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Clean tech is here, now we need people power

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Credit: Mimi Phan / Nalidsa / Shutterstock

The MIT in its Ideas Made to Matter informs that per climate experts, cleantech is here, now we need people power to implement what is available, i.e. all smart technology, etc.

Climate experts: Clean tech is here, now we need people power

by Kara Baskin

 Oct 19, 2021

Why It Matters

Bold climate policy is key to decarbonizing electricity, say climate activist Bill McKibben and others. Here’s how companies and individuals can help.

It’s a race against time: To combat the climate crisis, decarbonizing electricity is essential — but how? What will it take to clean up the power grid quickly and effectively?

As U.S. legislators continued to debate the Build Back Better infrastructure plan, which aims to make electricity carbon-free by 2035, climate change leaders convened on Sept. 30 to discuss solutions at the EmTech MIT conference hosted by MIT Technology Review.

The panel, “Cleaning up the Power Sector,” was moderated by Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, a think tank.

Scientists believe that achieving net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 is crucial.

“This is what physicists tell us is necessary to prevent — not global warming; it’s too late for that — but global warming at a scale that will cut civilization off at the knees,” said longtime climate activist and author Bill McKibben, a distinguished scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College.

Clean electricity is a solution, panelists said.

“Seventy-five percent of our carbon problem right now can be solved through clean electricity and electrification,” said Leah Stokes, co-host of the “Matter of Degrees” podcast and an associate professor at the University of California Santa Barbara. “We can use clean electricity to power our homes, our cars, even about half of heavy industry.”

“It’s pretty much a miracle that we’re now at a place where the cheapest way to produce power on planet Earth is to point a sheet of glass at the sun,” McKibben agreed.

We’re now at a place where the cheapest way to produce power on planet Earth is to point a sheet of glass at the sun.

Bill McKibben, Co-founder, 350.org

Yet despite the rise of solar and wind power and the transition away from coal-fired power and natural gas, we’re not moving fast enough.

“Thanks to policy investments over the last decade, we have a toolset available of mature technologies that [are] cheap and ready to scale, including wind and solar power,” said Jesse Jenkins, a macro-scale energy systems engineer and assistant professor at Princeton University. “But we need to be smashing records for the deployment of these energy technologies every year for the rest of our lives.”

How to hit that goal? Panelists identified a way forward — one built on technology and policy and powered by human resolve.

The willpower to divest fully …

Solar and wind power have become cost-effective for a reason: advocacy. Panelists noted that the cost of wind has dropped by approximately two-thirds and the cost of solar power and lithium-ion batteries has fallen as well over the past decade.

“That’s not an accident. That was due to public policy — and that public policy was due to pressure from activists and from advocates, and from public interest groups,” said Jenkins.

That advocacy and involvement will have to scale up massively to reach the 2050 goal, particularly in regards to phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

“Even with [clean] technology available, the hardest thing that humans have ever done, acting with enormous unity, is at every turn [to] keep trying to break the vested interest of the fossil fuel industry and utilities,” McKibben said.

We have to stop using fossil fuels, and we have to stop building any new fossil fuel infrastructure of any variety.

Leah Stokes, Associate professor, UC Santa Barbara

This requires sustained grassroots efforts, such as the anti-fossil-fuel organization 350.org, which McKibben cofounded in 2008.

McKibben cited in particular “the young people around the world rallying around figures like Greta Thunberg,” and said it’s time for high-profile groups to follow suit and publicly renounce fossil fuels — including institutes of higher learning.

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is looking a little naked in this regard. Its neighbor Harvard, and its neighbor across the bridge Boston University, have now divested. … It’s time for MIT to pay attention to the physics department and stop trying to profit off climate change, too,” McKibben said.

Stokes called for a “paradigm shift” away from the idea that efficiency can sufficiently mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels.

“For a long time, we thought if you get a Prius, that’s good enough. If you get a high-efficiency gas furnace, that’s good enough. And what we know now is that it’s not good enough,” Stokes said. “We have to stop using fossil fuels, and we have to stop building any new fossil fuel infrastructure of any variety.”

… and to build furiously

Achieving net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 is about more than stopping fossil fuels; it requires formidable innovation — and infrastructure — to replace it.

On the technology side, that includes the development of improved hydrogen production, ways to produce steel without emissions, and negative-emissions technologies such as bioenergy, Jenkins said.  

On the policy side, advocates and policymakers need the fortitude to commit not just to fossil fuel divestiture, but to building new infrastructure.

It’s all too easy for well-intentioned people to say ‘no’ to [a] project without understanding that we have to say ‘yes’ to something, somewhere.

Jesse Jenkins, Assistant professor, Princeton University

“We have to shift this whole country into a mode of infrastructure-building that we haven’t seen in my life,” said Jenkins, who said the U.S. is living off of the fruits of the 20th-century investments in highways, cities, and power systems “that really petered out in the 1970s.”

“That has to fundamentally change if we’re going to build a net-zero emissions economy,” Jenkins said, which requires building wind and solar at more than twice the average pace over the next decade and doubling (or tripling) the total amount of transmission capacity in the country to support electrification over the next 30 years.

“It’s a challenge for environmental activists and others who are organizing. We’re very good at stopping things. Now we have to figure out how to accelerate and support the growth of substantial amounts of infrastructure,” Jenkins said.

New projects of this enormity require stakeholder buy-in on a regional scale.

“If we just go project by project, and we leave it to a private company to navigate where the wind project goes or where the transmission line goes, it’s all too easy for them to fumble that,” Jenkins said. “And it’s all too easy for well-intentioned people to say ‘no’ to that project without understanding that we have to say ‘yes’ to something, somewhere.”

Stokes said, “We need businesses right now to be calling up their congressmen, calling up their senators and saying, ‘We want you to actually do this. We want you to act on climate change and act on investing in American families.’”

Policy is key

Stokes visualizes progress along what she calls a “narwhal curve” to track clean energy deployment.

“We need to be getting upward of four or five percentage points if we want to get to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, which is what President Biden campaigned on and won on and is trying to legislate on currently,” she said.

McKibben called Biden’s agenda the “first serious climate legislation” to arrive on the Hill.

A key component, currently held up by opposition from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, is the Clean Electricity Performance Program, a proposed government incentive for utilities to receive grants if they deploy clean power at the necessary pace and scale, without a burden on consumers.

“That’s really important because it means that everyday customers who are paying their electricity bills are not going to carry the costs of this transition — the federal government is going to help make electricity bills cheaper while doing this clean energy deployment,” Stokes said.

On the flip side, utilities that don’t move quickly enough would pay a penalty. “It’s not about making bad, dirty stuff more expensive — it’s about making cheap, good, clean stuff cheaper,” Stokes said.

“If you look at the bill in Congress right now, it is our best opportunity to dramatically accelerate that feedback cycle  … by primarily investing in the growth of clean energy technologies and driving and accelerating trends that really are already underway,” Jenkins said.

These include investing in electric vehicles, including rebates and tax credits for consumers, as well as investment in electric vehicle manufacturing and carbon capture technologies.

The legislative process is fraught, due to the deeply held sway of the fossil fuel industry — “one of the most powerful and wealthy industries in the history of humanity,” NoiseCat said.

But change is still possible, even in the face of political headwinds, McKibben said, noting that 70% of Americans want action on climate. “We’ve shifted the zeitgeist,” he said.

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Energy Transitions in the MENA Region

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The IEA in a gesture of goodwill proposes Energy Transitions in the MENA Region to be supported so as to help it reach clean and low-carbon energy-based economies.

The above image is for illustration and is of the IEA – International Energy Agency.

Energy Transitions in the MENA Region

Energy transitions in the producer economies of the Middle East and North Africa

Supporting Middle East and North Africa countries to help them diversify their economies towards clean and low-carbon energy

Oil and gas producers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are particularly exposed not only to climate change, but also to global efforts to mitigate it. This water-stressed region faces severe climate impacts, from rising temperatures to extended droughts, so must take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, many MENA countries are economically dependent on oil and gas exports, which could come under growing pressure from global efforts to decarbonise the energy sector. MENA countries must therefore find a way to accelerate development of clean energy while diversifying their economies away from reliance on oil and gas revenues.

The International Energy Agency is working with countries across the region to leverage their existing capacities and competitive advantages in traditional energy forms towards clean and low-carbon energy technologies. The aim is to help countries chart a low-carbon pathway for their own growing energy demand, while also exploring export opportunities for emerging low-carbon energy sectors, such as hydrogen.

This is a broad-ranging programme that cuts across the work streams of the IEA. It includes supporting renewable and clean energy deployment through policy reform; navigating the pathways available to countries seeking to implement national hydrogen strategies; and bolstering economic resilience through the promotion of local value chains. The programme functions through high-level dialogue; tailored support for national policy development; and thematic workshops and training.

The energy transitions in the producer economies of MENA programme supports the IEA’s ongoing work by feeding lessons learned and data collected from producer economies back into IEA analysis and publications, such as the World Energy OutlookEnergy Technology Perspectives and Renewables Market Report.

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Dispute grips Green Climate Fund over net zero

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Published on 8 October 2021 by Climate Home News is the story of how a Dispute grips Green Climate Fund over net zero condition for accessing finance by certain countries. Here is this story.

The above image is for illustration and is of Climate Home News.

Dispute grips Green Climate Fund over net zero condition for accessing finance

By Chloé Farand

Board members from developing countries insisted that making a 2050 net zero goal a condition for accreditation to the fund breaches equity principles

The UN’s flagship climate fund has been gripped by fierce debate over what decarbonisation conditions should be imposed to developing nation organisations seeking to access funding.

In the Fulani village of Hore Mondji, located in southern Mauritania on the banks of the Senegal River, a women’s cooperative uses solar energy to operate the borehole that supplies water to the market garden. A project piloted by UNICEF in partnership with local authorities. In a country heavily impacted by drought and welding periods, solar energy represents an inexhaustible source of energy for the production of fruits, vegetables and aromatic plants (such as okra, carrots, mint, peppers, eggplants or tomatoes) for local consumption as well as for sale in the markets of neighboring towns. The women of the cooperative thus have a regular income as well as a rich variety of fruits and vegetables that promote dietary diversification and the well-being of their children.

It was close to 4am on Friday in the Green Climate Fund’s South Korean headquarters when board members brought the four-day virtual meeting to a close.

Besides the usual delays and procedural wrangling, discussions became heated when board members were asked to consider whether to renew the GCF’s partnership with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).

At the heart of the issue was a disagreement between members from large emerging economies and richer nations over whether decarbonisation conditions should be imposed on organisations from developing nations seeking to access funding.

The GCF was created to help poor countries curb their emissions and cope with climate impacts. It depends on agencies like DBSA to deliver projects in poor nations.

Some board members from rich countries added as a condition for DBSA to be re-accredited that the bank adopts a 2050 net zero emission target across its portfolio, and an intermediate 2030 target, within one year of the accreditation being approved.

The bank, which currently has no fossil fuel exclusion policy, would have to demonstrate how it is shifting its loans and investments away from carbon-intensive activities.

But the move was strongly resisted by developing country members who accused developed nations of imposing a carbon-cutting pathway on poorer ones.

Wael Aboul-Magd, of Egypt, told the board the 2050 net zero goal was “a global aspiration, not a prescription to every country, and particularly not for developing countries”.

Turkey ratifies the Paris Agreement after approving a 2053 net zero goal

Board member Ayman Shasly, of Saudi Arabia, described the condition as “blackmail,” adding that the GCF was being “manipulated by [developed countries] pushing their own agenda onto the fund”.

Yan Ren, of China, agreed with Shasly that the condition did not respect the Paris Agreement’s equity principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that nations that became rich from burning fossil fuels should cut their emissions faster to allow poorer ones to develop.

“We should not impose conditions on developing countries to force them to achieve certain targets. There is no one size fits all on fossil fuels,” she said.

DBSA is a development finance institution wholly owned by the South African government with 60% of its financing directed to the rest of the African continent.

Oil Change International data shared with Climate Home News shows that between 2018 and 2020, DBSA supported gas projects with $270m in financing, compared with nearly $320m for wind and solar.

Some of the DBSA-backed projects included a gas power plant in Ghana and LNG production in Mozambique.

However, campaigners warned that poor transparency in reporting at DBSA meant the true figures could be higher.

Campaigners have directly called on the South African government to commit to stop funding fossil fuels through DBSA by ensuring the bank adopts a fossil fuel finance exclusion policy and increases financing for accelerating the clean energy transition.

UAE sets net zero by 2050 target, promises renewable investments

Members from rich nations pushed back against calls to re-accredit DBSA without any conditions and the issue was postponed to a future meeting.

Stéphane Cieniewski, of France, said the conditions were “not unreasonable or excessive” and aligned with the Paris accord.

Lars Roth, of Sweden, one of the board members who requested the net zero condition be applied to DBSA, told the meeting the bank was “already working on and intended to approve” a 2050 net zero goal across its portfolio and would be making a formal announcement in a couple of months.

Meanwhile, the fund agreed to re-accredit the UN Development Programme for another five years, amid ongoing corruption investigations into two of its projects in Albania and Samoa.

Overall, the board approved $1.2 billion for 13 new carbon-cutting and adaptation projects – a record amount for a single board meeting.

This included $125m for the GCF to become an anchor investor in the creation of a global fund to support and de-risk private investment designed to protect and restore coral reefs around the world.

The Global Fund for Coral Reef will support companies investing in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices, coral farming, plastic waste management and water treatment.

But it will also promote ecotourism and the development of “sustainably-managed hotel resorts” and tourists activities such as “surf, diving, snorkelling and cruises”.

UAE sets net zero by 2050 target, promises renewable investments

The proposal was submitted by Pegasus Capital Advisors, a Delaware-incorporated private equity firm. The fund is due to be rolled out in 17 countries and aims to protect 29,000 hectare of reef globally and create nearly 13,000 jobs.

Board members overwhelmingly backed the design of the project despite strong opposition from civil society members acting as observers at the fund.

“We are very concerned that instead of helping communities in reef ecosystems adapt from climate change impacts, this adaptation project will profit out of harming the reefs,” Erika Lennon, of the Center for Environmental Law, told the board.

Lennon described the absence of connection between funding surf, diving or snorkelling enterprises with safeguarding reef ecosystems as “woefully inadequate” and urged for investments in hotel resorts, cruises and shrimp farming to be explicitly excluded from the scope of the project.

She warned that reef-damaging practices promoted by the project risked damaging the GCF’s reputation.

How one country responded to disappointing Doing Business scores

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The following story is about how one country responded to disappointing Doing Business scores to reform its rules and regulations for its own benefit. Would discontinuation of this instrument mean its non-availability to others?

The above image is for illustration and is of iStock.

How one country responded to disappointing Doing Business scores

By Akhtar Mahmood 8 October 2021

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On September 16, 2021, the World Bank discontinued the Doing Business (DB) report, one of its flagship diagnostic products. This action follows what the World Bank called “a series of reviews and audits of the report and its methodology.”

The DB report, published each year since 2004, was one of the World Bank’s most influential reports in recent years. Every autumn, people around the world would wait eagerly and, in some cases, with some trepidation, for its release. Over time, the reports increasingly attracted the attention of heads of governments who wanted to see their countries do well in the rankings.

When the DB report came out in 2015, the Indian government was disappointed. Soon after taking office in 2014, Prime Minister Modi announced his government’s intention to bring India’s ranking into the top 50 within a few years. Several reforms were carried out in the following months, which the Indian government hoped would put India on a trajectory of rapid annual improvements in the ranking. The 2015 report (officially called “Doing Business in 2016”, since the World Bank always gave the report a forward-looking title) indicated only a modest improvement in India’s rank, from 142 to 130.

The World Bank explained to the Indian government that while several reforms may have been enacted on paper, Indian businesses did not report feeling an impact on the ground. Some responded, “What reforms?”, while others heard about the reforms but had not seen improvement on the ground. The reforms could not be officially recognized until the private sector reported real improvements. The World Bank suggested that the government put in place feedback loops to provide real-time information from businesses on whether the reforms were being well implemented. The government, instead of whining further about the scores, started working on such feedback loops. For several regulatory reforms covered by the DB indicators, it started surveying businesses on whether they felt any reform impact on the ground.

From February 2016 to May 2017, the government carried out a series of business-to-government (B2G) feedback exercises and focus group discussions (FGDs) on how much the businesses were aware of the enacted reforms and their views on the quality of reform implementation. Nine B2G feedback exercises were carried out. Topics covered construction permits (three surveys each in Delhi and Mumbai), starting a business (two surveys), and trading across borders.

The exercises revealed several implementation gaps, some major and some minor. An example is construction permitting. A business survey carried out in Delhi in March 2016 revealed the following implementation issues: a) significant lack of agency coordination—architects still need to obtain approvals from up to 10 different agencies; b) some facilities for online payment were not properly implemented and certain fees were still paid manually; c) very low awareness of the online system among users; d) no way to track the status of an application; e) information lacking on documentary and other requirements. In other words, the reforms had not gone far enough to have impact on the ground.

This feedback exercise helped generate several recommendations to address the deficiencies. These were provided to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), and most were acted upon. Follow-up feedback exercises in October 2016 and February 2017 validated these actions while generating additional recommendations for further improvement. A similar effort was made in Mumbai.

The impact of these efforts can be seen in the trends in India’s performance on the “Dealing with Construction Permits” indicator. In the Doing Business in 2016 report, India’s ranked 183 on this indicator. Thirty-three procedures were involved taking 191 days according to the indicators. Two years later, the number of days had come down to 144 with a modest improvement in the rank to 180. The more substantial improvements came the following year when the DB report published in October 2018 indicated a reduction in the number of procedures and days required to 18 and 95 respectively. Still a long way to go but enough to propel India’s ranking on this indicator to 52. While all this improvement cannot be attributed to the feedback exercises alone, it is possible to trace a substantial part of this improvement to actions taken as a result of these exercises.

The Indian government also recognized that the DB indicators did not cover many regulatory interfaces that created problems for businesses and that the indicator measures were based on conditions in just two cities, i.e., New Delhi and Mumbai. Thus, in parallel to its efforts on the DB front, the Indian government embarked on an ambitious regulatory reform program at the state-level covering all states and union territories in the country. A long list of regulatory reforms was identified covering several regulatory areas, and state governments were instructed to carry out the reforms. Called the Business Reforms Action Plan, the program started in 2015.

Progress was monitored through annual indicators that ranked states according to their performance on implementing the reforms. The first such indicators, published in 2015, did not take into account business feedback. However, seeing the usefulness of the feedback exercises carried out as part of the DB program, the government changed the state-level reform indicators in 2018 by making a substantial part of the indicator scores dependent on business feedback.

The powerful demonstration effect of such feedback exercises had touched individual state governments too. In 2018, four state governments, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Rajasthan, expressed an interest in knowing why there was poor uptake of self-certification and third-party certification options provided in business inspection reforms carried out by these states. At their request, the World Bank carried out an independent feedback exercise that could help design corrective actions to improve uptake.

The Indian experience from 2016 onward is a good example of what the DB indicators can lead to if governments use them well. First, the government refocused its attention from reforms on paper to reforms on the ground. Second, it recognized the importance of consulting with the private sector, which knows best where the shoe pinched, and designed corrective actions based on the feedback. This iterative process helped improve reform implementation quality. Third, the government recognized that while the DB indicators were useful, they were not adequate to diagnose the myriad of regulatory issues that businesses all over India faced. Thus, the government embarked on a more comprehensive, state-level, reform program, and, inspired by the power of indicators, underpinned this program by a set of performance indicators. Finally, once the pioneering DB-related feedback exercises proved useful, they created a demonstration effect, first within the central government, which replicated such exercises for the state-level reform program, and then on individual state governments.

BROOKINGS

Akhtar Mahmood, Former Lead Private Sector Specialist – World Bank Group

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UAE seeks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050

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The UAE seeks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 with a $163B plan. It is one of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region since its founding that wants to effectively attract investments through diversification of its economy.
The country is one of the biggest oil exporters in the world. It announced an ambitious plan to achieve zero carbon emissions that would see the Gulf nation spending $163 billion on renewable energy. The plan to be completed by 2050, puts this country at the top of the MENA region in terms of concrete climate commitment.

The above image is for illustration and is of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan as seen during the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates January 13, 2020. WAM/Handout via REUTERS

UAE seeks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 with $163B plan

BY REUTERS

This file photo dated July 8, 2020, shows hydropanels, produced by Zero Mass Water Inc., at the planned site of the IBV drinking water plant in Lehbab, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, using technology to extract moisture from the atmosphere using energy from the sun. (Christopher Pike/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The United Arab Emirates on Thursday announced a plan for net-zero emissions by 2050, and would oversee 600 billion dirhams ($163 billion) in investment in renewable energy.

This makes it the first country in the Middle East and North Africa region to launch a concrete initiative to achieve that climate commitment.

The Gulf state has launched several measures over the past year – coinciding with 50 years since the country’s founding – to attract investment and foreigners to help the economy recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The economic initiatives also come amid a growing economic rivalry with Gulf neighbour Saudi Arabia to be the region’s trade and business hub. read moreReport ad

“We are committed to seize the opportunity to cement our leadership on climate change within our region and take this key economic opportunity to drive development, growth and new jobs as we pivot our economy and nation to net zero,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

The UAE, an OPEC member, has in the past 15 years invested $40 billion in clean energy, the government said. Its first nuclear power plant, Barakah, has been connected to the national grid and the UAE aims to produce 14 GW of clean energy by 2030, up from about 100 MW in 2015, it said. read more

No further details on the 600 billion dirhams of investment were given.

The UAE will use the path to net zero as a way to create economic value, increase industrial competitiveness and enhance investment, said Sultan Al Jaber, minister of industry and advanced technology and special envoy for climate change.Report ad

The UAE is bidding to host the COP28 global climate talks in 2023.

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