HOW CAN WE GET CLEAN AND AFFORDABLE ENERGY FOR ALL?
“Only general prosperity can produce widespread consent for emissions reductions, and only affordable energy for all can deliver prosperity.”
How to square this circle is the vital topic of a new paper published today (Thursday 11 July). ‘The Vital Spark: innovating clean and affordable energy for all' was coordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and is co-authored by 20 leading experts in energy and climate change issues from England, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, Canada, Germany and the USA, all members of the Hartwell group.
It is now known that Kyoto Protocol-type policy had no noticeable effect on reducing humanity's carbon footprint. Despite this failure, the report argues, we can still hope for a transition towards a high energy, low-carbon economy in which clean, safe, and affordable energy is available to all. The Vital Spark does not describe ‘how to do energy innovation successfully’, because no single prescription can fit all circumstances. Instead, the authors propose 11 building blocks that are the necessary conditions for success in the energy transition that humanity needs so badly for so many reasons. Some may be tough for today’s policy-makers to accept but the co-authors argue that all are essential.
These include the argument that only a high-energy planet is morally defensible or politically viable. But at present, only carbon-intensive sources of energy offer a realistic prospect of this, with obvious hazards to the climate. And current ‘green’ or ‘renewable’ alternatives are still far from viability, despite massive governmental subsidies. The deployment models of the last decade have been badly flawed.
The report analyses climate and energy policy of the past decade 2003-2013. The Vital Spark learns the lessons of those years. Sharply critical of subsidy-driven ‘renewable’ energy, which has failed to perform and has created ‘bubble’ markets, the report contains a powerful analysis of the shale gas revolution and other unpredicted surprises. It explains why mandated or ‘driven’ energy transitions are difficult and unusual (because conscious energy policy is such a weak and unreliable tool), although not impossible; and it places high priority on the morality of policy if it is to acquire necessary levels of full-hearted public legitimacy.
Co-author Masakazu Toyoda, CEO of the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan and former Japanese chief climate negotiator in METI, said: 'The timing of the publication and dissemination of The Vital Spark in the months before the next COP in Poland, could not be better. I and my Japanese co-authors believe strongly that our arguments on energy innovation will win the day, just as the arguments of the famous first Hartwell paper of 2010 won the day in the highest levels of international diplomacy after the collapse of the Kyoto Protocol model at Copenhagen in 2009."
LSE Emeritus Research Professor Gwythian Prins is the Hartwell group convenor. He said: “We can attain the objective of energy with low environmental impact only if we create a high energy global economy with reliable energy that all can afford to buy. The case for universal energy access is not just a moral one; it is also a matter of political legitimation and pragmatism. It is simply not acceptable to pursue policies that will leave the bottom billion of humanity without the energy services they require for wellbeing and dignity. This paper attempts to form a common foundation which will enable us to provide large quantities of energy at low cost, and with low environmental impact.”
Former LSE Research Fellow Mark Caine is the Hartwell co-ordinator. He said: “The Kyoto process failed to provide the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that it promised because it was unwieldy, complicated, and costly. It was built upon unrealistic assumptions about what nations are willing to or can accomplish, and it invested unfounded confidence in binding international legal agreements. It will not be easy to provide clean and affordable energy to all nations, but we believe these pragmatic Building Block concepts should underpin future attempts.”
Since the 1980’s scholars and practitioners of the Hartwell group have been researching pragmatic actions that might lighten the human footprint on the planet, and presenting them in policy-ready form. The Vital Spark is the third paper by the Hartwell group. It offers a comprehensive prospectus for how to – and how not to – undertake the vital task of energy innovation and how to drive that agenda in domestic democratic politics, in innovation and invention, in business and in international diplomacy in coming years.
The paper can be downloaded here.