The international community seems to have shifted its attention from stopping climate change to coping with the devastation caused by super-storms, rising sea levels, and long-term droughts. The feeling of inevitability only creates complacency, which serves the economic interests of the oil, coal and gas companies that power – yet poison – our world.
The recently leaked draft report of the Nobel Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sends a clear warning to the world: If countries fail to seriously limit and cut back on carbon emissions in the next 15 years, global warming will become nearly impossible to stop. The cost to the world economy of preventing this doomsday scenario today is a fraction of what it will cost our children in the future to deal with our irresponsibility.
The truth is that we can stop our collective march into the climate abyss, and Israel can be a platform for solving this global problem. But it will take more than yet another UN-sponsored report. Indeed, since the introduction of the climate talks framework in 1995 in Berlin, the pace of greenhouse gas emissions has only increased. The world can solve climate change, but only if governments and business work together. Here’s how: 1. Convert Coal. Here in Israel, we are shifting our power generation from 70 percent coal to 70% natural gas, cutting our greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half. And we are battling to ensure that much of the remaining power will come from renewable sources, especially solar. (The government may vote as soon as next week to open up more quotas for solar fields.) With natural gas cheap and plentiful in most parts of the planet, this is an opportunity to phase out the more polluting power plants and convert a significant number from coal to natural gas. Indeed, the Chinese have now – albeit very late – banned any new coal plants near Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
In order to accelerate this process, governments should offer grants and tax benefits to utilities and companies converting to natural gas, while also penalizing older and less efficient coal plants. It is realistic to phase out and convert half of the 2,600 coal-fired plants worldwide.
2. Kill Diesel. At least 6% of the electricity produced on the planet comes from burning diesel, the dirtiest and most expensive fuel. Diesel is used primarily on islands and in the developing world. Furthermore, in the developing world, the poorest people on the planet are paying the highest electricity costs and then also become part of the problem of global warming.
The solution? The price of solar, wind and biomass in the developing world is a third to half the price of power from diesel. The developed countries, multilateral agencies and the World Bank could accelerate the availability of renewables in poorer countries by increasing exponentially the amount of risk guarantees for private sector investment, pre-development grants to developers, low interest financing for renewable projects and equity funds that should be satisfied with 10% annual returns rather than 20% annual IRRs or more.
Sovereign wealth funds, in particular, should make available equity funds with a target 10% annual average return for renewable projects in the developing world.
The Arava Power Company’s planned 40 megawatt field at Kibbutz Ketura, which begins construction shortly, will kill the use of diesel for electricity in Eilat during daylight hours.
3. Invest in storage. Technologies that are essential to our national infrastructure, like public transportation, require significant investment. Germany and Israel both demonstrate the necessity of investing in electricity storage. Twenty percent of Germany’s produced electricity comes from renewables. Exceeding this number without storage overloads the grid and leads to massive problems, which is exactly what happened recently.
Israel’s government set a modest goal to achieve 10% electricity from renewables. This is a modest step into the right direction but considering that 60% of the country is desert, Israel has the potential to install an enormous amount of solar power and gain 100% of its electricity from the sun. There are some very exciting Israeli companies in this field that will provide the technological and cost breakthrough.
4. Go electric. The US Energy Department says that an e-gallon costs $1.14, less than a third of the price of a gallon of gasoline in America and less than a seventh of the cost of a gallon in Israel and in the UK. Most drivers in most countries do not go farther than 80 kilometers a day, meaning that electric cars could serve the majority of drivers’ day-to-day needs. Yet driver anxiety about running out of power could be offset by government and businesses installing car charging spot liberally at all lots and providing grants and tax benefits for parking lots to providing charging with reserved and privileged parking spots.
If all governments set a modest goal that 20% of their state-own fleets will be electric in five years, the industry would take off exactly when battery ranges will increase.
For example, it would be historic if the Israeli police force adopts super-fast Teslas for their highway patrols; they will make up for the higher cost of the car with lower fuel and maintenance costs as well as a generous purchase tax break.
If all the suggestions mentioned above are put into practice, global CO2 emissions will be reduced by at least 10% – a concrete, economically advantageous and immediately implementable first step in the direction of climate stability. Israel could and should play a leading role in demonstrating that it is actually possible. It is time to not just deal with the negative effects of global warming but to actually win the battle and stop it.
The author serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem-based solar developer and investor. Abramowitz was named by CNN as one of the leading global Green Pioneers and can be followed on twitter #KaptainSunshine.