The race for the clean energy future comes to Washington, DC today—only symbolically if the US doesn’t seize the moment. Energy ministers from 20 countries that account for over 80% of the world’s global warming pollution are in the US to discuss how to speed up the deployment of clean energy throughout the world, as a part of the Clean Energy Ministerial. The subplot of the meeting will be which of these countries will come out sprinting and which ones will begin by jogging in the race for the clean energy future.
The meeting hosted by the US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will include energy ministers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. This is the first time that energy ministers from these key countries have focused solely on clean energy—when they typically meet they have oil, coal, and other energy sources also on their agenda. I hope they are ambitious as this letter from leading groups emphasizes.
The race for the clean energy future is on. The clean energy future will be a $13 trillion market over the next two decades. The countries that enter the race by sprinting will tap into this growing demand for the technologies, industries, and the jobs of this century. Those countries that don’t join the race or only tentatively enter (start out jogging) will be left in the dust or will come up short. In fact, just last year alone $162 billion was invested in clean energy (as I discussed here).
China is in the race and leading…Last year China overtook the US in clean energy investment – with $34.6 billion compared to the US at $18.6 billion. Looking at some of the trends in key clean energy technologies such as wind and solar provides some concrete examples of China’s surge. China’s top three domestic wind manufacturers doubled their global market share from about 12% to almost 23% from 2008 to 2009 (according to BTM Consulting). In 2009, 50% of solar PV cells produced in the world came from China and Taiwan (according to GTM Research).
India is also in the race…In 2009, India invested $2.3 billion in clean energy—growing at over 72% over the last 5 years (according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance). While India has consistently been one of the top countries for wind installations, it is also now embarking on a significant effort to deploy solar (as my colleague discussed).
US jogging? While the US was 2nd in clean energy investment last year, it lost its top slot to China. And if the European Union is considered as a whole the US would be in 3rd place (see this report from the Pew Charitable Trusts). The US played a leading role in early stages of developing many of the clean energy technologies that are dominating the market today, yet on a number of fronts the US is lagging. Sometime over the next 3 weeks, the US Senate will debate (and hopefully vote to pass) a climate and energy bill which will send a concrete signal that the US wants to be sprinting in the clean energy race.
So the energy ministers from these 20 countries meet with this backdrop in mind—a race for the clean energy future is happening as we speak and some are full of energy and others are unsure where they want to go. These key countries will be making critical choices in the coming years—will they embrace clean energy or will they choose to sit on the sidelines.
It is time for the US to get off the bench and invest in a clean energy future.
Jake Schmidt is the International Climate Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council where he helps to develop the post-2012 international response to climate change (for more information see his blog or follow him on twitter). And help track countries actions to reduce their global warming pollution.