Countries Share Strategies for Low-Carbon Development

On Monday evening, Worldwatch hosted a well-attended official side event at the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancún titled “Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps: Insights from Those Who Are Leading the Way.” The event explored Worldwatch’s unique approach to designing energy roadmaps worldwide and highlighted a handful of countries that are making measurable progress in the path toward low-carbon development.

Dan Kammen speaking at the Worldwatch event

The panel consisted of Norbert Gorissen from the German Federal Environment Ministry (BMU), Rae Kwon Chung from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (and South Korea’s former climate ambassador), the World Bank’s new renewable energy czar Dan Kammen, Jiang Kejun from the Energy Research Institute of China, and Nelly Cuello from the Dominican Republic’s National Council on Climate Change. The meeting was moderated by Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin.

Following an opening presentation by Alexander Ochs, Worldwatch’s Energy and Climate Director, the panelists shared thoughts on how their countries (or in Kammen’s case, the World Bank and California) aspire to position themselves as leaders in creating low-carbon development strategies. Each of these players is moving ahead with ambitious policies even in the absence of real progress at the international level.

Worldwatch intends to make the design and communication of low-carbon energy roadmaps a central pillar of its work in the coming years. At the side event, the Institute formally announced its new roadmap project in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica. The project, funded by the BMU, will build on Worldwatch’s experiences with an existing smaller project in the Dominican Republic that focuses on wind and solar assessments and is funded by the Energy and Efficiency Partnership with Central America (EEP).

Worldwatch’s approach is to combine renewable energy resource mapping with comprehensive socio-economic and political assessments. For each country, the project team will first analyze solar, wind, small hydro, and biomass resources at a national scale, then choose particular regions in which to collect more detailed data. Such granular information will allow the team to move beyond generalizations about a country’s energy resources and to evaluate particular sites across a range of variables that will help determine suitability for development.

Monday’s Cancún side event focused on steps that countries have already made to position themselves as leaders in tackling climate change. With the continued failure of UN climate negotiations to produce a binding international treaty, it will be up to countries to take action on their own, which means focusing on national self-interest. Perhaps most interesting about the Worldwatch event was how clearly the plans of the different countries represented corresponded to their domestic priorities and circumstances.

The Dominican Republic, as a relatively small island and a developing country, is focused mostly on attracting international investment to grow its renewable energy sector. The country has enacted feed-in tariffs for renewable energy sources as well as targets for a 10 percent share of renewables in the country’s energy mix by 2015 and a 25 percent share by 2025.

China and South Korea, both rapidly emerging economies (although South Korea, with a per capita income higher than Portugal’s, could be considered emerged) meanwhile are focused on how to most strategically develop their infrastructure, protect their environments during a period of rapid economic growth, and grow domestic green industries.

South Korea, in particular, was a bright spot of the Cancún conference as it promoted its Green Growth Initiative (GGI) and clearly demonstrated its commitment to aggressive climate and energy policies regardless of the international gridlock. An impressive 2 percent of national spending in the coming years will go toward green initiatives, double the recommendation of the UN Environment Programme. South Korea’s funding of the GGI is a clear sign that the country is beginning to feel its oats on the international stage.

Germany, rather than developing new infrastructure, must contend with aging facilities and high energy imports. These two drivers have led the government to create a climate and energy policy framework consisting of eco-taxes, feed-in tariffs, an emissions trading scheme (ETS), and other measures to drive production of renewables and increase efficiency. The ETS funds have gone both to fund domestic renewables projects and to fund projects abroad through the Environment Ministry’s International Climate Initiative. This is consistent with another goal of Germany’s low-carbon strategy: to burnish its reputation and keep up its global stature.

The Worldwatch side event was an exciting chance to hear from people and countries that are on the cutting edge of low-carbon development. All along the development spectrum, countries have started to move beyond fossil fuels to attract international investment, carve out niches in emerging economic sectors, address local pollution, and reduce energy-import dependence. These countries clearly believe, as does Worldwatch, that there is a first-mover advantage to be had in low-carbon development regardless of (or at least in advance of) real international action. We can only hope that these successful examples will persuade others to follow suit.

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