Global clean energy R&D push on course after Paris boost

Sir David King

A global coalition aimed at driving investment in clean energy R&D looks set to be finalised by the middle of this year, the UK’s special envoy on climate change has said.

Speaking this morning at the Solar Finance and Investment conference in London Sir David King said the ‘Mission Innovation’ programme launched during the Paris climate talks in December was on course to be finalised at the G7 Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco in June.

Mission Innovation is the culmination of an effort developed by Sir David and a host of other climate scientists and economists under the working title of a ‘global Apollo programme’ to combat climate change. The main aim of the programme is to stimulate public investment in research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of clean energy technologies with a view to making them cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade.

During the COP21 talks in Paris at the end of 2015, 20 countries came together to back the programme, in the process giving it the new name.

“It was [Indian] prime minister Modi who provided that alternative title. And we had that launched in Paris, countries were invited to join the programme by announcing they would double their publicly funded RD&D activity in these areas by 2020,” said Sir David.

He said the 20 nations already signed up to the programme represent about 80% of the global research effort. “This launch means that we have a very good chance that the roll-out will be completed at the Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco on June 1-2. And a lot of my effort is going in to making sure that is a successful launch,” he added.

Sir David, a former UK chief scientific advisor to the UK government and now the UK foreign secretary’s special representative on climate change, said the aftermath of the Paris talks, in which a new deal was reached to curb the growth of greenhouse emissions was “an extraordinarily exciting time”.

“The Paris meeting has created a surge in market activity over the coming five, 10, 15 years in this arena, such that we have never seen before,” he said, referring to the scale of the opportunities now emerging for clean energy businesses.

“That industry is going to therefore create a demand for those products that can deliver energy and heat into the market place from non-fossil fuel sources amounting to US$2-3 trillion a year by 2020. That's the estimate of the infrastructure investment that is going to take place as a result of the nationally determined contributions, from 190 countries presented at the Paris meeting.”

But Sir David said that scale of investment would not happen without some assistance to the private sector, hence the concept behind the Mission Innovation programme, which he described as a “publicly-funded surge on RD&D activity to back up what the private sector needs, if you like to de-risk new technologies”.

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