produced in water-scarce areas. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in the absence of more sustainable water management, the share could rise to 45% by 2050, placing a significant portion of global economic output at risk.
When President Barack Obama announced the country’s first national climate strategy, many people wondered what it would mean across the nation. Yet, the strategy may carry even more significant implications overseas.
The plan restricts U.S. government funding for most international coal projects. This policy could significantly affect energy producers and public and private investors around the globe.
A social entrepreneur invests the little working capital she has to bring solar electricity to a community that –like 1.2 billion people worldwide– lacks access to electricity. The community used to use dirty, expensive and choking kerosene for light to cook by and for children to learn by. The entrepreneur knows she can recoup her costs, because people are willing to pay for reliable, high-quality, clean energy – and it will be even less than what they used to pay for kerosene. Sounds like a good news story, right?
Three months later, the government utility extends the electrical grid to this same community, despite official plans showing it would take at least another four years. While this could be good news for the community, one unintended consequence is that this undermines the entrepreneur’s investment, wiping out their working capital, and deterring investors from supporting decentralized clean energy projects in other communities that lack access to electricity.
Few countries are unaffected by China’s overseas investments. The country’s outward foreign direct investments (OFDI) have grownfrom $29 billion in 2002 to more than $424 billion in 2011. While these investments can bring economic opportunities to recipient countries, they also have the potential to create negative economic, social, and environmental impacts and spur tension with local communities.
To address these risks, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and Ministry of Environment (MEP)—with support from several think tanks—recently issued Guidelines on Environmental Protection and Cooperation. These Guidelines are the first-ever to establish criteria for Chinese companies’ behaviors when doing business overseas—including their environmental impact. But what exactly do the Guidelines cover, and how effective will they be? Here, we’ll answer these questions and more.
While reactions to President Obama’s newly announced climate plan have focused on domestic action, the plan actually has potentially significant repercussions for the rest of the world. These repercussions will come in part through his commitment to limit U.S. investments in new coal-fired power plants overseas. If fully implemented, the plan will help ensure that the U.S. government channels its international investments away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. The move sends a powerful signal—and hopefully, will inspire similar action by other global lenders.
Developing countries will need about $531 billion of additional investments in clean energy technologies every year in order to limit global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. To attract investments on the scale required, developing country governments, with support from developed countries, must undertake “readiness” activities that will encourage public and private sector investors to put their money into climate-friendly projects.
WRI’s six-part blog series, Mobilizing Clean Energy Finance, highlights individual developing countries’ experiences in scaling up investments in clean energy and explores the role climate finance plays in addressing investment barriers. The cases draw on WRI’s recent report, Mobilizing Climate Investment.
The development of Indonesia’s geothermal energy sector—and the starts and stops along the way—provides an interesting case study on how to create readiness for low-carbon energy. By addressing barriers such as pricing distortions and resource-exploration risks, the country has begun to create a favorable climate for geothermal investment.
The History of Geothermal Power in Indonesia
Indonesia holds the world’s largest source of geothermal power, with an estimated potential of 27 GW. However, less than 5 percent of this potential has been developed to date. Indonesia began to explore its geothermal resource in the 1970s, with support from a number of developed country governments. The country made some progress in advancing geothermal development by the 1990s. However, development stalled during the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 and was slow to recover.
In the early 2000s, a number of barriers limited investment in the sector, including a policy and regulatory framework that favored conventional, coal-fired energy over geothermal. Plus, the high cost and risk associated with geothermal exploration deterred potential investors and made it difficult to access financing from banks.
The Indonesian government took a number of steps to try to advance geothermal development and received support from a wide range of international partners, including multilateral development banks and developed country governments. In 2003, it passed a law to promote private sector investment in geothermal, establishing a target of 6,000MW installed capacity by 2020.
The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters—the United States and China—have been forging a growing bond in combating climate change. Just last week, President Obama and President Xi made a landmark agreement to work towards reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas. And both the United States and China are leading global investment and development of clean energy. The United States invested $30.4 billion and added 16.9 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2012. China invested $58.4 billion and added 19.2 GW in capacity.
U.S.-China cooperation on clean energy was the topic of discussion at an event last week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s China Environment Forum. Experts from the World Resources Institute and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) looked at this cooperation from a seldom-discussed viewpoint – China’s renewable energy investments in the United States.
China’s Growing Overseas Investments in Renewable Energy
As new WRI analysis shows, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011). The United States is the number one destination of these investments, hosting at least eight wind projects and 24 solar projects. The majority of the investments went into solar PV power plant and wind farm development, while a few investments went into manufacturing or sales support.
It’s well-known that China ranks first in the world in attracting clean energy investment, receiving US$ 65.1 billion in 2012. But new analysis from WRI shows another side to this story: China is increasingly becoming a global force in international clean energy investment, too. In fact, the country has provided nearly $40 billion dollars to other countries’ solar and wind industries over the past decade.
This investment is consistent with a broader trend of major emerging economies like China, India, and Brazil becoming important sources of global overseas invest¬ments. WRI’s new working paper, China’s Overseas Investments in the Wind and Solar Industries: Trends and Drivers, helps to better understand China’s renewable energy investments overseas, as well as the policy and market forces that drive them.
China’s Overseas Wind and Solar Investments, By the Numbers
According to our research, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011), more than half of which were made in 2010 and 2011 (see Figure 1). Despite some gaps in the data that prevent us from generalizing about all of China’s wind and solar investments, we learned that:
- Of the 54 investments for which financial data were available, the cumulative amount invested came to nearly US$40 billion.
- China invested roughly US$10 billion in 16 wind projects and US$27.5 billion in 38 solar investments.
- Of 53 investments with capacity data available, the cumulative installed capacity added was nearly 6,000 MW.
- The majority of investments were in electricity generation. Several investments were made in manufacturing facilities and to establish sales and marketing offices.
- Most of the investments were in developed countries. A huge amount went to the United States, as well as Germany, Italy, and Australia. A handful of developing countries—including South Africa, Pakistan, and Ethiopia—also attracted multiple investments.
Chinese overseas investments are rapidly increasing. As of 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investments (OFDI) spread across 132 countries and regions and topped USD 60 billion annually, ranking ninth globally according to U.N. Conference on Trade and Development statistics. A significant amount of this increasing OFDI goes to the energy and resources sectors—much of it in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
But there are two sides to China’s OFDI coin. On the one side, these investments can benefit China and recipient countries, generating revenue and improving quality of life. However, like any country’s overseas investments, without the right policies and safeguards in place, these investments can fund projects that harm the environment and local communities.
WRI‘s new issue brief surveys the progress and challenges China faces in regulating the environmental and social impacts of its overseas investments. I sat down with WRI senior associate and China expert, Hu Tao, to talk about China’s overseas investment landscape. Before joining WRI, Tao worked as a senior environmental economist with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). Here’s what he had to say: