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On Low-Carbon Economies

RMI and Carbon War Room are working together to help Caribbean islands transition to lowcarbon, clean-energy economies

Former Costa Rican president and Carbon War Room head José María Figueres on islands, carbon, and global energy use

In 1994 at age 39, José María Figueres was elected president of Costa Rica, becoming the youngest president of a Central American country during modern times. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, his administration focused on sustainable development. Since then, he has served as the chair of a United Nations taskforce, CEO of the World Economic Forum and then Concordia 21, and most recently president of Sir Richard Branson’s nonprofit Carbon War Room. Fresh off travel through parts of Asia with RMI chief scientist Amory Lovins, we asked Figueres about the importance of working with islands, creating low-carbon economies, and how to accelerate transforming global energy use.

José María Figueres

Rocky Mountain Institute: Like RMI CEO Jules Kortenhorst, your background spans business and government. Looking at today’s energy and climate challenges, why are market-based solutions — even if bolstered by supportive governmental policies — so important for driving change?

José María Figueres: About 40 percent of global carbon emissions can be profitably avoided today within existing international agreements and national regulations by applying already-proven technologies. RMI and CWR are leaders in helping businesses realize this terrific market opportunity. As we get more capital to flow into financing the transition toward clean energy and lower carbon emissions, we can provide profitable example for others to follow and broaden understanding about these issues at the same time.

RMI: Looking at RMI and Carbon War Room’s collaborative work together in the Caribbean, including the Creating Climate Wealth summit earlier this year, why is focusing on islands so important, given their small contribution to climate change yet great vulnerability in the face of it?

JMF: Working with islands to shift their energy base from fossil fuels to renewables is important for at least three reasons. First, it helps improve the quality of life for island residents, who are burdened with some of the highest electricity prices in the world. Second, such a transition creates jobs, investment possibilities, and entrepreneurial opportunities that render these islands — normally dependent on tourism for the overwhelming bulk of their economies — more competitive. And third, our work with islands can yield shining examples of a successful transition to lower-carbon, clean-energy economies using existing technologies. This will hopefully inspire others to follow in their footsteps, and not only on literal islands. After all, islands need not be surrounded by water. They can be an off-grid mine, a rural community, an isolated military installation, and much more.

RMI: Costa Rica, already known as an ecotourism hot spot and global leader in environmental stewardship, has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2021. Your energy mix is already almost entirely renewable (mostly hydro plus some geothermal and wind), with an impressively small amount of fossil fuels. As the country embraces diversification with other renewables, such as solar in the Guanacaste region, what lessons can the rest of the world learn from your successes and challenges?

JMF: The first lesson is that renewables are profitable. Powered by renewables Costa Rica has successfully diversified its economy, with a very pronounced and competitive export-oriented bias. Secondly, we are living proof it can be done even among developing nations with scarcer economic resources than the developed world. Thirdly, our experience shows that systemic thinking in addressing these challenges is much better than a “silo” focus.

RMI: What do you see as the most significant barriers that stand in the way of transforming global energy use? With renewables making an increasingly compelling economic case — garnering billions of dollars of global investment, while their costs keep declining, making that investment go further — how can we accelerate their adoption and topple incumbent fossil fuels?

JMF: There is nothing harder than changing cultural attitudes. Most of the world grew up on fossil fuels without thinking of their unintended consequences: increasing carbon emissions driving climate change. Now we must change our habits and practices, and do so within a ten- to fifteen-year window to avoid temperature changes from escalating beyond two degrees Celsius. This requires broadening our understanding with respect to the business opportunities it entails, strong leadership to change present business models, and public-private partnerships to make progress in the short time we have to act.

RMI: With China and the U.S. dominating global oil imports, fossil fuel consumption (especially coal), and carbon emissions, how do smaller countries such as Costa Rica and the Caribbean’s island-nations perceive their place in that landscape?

JMF: Smaller nations face both a great challenge and a great opportunity. The challenge — and it’s not an easy one to come to terms with — is that even if we do everything we can in the smaller nations and reduce our carbon footprint to zero, the world still needs China, the U.S., Brazil, India, and other large players to do more and move faster. The opportunity, though, is for smaller nations to set an example in the transition to low-carbon economies, which hopefully inspires others to follow. Then, the issue becomes one of scaling solutions, rather than proving them in the first place. Smaller nations can become early-adopters proving the case that paves the way for other major world energy powers to follow.

Follow José María on Twitter.

This article is from the Summer 2014 issue of Rocky Mountain Institute’s Solution Journal. To read more from back issues of Solutions Journal, please visit the RMI website.

 

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Lebanon, Hezbollah Cut off from Iran

Juan Cole writes ‘With the alleged fall to the Islamic State of Iraq, and [in] Syria of Qa’im on Saturday, and of Talafar a few days ago, the border between Iraq and Syria has now been effectively erased.

A new country exists, stretching from the outskirts of Baghdad all the way to Aleppo.

The first thing that occurred to me on the fall of Qa’im is that Iran no longer has its land bridge to Lebanon. I suppose it could get much of the way there through Kurdish territory, but ISIS could ambush the convoys when they came into Arab Syria. Since Iran has expended a good deal of treasure and blood to keep Bashar al-Assad in power so as to maintain that land bridge, it surely will not easily accept being blocked by ISIS. Without Iranian shipments of rockets and other munitions, Lebanon’s Hizbullah would rapidly decline in importance, and south Lebanon would be open again to potential Israeli occupation. I’d say, we can expect a Shiite counter-strike to maintain the truck routes to Damascus.

He goes on to say ‘Syrian jets bombed eastern positions of ISIS near the Iraqi border, perhaps signalling a likely alliance of Damascus and Baghdad to put the Sunni radical genie back in the bottle’.

From a petro-political perspective I find myself asking the following questions;

  • What will be the reaction of Saudi Arabia with the Sunni forces in Iraq having both Damascus and Baghdad allied against them?
  • What will Iran now do to support Bashar al-Assad?
  • What will Iran do to keep their supply route to Hezbollah open?

The answer to these three questions will inform the price of oil going forward. According to Reuters Libya’s oil output has sunk back to a current 1.16 million barrels per day of oil due to disruption at fields and terminals, a senior industry source told stated on Tuesday. Iran put OPEC on notice of its plans to raise output swiftly with the help of foreign investors immediately after any lifting of sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Iran could increase oil exports by 500,000 barrels per day immediately after any lifting of sanctions. “Very quickly we can increase by half a million and after a couple of months we can increase it to 700,000 barrels per day,” he told reporters ahead of OPEC’s Wednesday meeting. He said Iran could pump 4 million bpd in less than three months after any lifting of restrictions. When sanctions may be lifted is the unknown factor.

For those of us living on Small Island Dveloping States (SIDS) and other states dependant on fossil fuel, the path towards alternative energy, i.e. solar, wind, OTEC and ocean current technologies looks more attractive with every passing day. Editor

 

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Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era offers market-based, actionable solutions integrating transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity. Built on Rocky Mountain Institute's 30 years of research and collaboration in all four sectors, Reinventing Fire maps pathways for running a 158%-bigger U.S. economy in 2050 but needing no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, one-third less natural gas, and no new inventions. This would cost $5 trillion less than business-as-usual—in addition to the value of avoiding fossil fuels' huge but uncounted external costs.

Dig Deeper With Our Series of Core Sector Presentations:

View the Reinventing Fire Transporation video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1icbBaBNCBM

View the Reinventing Fire Buildings video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIi4aDCDrO8

View the Reinventing Fire Industry video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXcYkIMTGgU

 

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Four energy policies can keep the 2 °C climate goal alive

Warning that the world is not on track to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the International Energy Agency (IEA) today urged governments to swiftly enact four energy policies that would keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth.

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away – quite the opposite,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in London at the launch of a World Energy OutlookSpecial Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, which highlights the need for intensive action before 2020.

Noting that the energy sector accounts for around two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions, she added: “This report shows that the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C but also finds that much more can be done to tackle energy-sector emissions without jeopardising economic growth, an important concern for many governments.”

New estimates for global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 reveal a 1.4% increase, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt), but also mask significant regional differences. In the United States, a switch from coal to gas in power generation helped reduce emissions by 200 million tonnes (Mt), bringing them back to the level of the mid‑1990s. China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions (300 Mt), but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade, driven by the deployment of renewables and improvements in energy intensity. Despite increased coal use in some countries, emissions in Europe declined by 50 Mt. Emissions in Japan increased by 70 Mt.

The new IEA report presents the results of a 4-for-2 °C Scenario, in which four energy policies are selected that can deliver significant emissions reductions by 2020, rely only on existing technologies and have already been adopted successfully in several countries.

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author. “Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

In the 4-for-2°C Scenario, global energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions are 8% (3.1 Gt CO2‑equivalent) lower in 2020 than the level otherwise expected.

  • Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport account for nearly half the emissions reduction in 2020, with the additional investment required being more than offset by reduced spending on fuel bills.
  • Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants delivers more than 20% of the emissions reduction and helps curb local air pollution. The share of power generation from renewables increases (from around 20% today to 27% in 2020), as does that from natural gas.
  • Actions to halve expected methane (a potent greenhouse gas) releases into the atmosphere from the upstream oil and gas industry in 2020 provide 18% of the savings.
  • Implementing a partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies accounts for 12% of the reduction in emissions and supports efficiency efforts.

The report also finds that the energy sector is not immune from the physical impacts of climate change and must adapt. In mapping energy-system vulnerabilities, it identifies several sudden and destructive impacts, caused by extreme weather events, and other more gradual impacts, caused by changes to average temperature, sea level rise and shifting weather patterns. To improve the climate resilience of the energy system, it highlights governments’ role in encouraging prudent adaptation (alongside mitigation) and the need for industry to assess the risks and impacts as part of its investment decisions.

The financial implications of climate policies that would put the world on a 2 °C trajectory are not uniform across the energy sector. Net revenues for existing renewables-based and nuclear power plants increase by $1.8 trillion (in year-2011 dollars) collectively through to 2035, offsetting a similar decline from coal plants. No oil or gas field currently in production would need to shut down prematurely. Some fields yet to start production are not developed before 2035, meaning that around 5% to 6% of proven oil and gas reserves do not start to recover their exploration costs. Delaying the move to a 2 °C trajectory until 2020 would result in substantial additional costs to the energy sector and increase the risk of assets needing to be retired early, idled or retrofitted. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can act as an asset protection strategy, reducing the risk of stranded assets and enabling more fossil fuel to be commercialised.

To download the WEO special report Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, click here.

To read Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven's comments at the report's launch, please click here.

To see the presentation that accompanied the report's launch, please click here.

Accredited journalists who would like more information should contact ieapressoffice@iea.org.

About the IEA

The International Energy Agency is an autonomous organisation which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond. Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA’s initial role was to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets. While this continues to be a key aspect of its work, the IEA has evolved and expanded. It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing reliable and unbiased research, statistics, analysis and recommendations.

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Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map

 

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Small Islands Push for New Energy

ST. JULIAN’S, Malta, Sep 14 2012 (IPS) – Most islands are well endowed with one or more renewable energy source – rivers, waterfalls, wind, sunshine, biomass, wave power, geothermal deposits – yet virtually all remain heavily or entirely reliant on imported fossil fuels to produce electricity and power transport.

With rising oil prices, fuel import bills now represent up to 20 percent of annual imports of 34 of the 38 small island developing states (SIDS), between 5 percent to 20 percent of their Gross Domestic Product – and even up to 15 percent of the total import bills of many of the European Union’s 286 islands.

Action advocated under ‘The Malta Communiqué On Accelerating Renewable Energy Uptake For Islands’ adopted by a 50-nation two-day conference that ended here last week will hopefully slash, in some cases eliminate, reliance on fossils and related pollution, while increasing energy security, employment as well as economic and social wellbeing.

‘The Renewables and Islands Global Summit’ in Malta was co-hosted by the 100-nation International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) based in Abu Dhabi and by the government of Malta – a 316 sq km Mediterranean island republic of 410,000 inhabitants, and EU’s smallest member state.

With rising oil prices, fuel import bills now represent up to 20 percent of annual imports of 34 of the 38 small island developing states (SIDS),

The meeting represents a key milestone in IRENA’s initiative on renewables and islands launched by its governing council last January, as well as a follow-up to the Rio+20 conference in June and the ‘achieving sustainable energy for all in Small Island Developing States’ ministerial meeting in Barbados in May.

The communiqué invites IRENA to establish a global renewable energy islands network (GREIN) as a platform for sharing knowledge, best practice, challenges and lessons learnt while seeking innovative solutions.

GREIN will also help assess country potential, build capacity, formulate business cases for renewables deployment involving the private sector and civil society while identifying available finance as well as new ideas for innovative financing mechanisms.

In addition, the network will develop methodologies for integrating renewables into sustainable tourism, water management, transport, and other industries and services.

IRENA’s Kenyan director-general Adnan Amin told the 120 delegates that “we have confirmed the enormous potential for renewables in small island developing states as well as for developed island countries, not to mention coastal countries with remote, energy-deprived islands of their own. Ambitious policy targets appear increasingly attainable because of great strides forward in technology and cost-effectiveness.

“We are laying the groundwork for a business council to bring investors – from major energy companies to innovative SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and also financial institutions – into the discussion,” Amin added. “Academics and NGOs can also contribute to the search for practical solutions. Developed island states can do much by sharing their experience with small-island developing states that face broadly similar challenges.”

Representatives (including 15 ministers) from 26 developing Pacific, Caribbean and African developing island nations and from coastal developing states with islands reported a wide range of renewables deployment, from detailed long-term plans and ongoing activities to reach up to 100 percent renewables, to admissions of very low deployment and no firm goals or plans yet.

West African Cape Verde, a 10-island 4,033 sq km archipelago with 491,000 inhabitants, has started working towards 100 percent, then possibly 300 percent renewables, according to José Brito, senior adviser to Cape Verde’s Prime Minister, José Maria Neves. Surplus energy remaining from meeting domestic needs (including seawater desalination) could either be stored or exported, Brito said. Cape Verde aims to become a renewables training hub for Africa.

Dominica in the East Caribbean (71,000 inhabitants, 754 sq km) could also become a net energy exporter, Crispin Grégoire, its former ambassador to the UN and now a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official in charge of Caribbean issues told IPS.

“With 325 rivers and mountainous terrain, we have huge hydroelectric potential. Moreover, Iceland and the EU are helping assess our extensive geothermal resources. We could export surplus electricity by interconnector seabed cable to Guadelupe and Martinique, each just 60 km away. We could also attract high-tech industries to use our surplus power.” More

 

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IRENA Renewables and Islands Global Summit Bulletin

INTERNATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY AGENCY RENEWABLES AND ISLANDS GLOBAL SUMMIT

6-7 SEPTEMBER 2012, MALTA

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Renewables and Islands Global Summit took place from Thursday, 6 to Friday, 7 September 2012 in Malta. More than 130 representatives from IRENA member states, including ministers from 14 states and participants from international organizations and the private sector participated in the Summit.

The two-day Summit featured panel presentations and general discussions on: the implications of the Rio+20 Outcome Document for island sustainable development and renewable energy; island energy trends and strategies; strategic partnerships; and enabling frameworks for investment. A session on best practices and challenges provided the opportunity for participants to share case-study experiences from different regions.

On the final day, participants discussed and adopted the Malta Communiqué on accelerating renewable energy uptake for islands, which includes proposed actions for future IRENA assistance to islands.

Most islands around the world are dependent on imported fossil fuels for the majority of their energy needs, especially for transport and electricity generation. For reasons of scale and isolation, energy infrastructure costs are higher on islands, and the impact of oil price and supply volatility has been severe, exacerbated by the small size of local markets.

IRENA was established to promote the widespread and increased adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy. Through the provisions of the IRENA statute, adopted on 26 January 2009, and entered into force on 8 July 2010, and the Assembly decisions to date, the Agency has been requested to focus, as one of its priorities, on the accelerated deployment of renewable energy in islands.

A BRIEF HISTORY

SE4ALL: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has declared 2012 the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.” (SE4ALL). In this context, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched his SE4ALL initiative to identify and mobilize action by stakeholders from across government, business, civil society, academia and the development community.

The SE4ALL Initiative aims to achieve three objectives by 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

The International Year and the SE4ALL initiative include various activities at different levels, such as: the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Group; national dialogues to facilitate stakeholder involvement; and policy formulation and evaluation, as well as a public-private partnership of practitioners in the energy community.

To date, many island nations have committed to the SE4ALL partnership.

Rio+20 Outcome Document “The future we want: The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) took place on 20-22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It marked the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, which resulted in the adoption of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and Agenda 21 (a 40-chapter programme of action). At UNCSD, representatives of 191 UN member states and observers, including 79 Heads of State or Government, adopted the Outcome Document entitled “The Future We Want.”

The agreement calls for the UNGA, at its next session, to take decisions on, inter alia: designating a body to operationalize the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production; determining the modalities for the third international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), which is to convene in 2014; and constituting a working group to develop global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the UNGA.

The Rio+20 Outcome Document contains five paragraphs on energy, which:

  • recognize the critical role that energy plays in the development process, and commits to facilitate support for access to sustainable modern energy services by the 1.4 billion people worldwide currently without them;
  • emphasize the need to address the challenge of access to sustainable modern energy services for all;
  • reaffirm support for the implementation of national and subnational policies and strategies;
  • commit to supporting efforts on electrification and dissemination of sustainable cooking and heating solutions;
  • recognize the need for energy efficiency measures in urban planning, buildings and transportation, and in the production of goods and services and product design;
  • recognize the importance of promoting incentives favoring, and removing disincentives to, energy efficiency and the diversification of the energy mix; and
  • note the SE4All initiative and express determination to make sustainable energy for all a reality, while recognizing that countries set priorities according to their specific challenges, capacities and circumstances, including their energy mix.

REPORT OF THE RENEWABLES AND ISLANDS GLOBAL SUMMIT

OPENING SESSION

On Thursday, 6 September, George Pullicino, Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs, Malta, welcomed participants, noting that island states share a common vision of implementing renewable energy technology amidst limited financial resources and geophysical restrictions. He described Malta’s plans to generate 10% of all consumed energy from alternate sources by 2020, including from solar, offshore wind, biofuels and green energy generated from waste. Pullicino called for island states to lead by example, including by testing renewable energy technology before it is implemented on a larger scale.

 

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Energy Security: Navy Demonstration of Alternative Fuels

For years, the U.S. Navy has been studying alternatives to the increasingly expensive fossil fuels that power its ships, boats and planes and last month (July) the service got to test its research and theories on a grand scale.

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), heading a strike force of four other ships as well as a jet fighter wing, helicopters and other aircraft, demonstrated the viability of alternative fuels in the waters off Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific 2012 (RIMPAC), the world’s largest annual international maritime exercise.

Click here to view the complete article at the IDGA website.

 

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