Cash Is King, Even at Copenhagen
15 Dec, 2009 04:39 pm
Although apparently brief, the suspension of the Copenhagen climate conference after a walkout by the Group of 77 developing countries confirms that the talks are as much about money as about healing the world's climate. It's not just that the G77 wants the Kyoto limits on the emissions of developed countries enforced, while leaving their own emissions uncapped; it also wants the developed world to kick in sizable sums--much bigger than the 2.4 billion Euros per year offered by the EU--to cover the improvements in energy efficiency and renewable energy that would enable them to tackle the growth of their own emissions. There's a solid argument there, though it is not the guilt-based logic of "carbon debt" that I explored a few weeks ago.
There has to be a better way. As Dr. Muller notes, "A dollar spent in China can reduce CO2 much more than a dollar spent in the US." Yet US voters won't countenance providing that dollar out of guilt, nor will they acquiesce to a scheme that makes China and other developing countries more competitive at their expense. Paradoxically, even domestic measures such as European feed-in tariffs and the proposed federal Renewable Electricity Standard embedded in the Waxman-Markey climate bill could create such an outcome, if Chinese and Indian green technology firms come to dominate developed country green energy markets. There are already indications of this happening in the German solar market.
Instead of the technology transfer we've been talking about for more than a decade, what may be needed is a new mechanism that actually creates markets in the developing world for clean energy hardware and know-how produced in the developed world, so that these projects create jobs and wealth in the US and EU, rather than threatening them. I'm not sure precisely what form such a deal might take, but at a minimum it should incorporate both open access to developing country markets and uniform legal protection for the physical and intellectual property of the developed-country companies making these investments.
The best thing that could come out of today's disruption at Copenhagen would be the cancellation of the big heads-of-state photo-ops planned for the final days of the conference and a determination to put the delegates back to work crafting a new agreement that creates the right recipe for focusing the lion's share of climate investments on the rapidly growing emissions of the third world, rather than on the shrinking emissions of the EU and the plateaued GHG output of the US. That would be something worthy of bringing the world's leaders together to sign.
Originally published on Energy Outlook