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A new era of shared clean-energy leadership begins in China

There is a new reality in clean energy. The world's major emerging economies -- including China, India, and several others -- are moving to the centre stage of the clean energy transition.

This is the significance of the top-level meeting of energy ministers from the world’s biggest economies in Beijing next month. (Reuters)

There is a new reality in clean energy. The world’s major emerging economies — including China, India, and several others — are moving to the centre stage of the clean energy transition. By betting heavily on energy efficiency, on wind, solar and other renewables, as well as other less carbon-intensive technologies, these countries are increasingly leading the way.

This is the significance of the top-level meeting of energy ministers from the world’s biggest economies in Beijing next month. The fact that representatives from fossil-fuel producers like Mexico and Saudi Arabia will join renewable-energy pioneers like Denmark and Germany for a top-level meeting in China is not a coincidence. We are witnessing a global consensus that the key to energy transition will reside with decisions made in emerging economies.

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There are many reasons to stand for clean energy today. These can range from reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also battling the scourge of air pollution, improving energy security by reducing the dependency on fossil fuels, diversifying supply, creating high-tech jobs or fostering innovation. As such, approaches to clean energy will vary from country to country.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), all of the projected growth in energy demand in the next 25 years will take place in emerging and developing countries. This means that implementing the right kind of policies and technologies will be critical to ensure stable supplies as well as meeting desirable environmental outcomes.

The good news is that this is happening. India was the first country to set comprehensive quality and performance standards for light emitting diodes (LEDs), and it expects to save as much as 277 terawatt-hours of electricity between 2015 and 2030, avoiding 254 million metric tons of CO2 emissions or the equivalent of 90 coal-fired power plants.

Another upshot is that by committing to these new clean technologies, countries like China are helping drive down costs for the benefit of the world. China is now the undisputable global leader of renewable energy expansion worldwide, and the IEA forecasts that by 2021, more than one-third of global cumulative solar PV and onshore wind capacity will be located in China.

Recently announced renewable projects have broken new records, with power purchase agreements for several onshore wind and large solar PV farms now below $50/MWh.

As clean energy is increasingly driven by the emerging economies, global political leadership in advancing clean energy will be increasingly shared. This is precisely the function of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), which was created in 2010, and whose goal is to form a partnership that brings together major industrialised and emerging economies to focus on clean energy technologies and policies, reduce environmental impacts, and ensure reliable and affordable supplies.

Our timing is critical. Action by the 25 CEM members, representing 90 per cent of global energy investment and 75 per cent of global emissions, is crucial for making the world less carbon-intensive than today.

In Beijing, our focus will be to provide a collaborative environment to tackle these challenges in areas ranging from transportation, buildings to the power sector. Our governments will seek to increase electric mobility, with a target to reach 30 per cent of the new vehicle fleet by 2030. The recent announcements of the Indian government will go a long way towards this end. Another challenge for CEM governments will be to increase EV charging providers by a factor of 10 in the next five years. Other priority areas include improving efficiency in buildings, which account for nearly a third of all energy consumption and 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the power sector, the CEM is seeking to move away from the coal-or-renewables paradigm. Coal was the fuel of the last 100 years, and renewables will likely be the dominant fuel of the next century for many countries. At the same time, we must recognise that so-called dispatchable power plants — including thermal generation — are key for many countries to ensure energy security during the transition to a cleaner energy system. And so, the Beijing meeting will launch new work to address this challenge.

To succeed, this energy transition will require the full backing of industry. This is why the CEM includes top-level executives from companies involved in all aspects of the energy field who offer a unique on-the-ground perspective and ultimately determine where investments end up going. They are often the first to recognise what drives clean energy uptake.

This is a unique time for the CEM, which is entering a new phase of cooperation and growth in our short history. The world of energy is changing. Facts on the ground unequivocally point to the key role of emerging economies in clean energy. Come the meeting in Beijing June 6-8, we are likely to see this reflected in the leadership of the CEM.

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