SolarTown went to a panel discussion at the Aid and International Development Forum held in Washington, DC earlier this week. The panel of policy analysts made a strong case for why we need to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, including solar energy, into our energy portfolio. Otherwise, by the time that we get around to using solar energy, we may have to rely on a lot more on solar arrays floating on water.
The panel, moderated by Neeraj Prasad, discussed how best to address climate change without a global deal. Dr. Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank, opened the event by presenting some of the possible dire consequences of climate change on the global economy, and the growing disparity in public opinion of climate change around the world. He reported that while 90% of East Asians are concerned about global warming, only 50% North Americans share this sentiment.
Steer explained that the continued increase of greenhouse gases emission in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and the resulting increase in planetary temperatures will have disastrous implications on the global economy. Rising sea levels, increasingly severe weather, and large scale flooding of low-lying regions will harm people in all countries, especially those who are the poorest. Climate change was thus presented as one of the major barriers to development. This view was supported by Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at the Worldwatch Institute, who said that sustainable energy is a “prerequisite for development.”
These ramifications will strip the global economy of valuable funds and resources and negatively impact global growth and production. As such, the cost of altering the world’s energy infrastructure from a fossil fuel based economy to an economic model based on clean technology and renewable energy in the present may actually be cheap when compared to the future cost of coping with the calamitous effects of global warming on the planet and its citizens.
In the face of this crisis, global leadership has been lacking. The United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and other international organizations have repeatedly failed to reach agreement on climate change. Steer said that Copenhagen was marked by “a feeling of bitterness and dismay.” In comparison to this failure he praised the “brave leadership” of countries such as Bolivia and Morocco on sustainability. He claimed that three steps are imperative as starting points in addressing global climate change: the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the creation of a framework for implementing clean technologies across the planet, and the creation of a Green Investment Fund to finance investment in renewable energy infrastructure. In both the short and long-term, the price tag will be far less costly if developed and undeveloped nations come together and forge a consensus on ways to solve the problems that global climate change poses to the planet and to future generations.
In contrast to Steer’s focus on international solutions to climate change involving initiatives such as carbon markets, Loren Labovitch, Director at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and Dr. Samuel Lee Hancock, President of Emerald Planet, presented different perspectives on how to address climate change. Labovitch and his team are attempting to spur renewable markets through the private sector, targeting entrepreneurs and multinationals in Indonesia. Hancock on the other hand works with community based organization on projects such as solar powered cell phone infrastructure and solar water pumps.
While all the panelists agreed that solutions were desperately needed, they differed in their approach to how to address the challenges of global warming. As Alexander Ochs said during his presentation, “climate change is the largest scientific experiment in the world.”