Feb. 6, 2013
-- I have been writing about this for so long that I assume some facts to be well-known: growing energy needs; increasing environmental disturbances;
the economic, social and ecological cost of fossil fuels; the need for clean, sustainable and affordable energy; and the devastating effect of delaying change. These facts are being debated, dissected and mulled upon, but sadly, not enough is being done. The longer we delay, the worse it gets. Jay Weatherhill, Premier of South Australia, puts it more eloquently: “One thing we do know about the threat of climate change is that the cost of adjustment only grows the longer it's left unaddressed”
I am not saying that we have seen no progress in the renewable energy space – 93 per cent growth in investments since 2007 is an enviable number – but it is not nearly enough to meet the needs of a global population inching towards the nine billion mark. Investment in fossil-fuel intensive infrastructure still outpaces investment in renewable energy. Fossil-fuels enjoy annual subsidies and tax-breaks of over US$ 500 million globally; renewable energy worldwide received six times less support. It’s ironical that we continue to fuel the problem.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that an unprecedented long-term shift in investment over the next few decades from fossil fuels towards a cleaner energy portfolio is needed to avoid dangerous climate change. This is achievable by re-evaluating investment priorities, shifting incentives, building capacity, investment-grade policies and improving governance.
This and more is was presented in an elaborate report put together by the World Economic Forum - Green Investment Report 2012 – incorporating the expertise of industry leaders and governmental agencies alike. Launched at WEF’s Annual Meeting in Davos, the report goes beyond identifying problems, but provides the solutions in hard numbers.
Greening investment of about US$5 trillion is required for sustainable growth – this means incremental investment needs of at least US$ 0.7 trillion per year to meet the climate change challenge. However, it is important to note that the IEA predicts corresponding fuel savings will more than compensate for these investment needs. Keeping that frame in mind, the next question arises – how do we secure these funds? We have been dependent on public policy and finance, while a long-term stable policy framework is highly desirable, the private sources of capital are needed on a much larger scale than previously. Private investors should not wait for perfect public policies to remove any reasonable risk. They can enhance comparative risk analysis of green investment by making greater use of investor forums and engagement with public finance agencies to advance new financing solutions that open up an attractive, sustainable market.
Sources such as pension funds, with their US$ 28 trillion in assets – along with other institutional investors – potentially have an important role to play in financing such green growth initiatives. Renewable energy projects are secure investments offering reliable cash flows over the long-term, and making them ideal for institutional investors.
One of my favourite quotes by Al Gore draws on the Chinese symbol for crisis, which represents danger and opportunity side by side. Yes, climate change is an irrefutable crisis, but it also means that inherently there is immense opportunity in the situation as well. As highlighted in the Green Investment Report, policy reform, investment grade frameworks, innovative utilization of public finance and mobilizing private funds will help us cross the bridge to a more secure future. The finances needed for greening the economy may seem colossal, but it is achievable. So let us get past our apprehensions and apply the innumerable solutions available to us.