India and China, Full Speed Ahead in Climate Change Mitigation

chinese-and-indian-leaders-meetingWhile the United States is wondering what will happen next on climate change mitigation in their country, both India and China have recently unveiled very ambitious plans to fight local air pollution and global climate change.

According to an article from the Guardian, India plans nearly 60% of electricity capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2027. This makes the Indian government believe that it will exceed its Paris Agreements targets by far, with :

” A draft 10-year energy blueprint published this week predicts that 57% of India’s total electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027. The Paris climate accord target was 40% by 2030.”

The Guardian goes on to list how India could become a renewable energy super power in the next decade or so, as investments in the area are booming. From bringing electricity to 400 million people with solar energy to going LED or investing massively in renewables, India has been showing strong leadership in this most important issue for a few years now. To the point that, according to newspapers, renewable energy investments in India to reach $250 billion over next five years, and over a trillion by 2030.

In neighbouring China, the government has announced a plan that it will spend $360 billion on clean energy sources by 2020. This will result in the creation of 13 million jobs and cut significantly the amount of air pollution in Beijing and other Chinese cities.

Meanwhile, Beijing has announced that it will be closing  and/or not building another 104 coal-fired plants that were either due to be constructed soon or were being constructed. This move is significant – 120 Gigawatts of capacity – as it is equal to a third of the amounts of coal-fired plants in the United States.

China installed over 34 Gigawatts of solar PV capacity in 2016 alone as Cleantechnica reported, with over 11 GW in one month alone. This is absolutely staggering as it brings the total solar PV capacity of the country to 77 GW. Yes, capacity almost doubled in one year.

All this can be explained by the fact that renewables are getting more and more competitive every day and that smart countries invest in cost effective and low carbon solutions. In early 1996, the global solar PV capacity was of 200 MW, now the world installs that capacity every single day… Let that sink in. And it probably will not stop anytime soon as to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, solar is now becoming even cheaper than wind.

Edited, original article written by Edouard Stenger

Accelerating Growth to End Poverty without Damaging the Environment

img17001There is consensus that extreme poverty and hunger must be eradicated by 2030 through accelerated, inclusive and equitable economic growth without damaging the environment. This calls for sustainable and integrated, balanced and simultaneous implementation of economic, social and environmental dimensions without one dimension gaining at the expense of others, as agreed at the Rio+20 Conference and confirmed at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, when world leaders met in New York City in September 2013.

This paradigm shift from economic growth and per capita income as a measure of development, and relying on a single-sector approach and trickle down mechanism, to an integrated, inclusive, equitable and labor-intensive multi-sector development agenda post-2015 will require a major shift in political will and in ways of doing business.

In agrarian societies where the majority of people live in extreme poverty and unemployment or under-employment, the acceleration of traditional methods of economic growth to create jobs and end hunger and poverty will mean enhancing agricultural methods of de-vegetating land and damaging the environment through biodiversity loss, soil erosion, dropping water tables, shrinking water bodies and adverse impact on thermal and hydrological regimes, resulting in intense and frequent droughts and floods.

On the other hand, introducing or speeding up intensive and mechanized agricultural methods using green revolution technologies of high-yielding seeds that require the application of high doses of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation, including using underground salty water, will end up damaging the environment and reducing water supplies. This has already happened in some Asian countries.

In developed countries, continued or an acceleration of current patterns of consumption of meat and dairy products that rely on huge amounts of agricultural feed, and result in massive food waste, as well as increasing demand for non-food agricultural products like cut flowers, will mean that more land will be brought under cultivation by clearing vegetation or replacing food production in areas already under cultivation, as has happened in Uganda. Alternatively, more fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation will be used to increase land productivity, resulting in environmental pollution.

To overcome these trade-offs and successfully address unemployment, hunger and poverty, a new approach to production and consumption patterns is needed. The new approach should end food losses and waste, and apply labor-intensive methods rather than labor-saving machines. It should use a combination of organic and inorganic fertilizers and pesticides to boost productivity without damaging the environment.

In developing countries, much food, especially perishable produce like fruits and vegetables, is lost through pre-and post-harvest leakage. Controlling food-destroying birds, insects and wild animals before crop harvest and improving storage, including cold facilities and agro-processing after harvest, would go a long way in reducing food losses, thereby making more food available without applying environmentally destructive extensive or intensive agricultural methods. Degraded lands would be restored through labor-intensive re-forestation programs that would create jobs and raise incomes to pull people out of intergenerational extreme hunger and poverty.

Experiments by smallholder farmers in some African countries have shown that labor-intensive, environmentally and socially-friendly technologies such as crop rotation, terracing and contour farming, as in the Machakos district of Kenya, mixed cropping and mixed farming of crops and animals, zero grazing, small-scale irrigation and water harvesting schemes and fertilizer trees have boosted agricultural productivity and food availability and affordability, reducing hunger and poverty without damaging the environment.

Thus changing production methods, including mechanized agriculture, that are environmentally and socially-unfriendly and eliminating pre-and post-harvest food losses in developing countries and consumption patterns in developed countries, including massive food waste, would go a long way in creating needed jobs and making more food available and affordable, ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030 without damaging the environment. However, this success will require changing political mind sets and ending business as usual in production and consumption patterns in the post-2015 development agenda.

Article originally published here

Non-Tariff Barriers Can Connect Trade to Sustainable Development

flagsIn the landscape of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, trade is a means of implementation towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on financing for development further specifies the role of trade as “an engine for inclusive growth and poverty reduction, and contributes to the promotion of sustainable development.” That is, trade should function as a means for achieving “sustained, inclusive and sustainable” economic growth. More importantly, trade-led growth should enhance, rather than undermine, the potential for social development and environmental sustainability.

In the past several decades, however, many developing countries witnessed that trade growth contributed to aggregate economic growth, and also increased the within-country income inequality. This would suggest that a country’s trade policy reflects the interests of the country’s economic giants rather than small and marginalized players, and that these interests can override the importance of conservation of natural resources and ecosystems.

There is a need to rethink policymaking in order to link trade growth to sustainable development, including its social and the environmental dimensions. The recent UNCTAD report, ‘Trading into Sustainable Development: Trade, Market Access and Sustainable Development Goals,’ looks into this issue, focusing on the interactions between market access conditions – such as customs duties (tariffs) and non-tariff measures (NTMs) – and achieving the SDGs.

What are non-tariff measures?

Historically, market access conditions in international markets were determined by the level of tariffs on imported products. However, tariff barriers have fallen significantly across countries: the trade-weighted average tariff rate in the world fell from just over 5% in 1995 to 2.5% in 2014/2015. Against the trends of falling tariffs, the influence of NTMs upon trade costs has increased. In 2014, around 70% of agricultural products traded in the world market faced sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, and over 60% of manufactured products faced “technical barriers to trade (TBT),” such as technical regulations and product standards.

Such regulatory measures are designed to meet important social and/or environmental objectives, such as by setting maximum levels for toxic residues in food, ensuring the sustainable sourcing of natural resources, or limiting trade in polluting substances. But they can directly affect trade flows and economic development when they are applied to imported products. In many cases, NTMs can be more trade-restricting that tariffs. UNCTAD estimates that existence of SPS measures to agricultural exports may increase production cost by 22%, compared to the average tariff facing the same exports at around 5%. NTMs can be particularly restrictive for low-income countries constrained by limited capacity to comply with NTMs thus significantly increasing their trading costs.

Because the vast majority of NTMs directly target key determinants of sustainable development, such as food security, health and environmental protection, countries are likely to implement more such measures for the achievement of the SDGs. That is, the number of NTMs in world trade may be increasing fast.

How to make non-tariff measures work for sustainable development

Will an increase in NTMs squeeze low-income countries’ capacity to use trade as a means of implementation of the SDGs? Not necessarily. In fact, the presence of NTMs can be the source of regional or international collaboration that can help countries to achieve a win-win situation: (i) collectively improve policy environment towards achieving the SDGs; and (ii) reduce trade distortionary impact of NTMs. The key is to eliminate trade-distortionary effect of NTMs.

Trade distortions arise from NTMs when they increase production costs for exporting countries to meet the regulatory requirements, including the costs associated with conformity assessment and certification. These costs will be higher when exporters have to meet different requirements for different markets including domestic market. That is, NTMs can be trade-distorting when the “regulatory distance” between an exporting country and its market countries is large. Therefore, reducing the regulatory distance among trade partners is the way to achieve the win-win situation.

Regulatory distance between countries is measured by the similarity of regulatory patterns of NTM types applied to a specific product classified at the HS 6-digit level. For example, if two countries each apply ten different product requirements to lemons, the regulatory distance is huge and it increases trade costs significantly. UNCTAD has assessed the potential impact of reducing costs related to NTMs in the 15 member countries of the Southern African Development Community. The gains amount to US$6 billion through a 25% reduction of NTM-related trade costs. No member country is worse off from the reforms. The largest gains stem from reducing the restrictiveness of SPS measures and TBT for partners from the whole world through alignment with international standards. In the case where barriers to trade from NTMs are reduced only to SADC exporters, the gains are much lower, with a total of about US$1.3 billion.

Moreover, when regulatory convergence is achieved among countries, it implies that countries will be implementing policy measures in a manner coherent with their trading partners. Such collaboration can jointly improve the effectiveness of policy measures, particularly in the areas where policy impacts can be cross-border, such as environmental regulations.

NTMs provide an important “policy interface” between the SDGs and trade, particularly in the framework of regional economic cooperation among developing countries.

Article originally published here

Wind and Solar Costs Are Plummeting: Now What Do We Do?

For years, debates about how to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation were framed as trade-offs: What is the cost premium we must pay for generating zero-carbon electricity compared to fossil fuels, and how can we minimize those costs?

Fortunately, the holidays came early this year for renewable energy: In investment company Lazard’s annual report on the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for different electricity-generating technologies, renewables are now the cheapest available sources of electricity. This flips the question of clean-versus-cost on its head. And in 2017, we’ll be asking: How much can we save by accelerating the renewable energy transition?

The story from Lazard’s 10th annual report is clear. Rapid technology cost reductions mean wind and solar are now the cheapest form of generation in many places around the country, without federal subsidies like tax credits.

What does levelized cost of energy mean?

Lazard uses LCOE analysis to identify how much each unit of electricity (measured in megawatt-hours or MWh) costs to generate over the lifetime of any power plant. LCOE represents every cost component – capital expenditure to build, operations and maintenance, and fuel costs to run – spread out over the total megawatt-hours generated during the power plant’s lifetime.

Because different plants have different operating characteristics and cost components, LCOE allows us to fairly compare different technologies. Think of it as finally being able to evenly compare apples to oranges.

How wind and solar are winning the day

According to Lazard, wind costs have fallen 66 percent since 2009, from $140/MWh to $47/MWh.

Large-scale solar’s cost declines are even more dramatic, falling 85 percent since 2009 from more than $350/MWh to $55/MWh.

The case is even clearer when federal subsidies are considered: Tax credits drive renewable energy costs down to $31/MWh for wind and $43/MWh for solar. These low prices are not only cheaper than building new natural gas plants, but they are also cheaper than many fossil fuel power plants on their marginal cost (i.e. costs for operating, maintaining, fueling, etc.) alone.

In other words, it’s now cheaper in many places to build new wind or solar energy plant than it is to simply continue running an existing coal or nuclear plant:

What does it all mean?

Even with these new numbers, more natural gas plants are being built every week, expensive coal is not retiring as fast as economics would dictate, and the rapid transition to renewable energy isn’t happening fast enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

At least three stodgy institutional barriers limit renewable energy deployment today:

  1. Difficulty accessing high-quality wind and solar resources
  2. Misguided alarmism about the reliability of renewables
  3. Misconceptions of the cost of running the grid with more renewables

While just wind and solar alone could potentially power the entire U.S. many times over, the windiest and sunniest (and thus cheapest) places to generate wind and solar power are often in remote locations, far from large cities with lots of power demand. Costly, drawn-out processes for siting transmission and power plants make these projects unnecessarily expensive and stifle investment. Policymakers can turn to America’s Power Plan for recommendations on streamlining the siting process and limit local impacts to create policy that reduces siting costs for renewables in the U.S.

Managing America’s grid with variable renewables also requires rethinking how we operate and plan our electricity systems, and many utilities have been slow to adapt. Grid operators sometimes claim we need to back up solar and wind an equal ratio of fossil fuel power plants like coal or gas for “when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow,” but that’s just not true. Adding wind and solar can reduce the risk of a large outage – what are the odds the wind unexpectedly stops blowing everywhere or the sun is suddenly blotted out by clouds everywhere? In fact, government analysis shows we could quadruple the amount of wind and solar on the grid today without running into reliability issues.

Besides reliability, defenders of the old paradigm of large, fuel-fired power plants argue wind and solar come with integration costs, i.e. backup generation and transmission lines to connect remote locations to the grid. But attributing these costs to any one technology makes little sense across a big grid, where a diverse mix of power generation naturally smooths variability like an index fund versus a single volatile stock, for example.

Gas, coal and nuclear power also require new transmission, fuel supply and storage, and large backup reserves. Like renewable sources, they also have “integration costs,” even without accounting for the health and climate costs of carbon dioxide and other pollution.

A new paradigm

Transitioning our electricity sector away from fossil fuels is no longer just an environmental imperative; it’s an economic one. Free markets now favor solar and wind — look no further than gas-rich Texas for evidence: Texas has over three times more wind capacity than any other state, and solar is expected to grow 400 percent by 2022.

Outdated policies leave us unprepared to take full advantage of the rapid cost declines we’re seeing in the wind and solar industry. The time is now to radically adjust for a paradigm where wind and solar form the backbone of our electricity grid.

Article by Mike O’Boyle  originally published here
Images courtesy of America’s Power Plan


The Age of Sustainable Development

sustainableSustainable development is the central drama of our time. The world’s governments are currently negotiating a set of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, for the period 2015-2030, following the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which ran from 2000-2015. The MDGs focus on ending extreme poverty, hunger, and preventable disease. They have been the most important global development goals in the U.N.’s history. The SDGs will continue the fight against extreme poverty, but also add the challenges of ensuring more equitable economic growth and environmental sustainability, especially the key goal of curbing the dangers of human-induced climate change.

The starting point of sustainable development is our crowded planet. There are now 7.2 billion people on the planet, roughly 9 times the 800 million people estimated to have lived in 1750, at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The world population continues to rise rapidly, by around 75 million people per year. Soon enough there will be 8 billion by the 2020s, and these billions of people are looking for their foothold in the world economy.

The world economy is vast, growing rapidly (by 3–4 percent per year in scale), and highly unequal in the distribution of income within countries and between countries. Ours is a world of fabulous wealth and extreme poverty: billions of people enjoy longevity and good health unimaginable in previous generations, yet at least 1 billion people live in such abject poverty that they struggle for mere survival every day.

The world economy is not only remarkably unequal but also remarkably threatening to Earth itself. The unprecedentedly large scale of the world economy is creating an unprecedented environmental crisis, one that threatens the lives and well-being of billions of people and the survival of millions of other species on the planet, and perhaps even our own.

Thus we arrive at the Age of Sustainable Development. As an intellectual pursuit, sustainable development tries to make sense of the interactions of three complex systems: the world economy, the global society, and the Earth’s physical environment. How does an economy of 7.2 billion people and $90 trillion gross world output change over time? How does a global society of such inequality of income, wealth, and power function? And what happens when the world economy is on a collision course with the physical environment?

As a normative (or ethical) outlook, Sustainable development suggests a set of societal objectives or goals to which the world should aspire. The world’s nations will soon adopt Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) precisely to help guide the future course of economic and social development on the planet. Sustainable development: SDGs call for socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

To achieve the economic, social, and environmental objectives of the SDGs, a fourth objective must also be achieved: good governance. Among these core functions of government are the provision of social services such as health care and education; the provision of infrastructure such as roads, ports, and power; the protection of individuals from crime and violence; the promotion of basic science and new technologies; and the implementation of regulations to protect the environment. And in our world today, good governance cannot refer only to governments. Our well-being depends on the world’s multinational powerful companies obeying the law, respecting the natural environment, and helping the communities in which they operate, especially to help eradicate extreme poverty.

Thus the normative side of sustainable development envisions four basic pillars of a good society and a globally integrated world community: economic prosperity; social inclusion and cohesion; environmental sustainability; and good governance by major social actors, including governments and business. It’s a lot to ask for, and there is no shortage of challenges to achieving sustainable development in practice. Yet the stakes are high. Achieving sustainable development on our crowded, unequal, and degraded planet is the most important challenge facing our generation. The SDGs must be the compass, the lodestar, for the future development of the planet during the period 2015 to mid-century.

The world’s governments, within the framework of the United Nations, are currently attempting to negotiate a framework to help guide humanity through the very difficult environmental crises of our own making. 2015 is the most important year of diplomacy on sustainable development in at least 15 years. There are three mega-summits next year. The first is on Financing for Development, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July 2015. The next is to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, at the UN headquarters in New York, in September 2015. The third is on climate change — the COP21 [21st Conference of Parties] of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — in Paris in December 2015. It is vital that these negotiations be successful, with the UN playing a central role in leading the world’s governments to set a global sustainable development framework and then to implement that framework in the decades to come.

Setting Millennium Development Goals has made a huge difference in people’s lives, particularly in the poorest places on the planet. Sub-Saharan Africa has benefited enormously from the MDGs, and we can learn from that success in designing the SDGs. As special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on the MDGs since 2001 (Kofi Annan until 2006, and Ban Ki-moon since 2007), I have seen how seriously many African governments take the targets, using them to set priorities, catalyze stakeholders, increase public awareness and motivation, and hold ministries accountable. Over time, the U.N. and the high-income countries’ donor agencies increasingly used the MDGs to help organize their own work in Africa as well. While the MDGs are not the only factor underpinning the improvements since 2000, they have played a huge role.

When U.N. member states turn to the next set of global development goals, they should learn from the MDGs. First, by keeping the list of SDGs relatively short — no more than 10 — the SDGs will be easier to remember and easier to support. Second, all governments, rich and poor, should be accountable for meeting the SDGs as implementers. Third, the SDGs should build on the MDGs. The MDGs helped to cut global extreme poverty by more than half. The SDGs should take on the challenge of ending extreme poverty for good. Finally, the SDGs should mobilize expert groups around the key challenges of sustainable development. A process of expert advice and problem solving is urgently needed on issues such as low-carbon energy, sustainable agriculture, resilient cities, and universal health coverage.

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy declared, “By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.” The MDGs have helped to play that role in the fight against poverty. The SDGs can do the same for the even more complex global challenge of achieving sustainable development.

About the Author1a4a0bc

Prof Jeffrey Sachs is Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals. His book, The Age of Sustainable Development,  published in March 2015 can be found here.