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WIREC and U.S. Foreign Policy on Energy and Climate Security Post-Bali

Reno Harnish, Principal Deputy Assistant for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Remarks to the 923rd Wilton Park Conference
Wilton Park, United Kingdom
July 14, 2008

Good afternoon. Thank you very much for your introduction. It’s an honor to be included among the participants in this important conference, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss our recent Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC 2008). What I wish to emphasize here are WIREC’s results and their relationship to the state of play in U.S. policy on energy and climate security.

Let me start with things that you all know. Energy security, sustainability, and our dependence on fossil fuels with its effects on the environment are the major issues of our time. This is a global problem, and it requires a global solution for which we need a global partnership. What I’m here to talk about today is the outcome of the WIREC conference that was held this spring to address these issues and challenges.

The scale of the challenges we face is enormous. The world population is projected to be 9-10 billion by 2050. We are heavily dependent on limited fossil fuels, which now account for 85% of our global energy needs. We are depleting sources of fossil fuel much faster than we find them. In addition, fossil fuels contribute to greenhouse gas emissions which harm our environment. The rising economies of the developing world and the increasing demand on the limited fossil fuels do not make the problem any simpler. We must find solutions. The solutions may be in our ability to rapidly scale up the deployment of renewable energy technologies.

That is where WIREC came in. It was held March 4-6, 2008, in Washington, D.C. We at the U.S. Department of State organized WIREC and worked in collaboration with eight other departments of the U.S. Government, including Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Interior, Commerce, and Energy. WIREC was a ministerial level conference with nearly 9000 representatives from 125 countries, including 103 ministers. Our nation brought four cabinet secretaries, and we were honored that President George W. Bush gave the keynote address. WIREC also included a business conference, a trade show and official side events organized by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). We were fortunate also to have had considerable support from REN21 and, most importantly, REEEP. Your partnership sponsored three workshops for Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in advance and helped shape the constructive tone of WIREC.

WIREC was built around four themes: 1) technology/ research & development; 2) agriculture, forestry and rural development; 3) market adoption and finance; and 4) sub-national and national partnerships. WIREC panels addressed the environmental, economic, social, and security dimensions of all these themes.

There is an extensive discussion of the findings in our conference report that has just been released. You can get a copy outside the door. The objectives of each of the thematic panels included the following:

  1. For technology/research & development, WIREC participants outlined the broad range of R&D issues. We identified the challenges in adopting various renewable energy technologies. The conference participants also laid out present actions needed to scale up the use of renewable energy.
  2. For agriculture and rural development, WIREC panelists discussed the technical, environmental, and political issues. The participants identified the opportunities for agriculture and the rural sector. We assessed the role agriculture and forestry could play in scaling up renewable energy and promoting rural development.
  3. On the issue of market adoption and finance, WIREC defined opportunities for accelerating renewable technology’s transition from laboratory to market. We recommended market adoption of new renewable energy technologies. WIREC also proposed policies and tools for financing renewable energy in mature and emerging markets.
  4. Sub -national and national partnerships play a key role in the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies. The WIREC focus was on renewable energy policy and financing initiatives. We reviewed lessons learned and emerging strategies in economic development and renewable energy. Finally, there were many proposals for renewable energy collaboration opportunities for creating national and sub-national partnerships.
All four panels agreed that R&D is key for the deployment of renewable energy technologies to address problems related to all four areas. There was recognition that no single renewable energy can meet the world’s energy needs and that R&D was essential to developing and deploying the variety of potential new sources. For R&D, the major recommendations included responding to these needs: 1) the need for stable and predictable policies and regulations to ensure industry-university-government partnership; 2) the need to commit 3% of total investment in renewable energy technologies to sustain innovation; 3) the need for human resource development; 4) the need to integrate renewable energy sources into existing energy systems; and 5) the necessity of establishing interdisciplinary centers for worldwide R&D.

WIREC participants agreed that the conference inspired a number of shared results. Key among them was a strong sense of optimism about the future of renewable energy while at the same time an appreciation of the scale of the energy issue related to climate change. Probably the most important outcome of WIREC for early adoption of renewable energies was the compilation of country and company pledges in an action plan. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysis of the international pledges made after the WIREC conference described them as having the following significant impacts. We will release a complete and formal analysis in August.
  1. Renewables will play a key role in the global effort to meet future energy needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The take-away message is that many nations are now looking to renewables to meet a large part of their future energy needs in a way that will also reduce their carbon footprint, particularly in the electricity sector. The 145 WIREC pledges have the potential to provide thousands of megawatts of renewable electricity capacity through 2030, and eliminate billions of tons of CO2 that would have otherwise been generated from conventional sources. You can analyze the pledges yourself by going to the REN-21 website or that of NREL.
  2. The diversity of pledges (by country, by institution, by region, by type, by technology). The take-away message is that we have a large number of players and sectors represented demonstrating the wide variety of opportunities that exist to accelerate renewable energy markets and have a significant environmental benefit.
  3. The progressive nature of these pledges (many of the pledges are extremely aggressive) represents a very radical shift in how these countries intend to meet growing demand in the electricity and fuels sector. The take-away message is that both mandatory and voluntary approaches can complement one another and that the political and institutional will and vision exist to do very big things.
  4. Research and development (R&D) pledges will play a key role in enabling the renewable energy goals to be met without overburdening the economy. The take-away message is that the 10-20 year timeline for most pledge goals will enable renewable energy technical milestones to be met that will significantly reduce the commercial costs of these electricity and alternative fuel options.
  5. Financial and in-kind pledges will help reduce the near-term economic burdens of renewable energy options, particularly in developing countries. The take-away message is that the grants, loans, and financing included in many of the pledges with "near-term targets" will help defray the transition costs to a clean energy era.
The WIREC conference participants recognized that a scaling up of renewable energies will require a global commitment and a global partnership. There are many global partnerships that exist today to carry out the mission of renewable energy deployment. Let me talk about two of them that are very important in our own U.S. policy.

First, the Asia-Pacific Partnership (APP). This partnerships brings clean energy technology from developed countries, including the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, to important developing countries in terms of climate questions—China, India, ad South Korea. Importantly, APP is organized around eight sectors that are primary sources for greenhouse gas emissions. Another important factor is the intimate involvement of the private sector in APP. Each of the developed member countries has contributed significant funding to this partnership. For example, the United States for 2009 has designated $52 million for renewable energy development programs. We are already seeing encouraging results. For example, a big U.S. utility is assisting with examination of the regulatory structure of an Indian state to remove barriers to renewable energy adoption. Another example is the actual installation of a 15 megawatt solar plant in India. We think that the APP provides an ideal model for future action perhaps with a wider range of participating countries.

Another important international partnership for developing and deploying renewable energy sources is the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP International). In this case, our U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) seeks out a wide range of developing countries for application of renewable energy technologies.

This has been a four-year project that has brought millions of dollars to a number of countries. We are now this summer evaluating its impact.

Moving forward, let us go beyond WIREC now and take the lessons we learned to enable us to achieve our goals of energy security, sustainability, and responsible environmental stewardship. The road toward this goal is rapid adoption of renewable energy. The United States is eager to play a key role in a global partnership to promote research and development, long-term policies, deployment of technologies, and innovative financial vehicles. We are delighted that India has agreed to host the next International Renewable Energy Conference in 2010.

Indeed, we are planning a trip to New Delhi this autumn to consult with them and share our experiences as they prepare for that world conference. WIREC was a major step forward towards molding global commitment and a global partnership for developing and deploying renewable energy sources worldwide.

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