Essential Background to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Essential Background: The Global Environmental Regime

The confluence of global environmental policy, national innovations systems, and technological change leads to the remarkable development of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Unfccc). However the latters is predated by UNEP (United Nations Environment Program). Since the 1970s, a time when environmental issues and policies became global in nature, UNEP promulgated technological fixes for environmental externalities. An important first success for the Global Environmental Regime (GER) (Weizsäcker, 1994; Adams & Kutting, 1995) is the MARPOL treaty, signed in 1973. This developed a mechanism to encourage oil tankers to use new technology on ships. A precursor was OILPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea) which began in the 1950s but was not very effective in forcing ships to switch technologies (de Coninck et al., 2008). MARPOL is unique because of the speed by which the technological fix was implemented, seen as in principle expedited by the U.S.  The U.S. imposed domestic standards which effectively contributed to a global standard with eventually 119 countries involved (de Coninck et al., 2008).

Acid Rain constituted the next concerted GER effort. The scientific findings that lakes in Sweden and Norway were becoming more acidified in the 1960s and 1970s, linked to pollution mostly from coal power-plants in Germany, led to a more global focus on environmental issues crossing borders unchecked. This environmental issue was brought to the global forum in Stockholm 1972 (Adams & Kutting, 1995). Indeed, most studies examining technological response to environmental policy look at 1970s and 1980s (Kemp, 1997). Acid rain is by and large the result of burning of coal for electricity generation but the linear, “Newtonian”, scientific policy prescription to stymie the release of sulphur into the atmosphere mostly resulted in affixing coal power-plant scrubbers (Adams & Kutting, 1995). Such scrubbers are considered “end-of-pipe” technological innovations. Although the GER managed well acid rain, a somewhat alarming trend of policy-induced end-of-pipe innovations begins during this regime (Schot, 2011: 43).

Best available technology (BATs) is first mentioned in the Nitrogen Oxides Protocol (1979). Since 1970 no fewer than eight Protocols have been signed by the international community (Selin & Eckley, 2003: 23). In this regard, BAT precipitated in end-of-pipe technological “fixes” rather than diagnosing the real environmental-economic issue at source, namely the burning of fossil fuels (Daly, 1992; Adams & Kutting, 1995). During this time science played a central role in identifying causes of environmental problems (Berkhout, 2003) and therefore the techno-scientific end-of-pipe fix seemed appropriate. At the Villach Conference (1985) renowned scientists pointedly declared GHG emissions as a serious global environmental threat, perhaps twice as harmful as previously thought. This marks somewhat of an inflection point between the GER and the Global Climate Regime. Thus in 1986 we witnessed the first Emissions Trading Policy, seen as a move away from command-and-control regime (Praetorius et al., 2009: 167).

Importantly the Villach Conference warned emissions of other gases aside from carbon were largely overlooked but probably just as critical. This type of agenda-setting and crystallizing expert opinion on options to avert climate disaster marks a trend towards a new Global Climate Regime (GCR) which would evolve in 1992. An upper limit for emissions was discussed leading to the creation of an advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases and setting the stage for IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) creation in 1988. Also in the 1980s, but stemming from the previous GER era to stymie acid rain, is the Montreal Protocol (1987). The Montreal Protocol effectively halved global production of CFCs (HFCs will persist until at least 2040). Tews (2005) investigates innovative activities in environmental technologies following important global environment conferences including Stockholm (1972) and the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992). He finds that, indeed, environmental technology innovation experiences a surge after these two UN conferences. This supports the theory the UN is a highly capable agender-setter for inducing innovation in climate technologies. (For a schematic of the Global Environmental Regime Timeline (pre-Kyoto) click link).

The Emerging Global Climate Regime

Ozone hole depletion and global climate change are intrinsically different global environmental issues. Policies and induced innovation effects of each must therefore be examined independently. While the ozone hole required eliminating or seriously reducing (HFCs, So2, Nox, VOC), mainly produced by only twenty companies worldwide (Kemp, 1997), climate change policy involves eventually eliminating all GHGs (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone) from thousands of energy producing, manufacturing, and other industrial companies.

Therefore I make an important distinction here between the GER and the GCR. The GER encompasses the GCR and of course to a certain extent there is a high degree of “regime interaction” (Gehring & Oberthur, 2004); the former is related more to UNEP while the latter is why the Unfccc and IPCC are created. Although the GER during the 1970s and 1980s now appears short-sighted and weak in terms of inducing point-of-source innovations, “The most consistent finding to emerge from all these [climate technology] modeling studies was that technology mattered” (Grubb et al., 2006: 4). It appears the GCR focuses more on technological improvements over time, especially for energy technologies (Gallagher et al., 2012; IPCC, 2012; Ockwell & Mallett, 2012; Williams et al., 2012).

Technology therefore becomes a point of focus for the agenda-setting within the Unfccc  (Botcheva & Martin, 2001). However uncertainty in climate scenarios continued to prevail in the early 1990s leading “policymakers to follow a precautionary approach and to explore a set of ‘safe’ stabilisation targets” (Bosetti et la., 2014: 25). Thus early political maneuvering of the Unfccc is constricted by conservative, momentum-building, discursive action. Even still technology figures as a central point of action.

From the very beginning the role of technology is of principal concern to the Unfccc. Their explicit exaltation of technology is unambiguous. Three different documents reveal the underlying importance of technological innovation: (1) The IPCC: “Achieving the Unfccc goal of stabilizing GHGs [...] will require technological innovation and rapid and widespread transfer and implementation of technologies; (2) Article 1.9 of the Unfccc (1992): “A subsidiary body for scientific and technological advice [...] to identify innovative, efficient and state-of-the-art technologies and know-how and advise on the ways and means of promoting development and/or transferring such technology”; and, Agenda-21: “Governments [...] should provide economic or regulatory incentives, where appropriate, to stimulate industrial innovation towards cleaner production methods.” It is evident from the beginning the Unfccc intends to support the development of technology and innovation for clean energy technologies. (For a schematic of the Global Climate Regime Timeline (post-Kyoto) follow link). (See also: Technology Mechanism under Unfccc).


The Birth of “Climate Science” (for those obtuse climate-D’s)

Since at least the late 19th century greenhouse gas emissions have been on the radar of climate scientists. Arrhenius (1896) suggested the buildup of gases in the atmosphere due to the industrial revolution might have significant effects on the global climate. Around the same time (late 1800s), the twinned developments of the industrial revolution occurred: rapid industrialization and widespread electrification (marked by the Paris Exhibition, 1878).

As an outgrowth of science-based industrial design, research and development of new products and processes emerged. Innovation systems and large-scale R&D (Research & Development) teams emerged in the early 20th century financed by both government (mostly during the wars) and large corporations (after the wars). Joseph Schumpeter (1918) popularized the notion of “creative destruction” while noting radical innovation is the remit of new and emerging enterprises. Later, and perhaps due to shifting technological focus of nations and large MNCs (Multinational Corporations), Schumpeter (1934) argues innovation takes place in the largest corporations due to systematic R&D teams and ability to patent new products and processes. In sum Schumpeter (1918; 1934) shows how classical economics wrongly deals with the intrinsic societal and economic benefits of inventions and inventors. The dynamism of economies is built on innovation (Kuznets, 1973) and creates “virtuous cycles of innovation, capital accumulation, the adoption of best-practice equipment, etc.” (Dosi et al., 1990: 183). Indeed, neoclassical economics might still be dealing wrongly with innovation in climate technologies.

Technological Innovation
The concept of technological innovation is immensely important to slowing global greenhouse emissions (GHGs). There is wide consensus we cannot continue to apply technologies currently used for electricity generation and transportation if we hope to avert serious climatic destruction. Notable clean energy technologies such as wind energy have already been shown to significantly bring down emissions while supplying large-scale energy for electricity. We appear to be at an important inflection point: the enormous industrial innovation systems carrying techno-economic progress over the past century are largely responsible for leading us to the edge to a global climate catastrophe (Aldy and Stavins 2007). Meanwhile, we now must rely on global institutions and radical technological innovations to stave off daunting climatic changes.

In a way the current socio-economic and techno-economic condition is strikingly similar to the late 1800s. Reverse salients (Hughes, 1983; Rosenberg, 1969), or obvious protrusions in technological systems in need of innovative solutions, call for alternative systemic solutions. Technological disequilibria induce innovations because competent personnel increasingly direct their attention to a well-know problem in the technological system (Rosenberg, 1969: 11). The resulting implication is: one innovation in the technological system requires “spillover” knowledge. A reverse salient is well known but requires extended research and development (R&D), or serendipity often coming from conscientious searching.
A famous reverse salient is found in the telephone industry. Bell’s focus on the transcontinental telephone line whereby energy loss proved a major issue led to a major breakthrough (Hughes, 1987: 75). Likewise General Electric sought to improve filaments for incandescent lights to radically improve lighting (ibid). Indeed the potential solutions to reverse salients provide a natural demarcation between radical and incremental innovations; if reverse salients are not found within the current technological system, a radical, or discontinuous (Freeman & Perez, 1988) innovation might be discovered which requires an entirely new system.

A delineation can also be made between architectural and modular innovations (Henderson and Clark, 1990). Probably the most famous battle of technological systems stemming from reverse salient searches is represented by the DC and AC electrical systems, which ultimately led to a merger of the two.

Since the late 19th century fossil fuels (conventional energy) have dominated the energy-production and electricity technological paradigm. In fact a great many technological innovations are discovered in the conventional-energy paradigm. Even the latest innovation in conventional energies, hydraulic fracturing, has proven to solve an important reverse salient, e.g. diminishing domestic energy resources in the U.S. Fossil fuels are implicated in the world’s environmental problems as they are responsible for a large percentage of all GHG emissions (Kemp, 1997: 290).
To be sure conventional energy (oil, gas, coal, and nuclear) will not always dominate electrical system. But today the electricity system is entirely dependent on fossil fuel. Suppliers of energy are mostly encapsulated in a “dependent environment [without] influence over the policies” (Hughes, 1987: 53). At the same time clean energy technologies are rapidly spreading throughout the globe, sometimes impeding the ability of research to extrapolate reasons for diffusion. Unfortunately, climate technologies are not properly understood, perhaps because the clean-energy technological paradigm is not yet fully developed.
Clean energy technologies (CETs) are not traditional reverse salients in that the current system can certainly continue, albeit haphazardly, without their widespread diffusion. A potential reverse salient is storage and transfer of CETs, for example advancing battery and hydro storage to the point of making CETs cheaper than conventional energies. However CETs taken together are most likely the second kind of reverse salient, radical and in need of an entirely new technological system in order to diffuse widely. Evidently, because the Earth’s climatic system is not integrated into our economic system, guided policies are needed to create the space for innovation of CETs. Is the Global Climate Regime (GCR) under the guidance of the Unfccc inducing these technological changes? Further data collection on patenting and R&D in CETS is required to better map the patterns underlying the influence on technological developments under the GCR.


Innovation is the technoeconomic capital of the 21st century, if properly understood

Innovation is that immeasurable political economic concept responsible for logarithmic benefits to the global economy. It is a very hot topic right now. Politicians maintain innovation increases economic competitiveness. Economists since Schumpeter applaud companies that build innovative products (iphone), or develop manufacturing innovations (Japanese Just-in-time inventory). Industrialists have always sought out ways to increase efficiency through incorporating modern technologies. But what exactly is Innovation? And how are we to measure economic gains through technological breakthroughs?
The innovation concept, as it plays out in the early 21st century, rests on three pillars. These are Multinational Corporations (MNCs), transparent institutions, and global knowledge flows. Each are contingent upon the other if one piece is inhibited, the others equally suffer, subsequently stifling innovation. Multinational Corporations, in their financial strength, global expansiveness, and formative political maneuvering, are inexorably linked to the innovation ecosystem .

This is especially evident if we consider radical innovations, as opposed to the more ubiquitous but no less important incremental innovations. The former makes headlines (think of each and every iphone launch celebrating Job’s genius), while the latter makes possible and provides the supporting infrastructure for radical innovations (think about how many people and small inventions went into building the original iphone, or how many innovations including new apps stemmed from
this one innovation).
In the past the innovation concept was married to radical yet marketable inventions including consumer autos, modern electricity networks, and gas lawn mowers. The technology industry, buttressed by “general purpose technologies” (GPTs), flipped this concept integrating vast amounts incremental innovations amassed over time. The effect of such innovations permeated throughout every industry, in every corner of the globe. A certain company or country attained more success if it could, in an evolutionary way, build upon incremental innovations.

This explains why economists struggle so much with the innovation concept. Conventional economic thinking reasons corporations will seek out the lowest per unit cost, oftentimes building new factories abroad to take advantage of lower per unit wage costs, for example. Yet, the techno-economic innovation concept reveals that despite higher costs, MNCs continue to invest heavily in countries with location specific competencies, skills, and institutions.

This makes sense because companies are set up to do exactly that: look for inventions,
incorporate these into their products or manufacturing processes, and build upon this existing “know-how” through entering different markets with different capital endowments (land, labor, local knowledge, geographic advantages).

MNCs constantly seek out innovation hotspots, the most well known being Silicon Valley but also now Singapore and Seoul. In these innovation centers knowledge flows freely between and among variegated industries. This MNC tendency is known as “institutional coupling”, or the interdependence of strong institutional apparatuses . MNCs have been able to position themselves strategically within innovation centers of excellence throughout the world, and thus are able to take advantage of different access points within different national systems of innovation. Therefore the institutional web indirectly and directly supporting innovation systems are prerequisites for attracting MNCs, therefore increasing local Foreign Direct Investment and eventually increasing local productivity hence economic gains through innovativeness so often proclaimed by policymakers.
These gains cannot be realized without strong institutions, able to support MNCs while also providing MNCs with knowledgeable workers. A supportive innovation infrastructure needs properly functioning banks, access to credit, strong educational institutions, fair and timely judicial systems, and a proper connection with the global trade regime. Furthermore,
connections in and among these institutions must be fostered in order to increase the
preponderance of knowledge flows.
With the advent of new technologies in computing and communications over the past decade, accessing and obtaining knowledge flows has become fundamental to building a lean and dynamic economy through innovativeness. General Purpose technologies support our internet, wifi, in short all computing power. Japan was able to rapidly scale up its many competent industries over the past four decades by providing the world with many GPTs. Their innovation system was so successful because the Japanese government established strong institutional linkages. Furthermore, Japanese MNCs
were able to capture global knowledge flows. The knock on effect, if the Asian financial crisis and the recent global depression are taken out of the picture, was a robust economy powered by innovativeness in products and processes, largely through the work of MNCs supported by strong institutions.
One major policy failure in many industrialized nations has been over-reliance
on government funding for “radical innovations”. Opponents lambaste such gross handouts such as Solyndra, while proponents point towards the government’s success in funding fracking, internet, and GPS. Yet both opposing viewpoints are off the mark. Innovativeness in technology, the foremost element in our current innovative evolution, is contingent upon not simply research and development funding but rather the overall institutional apparatus supporting measurable outputs such as GPTs.

If we can better understand how GPTs are supported by institutional systems, and likewise how the development of more GPTs enhances a nation’s ability to innovate (for example countrywide highs peed internet in Korea supports rapid knowledge flows via homegrown innovation), a more robust definition for the innovation evolution takes shape.

An evolutionary and incremental approach must be taken to properly understand innovation and competitiveness in the 21st century. Increased knowledge flows increases chances and chance of success for innovations. Techno-economic capital is the new capital of the 21st century.

Clean-tech Innovation Policy from Inside the Leviathan

Clean-tech Innovation Policy from Inside the Leviathan

In The Leviathan (Thomas Hobbes, 1651) the social contract initiated and supported by the state is seen as the penultimate element in managing its citizens. Social contracts designated the proper functioning of markets, and allowed proper allocation of resources. Without such contracts, it is inherently difficult to increase the overall wealth and productivity of a particular state.

Yet one problem remained: Who or what might carry out the task of equally monitoring the duties of the Leviathan? Absolute but neutral power must be given to the Leviathan in order to punish those whom violate social contracts. Otherwise fair commerce would inevitably denigrate into piracy.

In the case for global clean-tech policy, in particular the United Nations’s climate negotiations, a Leviathan seems to be needed. For example, some have called for a Leviathan responsible for monitoring progress for the world’s hopeful agreement in Paris this December under the auspices of the UNFCCC. Others call for a global carbon trading system, or carbon tax. These positions are put forward within the UNFCCC negotiations with the United Nations as the assumed Leviathan judiciary.

But is the UN the proper institution for monitoring the social contracts of trading permits for emissions into the global atmospheric system? After all, the UN has not been able to uphold some of the most modern agreements, including both in Ukraine and Transnistria. Further, it is necessary to consider if the Leviathan can ever hope to stimulate innovation if its main task is to monitor emissions of archaic conventional energies? Emissions are not the problem of weak social contracts, they are the result of leviathan-mandated energy monopolies. Lastly, without enforcement mechanisms, the Leviathan quickly collapses.

Unfortunately, enforcement mechanisms and teeth are something the UN lacks, and its subsidiary organs including UN Peacekeeping have learned the very unfortunate result of this void in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Haiti and elsewhere. Though the UN has over the past half century increased its capacity to avert egregious political disasters, especially evident in the non-proliferation of nuclear arms, it cannot hope to enforce or even implement global climate change policies in its current form.

That leaves several options on the table. Some of these have been increasingly evident to this writer over the past five years of working within the UNFCCC negotiating process in New York, Switzerland and Denmark. Whereas the UN brings the faces to the table, the action comes from elsewhere—in Davos, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and no Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

Yet many of these well-seasoned investors will never consider putting their assets into such an insecure set of products making up the majority of the clean-tech field. This begs the question: Where does the money come from? Who will develop such “breakthrough” technologies as called for by philanthropists such as Bill Gates? What institutional apparatus are required to encourage such risk taking?

These are valid and pressing questions. Yet their answers wield insubstantial calls for responsibility and, ultimately, a benevolent “Leviathan” able to properly implement such policies, such as global carbon trading. But global carbon trading, even a global carbon tax is completely outside the realm of possibilities within the next fifteen years. It is simply not “politically viable (pdf).” The US still does not recognize the sovereignty of an aviation tax imposed on US carriers entering European airports—how would it begin to agree on trading rights of invisible quantities of carbon.

If the leviathan turns out to be the global carbon comptroller, we can be assured power in all forms will corrupt absolutely. Nuclear energy and natural gas will be the only remaining energies due to their “low carbon” designations. This is a problem because the former is by far the costliest and most dangerous energy considering its global implications while natural gas is quickly becoming economically stagnant under increased environmental regulations.

A more progressive UN leviathan-clean energy rubric would consist of mechanisms promote and assimilate clean tech innovations more readily. This includes the transfer of products, ideas, and people. This can be done via increase focus on licensing for particularly acute clean-tech innovations, with the dual purpose of scalability and economic feasibility. Unfortunately, this can only come with greater integration among organizations with more legitimacy in the field of patent law and trade agreements such as the WTO and the OECD. The WTO might facilitate the transfer, patenting, and competition in the development of highly innovative clean-tech solutions.

Many technological breakthroughs have come from the poor world, or citizens who have emigrated from poorer parts of the world to develop their ideas within countries with the capability to scale up “breakthrough” innovations (including Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google). Small investments in innovation centers in Asia have spawned enormous innovations in computer technology over the past two decades.

Where institutions are strong, including judiciary and financial, innovations seem to flourish—thus a stronger role for legitimatize global institutions such as the WTO inevitably will lead to more global uptake in clean energy technologies.

The most prudent solution is to designate the WTO as the supreme benevolent dictator in regards to global clean energy policy and development. The WTO can best appropriate duties and responsibilities via open trade and transparent investment mechanisms; it can likewise make rulings that even the U.S. and China might abide by.

Back Online!

Apologies for not updating the site in awhile. I was entirely inundated by my Phd program in the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University which I intend to complete by May 2016.

The research I’ve been developing explores global technology transfer policy within the clean-energy technology and innovation sphere. This includes the movement of products and processes related to clean and renewable energies around the world. In other words, the use of global policies and norms to increase the flow of knowledge and products for renewable energy implementation, in the most logical and widespread manner.

Increasing institutional capacities is but one part of such technological transfers. Such capacities, local and global, help with measurements and the development of matrices which provide valuable feedback on the implementation, innovation, and development of clean-energy technologies. Stronger, more transparent, and horizontally integrated institutions with high degrees of legitimacy represent one pillar of the global renewable energy paradigm.

In terms of clean energy innovation policy, it is important for federal governments to properly understand how such innovation plays out in reality. Clean energies are particularly unique in that their dispersion throughout the world inevitably increases local innovation upon the basic concepts such as wind energy technology which is required to adjust to local wind speeds and tendencies. As such, clean energies have a high potential to capture innovative designs which, after being locally re-designed, provide important feedback.

However the common misconception, often within the more nuanced “Trade Policy Theory” typically adhered to by many federal governments, lies in the idea that innovation technology is a zero sum game–a win for one country’s innovative technology is a loss for another country. This idea of 1:1 competitiveness is entirely outdated. It has been discarded by modern economists and political theorists alike. In the creation of 21st century renewable energy policy, antiquated theories must be discarded in favor of more integrated and dynamic theoretical understandings regarding what is really important to global clean-tech production.

These three concepts (institutional capacity, innovation policy, and competitiveness in trade policy), as they relate to global clean energy policy, are some of the new research ideas I’ve recently explored. Three forthcoming papers I’ve written address these ideas: “Mechanisms and Policies of Global Technology Transfer for Clean-Energy” ; “National Systems of innovation and Multinational Corporations”; “Macroeconomic Tendencies in Global Environmental Policy”.

Over the next several months I’ll distill the information from these articles into more approachable ideas. In the meantime, I’ll be working alongside policymakers intent on reaching some form of global agreement for clean energy technologies in the UNFCCC conference of parties in Paris at the end of this year.


Emerald Cities

Cities are resilient; they test the fate of time, enduring through a multitude of disasters. These can come in the form of natural disasters, disease epidemics, economic perils, or ecosystem destruction. While the countries and empires throughout the world been  redrawn, great cities remain. These aspects of the city are true today, even in the United States.


Great cities must adapt, infrastructurally, economically and, many times, independently from the nation-state in which they are umbilically attached to. The 21st century adaptation will require a robust retrofitting of city transportation, buildings, and overall sustainability. Sustainability, broadly speaking, meaning the robustness of a cities design—rooftop gardens providing insulation, ascetics, and vegetables; renewable energy built into infrastructure (solar powered street lights); energy-efficient buildings; advanced  public transit networks etc.

In her book, Emerald CitiesJoan Fitzgerald encounters many such cities sprinkled throughout the continental U.S. Despite a fledgling economy, and many years of disagreement in the Federal government regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency, a number of large U.S. cities are embarking on such sustainability programs. This may come as a surprise to many readers, and in fact was a surprise to Dr. Fitzgerald, because the U.S. is, by and large, considered years behind  other continents when it comes to sustainability.

Without overtly imparting definitions of urban sustainability and economic resilience, Fitzgerald  deftly crafts the former with the latter. This imbues the reader with a sense of the inherent connection between urban sustainability and economic advancement. The cities that can manifest these interdependent goals will inevitably become the most desirable and economically independent cities of the future. Fitzgerald begins with an introduction to sectoral and cluster approaches to economic development and industry. Clusters are industrial concentrations that attempt to combine as many products of a supply chain in a particular area, oftentimes located within the domicile of cities. Cluster industries can be found around the world, the most famous of which is Silicon Valley south of San Francisco. Industrial clusters are also blooming in the renewable energy field.

This leads to an informed discussion of transformational strategies, which bridges dilapidated industries with the new clean energy society. An interesting example cited here is the wind energy industry, which comprises of over 8,000 individual parts. In terms of solar technology, the city of Toledo witnessed a dramatic shift into the thin-film solar energy market. In the past, Toledo was a large glass manufacturing hub which, since falling into decadence, left the city with a surplus of skilled glass workers; since photovoltaic energy is largely composed of glass, the transformational strategy here was relatively straightforward.

Importantly, Emerald Cities draws upon the unique interconnection among job creation, social justice, and climate change. To bring attention and advocate for this cause is the Apollo Alliance which is a coalition of labor unions, environmental organizations, and business leaders with the tacit understanding that energy efficiency and clean technology can create 3.3 million jobs and increase GDP by $1.4 trillion. Coalitions and organizations such as this can link policy with job creation, and inform citizens of the benefits of both renewable energy and sustainability.

A strong policy decision to link jobs and clean energy sprung out of Ohio where the Regional Growth Partnership was created in order to drive innovation and commercialize start-up companies. It remains Ohio’s sole venture capital fund for renewable energy companies. Ohio also boasts a unique way of integrating renewable energy via a renewable energy credit system. This policy also mandates the public utilities companies to decouple profits from sales—a contentious issue which treats
sustainability as a universal good, which should benefit all citizens.

A point of major contention, and one that should be highlighted here, is the subsidies given to the oil and gas industries between $15 and $35 billion (the most recent estimate by the International Energy Agency, a conservative organization, was $409 billion  in 2010). This does not include the passes they receive for not restoring land, which happens to be part of a current lawsuit against the industry in the state of Louisiana  (article from the Huffington Post here). Meanwhile, China is spending $221 of $586 billion of its stimulus on renewable energy. One might ask why archaic energy technologies, which have been commercial operational for nearly a century, need such subsidies. Would it not be more wise to invest the $409 billion in fossil fuel subsidies into emerging renewable energy technologies?

Manufacturing jobs make up nearly 70% of the renewable energy job market. Therefore city, state, and national policies should adhere to policy which serves the dual purpose of both increasing the share of renewable energy while encouraging domestic participation in the industry. Yet this is impossible without formally subsidizing renewable energy manufacturing on U.S. soil. One successful policy tool that should be reinstated is the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) that came into effect under the 2005 Energy Policy Act. By rewarding domestic renewable energy manufacturing, each
dollar of tax credit renders two dollars invested back into the industry domestically.

While the author lays out an impressive network of sustainable cities in the U.S., the book concludes unceremoniously. Clearly there are great strides that the country must take before boasting of any successful sustainable city, or sustainable policy plan for that matter. However, before bold policy plans can be enacted, the general population must realize the facts: the U.S. government has, since its very creation, subsidized industries for the common good—make no mistake about it, sustainability, renewable energy, and energy-efficiency are most definitely for our common good, any way it is looked at. Dr. Fitzgerald concludes with a statement that stokes the heart of her overall thesis: “The reality is that the U.S. government […] has helped create industrial winners for more than two hundred years, beginning with Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures and extending through the government subsidy of the railroads and the development of land grant agricultural and mechanical universities during the Lincoln administration” (183). If we can all get on board and embrace a new technological
revolution, systematically based within a sustainable vision, Emerald Cities might be rewritten one day to reveal to the rest of the world how a sustainable country, rather than simply a city, operates.

United Nations Sustainable Development

The 6th and 7th Open Working Groups (OWG) on Sustainable Development took place at the United Nations’ New York headquarters December 16th-20 and January 6-10, respectively (8 total over the past year). I took part in the meetings as a representative of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (Inforse), an NGO created out of the first UN sustainable summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The end goal of the eight meetings is to develop a framework for the post 2015 sustainable development in the absence of any such apparatus since the Kyoto Protocol expired in December 2012. Perhaps the most promising aspect of these working groups is the tacit understanding by most stakeholders that climates are changing, whether due to humans or not, and a global sustainable development policy framework can mitigate inherent consequences of this phenomenon.


The sixth OWG focused on implementation and monitoring, regional/global governance, and global partnerships. Meanwhile the seventh OWG targeted sustainable transport and cities, climate change, and sustainable consumption and production (including chemicals and waste). With 2015 fast approaching, the year in which Post 2015 millennium development policies must be in place, it is imminent to hash out the myriad global policies in order to reach targets and generate confidence in the overall process.

During the sixth session, the means for mobilizing financing for sustainable development took on a central role. Effective financing provides the backbone for development in nearly every country, and sustainable development calls for transparent and unambiguous financing, from both public and private sources as well as public-private partnerships. Proper finance mechanisms require good governance and a rule of law able to uphold judicial decisions. International finance, or foreign direct investment, will inevitably increase after formal institutions are in place within a state.

In connection with international finance, global implementation, monitoring, and technology transfer comprised the majority of discussion in the sixth and seventh OWG. With more concise data on sustainable development implementation and monitoring, more confidence is built in the private finance sector, which can then be leveraged by public entities with public-private partnerships. Other pertinent global accords must be met for: patent sharing for key sustainable technologies, expanding visas for skilled labor, funding for sustainable R&D, and open research grants for developing world scientists. In the developing world sustainable development can be leveraged to eradicate poverty. This idea carried over into the seventh OWG.

In the seventh session, the design and development ofsustainable cities played a predominant role in the discussions. In developing countries, urbanization is moving at a rapid pace, making such ad-hoc settlements highly prone to natural disasters. Herein lies the duality between climate change and sustainable development: more logical sustainable development policy may buttress the climate change paradigm by alleviating the ecosystem pressures induced by archaic energy, waste, and agricultural policies. Therefore, by deductive reasoning, we can reasonably conclude that working towards sustainabledevelopment policies, especially within the confines of the developing world, may provide the impetus for lifting a large part of the world out of poverty, and protecting future generations from ecosystem fragility. In light of the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, one speaker quoted him during the seventh meeting: “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” This quote might also be applied to unsustainable development and policy as well.

During both sessions it was abundantly clear that sustainability measurements, the basis of which provide the foundation for implementation, are seriously flawed and inconsistent across the globe. That is if measurements are even being made; some localities fail to collect sustainability metrics due to political reasons, while other areas simply lack the resources. Governments and economists need a way to demonstrably show environmental improvements directly contribute to poverty eradication. Furthermore, uniform metrics for data are critical for the success of global sustainable development policies. Such uniform data has allowed the European Union to audit its energy system more accurately, allowing for rapid deployment of renewable energy sources. This in turn provides more confidence for investors because concise policy is in place in addition to standardized measurements. In addition, this adds to the collaboration among the many parties involved in deploying sustainable developments.

One of the United Nation’s most powerful tools lies in the fact that different stakeholders from around the world are able to actively partake in global policies. Naturally stakeholders in the developing world, including the low-lying island nations, currently have less bargaining power—but their voices are getting louder. The disappearance of some countries due to rising oceans and natural disasters is a reality. This reality will only put more pressure on other countries that will ultimately bear the burden through human migrations. Even if the policy process in the United Nations is flawed policymakers involved are becoming more informed. Now that a majority of nations have gotten on board, it is time to move ahead with accurate collection and monitoring of data which is a necessary prerequisite for the following steps spearheaded by strong finance mechanisms.

Environmentalism Vs. Optimism

It’s a fine line to walk between being an “environmentalist” and being a renewable energy lobbyist or advocate. The connotation associated with environmentalism precludes an adamant environmentalist from maintaining consistent logic in the face of strong opposition. Such opponents are often unwilling to listen to one word out of an environmentalist’s mouth. Environmentalists are tree huggers, some say, and therefore have no place in the decision-making of wide-scale energetic dilemmas.

Smart Grid

Therein lies the dilemma inherent in renewable energy advocacy: while a renewable energy lobbyist or advocate may pursue a completely logical, economical, and tactical energy policy (for example: let’s build all new power plants with renewable energy since it requires no fuel input, and thus lowers our fuel imports), their logic is usually confounded with environmentalism and so it loses strength and efficacy. The result is a rejection of the renewable energy proponent’s ideas and logic.

Personally, I’ve found it quite challenging to make the distinction between being an environmentalist and believing in the benefits of renewable energy. Yet, this delineation is so utterly important, because in the field of renewable energy activism, one immediately loses half the audience if labeled an environmentalist.

Almost daily, I must field the incessant, but still cumbersome question: “You’re an environmentalist, right?”


Smart Grid - Infrastructure

No, not really at all. I’m a political philosopher. I’m an economist. I like logic. I believe in humanity. I believe in social progress. I’m a futurist, a forward thinker. I examine the present in the light of the past, and looking towards the future (to paraphrase Keynes). Sure I believe in some forms of renewable energy, but think other supposed renewable energies (ahem, corn-ethanol) are usurping the term for their own benefit; and in fact, use more energy than they create.

I have no problem acknowledging the importance of fossil fuels to the world economy.

Yes, I believe fossil fuels could become irrelevant one day. No, I don’t think renewable energy can completely replace conventional energy right now. But yes, I do think more and more people should be involved in energy decisions, thought processes, innovations, explorations. The more people involved, the better chance for creating new, innovative renewable energy.

When attempting to explain to my family, close friends, or other acquaintances what I do (which albeit is difficult because presently I work in several somewhat divergent fields), almost immediately I’m labeled an ‘environmentalist’.

This is usually how it goes:”So what are you doing right now; what is it that you do?” My typical reply: “Well, for example, last week I attended a conference discussing the technological innovations behind battery storage, in order for us to harness and use more renewable energy. Renewable energy is basically energy derived from the earth that does not require a constant input including solar energy, wind energy, or geothermal energy—though others certainly exist.”

The response: “Oh okay, I get it. So you’re an environmentalist.” “No”, I say, “I’m simply a logical thinker focused on the best, most holistic solutions for societies around the world. By using energy more efficiently, and deriving it more directly, we as mankind are moving forward. Renewable energy is not environmentalism; it is logical human progress.”

The most ironic part is that this thought actually comes from a self-preserving, almost selfish, prescience: I’d like my grandchildren to breathe clean air. I’m actually concerned about the extension of my bloodline more than the environment.

The simplest way I can describe what I do is to declare that I work in energy awareness. The more people I can convince to examine their own energy use, or investigate renewable energy technology, and the highly beneficial part they personally can play in the subject, the more successful I will be. I’m sort of a renewable energy lobbyist without the paycheck. There are several I.O.U.s out there that someday I may collect, if one day I’m associated with the progenitor of such efforts.

Renewable energy is logical energy because once built and installed, it requires very little human input or raw material input. In other words, no coal, oil, natural gas, or uranium needs to be trucked to a solar or geothermal power plant after it is built. This allows us to use our computer technology to very effectively monitor and control energy within localities; this will ultimately increase energy efficiency dramatically.

If, for instance, a computer system is in charge of controlling a solar energy power plant, it can precisely dispatch electricity across the grid as required; it can store excess energy in batteries, steam, molten salt, hydro-pumps, or fly wheels, as needed. That stored energy can then be dispatched when it is needed.

Stationary Energy Storage

On the other hand, a conventional power plant such as a nuclear reactor, must run 24/365 at full capacity, wasting as much as 75% of all the energy it has created; or a coal power plant which is largely at the mercy of human error, takes many hours to power up and down; and therefore, cannot respond to actual societal needs.

To me, the former renewable energy technology is a significant step forward for human civilization. Though it may be shortsighted to immediately convert all power plants around the world to renewable energy, (since the technology keeps getting better (Moore’s Law), it does make sense to carefully begin implementing the technology within reason.

The Merriam-Webster’s definition of environmentalism is this: “a theory that views environment rather than heredity as the important factor in the development and especially the cultural and intellectual development of an individual or group; advocacy of the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment; especially the movement to control pollution.” This brings up one more important point: renewable energy lobbyists must back away from arguing within a “carbon frame”, or arguing in favor of renewable energy in order to stymie the negative effects of carbon emissions. Arguing in this frame lays the game wide open for manipulation by advocates of “lower carbon emission” energies such as nuclear and natural gas.

I suppose I am guilty of having an emotional tie to renewable energy. I’d like my children and grandchildren to inherit a life similar to mine. I feel very fortunate to have been given a beautiful, luscious, hospitable planet.

I believe in space exploration but think colonization of another planet is far away. I think logically about the earth’s resources. Sure, I care about the environment but that comes after my first two core beliefs: I believe in humanity and progress. Conventional energies are no longer progressive, though at one point they were. Humanity must begin to bind together to coherently create new energies. This collective exploration and implementation must begin now.

Picture Sources:  James Provost & Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Portugal’s Renewable Energy Job Creation

Little introduction is needed to the debate about the Keystone Oil Pipeline which was postponed viaPresident Obama’s executive order. Nor has the controversial proposed pipeline been lacking in public commentary (over 1 million comments, some of which can be found here). The nexus between the overall health of the world economy, the future of the world’s energy supply, and sustained jobs is perhaps one of the most diabolical challenges of the modern era. It is thus imperative to step back and take a concerted, informed examination of this nexus.

The high price of renewable energy and the lack of concrete evidence of the industry’s ability to create jobs are cited as two primary reasons not to put forth stronger government policy during the current economic downturn. Many people argue: “renewables are great, but let’s wait until the prices come down”; or, “the creation of jobs is a myth and frequently exaggerated.” Fervent supporters of conventional energy argue that the Keystone Oil Pipeline is needed to create many jobs and energy today. But what kind of jobs will these be and will they be permanent? Although the pipeline will clearly create a large amount of short-term construction jobs, merely 35 permanent jobs are predicted by the US Government.

On the other side of the debate lies the opinion that the renewable energy industry can and does create jobs that are permanent and employ high-skilled laborers; high-skilled positions, in comparison to short-term construction jobs, invariably add more value to the economy. However, this claim is often arbitrarily made without concrete evidence. Where are the jobs? What constitutes a job in the renewable energy industry? How can these be sustainable after, for example, wind turbines have been completed? What does the renewable energy supply chain look like?

An interesting case to begin unpacking these complex questions occurs in Portugal.This country has surprised many, including European policymakers, by implementing a vast amount of renewable energy in a small time period (36% of the country’s final energy consumption is powered by renewable energy—one quarter of which is comprised of wind energy).

The Portuguese renewable energy economy may serve as a counterargument against the Keystone Pipeline because it offers concrete evidence that these jobs are highly-skilled and permanent. The construction of an oil pipeline offers a small amount of long term jobs because, once constructed, the pipeline is used to simply push conventional energy through. On the other hand, renewable energy technology requires maintenance, monitoring, training, dissemination, and other innovations. Such jobs are permanent and more numerous than conventional energy jobs.

The Portuguese example offers a clear picture of the renewable energy industry’s capacity to create and sustain jobs. A reasonable estimate of the amount of jobs created from the renewable energy and energy efficiency industry is 55,000-65,000 (in a country with only ten million people that is nearly 10% of the workforce).Though each country is unique and encounters its own set of problems associated with energy creation and supply, the data from Portugal offers some answers to the debate for or against renewable energy in a sluggish economy. Accurate data has been kept about the renewable energy sector in Portugal,
due partly to government policy and also to the utility EDP (Energias de Portugal), which was once government-owned before the 2011 “troika” of bailout loaners (ECB, EC, IMF).

Portugal’s crowning political and industrial achievement in the renewable energy economy occurred with the development of the “Wind Energy Industrial Cluster”, created in 2005 by a consortium of companies including Enercon, neo energia, Finerge, Generg SGPS, Sonae. The energy  cluster consists of 29 companies surrounding the core Enercon wind turbine factory manifested from the idea to transform an old industrial center, which had fallen into decadence since the 1980s, into a wind energy industrial center whereby all design, production, shipping—in short, all wind turbine construction, was confined to the area.

The ramifications of this innovative policy idea are numerous. Portugal’s impetus for changing their energy sources came from the fact that nearly 50% of its debt was tied to conventional energy sources. From the years 2004 through 2009, Portugal installed on average 500 MW of wind power, due in large part to the innovation, design, and manufacturing of wind technology in the industrial cluster. At the same time, renewable energy as a percentage of primary energy grew from 17% to 45% of total energy sources.

A Harvard Kennedy School paper estimated that $1 million in spending on energy will create 5 jobs in conventional energies and 17 jobs in renewable energy. Similarly, another study (by Pollin, Heintz, and Garrett-Peltier 2009: 30) shows that spending a given amount of money on a clean-energy investment agenda generates approximately 3.2 times the number of jobs within the United States as does spending the same amount of money within the fossil fuel sectors. In the U.S. In 2011 the wind industry accounted for 75,000 direct jobs (and this excludes thousands more indirect jobs).

Is it still fair to deem renewable energies too costly and without economic benefit in light of the Portuguese experience? With clear and unambiguous data, it becomes clear that renewable energy is among the only growing industries in a sluggish economy in Portugal. Perhaps some other countries may learn from this experience, and begin to understand that less importing of conventional energies must inherently mean a stronger balance of payments for its government.

The time is due to clarify our views about conventional energy and job creation. There is no better time to dissect the nexus between the overall health of the world economy, the potential increase in human health resulting from the integration of more renewable energy, and the creation of jobs. The Keystone pipeline will create jobs but let us understand that the bulk of these jobs will be short-lived. On the other hand, significantly increasing renewable energy in the U.S. will, without question, create permanent jobs which will undoubtedly power our economy forward into the 21st century.


United Nations Climate Goals

I recently attended the Technology Transfer Workshop at the UN as an observer. The name of the conference was “Development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies in developing countries.” This workshop was a preliminary discussion which will lead up to the COP post-2015 agenda. The discussion focused on the role of international institutions to facilitate Research & Development in promoting more rapid, widespread and global transfer of environmentally sound technologies. Lack of information flow, capacity building (including intellectual property) and international cooperation were cited as the main gaps in Technology Transfer (TT).

The intellectual Property (IP) regimes are built in order to exploit the positive externality that exists between the social values of disclosing inventions being greater than the direct value to inventors. Exclusive rights to inventors are meant to stimulate innovation, by offering compensation and protection for innovation in both the social and technological space. Tension arises when IP regimes butt up against sustainable development objectives because, for example, developing nations often face capacity challenges. This poses a significant obstacle to more ubiquitous spread of renewable energy technologies around the globe. The overarching question is how to achieve both innovation and incentive within the framework of international renewable energy policy goals?

Whereas invention and innovation are driven by the protection and profit from lucrative ideas and technologies, sustainable development often requires more rapid dissemination of these (i.e. renewable energy). For example, deductive reasoning extrapolates the most effective renewable energy technology is pertinent for increasing the use of sustainable energy, not only in developed countries (mostly protecting its patent rights and where it is affordable), but also in developing countries; such developing countries are usually without adequate access to power and where more polluting and expensive sources of energy must be used.


United NationsAlexandra Mallet defined the means of Technology Transfer, conventionally, as being the movement of goods and services. This, in turn, creates a donor/recipient (i.e. linear) conventional connection. During the most recent history of TT in this manner, the underlying assumption was that innovation and adaptation were fundamentally linked. Yet this assumption is more often than not wrong; there are many other non-linear impediments to the successful implementation of new technologies, especially in burgeoning industries.

At several points during the conference, the triple-helix (and once even the quadruple-helix) was cited as crucial to TT in RE. The triple helix is the combination of life-blood between the public sector, government and academia (with the quadruple helix including civil society). This seems to be a recurring theme in all renewable energy policy debates, and is thus revealing that even in the United Nations political sphere it continues to impede policy goals.

Errot Levy, Delegation of the EU to the U.S., highlighted the point that it must be more important to focus less on TT and more on impacts for the solutions provided. The point here is that social acceptance and local implementation severely overshadows technology—if locals don’t believe in solar energy because of a past failure, it will be difficult to even donate solar cookers. Finance schemes are utterly crucial to mend this tripartite dilemma.  Horizon 2020, an important financial instrument for such endeavors, spells out concrete ways of doing this.

The conclusion is that renewable energy technology and innovative financial instruments must be examined in tandem. In the absence of financial instrument capable of smoothing the flow and payment of technologies for developing countries, clustering technology and innovation centers can work. Examples of renewable energy innovation centers are the Portuguese wind energy cluster and Bonn’s (Germany) innovation technology center. In these cities policy goals spelled out ways to integrate business with civil society, government, and academia. The results are quite positive: Whereas Portugal, a poorer EU country, now has some of the most promising wind energy technologies in the world;Germany continues to spearhead its renewable energy policy goals through cutting-edge research from Bonn.