Clean Energy Matrix- Where we headed in Latin America

MBA candidate and Weidenfeld Scholar Manas Nanda reports to us about the Skoll World Forum panel on clean energy.

This was a session that clean-energy and sustainability enthusiasts, hospital particularly those focusing on Latin America countries, would have found really interesting. The session brought together an interesting group of experts and practitioners working in the field of sustainability and clean energy. Opening the discussion was Sean McKaughan of Fundacion Avina, who drew an analogy of the current global energy consumption to a scene in the movie Matrix when Morpheus offers Neo the choice between a red pill and a blue pill. We could be smart like Neo to choose the blue pill – the clean energy alternative in this context and ensure a more sustainable planet. Or we could choose the red pill which is to continue with business as usual of consuming fossil fuels. He said, having signed up for this session means that the audience has already chosen the blue pill.

 

Sean McKaughan, Tasso Azevado, Sara Larrain, Dipender Saluja

Having set the ball rolling, Sean quickly gave a background of Latin America and the relevance of clean energy here. Environment is an important component in LatAm given that the region has the largest reserves of fresh water and tropical forests and is house 50 percent of bio-diversity. The good news is that since most of the countries here are democracies, it is possible to bring in policy changes that help conserve the environment. Sean referred to this really interesting map produced by the Global  Footprint Network which color-codes regions based on their consumption levels of natural reserves vis-a-vis the supply levels. Apparently LatAm is much better off than some of the developing nations in Asia. However, the region is highly vulnerable due to its high level of deforestation.

Finally, Sean concludes that there are massive economic opportunities in this space given that the clean-energy supply potential of Latin America is 22 times more than the demand, as reported in an IADB study.

The session continued with Tasso Azevedo, a social environmental entrepreneur, who gave an overview of the situation in Brazil.  He began with some data-based findings on the growth of emissions of OECD countries. Based on his estimates, emissions need to be limited within the 11 Gt CO2e in order to remain within 2 degrees Celsius cap in rise in temperature. So basically we are left with a small piece of cake to be shared among countries. However, some countries have been late to the party and they want to maximize the share of this small piece where as others who have already had a major share of the cake want to repeat it. He jokingly said, increasingly the emission problem can be simplified as  a choice between having a car or eating meat, even as the audience burst into laughter.

Deep-diving into recent trends in Brazil, the country has witnessed a decrease in emissions between 2005-12. However, on breaking-up the total emissions by source,   one can attribute the decrease in emissions  to effectively controlling deforestation even as as emissions from energy continue to rise in line with the global trend. Given that emissions in deforestation anyway need to reduced,  he laid emphasis on the need to reduce emissions from energy use. One of the problems with Brazil is that it has no policy on energy but mainly relies on plans. Also, oil sector has attracted some major investments in Brazil which has shifted the balance away from clean energy.

Sara Larrain, Executive Director of Chile Sustenable continued the discussion by an analysis of the situation in Chile. She began by saying that technology is not the only challenge in adopting clean energy. Lack of social and political structures within individual countries is a major bottleneck. Also there has been a political failure at the global level to de-carbonize the world energy matrix and reverse global warming.  Technology is already present to provide universal access to energy services.  She stressed the need to for an energy rebellion by from informed participants who would demand clean energy. She ended her talk by saying a shift in focus from consumerism to radical efficiency and conservation needs to be implemented.

 

Dipender Saluja from Capricorn Investment Group, shared his insight on the global trends in energy market. He highlighted the growing contribution of emerging nations such as India and China to global emissions. Per-capita energy consumption in China and India are at one-tenth and one-thirtieth levels of that of US and yet they are already the first and fourth largest emitters respectively in the world. Under  such scenarios, solar was the only viable solution, particularly because the world is blessed with adequate solar resource. Solar technology has witnessed 5x reduction in costs, which is highly encouraging. He compared the switch from grid to off-grid solar energy to the switch from land-line to mobile telephony.