This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Two-hundred page policy reports don’t normally sit on a CEO’s bedside table. But the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) wide-ranging new assessment of what the world will look like in 2030 is essential reading for smart, forward-looking corporate leaders.
Most international media attention around Global Trends 2030, produced every four years, has focused on its geopolitical analysis—rising China, plateauing United States, and potential failing states. But the private sector should pay careful attention to the megatrends the report highlights. Many relate to the profound sustainability challenges facing a warming world that will house around 8 billion people in 2030.
Below is my take on how four of these trends—resource scarcity, a booming global middle class, the rural-to-urban transition, and transformative information and communications technology—will impact businesses, and why corporate leaders should start preparing today.
The latest International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Medium-Term Coal Market Report 2012 re-confirms the dangerous path the world is on--a path of increasing dependence on coal, which carries serious environmental risks for people and the planet. According to the report, the world will burn 1.2 billion metric tons more coal per year by 2017 compared to today, surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source.
Coal already contributes 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions--the IEA projects this figure to grow to 50 percent over the next 25 years. Greenhouse gas emissions--which again reached record levels this year--are driving global climate change, the impacts of which we’re already seeing through more extreme weather events, droughts, and rising sea levels.
To alter course and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need a new approach that’s grounded by stable long-term policies, investments, and innovation that leads to a global transition to clean energy. While it may seem that the road to greater coal production is inevitable, the reality is that we can avoid this pathway--if we start now.
The global renewable energy industry has experienced dramatic growth in recent years. Renewable energy capacity (excluding hydropower) has more than doubled since 2005. In 2011, new clean energy investments reached a record $257 billion (a six-fold increase from 2004), and approximately half of the world’s new electric capacity came from renewable sources. These gains came despite the tumultuous backdrop of a global financial crisis and a rapidly changing clean energy technology industry - one that’s experiencing increased global competition, rapidly falling industry prices, and oversupply in the solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind sectors.
However, the benefits of the clean energy industry have not been shared evenly around the world. WRI’s new working paper, Delivering on the Clean Energy Economy, shows that countries have varied widely in their success of growing renewable energy industries that achieve both global competitiveness and domestic benefits. The main reason for this variation lies in the types of national policies the countries have in place.
According to our new research, countries who have been successful with their clean energy development have:
Taken a Comprehensive Approach: Policies are integrated at the national level
Sustained Policy in a Predictable Manner: Policies have an established lifetime of at least three-to-four years to enhance industry certainty
Implemented Targeted Policies: Policies address the needs of different technologies and target the needs of the entire value chain
India recently experienced one of the world’s worst blackouts, with 670 million citizens directly impacted. While media reports have focused on the repercussions from two days of outages, this incident illustrates a much larger, more systemic problem: the need for improved electricity governance.
India’s History of Power Problems
India has the world’s fifth-largest electrical system, with an installed electric capacity of about 206 gigawatts (GW). India initiated power sector reforms in the early 1990s through a range of legal, policy, and regulatory changes. Over the last two decades, some of these reforms have been impressive, but several others weren’t taken. This lack of follow-through has resulted in a growing gap between electricity demand and supply throughout the country. Recent blackouts may have shined a spotlight on this gap, but it’s a situation that’s widespread in India: Not only do 400 million Indians lack access to electricity, but electricity supply is unreliable and of poor quality even in large parts of “electrified” India. In addition to the existing demand, Indian consumers, businesses, and industries seek more electricity to power appliances, processes, and products, further exacerbating the demand-supply gap. By 2035, India’s power demand is expected to more than double.
How can policymakers deliver low-carbon development, particularly clean energy, at affordable costs? What strategies have countries used to attain the economic benefits of building a clean energy industry while keeping the burden to consumers low —and who is succeeding, and why? These are just a few of the questions that policymakers grapple with when tackling the challenges associated with transitioning to a green economy, one of the key themes of the Rio+20 conference. They’re also questions that WRI seeks to answer through our upcoming, cross-country analysis of clean energy industry development.
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.
How much fast-start climate finance is actually flowing, and where is it being spent?[^1] This question has come up repeatedly alongside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate talks in Bonn this week.
Today the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Overseas Development Institute (ODI) published two working papers examining the fast-start contributions of the UK and US (GBP 1.06 billion and USD 5.1 billion, respectively). These papers seek to shed light on how developed countries are defining, delivering, and reporting fast-start finance. A similar paper on Japan’s contribution is under development, led by the Tokyo-based International Group for Environmental Strategies (IGES). The studies are carried out in collaboration with the Open Climate Network (OCN).
This piece originally appeared in the National Journal Energy and Environment Experts Blog.
The U.S. electric power system is gradually shifting toward cleaner forms of generation. One sign of this transition is the declining use of coal for electric power production. In 2011, coal dropped to its lowest level of power generation in more than a decade, according to the U.S. government’s independent Energy Information Administration (EIA). In fact, the EIA recently reported that coal’s share of U.S. electric power generation fell below 40% for the last two months of 2011, the lowest level since 1978.
To understand the cause of this decline, it is important to examine the underlying market forces. Doing so provides important context for recent coal plant retirement announcements, particularly given that some companies have attributed retirements to EPA rules that are still years away from going into force. For example, FirstEnergy Corp. announced in late January 2012 that it would retire several of its smaller coal-fired power plants, explaining that the decision was “based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations.” FirstEnergy, however, had previously cited a range of reasons for its decision to reduce operations at many of its smaller coal plants.
Part 3: Methodologies and Analytical Tools for Low-carbon City Planning
This piece was written in collaboration with Cui Xueqin, Fu Sha, and Zou Ji.
In 2009, China’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan set a goal to cut the country’s carbon intensity by 17 percent by 2015. Responsibility for achieving portions of this target has been allocated to provinces and cities. This three-part series explores the vital role of China’s municipalities in reaching the national carbon intensity goal. Part 1 presented low-carbon city targets and plans developed to date. Part 2 explored some challenges related to designing city-level low-carbon plans and mechanisms to track progress towards them. Part 3 presents different tools to address these challenges.
The Program of Energy and Climate Economics (PECE) at Renmin University of China has developed a toolkit for low carbon city planning based on its experience working at the city level. These analytical tools have been employed in the Asian Development Bank Qingdao Low Carbon City Project (mentioned in part 2 of this series), and are described below.
This post was written with Sarah Lupberger, Project Coordinator with WRI's Electricity Governance Initiative.
A year and a half has passed since a political uprising rocked the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. The violent protests in April 2010 were in part a response to mismanagement of the energy sector and a loss of public trust in the government’s ability to provide essential services like electricity. These protests eventually grew into a revolution that ousted President Bakiyev.
Today, electricity sector reforms and engagement with civil society groups have begun to show signs of progress, according to WRI’s partners in the Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI).
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