A Change of Climate? at the 2015 World Economic Forum

Posted by Amy Guinan

Feb 11, 2015 7:30:00 AM

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At the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, the overarching topic of "resource scarcity and the environment (specifically the future of fossil fuels and fighting climate change denial)" was recognized as one of the top global challenges. 

Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 2010, drew four primary conclusions on climate change and energy from the disucssions circulating at the forum.

1.  Maturity of Renewables:  Solar and wind technology investment is increasing while, at the same time, costs are decreasing.  In 2014 investment in renewables reached US$312 billion, up 16% from 2013 with growth that is described as "exponential."  Storage technology and integration into the existing grid are also much better understood.

2. Fossil Fuels in the Crosshairs?: As large fossil fuel companies have less money due to low oil prices, the question arises of how  they will allocate scant resources: continue to invest in increasingly more expensivie oil fields (arctic, off shore, tar sands) or start to recognize the carbon problem and invest in new renewable technologies. (An interesting Capital Public Radio interview with Amy Myers Jaffe, Executive Director of energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis directly dissucssed this trend.)  Additionall, oil subsdies are expiring globally.

3.  Corporate Leadership:  Many corporations are moving themselves to low-carbon or zero-carbon operations as they realize the opportunities of efficiency, the economic threat posed by climate change, and the inevitability of such a transformation.  A tax on carbon?  Yes, that will likely occur iin the future too.

4.  Sustainable development vs. climate change:  It is well-recognized that sustainable development and resilience to climate change are inextricably linked.  Any sustainable development gains that are made will be under constant threat from natural disasters caused by climate change.   Renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart agriculture, smart transportation -- all of these can positively contribute to greenhouse gas management and sustainable development.

Ms. Figueroas noted that, "Davos 2015 accelerated the understanding of the economic desirability and the technical ability to meet the climate challenge."

Domestically, the United States is seeing the price of solar droppng quickly.  Matched with state and federal rebates, the "economic desirability and technical ability" of renewable energy is propelling a wide range of new energy options.  

For example, in one of the most populated areas in the country, Los Angeles solar installation has been propelled by a feed in tariff program initiated in 2013.  Through the program. the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will pay up to 17 cents/kWh for electricity generated by up to 100 MW of solar.  

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