|Counting on Rio|
|Written by Eric Vermeiren|
|Wednesday, 13 June 2012 23:03|
World leaders, diplomats, and thousands of private sector, NGO, and environmental heads will be convening in Rio de Janeiro next week for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development - also known as the Earth Summit.
The IEA recommends doubling investments in clean energy by 2020 in order to avoid global climate catastrophe. Unfortunately, quite the opposite has been occurring throughout the industrialized world over the last several years. The economic malaise that has plagued the United States and Europe has lead to fierce calls for budget austerity – resulting in slashes across the board in critical fields like energy research & development and incentive programs.
However, the report claims that investing in clean energy makes plain economic sense. The IEA estimates that for every additional dollar invested in clean energy, three dollars in future fuel savings are generated. The IEA is quick to point out that investing is not the same as spending. In their calculations, by 2025 fuel savings realized would outweigh investment and in a conservative estimate there would be a USD 5 trillion net savings between now and 2050.
The savings that the IEA cities would be realized through increased energy efficiency and reduced dependency on volatile and increasingly expensive fossil fuels.
Another worrying trend pointed out in the report is the declining share of energy-related public research and development. Amongst IEA member countries (the 28 leading industrialized countries), the share of energy-related investment in public research declined from 20% in 1980 to 4% in 2010. The success of solar PV and onshore wind power provides evidence that new, emerging technologies can break into and successfully compete in the energy marketplace. Solar PV has averaged 42% annual growth globally over the last decade, while onshore wind has averaged 27% growth/year. As a result of strategic and sustained policy support of early stage research, development, demonstration and market deployment, these technologies have reached a stage where the private sector now plays a much bigger role. Breakthrough technologies beyond these are likely to be needed to help further cut global energy demand and reach zero emissions.
While the report recognizes the critical role that coal and natural gas will continue to play in the coming decades, it stresses that low-carbon electricity will need to be the core of a sustainable energy system.
The current trend in the United States of ramping up construction of natural gas facilities for electricity generation is not the answer, the report points out. While gas-fired plants may emit only half as much CO2 per KWh generated than coal-fired plants, population growth will mean that even if all coal plants are phased out, CO2 emissions from natural gas plants will be much higher than is recommended to prevent climate catastrophe.
Instead, the U.S. government can and should lead a global pivot to a sustainable energy system. The U.S. could encourage a transition to truly low-carbon energy sources through setting credible clean energy standards and targets, creating an investment climate that builds the confidence of the private sector in the long-term potential of clean energy technologies, and leveling the playing field for clean energy technologies by placing a meaningful price on carbon and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies – which in 2011 were seven times higher than the support for renewable energy.
Global leaders – we’re counting on you.
(Read the report summary HERE)
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