Matthew Stepp – The Energy Collective, 06/21/2012
For advocates of all things “green”, the Rio+20 Summit is supposed to charter a new path forward for the world to address its biggest challenges: reduce greenhouse gas emissions, eradicate poverty, end hunger, limit environmental destruction and increase access to clean water. But like recent climate change negotiations, the conference will result in little more than vague frameworks for future discussions and promises that will surely get broken. Instead, if the world wants to truly spur sustainable development, innovation must become the centerpiece of negotiations.
But before that can happen, international negotiators need a wakeup call: It’s time to stop pretending that ill-equipped and divisive policy tools will solve our global challenges. We’re a planet of seven billion people growing to 9 billion by midcentury. We’re a 60 trillion dollar global economy that must continue to grow to move billions from poverty. The threat of dangerous global climate change looms larger with each passing year. And over a billion people still don’t have access to energy, clean or dirty, say nothing about a lack of abundant food and clean water. In other words, we need consumption to grow while drastically reducing that consumption’s impact on the environment. Of course this is no simple task, but it is possible. Yet so far international negotiators are bringing the policy equivalent of a knife to a grenade fight.
Let’s just look at one area of sustainable development under negotiation to see why: reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by building a green economy. The fundamental goal is transitioning the global energy system from fossil fuels to clean energy. The dominant policies discussed at Rio+20 aimed at doing just that include subsidizing existing energy and adaptation technologies through a Green Climate Fund or other financing mechanisms and setting voluntary sustainability and development goals. Here’s the problem: these solutions will either fail to reduce overall growth of emissions and will only marginally increase clean energy adoption.