Although major greenhouse-gas emitting countries were criticized at the latest round of climate negotiations in Doha for failing to show enough ambition, an event held during the second week highlighted leadership from Germany, China, Morocco, and South Africa on clean and renewable energy. Hosted by Peter Altmaier, Federal Environment Minister of Germany, and moderated by the President of the World Resources Institute, Andrew Steer, the panel also included Xie Zhenhua, Vice-Chair of China’s NDRC, Nandi Mayathula Khoza, Minister of Agriculture of South Africa’s Gauteng province, and Fouad Douiri, Morocco’s Energy and Environment Minister.
At first glance, the mix of countries featured at the high-level event is both surprising and unsurprising. Germany is known for being a global leader in renewable energy. Last year it reduced CO2 emissions 2.4 percent from 2010 levels, and this year boosted the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources from 20 to 25 percent in the first six months. The move away from nuclear power generation following the Fukushima-Daichi disaster has certainly accelerated Germany’s push for having a greater share of its electricity generated from renewable sources; however, this impetus has been matched by leadership from senior officials to maintain Germany’s status as a clean-energy front-runner.
“We organized this event to explain that we are not alone in the universe,” Minister Altmaier said. “What is not so well-known is that many countries around the world have similar efforts and ideas and a lot has been achieved over the last couple of years.”
China discusses achievements, challenges of equitable low-carbon domestic growth
Included in this group of countries is China, which opened the side event with prominent mention of its recent achievements with respect to increasing consumption of non-fossil energy. Minister Xie touted the rise of non-fossil sources in China’s energy consumption to 8.1 percent in 2011 and 27.7 percent of installed power generating capacity using non-fossil sources, among other figures. While Germany may surpass China in terms of installed solar capacity, China led the world last year in constructing on-grid wind power capacity, with an increase of 16 million kW and generating 80 billion kWh. Many of these statistics came from China’s recent Climate Change White Paper, which was released in advance of the Doha meetings.
Minister Xie also mentioned the development of low-carbon growth models in five provinces and eight cities across China, which he stressed is challenging given the “uneven economic development” amongst provinces. He even referenced the application of the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities to allocate differential low-carbon targets to these various models – a comment that brought some levity to one of the most contentious issues between developing and developed countries in Doha.
Morocco designs to become net exporter of clean energy
Perhaps the most surprising case of the evening came from Morocco’s Minister Douiri, who announced that his country is striving to become a net exporter of clean energy. This goal is challenging, considering Morocco currently spends about US$11 million (11 percent of the country’s GDP) to import around 95 percent of its primary energy. From an energy strategy issued in 2009, Morocco’s goal is to have 42 percent of its installed generation capacity by 2020 come from renewable sources. 2,000 megawatts will come from solar; 2,000 megawatts from wind, and more than 2,000 megawatts from hydro. Minister Douiri expects that they will be able to avoid 10 million tonnes of CO2. To place these goals into perspective, in 2009 only 4.9 percent of its total energy supply was renewable.
While Minister Douiri did not provide full details as to how the country aims to achieve these goals, he did mention strong support from E.U. partners France and Germany, as well as integration into regional markets that will allow Morocco to export its energy to cover some of the costs. Such efforts were praised by WRI President Andrew Steer, who said that Morocco’s clean energy generation costs are 10 cents per kWh less than what was being predicted a year ago.
“You’re driving down costs, generating 60,000 jobs, and on the way to becoming a major exporter of clean energy,” Steer added.
South Africa challenges itself to reduce reliance on coal
Such a model – if successful – could have lessons for South Africa, which arguably has the most challenges ahead in terms of sustainable energy generation. South Africa has the 14th-highest GHG emissions in the world and one of the most energy-intensive economies due its reliance on mining and minerals processing, as well as coal-intensive electricity generation. According to the International Energy Association, over 90 percent of the South African electricity supply comes from coal, compared to around 65 percent in China and 42 percent in the United States. Therefore, South Africa has more ground to cover, although Minister Khoza did state the country’s goal for 42 percent renewable electricity generation by 2030, reducing the coal-based portion to 15 percent. A mix of public and private funds will help to achieve goals of installing 1 million solar water heaters by 2015 (to date, over 300,000 have been installed); as well as the Khi Solar One Project, which will generate 50 MW of power and create 1,400 jobs.
While South Africa’s commitment was palpable through the words of Minister Khoza and the fact the country hosted last year’s climate summit in Durban, there is no doubt that it will be difficult for the country to meet these goals. In the 2012 Environmental Performance Index, South Africa ranked last amongst countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, in large part due to its poor performance on climate change indicators and renewable electricity generation. Unemployment rates in the country are also at a staggering 25 percent, which is why Morocco’s model of clean energy job creation is particularly relevant for South Africa.
Meeting challenges through teamwork - a Renewable Energy Club?
These evident linkages between the countries present at the event are the foundation for a “renewable energy club,” as Minister Altmaeir dubbed it in the conclusion of his remarks.
“At least 118 countries worldwide have national targets for renewables,” he said. But there are very real challenges to achieving these goals, including how to reduce the costs of integration and installation, how to make investments in renewable energy more attractive worldwide, and how to give a competitive advantage to countries in a “club” for countries like those present on the panel that are proactive and demonstrate leadership. Such a club could foster much-needed alliances in “political and financial power,” in Altmaeir’s words, as well as sharing of concrete tools and strategies. His vision would include annual meetings of club member countries, in parallel fashion to the UN climate negotiations, which are often mired in nuanced technical and legal discussions, as was the case in Doha.
It was refreshing to see a diverse range of countries who are at various points in their sustainable energy trajectories discuss in Doha not only their current actions, but also future plans to tackle climate change through renewable energy. While the Doha talks were not expected to and did not result in much game-changing action, perhaps this idea of a “renewable energy club” for countries will gain traction and be a viable platform by which major emitters can raise the much-needed ambition to combat climate change.
“This event illustrates a potentially game-changing trend: leaders who are impatient with the formal processes forming alliances with others who want to act rather than talk,” reflected Steer. “This is a hugely encouraging development, and one that can in turn, by demonstrating that success is possible, encourage more ambition in the formal negotiating process.”
Image courtesy of Michael Oko, WRI.