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Rogue US can’t derail Bonn agenda as leaders keep the faith

Screenshot 2017-11-21 17.03.00 The US was a marginal presence at a COP23 summit that kept the wind in the sails of global climate action, writes Jeremy Leggett in Recharge Magazine. Busy executives in companies producing and using renewable energy may be wondering what to make of the increasingly detailed negotiations at the latest annual climate summit, held in Bonn over the last fortnight. The bottom line is that an international collaboration of every national government on the planet – save one rogue administration in the shape of the US – remains committed to, and on course for, decarbonisation of the global economy. There has never been a precedent for a megatrend like this in the history of nations. And it blows a strong wind into the sails of the renewables industries. The Paris Agreement on climate changeis a treaty involving two types of pledge. One involves nationally-determined commitments (NDCs) progressively to cut greenhouse gas emissions with the collective aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C at most, with strong collective efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees. These are not legally binding. The other involves a “ratchet” mechanism progressively to tighten those commitments in the years ahead. This is where the legally-binding commitments lie. The ratchet is much needed, because NDCs tabled in Paris fall well short of limiting warming to 2 degrees. Doing that means cutting carbon emissions to net zero. The timetable for the ratchet involves agreeing a rulebook by the end of 2018, countries then revising their NDCs within 2019, and tabling new, lower, pledges in the first half of 2020. That would enable a global stock-take at the climate summit at the end of that year, hopefully with the 1.5-degree target then clear in the collective gunsight. For this to happen, a framework for the rulebook had to be agreed in Bonn, and it was. Beyond this, the summit endorsed a process throughout 2018 that offers a reality check on the adequacy of climate action and explores options for faster action. Many nations deemed this imperative, given the dire catalogue of mega-storms, droughts, wildfires and floods in 2017. Negotiators refer to the process as the “Talanoa dialogue”, after a democractic tradition in Fiji, the country holding the summit presidency in Bonn. (They couldn’t hold it in Fiji as planned because of the horrible impact of a mega-storm there in 2016). This dialogue holds open the prospect of nations acting earlier than 2020, consistent with the generally perceived acceleration of the climate-change threat. In speaking of their commitments and responsibilities at the Bonn summit, key national leaders kept faith with what many governments now routinely refer to as an “irreversible” process. President Macron of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany, notably, called for greater action. Climate change will determine humanity’s destiny, the German leader said. Twenty-seven nations agreed to accelerate the international phase-out of coal, in an initiative they called “Powering Past Coal”. The Trump administration made feeble attempts to provide a counter view. At a side event, members of their delegation endeavoured to set out a case for continuing and expanding use of coal and other fossil fuels. Most of the audience got up and walked out, many of them singing a protest song. Meanwhile, interestingly, US negotiators did not play the obstructive role in the negotiations that some feared. Non-national actors were also very much in evidence at the summit. Governor of California Jerry Brown and former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg led a coalition of American states, cities, and corporations that have pledged to cut America’s emissions whatever the Trump administration does. This ‘We Are Still In’ initiative spans more than half the US economy and population. Bloomberg compared the US delegation’s push for coal to lobbyists advocating tobacco at a cancer conference. Although the substance of the climate negotiations has meaning, and that is why it is important for them to keep in some kind of step with the rhetoric, there is also a sense in which the negotiations are about the sending of signals into markets that a global energy transition is under way, and that for investors and others to keep faith with the fossil-fuel incumbency is increasingly risky. Markets have increasingly been listening to this, since Paris. Most days we see evidence of this process unfolding, though there is still a long way to go in a world investing more than $700bn a year in fossil fuels while pouring a further $400bn-plus into them as direct subsidies, more than four times the subsidies for renewables. During the summit, the most spectacular example of listening came on the penultimate day. The Norwegian Central Bank, manager of the $1 trillion national (oil-funded) pension fund, told its government that it should divest the fund from oil and gas completely. In the wake of Paris, the fund had long since divested from coal and tar sands. The writing grew clearer on the wall in Bonn.
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Explaining Solarcentury’s move this week, and a presentation on solar civilisation and the emerging threats to democracy

Screenshot 2017-11-04 11.17.35 Photo: Solarcentury CEO Frans van den Heuvel Solarcentury entered a long-term strategic partnership with Germany's number one solar park builder, Capital Stage, this week. Together we intend to capitalise and execute 1.1 GW of a 2.5 GW Solarcentury project pipeline, in 5 countries, an undertaking requiring capital of £0.8 billion to £1 billion over the next 2-3 years, of which the first tranche of some hundreds of millions is done. We have a roadmap in mind well beyond this 1.1 GW. Solarcentury's Dutch CEO Frans van den Heuvel was architect of this Anglo-German deal. He and his exec team, not least CFO Neil Perry, have been working hard on it for months now. It is a transformative move that leaves Solarcentury, as an international Independent Power Producer, well positioned to make a big difference in the world using solar, and indeed other clean energy technologies beyond the original imaginings of the founder. I am deeply grateful to the existing team, the alumni from past teams, investors current and past, and indeed all stakeholders of all kinds who have helped make this step change possible for us. What particularly thrills me is that the company now has space to build on our track record in innovation, including with the kinds of product mixes and strategies that are leading the way as digitalisation sweeps across energy markets. Building on this new partnership, and others not least with IKEA on solar and storage, we can now do a lot of good in the world. For those with the appetite for a bit more detail, Frans does a great job of explaining further in an interview for Business Green. On the wider context, on 22nd November I will be giving my first public presentation on the interface between the fast emerging solar civilisation and the equally if not faster emerging threat to liberal democracy. I will be considering how solarisation, in its broadest sense, can contribute to the dismantling of that threat and in the process help to build a much-needed new global common security regime. The talk is in London, and do please consider coming if you are in the city. There will be plenty of time for discussion in the hall, and in a nearby hostelry afterwards. For those not in London, the presentation will be up on the website the next day, and as ever I’ll be on e-mail for any questions.
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The conundrum deepens – big solar deployment rises yet faster, small solar falls still further: chapter 4 of The Test

Screenshot 2017-10-31 15.22.29 Paramount Pictures, West London, 16th August 2017 A private screening of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Sequel. We are ten years on from the release of his original blockbuster, An Inconvenient Truth. The new film tells the story of that decade, and the race against time that it represents for those with eyes to see. Some fifty people sit in a small cinema in a modern office block on an architect’s dream of a corporate campus. Many of the attendees are heads of sustainability from big companies. I have not been looking forward to this screening. I know how good a job the great man does of explaining the horrors of climate change, but I can do without dwelling too much on how bad the bad news is these days. As an ex researcher of earth history, I figure I have a passable appreciation of how fast the meltdown of our climate is progressing, and for some years now I have preferred to focus more on the solutions. When you are in a race in which the stakes include a liveable planet, I figure, it can be bad for your concentration to watch too closely how fast your opponent is running. So, fortified with a large glass of wine, I watch the Arctic melting before my eyes, the streets of Miami waist deep in water, Indian pedestrians quagmired on roads that are literally melting, Filipinos frantically smashing a ceiling to escape onto their roof as flood waters rise, and much else in the same vein. And I ask myself, as I always do, how the denialists can have been so very blind for so very long, in the face of all this. I know what the neuroscientists tell us about how human brains work, and how deep in metaphorical concrete we tend to encase our belief systems. Yet still, as the science of climate disruption moves from predictions made to predictions exceeded, the extent of the denial never ceases to amaze me. You can read the rest here, with the new chapter 4 being a 10 minute read: The-Test-chapters1-4.
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A view under the bonnet: chapter 3 of The Test.

Cambridge, UK, 31st July 2017 I land at Heathrow, take a train into London and then another to Cambridge. I have occasional sessional teaching duties at the University, with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). CISL is widely known for running HRH The Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme for business executives, and other advanced courses in sustainability leadership for business groups, tailored to individual company needs. CISL also runs part-time graduate programmes for business professionals, including the Master’s in Sustainability Leadership. My job today is to give the Master’s students a one-hour overview of the state of play in the global energy transition. I run through my slide show, updated overnight on the flight from Johnannesburg, trying not to let my tiredness show. The class is 30 mid-career to senior people doing an intense residential week towards their degrees in Sustainability Leadership. They are from the USA, Europe, Australasia, the Middle East and Africa. They represent companies including Accenture, BT, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, HSBC, IKEA, KPMG, PepsiCo, Proctor & Gamble, and Unilever. The first three questioners all thank me for lifting their spirits with the positivity of my analysis. I wonder if I have overcooked it. I resisted the temptation to talk about The Test in my hour. I do so now, in synopsis. My optimism is qualified, with a small Q, I say. We have to fix this little aberration of solar lights versus kerosene lamps first. You can read the rest here.

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Appropriate Civilization versus New Despotism – my paper for international business schools, in Chinese

Screenshot 2017-09-08 18.48.05 You can read more here..
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Corruption, subsidies, the mad math of kerosene, and the ups and downs on SolarAid’s front lines in Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia: Chapter 2 of The Test

jl-africa Picture: Team Malawi, Lilongwe, 22nd July Johannesburg, 18th July 2017 Mandela Day. South Africans are celebrating the life of the father of their unified nation, four years after his death. Foreigners too. In Capetown, Richard Branson leads a parade with The Elders, a group of former world leaders and other senior luminaries that Nelson Mandela created to promote peace and human rights. The theme of Mandela Day this year is action against poverty. South Africa’s National Development Plan aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030, consistent with UN Sustainable Development Goal number one. They have a long way to go. More than 63% of South African children live in poverty as things stand. Sustainable electrification will be vital if African nations are to hit their poverty alleviation targets, and that is why UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 has the goal of clean energy for all by 2030. I am at the Power Gen Africa conference and trade show, a gathering of 3,000 electricity-industry professionals from all over Sub-Saharan Africa, checking out progress. You can read Chapters 1 & 2, hot from the front lines, here: The Test.
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My latest serialised free-download book ‘The Test': Chapter 1

kerosene Two extracts from the first chapter of my new book set out its premise. Like the previous book, it will be a live serialised linear narrative, telling a vital story of our times as it unfolds. The two scenes in the first chapter are in the Albert Hall, London, and at the 2017 Expo in Astana, Kazakhstan. “The idea has grown on me that the conundrum of expensive and high-carbon kerosene vastly outselling inexpensive and zero-carbon solar is a defining test of humankind’s instinct for collective survival. If we cannot quickly replace oil-for-lighting with solar lighting, given all the blindingly obvious economic and social imperatives for so doing, what chance do we have with all the many other global problems we face? In an age of climate treaties and UN Sustainable Development Goals, where we are making progress on many fronts, how can we be taking so long to kick this open goal? How can we be failing this test?” And: “An ambitious notion is beginning to take shape in my mind, triggered by my experience in the Albert Hall a week ago. Sitting in that hall, that night, were companies and organisations that could eradicate the kerosene lamp from the world within a matter of years, if they chose to work together with seriousness of intent. There were plenty not present who could add considerable fuel to such a campaign. It seems clear to me now what SolarAid should do in the next year. We should try to work with enough of those companies and organisations, in clever enough ways, that we play a useful role - maybe a catalytic role, if we can - in ensuring that civilisation passes The Test. How exactly? Next week I leave for Africa, and a tour of SolarAid’s front line nations. I will learn much on that trip that I can’t glean from an armchair in London. After it, I am hoping a plan will take shape.” You can read Chapter 1 here: The Test. I really hope you will find this, and the subsequent episodes, worth the chronciling. As with the previous book, I look forward to the impact of people-power editing. Each chapter will be edited, in the light of incoming comments, when the next chapter is published. In this way I hope that the book ends up as accurate and fair as I can make it, and if people end up not liking what I write, at least they will consider it that.
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Trump’s attempt to pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement: a personal reaction from Solaraid  

solar-aid-update-hp I was barely listening as he delivered his speech. I had heard most of his mantras already. I also knew that he would be unable to complete a US pullout, legally, until his second term. And he surely can’t aspire to one of those now, with all the skeletons that are rattling in his closet. I was thinking instead about what people can do in the face of madness such as this. One of the options is to focus on projects that demonstrate, in a way that is impossible to ignore, that he is wrong. And more, that the belief system he is a symptom of is wrong: rottenly, suicidally, wrong. I stared at the little solar light on my desk as the President pursed his lips and blustered his distortions and lies. Nothing that I know of shows how wrong Trump is on energy more than that light. It captures the perversity of his world view in perfect miniature. There are four main reasons why. First, it is a solar device that beats by a flying mile the fossil fuels that Trump and so many of his financial backers favour, simply on economics. In the developing world, where more than a billion people have no grid electricity, you can stand a solar light with its built-in photovoltaic cell in sunlight by day, creating electricity to store in the tiny battery inside, and in so doing cancel the need to burn oil in a kerosene lamp at night. In the process you save $70 on average each year. That’s a lot of money if you are on less than a dollar a day. It captures in microcosm the trillions of dollars that the world would save in the years ahead if we moved from oil and other fossil fuels to solar, batteries and other clean energy technologies. But Trump loves oil. He has populated the White House with oil executives and lobbyists. He mocks solar. He does his level best to hold back the global energy transition. Second, using this solar light has enormous health benefits over fossil fuels. With it, you breathe clean air in your home. Burn oil, or coal, and you add to the body count of the single biggest killer in the world, air pollution. But Trump digs coal. He intends to stop the Environmental Protection Agency even monitoring the harm that burning it does. Third, these lights create more jobs than equivalent fossil-fuel use ever could. Distributing them provides a lot of people with livelihoods. Yet Trump wants to create new coal jobs, rather than figure out ways to help the mere 50,000 left in the US coal mining industry join the 370,000 already working in the US solar industry. Fourth, using this light helps people in poor countries to make, and save money. It gets them on the energy ladder, on the road to economic development. It helps them help themselves. To escape risking those death boats foundering in the Mediterranean. Think of it. If you are one of those billion-plus people who have no grid electricity, you have two options if you want to see at night. One is to spend tens of dollar a year on kerosene, candles, or battery torches. The other is to buy a solar light for $5 with a one-off payment, and save those tens of dollars. After paying back the $5, which you can do in a matter of weeks on kerosene costs avoided, you have free light for the three-plus years of a quality-verified product’s lifetime. You have a licence to scrape dollar bills off the ground by the handful every year. But Trump seems utterly uninterested by such opportunities. He wants to keep the poorest of the poor poor. He proposes nothing to help them, meanwhile building walls to keep them out of his homeland. He wants America to turn in on itself, even to a new kind of despotism, if he can bully enough people into not opposing him as he brings it about. I am lucky. I have a chance to show Trump how wrong he and his kind are. SolarAid, the charity I set up and part-fund with 5% of Solarcentury’s annual profits, has catalysed the first two solar light markets in Africa. We have sold nearly 2 million solar lights so far. But here’s the thing that currently burns me up. The entire solar lighting industry, even in a world with more than a billion people devoid of access to grid electricity, has only sold at most 30 million quality-assured solar lights! Most of the billion people only have the kerosene option, because whereas the oil companies are good at getting kerosene distributed, the rest of the world has so far done a pretty dismal job of making solar lights available. How terribly sad is that. And there is more. For the last year, global sales of solar lights have been falling. Falling steeply. What are we doing wrong, collectively? How can it be that we have allowed the no-brainer social win that these solar lights represent largely to pass the poor by? How can the large-scale global solar market, which has grown every year for many decades, be rising so fast today, while the solar lighting market falls? There are compound reasons, but they amount to a simple single overall narrative: collectively, we are not trying hard enough. And that is where my personal opportunity to make the Trumpistas see the light kicks in. I’m going to redouble my efforts to reverse the trend in solar light sales, both SolarAid’s and the global solar lighting industry’s. That’s one thing I can do, personally, to resist the Trumpist assault on reason. I invite anyone who wants to help me, in any way, to do so. Individual soldiers contribute to the winning of wars by fierce involvement in individual engagements. There have to be many of them, if the war is to be won. I commend this particular engagement, to all busy people who side with the resistance.
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FT and BBC articles agreed on something very important yesterday

Screenshot 2017-05-22 13.12.07 Coverage in the FT and BBC yesterday recounted how the SM100 solar light - developed by my team at SolarAid with Chinese solar giant Yingli, and designed by cool UK design company Inventid - is a big new opportunity to fight poverty in Africa and elsewhere. With this light, SolarAid can turn £4 into £145 cash for local spending on food and essentials in east Africa a time of famine. There cannot be many social-benefit paybacks as good as this, anywhere, today. On our website you can read how we calculate our costs for delivering solar lights to Africans, not-for-profit, so they can resell them, for profit. In this way, we create both jobs and big savings on oil no longer needed for burning in kerosene lamps. Our costs of delivery are £4 per solar light, based on four years of audited accounts. We know from our industry-leading follow-up research that the savings on each light sold are £145. We further know what that gets spent on ….and food and seeds are high on the list. This is a great way to help people help themselves while famine stalks the continent. We also save a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions per kerosene lamp replaced. To get solar lights out to the frontier areas where we work, SolarAid is currently overdependent on increasingly impossible-to-predict and precarious donations from large organisations. Managing the cash-flow on this basis alone, as we try to get as many lights into the field as we can, is really stressful for my team (OK, I admit it, me too). So I am endeavouring to boost the charity's ability to help by soliciting as much of a regular and predictable donation stream as I can from individuals and communities (including those within big organisations!). With that predictability, we could actually get many more products into the field. Accordingly, I’m writing to everyone I know (and lots besides) to ask if they can help. So please, could you consider signing up for £4 each month - the price of a drink - to get one light to Africa each month, a dozen a year? (Or more drinks if you like of course!). It is easy to do so here. A few clicks of a mouse on our website, a single e-mail for friends / contacts, just forwarding this …or perhaps some good idea I haven’t thought of! - anything you can do to help will be hugely appreciated. Come on. Its a war. Lets us good guys win it. To do that we have to win many battles. And this one, given the economics of cheap solar versus expensive oil, is so eminently winnable.
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An opinion on the problem of Mexico’s oil and Trump’s wall

Op-ed by Jeremy Leggett for Energiahoy, slightly edited from the Spanish: What do you do if you are running out of oil, and your neighbour’s President, who has plenty of oil, seems to hate you? The answer is that you develop a renewable-powered economy as fast as you can. That Mexico’s proved oil reserves have declined by more than a third since 2013 is very bad news for the Mexican economy. The country will run dry in less than nine years if there are no new discoveries. Better news is that going renewable fast, including in transport where most oil is used, is eminently feasible in the current world. A great global transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is under way, much faster than most people think. As a consequence, those choosing to stay addicted to fossil fuels, even if they have a lot of them, are heading for trouble. This is because they are entering a time where much oil, gas and coal will end up un-needed, whether they like it or not.

Mexico is already running the fastest of any Latin American country on wind and solar. But there is much room for acceleration. An economy going renewable fast like the one I advocate for Mexico can show a fossil-mired economy like the one President Trump hopes for where the future lies. Mexico can match Trump’s ignorance with inspiration.

An example. Mexico could build its own wall, made of solar panels. Such a wall, 6 metres high along the full length of the border, would generate well over 2 gigawatts of electricity. It would be a glittering money-maker, making a mockery of Trump’s uneconomic coal mines and the fading debt factories that are his shale gas and shale oil regions.

In a sense, Mexico would be building its own wall, and making America pay for it. Trump fears Mexican migrants, though they contribute so much to his economy. If he and his tribe stay in power and get their carbonaceous way, Mexico would be welcoming skilled American migrants, attracted to its clean-energy industries as America’s shrivel.

A Mexico going renewable fast would be far from alone. Middle East oil producers are intent on the same. Dubai wants all roofs solar by 2030. Abu Dhabi intends to be exporting no more oil within fifty years. City governments worldwide see what is coming. More than a thousand target 100% renewable power, some like Canberra as soon as 2020. So do more than 80 of the biggest global corporations, in Google’s case as soon as 2017. New global renewable power generation capacity exceeded new fossil fuel capacity for the second year running in 2016. This is because solar and wind are cheaper than any other form of generation in many markets already, sometimes by a wide margin. Plunging battery and electric vehicle costs ensure this megatrend will spread, displacing fossil fuels not just in the electricity sector but in transport. Investors increasingly understand what is coming, and are beginning to move their money accordingly. Some big energy companies are seeing the writing on the wall. Much of the utility industry has already embarked on 180 degree U-turns in business model, switching from fossil-fuel supply to decentralised renewables. The oil and gas industry, clocking up trillions in debt in dogged pursuit of their status quo, cannot be far behind. Even at $50 oil, the oil majors can’t cover their costs. Some say American shale will help save them. But of the three main oil-producing shale belts, production has already peaked in two against industry expectations. Meanwhile, the clean energy technologies race ahead, surprising even their most ardent supporters - like me - with the speed of their cost reductions. Some Silicon Valley gurus now expect that by 2030 all new energy will be solar and wind, and all new vehicles will be electric. What we are witnessing is a total system change. It has happened before, in not much more than a decade, when the horseless carriage replaced the horse-drawn carriage. And this system change is capable in principle of changing the face of civilisation: much for the better. Renewables have so many social advantages over fossil fuels, from the bottom of the energy ladder to the top. Mexico can be a pace-setting leader in this global transition. In fact, it has no choice.
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Appropriate civilization includes environmental balance, sustainable capitalism, empathic societies, racial and religious harmony, poverty alleviation at home and abroad, common security, and use of tech for social good.

New despotism includes environmental sabotage, reckless capitalism, isolationist nationalism, incitement to racial and religious hatred, retreat from aid, war mongering, and the use of tech for social harm.

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