business climate change current affairs energy

Did we just get the Apollo project for energy?

You may remember a few months ago I wrote about the proposal for a ‘global Apollo project for climate change‘, a big push for R&D with the specific aim of making renewable energy cheaper. If you can make it cheaper than fossil fuels, the report argued, then you wouldn’t need to ban the use of coal, or divest, or set targets. The world would switch to the cheaper energy source with no further persuasion needed. Get that right, and all else would follow.

I hadn’t heard much about it since, but today saw the launch of three schemes along those lines.

First, President Obama announced Mission Innovation, an agreement between developed countries to double their funding of clean energy research. Partners include the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and Australia, and between all 20 signatories that should amount to some $20 billion in research funding.

Alongside this initiative, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg announced a partner project called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. This is an alliance of 30 high profile investors who are agreeing to invest ‘early, broadly, boldly, wisely and together’ on promising new energy innovations. Gates has put $2 billion of his own money in already.

These sister projects will pair up public and private money, as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition website explains: “Success requires a partnership of increased government research, with a transparent and workable structure to objectively evaluate those projects, and committed private-sector investors willing to support the innovative ideas that come out of the public research pipeline.”

Thirdly, and separately, Prime Minister Modi of India and President Hollande of France announced a new International Solar Alliance. 120 countries are signed on, mainly developing nations. Their seed funding and membership fees will raise $400 million, with a focus on solar energy and development, technology sharing and universal energy access. The organisation will be based in India.

So you wait a decade for a global R&D alliance on renewable energy, and then three come along at once.

Of course, it would help if people like Bill Gates and his foundation withdrew their investments in fossil fuels too, and put their money where their mouth is more definitively. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has $1.4 billion invested in fossil fuels, and Gates has little time for the divestment campaign. On the government side, continuing to subsidise fossil fuels while upping R&D support for renewable energy is equally perverse.

But let’s not let those hypocrisies stand in the way of these welcome developments. I’m not sure whether this will satisfy the Apollo guys, but it’s good to see such broad cooperation across countries, and across the public and private sector, all directed at renewable energy.

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