U.N.: Investment in green energy is falling dangerously

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 15, 2014 


A wind farm in Washington state.


— Investment in clean energy is faltering at the same time the United Nations and others say it needs to quadruple to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

New figures released at the U.N. on Wednesday show that global clean-energy investment dropped by 12 percent in 2013, the second straight year it declined. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance numbers show $254 billion in investment last year, far below the $1 trillion a year average that the International Energy Agency estimates is needed to avoid a climate crisis.

“This is incredibly important. The time is now,” said Lisa Carnoy, the head of global capital markets for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Carnoy was among some 550 financial executives who attended an investor summit on climate risk Wednesday at the U.N., organized with the investor and environmental coalition Ceres.

The overriding message was a call for more green investment.

“There is a massive difference between how much is being invested in clean energy today and where we need to be,” said Jack Ehnes, the CEO of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the nation’s second-largest public pension fund.

U.S. green-energy investment dropped last year by more than 8 percent, said Michael Liebreich, the CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

He said America’s glut of cheap natural gas from fracking had made it more difficult to attract investment and that the news media had focused far more on clean technology failures than on successes, which helped drive policies in Congress.

The big clean-energy drop was in Europe, he said, where such investment slumped by more than 40 percent last year. Europe’s financial problems played a role, Liebreich said, as governments cut subsidies for clean energy projects.

Even China’s investment in clean energy fell, for the first time in more than a decade.

But not all the news for clean tech is bad, Liebreich said. One reason for the drop in global investment is good for green technology: There’s been a dramatic reduction in the cost of solar energy systems, so less investment is needed to produce them. More of them are being installed all the time, he said.

Another positive is a rising value of clean energy stocks, he said.

Some countries increased green investment, particularly Japan. That country invested 55 percent more last year as it struggles to move away from nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, in which three reactors melted and radioactive material leaked after a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

But the global $254 billion in clean energy investment is far from the pace the International Energy Agency said was needed to fight climate change. The agency estimates that $36 trillion in investment will be needed through 2050 to meet climate goals.

World governments agreed in 2010 to try to limit the global temperature rise to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst affects of climate change.

Those include massive coastal flooding, shoreline erosion, increasingly severe storms, heat waves, drought, forest fires, displaced people and habitat loss, according to the U.N.

“Nothing is greater in terms of existential risk to the world today than climate change,” said Robert Orr, the assistant secretary-general for strategic planning at the United Nations.

Investors at Wednesday’s summit said more attention must go to clean energy _ and to the risks of investing in fossil fuels that might end up stranded in the ground as governments respond to climate change with carbon restrictions.

“We need to find a new path, and that new path needs to start now,” said Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, which put out a set of recommendations for increasing action in the global markets.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a former coal miner, said the solution had to be about more than shutting down fossil fuel production. That just makes people who work in those industries see the climate effort as a threat to their families, he said.

Trumka said Congress should pass a jobs and climate bill that included benefits for workers along with efforts to fight global warming, which he described as a dangerous and urgent problem.

“If we choose to act in ways that pit us against one another, then we get closer to the point of no return,” he said.

Email: scockerham@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @seancockerham

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