ENVIRONMENT | Contributed Content, Singapore
José María Figueres Olsen

Asia can take a starring role in war against carbon


The world can no longer afford to be intimidated by the magnitude of the climate crisis, nor into believing that we must choose between economic prosperity and environmental security. Climate change presents one of the greatest challenges in human history, one that transcends national boundaries, income, ideology, ethnicity. But these challenges should be viewed as economic opportunities.

Profit can be earned, jobs created and living standards improved from the accelerated deployment of proven clean energy technologies across a range of economic sectors and global industries. Doing so could result in gigatonne-scale greenhouse gas reductions and entrench the world firmly on a path towards a more sustainable energy future.

Yet the resources and capital required to catalyse this is unavailable, insufficient or mismatched. Few businesses realise that they can act with current technologies and within existing policy frameworks to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by at least 50%. They may not realise that the initial investment to do so will pay for itself, in some cases, many times over. Some have limited access to funding that could enable large-scale deployment of carbon-reducing solutions.

Getting capital flowing to good ideas
The Carbon War Room (CWR) was founded in 2009 to work towards eliminating the market barriers to these sustainable solutions. We are now looking to plant roots in Asia.

CWR aims to mobilise private capital to finance green businesses with long-term prospects, and channel existing technology and resources towards new and more sustainable business models. We also fund research in clean energy technologies and promote dialogue among industry players to unearth new solutions. Among our initiatives are projects to fund energy retrofits in cities in the United States.

Our Shipping Efficiency operation – aimed at providing better market information on current fleet fuel-efficiency levels– has led to over 500 vessel upgrades so far. Last October (2012), three industrial shippers – including commodities giant Cargill, said that they would stop using ships ranked in the lowest two of seven categories as rated by the CWR. We are looking to another eight shippers to follow suit this year.

A continuing ‘war’
Our planet will successfully transition to a low-carbon economy only if Asia stars strongly in the carbon war. Efforts are already being made in countries like South Korea and Singapore to promote clean energy sources and energy efficiency practices.

As Asia’s cities expand rapidly into urban commercial hubs, there should be further vigorous efforts to promote construction in line with principles of energy efficiency. The installation of proven technologies such as solar panels, biomass converters, smart meters and sensors could lower operating costs through smaller energy bills. Retrofitting existing buildings in a similar fashion will create jobs and contribute to economic prosperity. In rural areas, funding for small-scale renewable energy projects will empower lives and drive the improvement of living standards.

While Asia’s rising dependence on natural gas has given it some respite from volatile oil prices and concerns over rising emissions, it is not a silver bullet to our energy security and environmental concerns. Gas is still a fossil fuel. It is a crucial part of the energy mix that will move us to a world anchored by renewable energy, but it should be part of the transition, and not a destination.

The math tells the story
If we do the math on where we are today in terms of carbon emissions, we will easily conclude that we not moving in the right direction. Global carbon emissions have just hit 400 parts per million of carbon and are tipped to rise if we keep to a business-as-usual scenario.

CWR is keen to work with the vibrant shipping sector on fuel efficiency, with the airline sector to develop biofuels and with major real estate developers to promote energy efficient building practices.

As I mentioned during last year’s Singapore International Energy Week, we believe it is possible for policymakers, industry and entrepreneurs to reverse the trajectory of rising carbon emissions. This can happen with existing technology and within existing policy frameworks. In Asia, there is so much new business taking place here, and so many imaginative ways that we can do it in a carbon-friendly instead of a carbon-dirty manner. There is no Planet B, we have no second chance, we need to act now.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Asian Power. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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José María Figueres Olsen

José María Figueres Olsen

José María Figueres Olsen is the former President of Costa Rica. He currently serves as the President of The Carbon War Room and is a co-chair of the Global Ocean Commission.

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