COP21: Political support growing for global clean energy R&D push, says UK climate envoy

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The UK government’s special representative on climate change has spoken of his optimism that plans for a concerted international push on clean energy research will be given additional impetus by the climate talks in Paris in December.

Speaking to PV Tech, Sir David King, one of the co-promoters of a so-called “Global Apollo Programme” on clean energy R&D, said he believed the plan was gaining political traction and would be accelerated in the run-up to COP21 at the end of the year.

Launched in June, the Apollo programme set out plans for a 10-year, US$150 billion international R&D initiative aimed at making clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels worldwide by 2025.

The programme boasts an impressive list of co-authors, including the UK’s former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell, the London School of Economics’ climate economist Nicholas Stern and the former President of the Royal Society Martin Rees. It has also gained the backing of host of luminaries including the naturalist Sir David Attenborough and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Sir David, the UK's former chief scientific advisor and now the UK foreign secretary's special representative on climate change, told PV Tech the initiative was now also coming to the attention of energy ministers in the G7 group of industrialised countries and beyond, referring to a communiqué issued after a G7 meeting in June, in which leaders committed to decarbonising the global economy this century.

“The second part of the statement was a major thrust in R&D demonstration in renewable energy technology so that we can roll out cheap energy around the world,” he said. “So that's got the blessing of the G7 heads of government – they've asked for their energy ministers to report back to the next meeting of the G7, which will be next year… So it's rolling. And it's rolling in another sense because of Paris. And so there's a useful means of accelerating the process because everyone's trying to get things in before Paris.”

Sir David added: “It’s already with the right people – it’s got the attention of the heads of government; that was the whole point of taking it through the G7. I think that all I can say at this stage is watch out for announcements. The IEA [International Energy Agency] has an energy ministerial meeting coming up in November, there’s a G20 meeting in late November; these are all opportunities for heads of government and ministers of energy to develop the elements of the programme into something before Paris.”

Sir David has already publicly stated his belief that solar offers perhaps the most realistic solution to the climate change problem.

In the interview with PV Tech, he added that storage technology should be a key beneficiary of the proposed R&D programme as it has not enjoyed the same support as PV from public subsidies. “The sun doesn't shine anywhere in the world at night, so energy storage and smart grids have become a part of rolling out base-load electricity from that source. And energy storage and smart grids got no benefits from feed-in tariffs,” he said.

Asked what he felt would happen at the COP21 talks, Sir David said he believed a deal would be reached, but that issues such as the flow of funds from the developed to developing worlds to fund climate mitigation and adaptation activities would be a big issue for negotiators to overcome.

Concluding, Sir David said the global shift to clean energy was not a possibility but a necessity: “It’s going to happen – we have to do it. So when the G7 heads of government announced they are going to decarbonise the world’s economy by the end of the century, they mean it. And I believe we have, frankly, no option.”

To read PV Tech's interview with Sir David King in full, click here. Our other coverage of the run-up to COP21 can be browsed here.

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