Money’s tight in Washington D.C. as Democrats and Republicans continue fierce infighting over the federal budget, deficit reduction, and what exactly is appropriate fiscal policy at this juncture in what’s been a gradual, lopsided economic recovery. Throughout this period, fostering development of a renewable, clean energy manufacturing base has been a focal point for the Obama Administration.
Maintaining and adding impetus to its “green” economy drive, which includes the launch of a historic Climate Change Action Plan, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, speaking at the DOE’s American Energy and Manufacturing Competitiveness Summit on December 12, announced $150 million in Phase II clean energy tax credits to build U.S. capabilities in clean energy manufacturing.
“The credits will go towards investments in domestic manufacturing equipment by 12 businesses,” through the DOE’s Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit (48C) program, DOE explains in a press release.
Whether it’s the production of food and drink, clothing, shelter, transportation or personal communications and computing devices – world economies and societies ultimately depend on the health and integrity of Earth’s ecosystems and the natural resources and services they provide. The headlong quest for economic growth and unprecedented expansion of the human population has increasingly put that health and integrity at risk, threatening the sustainability not only of businesses and economies, but that of modern societies in their entirety.
Increasing natural resource scarcity — agricultural, water, energy and mineral — and the negative impacts of economic activities on fundamental ecosystems services and biodiversity is a reality that societies and business executives are increasingly being forced to confront. So is a fundamental flaw in economic theory – the failure to fully integrate environmental and social externalities into the determination and accounting of business costs or into management decision-making.
A holistic framework for economic and business decision-making that internalizes externalities and addresses these issues is emerging in the form of natural capital accounting and management, an attempt to factor the value of ecosystems services and biodiversity into business accounting and the decision-making calculus, however.
Determining and accounting for the monetary value of ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services and factoring them into the calculus of business decision-making is a very tall order. Yet, that’s precisely what’s necessary if humanity is to avoid environmental catastrophes of unprecedented scope and scale over the course of the 21st century, according to proponents of “natural capital,” nearly 500 of whom from 35 countries gathered in Edinburgh November 21-22 for the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital.
World Forum host government Scotland wasn’t reticent about lending support and providing leadership to the Natural Capital movement. During the World Forum’s opening day, First Minister Alex Salmond announced the launch of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, a public-private partnership dedicated to charting a course for ongoing development and adoption of the natural capital framework and methodologies throughout Scottish society.
Following in the wake of the institution of national climate change legislation (2012) and a national carbon tax on fossil fuels (this legislative session), Mexico’s financial exchange, Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV), is finalizing the launch of the first carbon offset credit exchange in the Latin American region.
Dubbed MEXICO2 and slated for launch November 26, the carbon credits exchange will offer public and private sector organizations a financial incentive to “green” their activities by developing projects that mitigate climate change and reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, such as forest conservation, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy systems deployment. On the other side of transactions, polluters will be able to offset their emissions by purchasing credits, and use the expense to offset any carbon tax they may incur.
Following through on President Obama’s historic National Climate Change Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it is investing over $7 million in Native American Tribal Nations’ clean energy projects to help build “stronger, more resilient communities that are better prepared for a changing climate.”
Fostering clean energy and energy efficiency gains from Alaska to New York and southwest to Arizona, the nine projects will not only enhance Native American communities’ resilience to climate change and their energy security, they will also enhance environmental quality, reduce expenses and create new green job and business opportunities, the DOE asserted during the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference, which was held November 13, the fifth such event during the Obama presidency.
Fostering clean energy efficiency on Native American tribal lands
Accounting for two percent of U.S. land, Native American Indian lands hold an estimated 5 percent of national renewable energy resources, according to a comprehensive study undertaken by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Commitments to conserve biodiversity from United Nations’ member national governments, and making biodiversity conservation an integral part of the framework for sustainable development, is all but unanimous. Results to date, not to mention the capacity to effectively carry out and see through actions to realize them, fall far short of all the words on paper, however, even when those words take the form of an international treaty.
“Most world nations – unanimously committed to protecting biodiversity – nevertheless cannot measure and assess their genetic and biological resources, nor the value of key ecosystem services nature provides to them,” warned international experts from 72 countries attending a three-day meeting of the UN’s new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
The disparity highlights the tensions, trade-offs, and divide that continues to separate and pit the desire for economic growth and development against that for protecting and conserving ecosystems and biodiversity.
Tropical countries worldwide will be experiencing massively disruptive climate change within a generation as a definitive shift in climate takes hold. It won’t be long after that definitive climate change takes hold in temperate zone countries, according to a new research report from the lab of University of Hawaii Department of Geography professor, Camilo Mora.
Current high temperatures in Kingston, Jamaica will likely be the new lows come 2028, with new temperature ranges established in Singapore (2028), Mexico City (2031), Cairo (2036), Phoenix and Honolulu (2043) defining new climate regimes thereafter. Globally, new climate regimes that set the terms of existence in societies and ecosystems worldwide are likely to be irrevocably established by 2047, according to Mora Lab’s innovative analysis.
For decades, the world’s leading climate scientists have been warning of the wide ranging and profound risks, threats and costs to societies and ecosystems worldwide if we continue to pump ever greater quantities of carbon and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, a conclusion the first installment of the latest UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) makes with greater certainty than ever.
Curtailing human carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is the key to avoiding such sharp, drastic and sudden climate change. As illustrated by a new analysis and forecast of energy demand and use in Southeast Asia, the odds of this happening look to range between slim and none, however.
Venture capital funding in the solar energy sector rose for the third consecutive quarter in 3Q 2013, increasing 9.5 percent quarter over quarter, from $189 million in 2Q 2013 to $207 million, according to Mercom Capital Group’s Solar Funding and M&A 2013 Third Quarter Report.
Thirty-seven large-scale project financings – a total of 1,267 megawatts (MW) of renewable power capacity – were announced in 3Q, with disclosed funding totaling $2.89 billion. Overall, the 106 solar energy project financings announced through 3Q exceeds that for all of 2012, when 84 project financings were announced.
Disclosed capital raised by third-party solar finance companies for residential and commercial solar projects through 3Q also surpassed that for all of 2012. Third-party solar finance companies have raised $2.4 billion in capital thus far in 2013 as compared to 2012′s total of $2 billion.
Sustainable energy technology and systems developer Abengoa announced on September 30 that half of Europe’s largest solar power facility is now online and pumping out enough clean, renewable energy to meet the needs of some 104,000 households, and that it had secured financing to complete the second half of the project.
Two of four 50-megawatt (MW) parabolic concentrating solar power (CSP) plants – Solaben 1 and Solaben 6 – are up and running at the Extremadura Solar Complex (ESC), Abengoa announced in a press release. The news is especially encouraging given Spain’s financial and economic woes, and the toll they’ve taken on Spain’s once world-leading solar power market and government support for renewable energy.
Huge, swirling masses of plastic waste; dead zones from terrestrial run-off of fertilizer, industrial effluents and untreated municipal sewage; toxic oil spills, dwindling wild fish stocks, ocean acidification from greenhouse gas emissions and its implications at the base of the marine food web – the worrisome, myriad effects of human activities on the world’s oceans are getting a lot of media play, and justifiably so.
Reaching out to and engaging local communities, a mix of NGOs, Native American tribes, academic groups and government agencies aim to do some cleaning up of our nation’s shorelines and coastal waters. Eleven groups across the country have received $967,000 in funding through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Habitat Conservation and Restoration Center.
Bicycling’s numerous and varied benefits – economic, social and environmental – have long been recognized, though given short shrift in the way of institutional value or support. That’s changing. Public and private sector decision makers in cities and communities across the U.S. and around the world – spurred by persistent advocacy at the grassroots level and biking’s near universal popularity – are factoring bicycling into integrated urban, suburban, and even rural transportation, development and sustainability plans.
Here in the U.S., Portland has been a leading light in this regard. In 2003, city leaders and transit authorities launched a public campaign to encourage residents to bike, walk and make greater use of public transportation. They also began building out biking infrastructure – dedicated bike paths, lanes, signage, etc. – and began funding public educational initiatives and research studies to better measure and understand biking’s overall scale, scope, costs and benefits, as well as how it fits into the overall transportation mix.
The results have been so encouraging that Portland’s City Council on September 18 voted unanimously in favor of investing $20.7 million in federal funding to make improvements to biking and pedestrian transportation. Longer term, the city’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 calls for 25 percent of city travel to be on bicycles by that year. That, it has been calculated, would entail 20 percent of Portlanders riding their bicycles 15 minutes each day.
In order to realize this goal, city leaders have proposed making another $100 million in biking investments through 2030. Considered among all the issues and challenges facing the city, can investing in biking at such scale genuinely be considered good use of scarce capital and other resources? Evidence indicates that’s very much the case.
Reduced energy consumption and greater energy efficiency across more than 120 U.S. manufacturing businesses and over 1,750 plants have resulted in some $1 billion in savings and avoided the equivalent of about 11 million metric tons (MT) of CO2 emissions, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), which recognized their achievements during the World Energy Engineering Congress in Washington, DC September 25.
DOE, via its Better Buildings, Better Plants Program, is spearheading President Obama’s nationwide drive to double U.S. energy productivity by 2030, a goal viewed as central to increasing competitiveness and profitability of U.S. manufacturers and job creation, as well as mitigating the effects of climate change and improving Americans’ overall health and well-being.
Following through on a June 25, 2013 Presidential Memorandum, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on September 20 proposed new, precedent-setting Clean Air Act limits on carbon emissions from new power plants. The proposed rule, which is open for public comment for 60 days upon publication in the Federal Register, marks a milestone in the Obama Administration’s broad-based, ongoing efforts to realize the goals expressed in the President’s National Climate Change Action Plan.
“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated in an EPA press release. “By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy.”
In his pioneering time and motion studies, Frederick W. Taylor applied empirical, data-driven scientific methods to business management, thereby contributing greatly to the creation of the socioeconomic paradigm that ushered in the modern Industrial Age. Today, leading business executives and public sector organizations are reaching beyond these narrow, shortsighted boundaries.
In an era where ecological sustainability, social responsibility and social equity pose growing opportunities, as well as threats, to the sustainability of their business enterprises, corporations of all stripes have a vested self-interest in helping create a much more holistic, interdisciplinary socioeconomic and business management paradigm such as that expressed in the triple bottom line.
Volkswagen AG (VW), the world’s third largest automotive group, is at the forefront of this wave of fundamental change. With the launch of its Think Blue vision of environmental sustainability, VW elevated ecological and social responsibility to the level of profitability and quality as core business values and strategic drivers.
VW’s efforts and progress on the triple bottom line front have been impressive, and they’re ongoing. Recently, the company was recognized for its efforts to embrace sustainability and enhance the environmental and social sustainability of its activities from the Carbon Disclosure Project and RobecoSAM, as well as forging ahead in its efforts to make greater use of renewable energy.
This past July, President Obama chose Georgetown University as the venue to launch his administration’s historic National Climate Change Action Plan, a precedent-setting strategy whose three principal aims are to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, prepare the U.S. for climate change impacts, and lead international efforts to address climate change.
The choice of Georgetown U. as a venue may have been more than a matter of appropriate setting and local convenience. This past March, the university’s program on Science in the Public Interest (SPI) and McDonough School of Business’ Global Social Entrepreneurship Initiative (GSEI) announced plans to launch the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a two-year nationwide energy efficiency competition. The competition will give small and medium-sized communities nationwide (populations 5,000-250,000) the chance to vie for a $5 million prize and participate in a nationwide effort to lower energy consumption, boost energy efficiency and reduce energy bills.
Adding momentum to the initiative, the Department of Energy (DOE) this week announced a commitment to collaborate on the energy prize, which it describes as “a competition to encourage innovative, replicable, and scalable approaches to reducing energy use in communities across the United States.”