The world's clean energy advance

The Clean Energy Ministerial took place in London last week and we explain why it was the most successful one yet.

Center for American Progress

This past week the Clean Energy Ministerial met in London and had its most successful meeting to date, greatly expanding a number of its climate-friendly technology cooperation commitments, while also introducing new initiatives, including a partnership to utilise renewable energy and energy efficiency through smart grids.

The Clean Energy Ministerial, launched by the US in 2010, is a collaborative effort to promote policies, programs, and technical solutions that accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy among 22 national governments and the European Union, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

The meeting in London also united the Clean Energy Ministerial with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Sustainable Energy for All has emerged as the key goal for the upcoming Rio 20 Conference in June, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when the UN framework conventions on climate change, biological diversity, and desertification were created.

The ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ goals are to:                    

-- Ensure universal access to electricity by 2030.

-- Double the rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030.

-- Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.

While some in the environment and development community doubt the UN’s ability to move the Sustainable Energy for All initiative over the finish line in Rio, this show of support from the Clean Energy Ministerial greatly increases the chances of success by adding a necessary level of detail – which parties such as the United States had been seeking – about how the goals of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative would move forward.

Below are some key takeaways from the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting.

Advances in the Clean Energy Ministerial

The Clean Energy Ministerial parties represent 90 per cent of global clean energy investment and 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The forum is essential for accelerating smart policy and market conditions for a faster transition to a global clean energy economy. Developing countries hold 50 per cent of clean energy capacity, but more than 70 per cent of growth in clean energy investment since 2000 has been from countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Although global clean energy investment reached $260 billion in 2011, the International Energy Agency estimates that $5 trillion needs to be invested by 2020 to avoid a dangerous rise in greenhouse gases. According to the International Energy Agency, we are on track for a 6-degree (Celsius) rise in global temperature by midcentury under current policies.

This week the leaders of the Clean Energy Ministerial, primarily represented by energy and technology ministers from the world’s largest economies, built on the progress of 11 ongoing initiatives to remove barriers to the adoption of clean energy technology that will reduce carbon pollution, stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and secure energy access. This year’s meeting included additions to the following initiatives:

International Smart Grid Action Network

Clean Energy Ministerial countries launched the 21st Century Power Partnership, which will harness demand-side management – to enhance energy efficiency and reduce demand – and high-volume renewable energy generation through smart-grid technologies, as part of the 20-country International Smart Grid Action Network. The partnership will provide a forum for policy sharing and technical tools for regulators and the private sector to better integrate renewable energy into larger electricity grids. The Smart Grid International Research Facility Network of research and testing facilities will also help to vet smart-grid technologies between the R&D and commercialisation stage.

Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment Initiative

The ongoing ‘Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment Initiative’ announced several new developments that should accelerate efforts to improve energy efficiency. This included a new effort to shift to more efficient lighting technologies led by India in partnership with the $20 million UN Environment Program’s enlighten initiative, which could reduce global electricity consumption by 2.5 per cent. This is critical for the overall Clean Energy Ministerial goals of eliminating the need for 650 mid-size power plants worldwide and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 11 billion tonnes from 2010 to 2030, all while saving billions of dollars.

Solar and LED Energy Access Partnership

The Clean Energy Ministerial also announced the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership to provide modern, low-cost energy options for the world’s poor. The partnership expands on the existing Solar and LED Energy Access Initiative led by the United States and Italy.

The Solar and LED Energy Access Initiative has already helped facilitate the sale of 500,000 off-grid lighting systems in Africa, helping the Lighting Africa program in its mission to provide modern, reliable off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people in Africa by 2012. Lighting India, a similar program, aims to provide modern lighting services to two million people in India by 2015. These initiatives will advance the Clean Energy Ministerial’s overall goal of expanding energy access to 10 million people by 2015.

Clean Energy Solutions Center

A year ago at the second-annual Clean Energy Ministerial meeting, Australia and the United States took the lead on the creation of the Clean Energy Solutions Center – a new Internet-based technical assistance project to provide low-cost, high-impact support to clean energy practitioners and policymakers implementing clean energy and efficiency policies. Now in partnership with UN Energy, the Clean Energy Solutions Center has expanded to a $15 million project with more than 10,000 users from 150 countries so far. In London the ClimateWorks Foundation announced a $1 million in-kind commitment to support for this project over three years.

Clean Energy Education and Empowerment women’s initiative

Clean energy solutions that include women will ensure a faster and stronger transition to a clean energy economy that is stronger, sustainable, and equitable. Recognising this, Clean Energy Ministerial leaders advanced a Women in Clean Energy program as part of the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment women’s initiative to encourage women to join the clean energy field. Women are underrepresented (and underpaid) in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, education programs, and even more so in the STEM professional workforce. This initiative aims to help overcome barriers blocking women’s full potential contributions to the clean energy economy.

Sustainable Energy for All initiative

The International Energy Agency estimates that achieving the goal of eliminating energy poverty would cost less than $50 billion per year. The average family savings (especially from the cooking fuel switch) would be $34 billion per year, generating an economic return, according to the World Health Organization, of $105 billion per year.

The energy efficiency goals are similarly cost effective. McKinsey estimates that investing $170 billion annually in energy efficiency will generate an internal rate of return of 17 per cent, producing savings of $900 billion per year. Meeting this goal would also reduce global energy consumption by 14 per cent by 2030, avoiding the construction of approximately 1,300 mid-size power plants.

Charles Holliday, Bank of America chairman and co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, made the following statement Thursday about the meeting:

“The CEM commitments to action announced today in support of achieving Sustainable Energy for All are terrific examples of the power of partnership. Providing sustainable energy for all by 2030 is an ambitious, yet achievable goal. But it will only be achieved through collaborative action by the private sector, governments and civil society.”

The final step for launching the Sustainable Energy for All initiative will be at the Rio 20 meeting, which takes place June 20–22, when countries, businesses, and civil society will join to mobilise this multi-year effort.

This article was originally published by the Center for American Progress. Republished with permission.