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An innovative framework for global climate policy beyond 2015
2014-06-05 02:13:29
With the approach of the World Environment Day today (June 5, 2014) much attention is focussed on climate change and its impact on developing countries due to the release of CO2 to the atmosphere with rapid economic development.

Environment and Renewable Energy Minister Susil Premajyantha in a recent statement has expressed concern over climate change and emphasized that economic progress should not contribute to irreparable environmental degradation for the sake of future generations.

It is noted that the world faces two contradictory energy challenges, namely mitigating climate change and expanding affordable energy access to low-income countries. However, the prevailing climate policies, including carbon caps and pricing, regulatory framework and subsidies to deploy existing high-cost technologies, have failed to effectively address the either of the two challenges. Consequently, fossil fuel consumption continues to increase and clean energy, while growing slowly in market share, remains highly priced incapable of effectively replacing fossil fuel energy.

International climate negotiations scheduled in Paris in 2015 are focused on integration of countries’ past actions into a cohesive global agreement but most of the proposals reflect the unsuccessful actions of the past two decades. This trend is to be reversed during the 2015 negotiations offering opportunities to identify a fundamentally new approach to decarbonizing the global energy market that will prioritize innovation to make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels without subsidies. Such modalities will enable energy consumers in high-income countries to voluntarily switch to clean energy for economic reasons and low-income countries afford clean energy to address energy security. Most importantly, such a course of action offers the best opportunity to rapidly transit to a global clean energy economy.

Principles for new framework

The international climate community should support the following framework so as to achieve clean energy focusing on innovation.
  •     Unfair competition in clean energy markets, including internationally sanctioned compulsory licensing, limits innovation.
  •    Climate policy should provide emerging clean energy technologies niche market support on a priority basis to overcome inherent market barriers to commercialization through the application of smart innovation-driven deployment policies.
  •    Countries have differentiated policy responsibilities in achieving this goal depending on their level of development.
  •     The important goal of climate policy should be to make the unsubsidized costs of clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels so that all countries apply clean energy because it makes economic sense.
  •     Innovation of cheaper technologies and not deployment of existing high-priced technologies is the fundamental approach to achieve clean energy affordability.
  •     Strong government support including significant investment for clean energy research development and demonstration (RD&D) is required to make energy technologies cheaper than fossil fuels.
  •     The creations of large global clean energy markets require strong policies that provide adequate incentives and intellectual property protection for companies and entrepreneurs developing clean energy innovation.
  •     Climate policy should not be mandatory for low-income countries to pay more for clean energy to provide much-needed energy access on the strength of carbon mitigation.

The present approach to global climate policy reflected in international climate negotiations principally focus on getting all countries to commit to carbon reduction targets even though such efforts have previously failed to curb emission growth. Accordingly, the major approach promoted at the national level is to make dirty energy more expensive than clean energy through carbon caps and taxes, which have been met with political resistance to higher energy prices and have limited impacts without innovation.

It is noted that the world faces two contradictory energy challenges, namely mitigating climate change and expanding affordable energy access to low-income countries

Since the national and international climate policy efforts have focused on modalities to uphold today’s expensive technologies, it is noted that there has been a lukewarm interest in developing more competitive next generation clean energy. Emphasizing on targets, pricing and deployment has left a few resources to support a dedicated innovative strategy including clean energy RD&D. The world under invests in clean energy RD&D by about US $ 70 billion a year, which amounts to only 13 percent of what the world spends on global  fossil fuel subsidies and 27 percent of what it invests on clean energy deployment.

Reforms to existing policies

When the nations meet in Paris in 2015, countries should   effectively negotiate to create a framework that encourages the following policies for innovation and development of clean energy:
  •     The UN and the World Bank and climate financing mechanisms like the Clean Technology Fund should shift their investment portfolios to limit funding for deployment of existing clean energy technologies and energy efficiency projects and prioritize supporting transformational energy technologies with financing for large-scale demonstration and deployment projects.
  •     High-income countries should adopt policies for revenue raising to support clean energy innovation, including implementing a carbon tax, increasing oil and gas drilling fees and eliminating wasteful fossil fuel subsidies and use a portion of these revenues to support clean energy RD&D.
  •    Instead of signing international agreements to limit carbon emissions, high-income and emerging countries should have the option to  participate by committing to invest in clean energy RD&D at an agreed upon share of GDP.
  •    High-income countries should implement subsidies that are focused upon technology cost reduction and performance increases so that they support new technologies through commercial scales.
  •     Low-income countries should collaborate with high-income countries and international institutions like the International Energy Agency (IEA) to support the testing and demonstration of next generation technologies, specially where it is affordable than fossil fuels. Emerging low-income countries can be locations for testing advanced energy technologies to strengthen global energy innovation ecosystem while increasing energy access in energy poor countries.
  •     International institutions such as the World Bank and the UN should eliminate compulsory licensing in the future international climate agreements and stop supporting energy projects that include compulsory licensing of domestic content requirements.
  •    The UN should redefine “modern energy access” to the equivalent of what high-income countries benefit today, sending a message that much more effort and innovation are required to advance solutions for global energy deficiency.


It is important that the world needs to eliminate the limited approaches to climate change of the previous two decades and adopt innovation-based solutions as a matter of urgency. The proposed policies will offer a new era in global climate policy for the long term, with recognition that climate change is a problem related to technology requiring solutions that promote low carbon technology options. With time running out, implementing an aggressive clean innovation policy should be seriously considered if we are to save Planet Earth.

Sri Lanka has adopted policies to reduce CO2 emissions and is vigorously pursuing pragmatic policies in replacing fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas for generating electricity. The Environment and Renewable Energy Ministry (MOERE) as an initial step is now promoting solar, wind as well as ocean thermal projects, etc.  for power generation and at the same time looking at reducing CO2 emissions by shifting coal-powered  power plants to plants that will use natural gas, especially the gas  deposits discovered in the off shore areas of Mannar.

International climate negotiations scheduled in Paris in 2015 are focused on integration of countries’ past actions into a cohesive global agreement but most of the proposals reflect the unsuccessful actions of the past two decades

The Coordinating Secretariat for Science Technology and Innovation (COSTI) under the Science and Technology Ministry has embarked on a programme with the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) for application of our natural graphite by converting to graphene widely used in Lithium ion batteries. Further, it is also known that graphite can be replaced by pure SiO2 as well as titanium from ilmenite to increase   the lifetime of such batteries as well as in fuel cells.

It is recommended that such research should be promoted in close coordination of the MOERE, which is the lead ministry for promoting renewable energy, and will always support innovation to reduce CO2 emissions, especially by burning fossil fuels.

Further, the official delegation to the Paris Conference on Climate Change in 2015 should stress the need to support innovative technology so as to prevent global warming, which is a universal phenomenon and should be arrested immediately if we are to save our planet for future generations.
Reference : Beyond 2015 : An innovation- Based Framework for Global climate Policy by Mathew Stepp  and Megan Nicholson May 2014 Report from the Centre for Clean Innovation, an affiliate research institute of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) .

(Dulip Jayawardena, a retired Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations ESCAP, can be reached at
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