A Tragedy with a Happy Ending? The United States before the Climate Summit in Paris

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Nov 132015

Can clean energy trump chaotic politics?

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Jan 132015


Lisa Friedman, E&E reporter, Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Five years after a catastrophic magnitude-7 earthquake rocked Haiti, killing 220,000 people and leaving the capital city of Port au Prince in ruins, clean energy experts say they are cautiously optimistic about progress despite the country’s political turmoil. A recent road map published by the Worldwatch Institute described the Caribbean island nation as being at an energy crossroads. Just a quarter of the country’s 10 million population has access to electricity, the lowest rate in the region, and the vast majority of those who do live in urban areas. Meanwhile, about 85 percent of the country’s electricity generation depends on imported oil. But, it finds, powering the country with 90 percent renewable energy is “a realistic option.” Doing so, the authors argue, can improve Haitians’ access to energy and create a low-carbon model of growth for other small island nations. But the effort won’t be without serious challenges. (…)

Alexander Ochs, director of climate and energy for the Worldwatch Institute, said “bottom-up” energy access work is where the most promise is in Haiti at the moment. “I think people are taking power, the electricity power, into their own hands now,” Ochs said. On a national level, he noted, “policies have not changed much” in Haiti, and said it’s up to the government to change the country’s course.

From a technical standpoint, according to the Worldwatch study, promise for developing an electricity sector based on renewable energy in Haiti abounds. In outlining several scenarios for expanding clean power, researchers conclude that achieving a 90 percent share of renewable energy would call for investing in 120 megawatts of natural gas capacity by 2030 while adding about 1,900 MW of renewables to its existing hydropower capacity. Yet wariness from investors because of political instability and policy confusion remains a major problem. (…)

Report: Money available for renewable energy, but Gov’t policy lacking

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Nov 082013


WASHINGTON, DC — The Worldwatch Institute on Wednesday launched its groundbreaking Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica, a look at the measures that the Jamaican Government can take to transition its electricity sector to one that is socially, environmentally and financially sustainable.

The report — Jamaica Sustainable Energy Roadmap: Pathways to an Affordable, Reliable, Low-Emission Electricity System — is the culmination of years of intensive investigation. It analyses the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment in Jamaica and discusses the social and economic impacts of alternative energy pathways, concluding that a scenario of high renewable penetration can bring significant savings, greater energy security, gains in competitiveness, and many other important benefits to the country.

“Jamaica is paying a colossal price to import polluting and health-threatening fossil fuels, even when it has the best clean energy resources at its doorstep: wind, solar, hydro, and biomass,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch and a co-author of the study. “The Jamaican government has set a nationwide goal of 20 per cent renewable energy use by 2030; our roadmap will help to realise this goal. What’s more, our analysis shows that the bar can and should be set much higher: Jamaica can become a zero-carbon island in a matter of decades, and its people would benefit enormously from such a transition.”

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/environment/Report–Money-available-for-renewable-energy–but-Gov-t-policy-lacking_15401260#ixzz2mnLESKzg


Solar Homes Offer New Hope for Renewable Energy

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Oct 042011

Three-year-old Henry Shales, visiting from New York, takes a close look at a solar panel on display at the DOE Solar Decathlon 2011. / Credit:Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

WASHINGTON, Oct 4, 2011 (IPS) – As a light drizzle fell Saturday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu pointed to solar houses constructed by students on the National Mall park in Washington as evidence that the U.S can compete internationally in the renewable energy market to create jobs and win “the war against climate change”.


Alexander Ochs, director of the energy and climate programme at the WorldWatch Institute, said the solar industry was actually one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., with 5,000 companies employing more than 100,000 people. He said Solyndra failed because it made poor investment decisions and was buffeted by price fluctuations in the raw materials market – not because solar power industry is in trouble.  “Solyndra is now used as a scandal to set an example that solar is not working in the U.S. or that it cannot compete on the international market. It is basically used as an attempt to kill the industry as a whole,” Ochs told IPS.

In fact, Ochs said the solar industry grew at a rate of 69 percent in the last year alone, more than doubling in size, and at a rate much higher than the fossil fuel industry, which grows only in the low single digits, or nuclear, the only energy sector with a negative growth rate. Notwithstanding those facts, Ochs said criticisms of government support for renewable energy did not take into account the comparatively large cost of fossil fuel subsidies.

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“Die dreckigste Firma kriegt keine guten Leute”

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Sep 022011


DER STANDARD | INTERVIEW | 02. September 2011 17:03

Alexander Ochs, Experte beim US-Thinktank Worldwatch Institute, hat sich einen Ehrenpreis für besondere Verdienste um Nachhaltigkeit abgeholt

STANDARD: Wir sind sieben Milliarden Menschen, bald brauchen wir drei Planeten – ist die Klima-Krise in ein paar Jahren überhaupt zu verhindern?

Ochs: Ja. Dazu muss aber auf allen politischen Ebenen gehandelt werden. Die Fragestellung, ob wir mehr Top-down-Global-Governance brauchen oder mehr Bottom-up-Eigenverantwortung der Staaten, Kommunen, der Einzelnen, ist ein Schmarrn. Wir brauchen all das.

STANDARD: Was macht Sie da so hoffnungsfroh? Auch wenig ambitionierte Klimaziele werden dauernd verfehlt, der Klimagipfel in Kopenhagen war eher ein Waterloo …

Ochs: Also erstens bin ich Zweckoptimist, sonst käme ich ja morgens nicht aus dem Bett. Und zweitens: Der Paradigmenwechsel findet mancherorts schon statt. Und zwar nicht auf einem ethischen Gerüst, sondern aus knallharter ökonomischer Notwendigkeit, Firmen werden vom Saulus zum Paulus, weil sie auch unter Druck Green Labelling betreiben, weil Investitionen in Nachhaltigkeit sich rechnen und weil sie als dreckigste Firma keine richtig guten Leute mehr kriegen. Da tut sich sehr viel.

STANDARD: Wo sehen Sie den Paradigmenwechsel auf staatlicher Ebene? Wo ist denn da der Schmerz groß genug?

Ochs: Schauen Sie China an – das ist vom Kohleexporteur zum -importeur geworden. Das begrenzt das Wachstum. In der Regierung dort toben Kämpfe um die Frage, ob man erst reich und dann sauber werden soll oder umgekehrt – es braucht noch ein bisschen Zeit, aber es ist schon da.

STANDARD: Haben wir diese Zeit? Ihren Daten zufolge reden wir von zehn Jahren Spielraum …

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Worldwatch’s Ochs to Receive Award Recognizing Contributions to Global Sustainability Research

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Sep 012011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

published, amongst others, at

Contact: Supriya Kumar, skumar@worldwatch.org, (+1) 202-452-1999, ext: 510

Washington, D.C.-Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at the Worldwatch Institute, will receive the Sustainable Future Award today at an event in Vienna, Austria. The award recognizes Ochs’s contributions to the research of global sustainability issues and his commitment to using knowledge of the world’s social, environmental, and economic trends as a yardstick for political action at all levels.”Alexander Ochs has become a tireless connector of people from the most diverse backgrounds, professions, and nationalities,” said Josef Mantl, spokesman for the Sustainable Future Campaign, which administers the award. “In his writings, speeches, and moderations, his goal is always to improve our knowledge of economic, environmental, and political interconnections; our ability to see more clearly what is going wrong; and our capacity to rethink and act smarter-all in the interest of the environment and people’s quality of life around the world.”

The Sustainable Future Campaign is an international initiative founded in 2007 by the Austrian Academic Forum for Foreign Affairs in coordination with the United Nations Youth and Student Association of Austria. Ochs is the second recipient of the group’s award after Marc R. Pacheco, a Democratic senator from the U.S. state of Massachusetts who served as the first Chairman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change of Massachusetts and as a Climate Messenger of former U.S Vice President Al Gore.

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“Obama is not the problem” – Interview with Alexander Ochs on the current debate about U.S. Climate and Energy Policy

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May 052011

[This is the translation of my recent interview for the Italian magazin e La Nuova Ecologia] 

1)      Can you explain to our Italian readers what the current status of Climate Change legislation is in the United States?

The situation in the United States is a bit tricky to understand for European observers due to the country’s complicated political system of “divided government” that provides “checks and balances” between the executive and legislative governmental branches. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy & Security Act, a far-reaching climate and energy bill in June 2009. This was the first time that a chamber of the U.S. parliament – or “Congress” – passed a bill that sets mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions: 17 percent emission reductions below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The decision was very tight with a vote of 219-212, with 211 Democrats and only 8 Republicans supporting the bill. Since the House legislation has passed, all focus is on the Senate, the second chamber of the Congress. Here, Democrats Barbara Boxer and John Kerry introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act in September of last year. This bill would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 3 percent below 2005 levels by 2012, 20% by 2020, 42% by 2030, and 83% by 2050. The bill also includes massive public investment in clean energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) research. While hailed by environmentalist, from the moment of its introduction the 821 pages of the Kerry-Boxer bill have faced fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and Conservative commentators as too complicated, too wide-ranging, and too costly. It is clear that the bill will not be passed in its original version.

 2)      So what happens next?

There is now an additional bill that has gained some attention: First, the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act, introduced in December 2009 by Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins. With more modest mandatory caps below 2012 levels of 5% by 2020 and 80% below by 2050, this legislation tries to find new middle ground for the climate change and energy debate. Most importantly, it would create a “cap and dividend” system that gives up to 75% of the revenue generated from auctioning of pollution permits to American households to offset the likely rise in energy costs after companies get regulated. The remaining revenues go into a fund intended to continue energy research and transition to a clean energy economy. In order to securely pass the Senate, any climate bill will need 60 votes. Currently, I would estimate the numbers of very probable supporters in the low 40s. About one third of the Senators are passionately opposed. The rest are fence sitters that will decide whether there will be climate legislation in the United States or not.

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Petrocaribe: Making Our Case For Us

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Feb 092011
The Worldwatch Institute has begun implementing a Low Carbon Energy Roadmaps project to help Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) transition to a low-carbon economy. Undertaking such a transition is an immediate imperative for these states. If they can capitalize on their indigenous, renewable resources they can reduce their oil imports, reduce exposure to volatile prices, and invest any saved money in other areas of their economy. Still, it’s always nice to have someone (or something) else burnish our argument.

In 2005, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez initiated the Petrocaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement, an arrangement that allowed 12 Caribbean nations, including the Dominican Republic, to purchase oil at a subsidized cost. Nevertheless fuel prices in the D.R. have jumped 50 percent in the last two years.  Gasoline and diesel currently cost around $4.60 and $4.16 per gallon, respectively. Dominican taxi and bus drivers have recently begun taking out their frustration over higher fuel costs on Venezuela, protesting outside the Venezuelan Embassy and demanding more information on the details of the Petrocaribe program. In response, Alfredo Murga, Venezuela’s ambassador to the D.R., pointed out that Dominican authorities set their own fuel prices based on international crude oil markets. In other words, even Petrocaribe does not protect Dominicans from the vagaries of oil prices.  These developments only reinforce Worldwatch’s position: such complete dependence on oil for electricity in addition to vehicle fuel is untenable for the Dominican Republic. 

[Read the full Re|Volt blog here]

Energie rinnovabili: a che punto è il mondo?

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Nov 142010

Intervista ad Alexander Ochs, direttore del Climate & Energy Program del Worldwatch Institute.

di Alessandra Viola

La domanda energetica mondiale nel 2030 può essere ridotta di un terzo semplicemente puntando sull’efficienza.  E la metà della rimanente domanda potrà essere garantita dalle rinnovabili, con una diminuzione delle emissioni di gas serra pari al 52%.  Ma a patto che modifichiamo il nostro stile di vita. 


Vent’anni di tempo per dimezzare le emissioni globali di gas serra e provvedere alla metà del consume energetico mondiale con le rinnovabili.  O sarà un disastro.  Vent’anni per contenere il global warming entro livelli accettabili per il Pianeta, ma anche vent’anni per essere tutti un po’ più felici.  Detta così sembra un’enormità, una cosa assurda o al meglio semplicemente un’utopia.  Al Worldwatch Institute di Washington però fanno sul serio.  E nello State of the World 2010, insieme al rapport Renewable Revolution, hanno messo a punto uno scenario future tutt’altro che campato in aria.  Secondo le nostre proiezioni, che sono diverse da quelle elaborate dall’Agenzia internazionale per l’energia e che abitualmente si usano come scenario di riferimento- spiega Alexander Ochs, direttore del Climate & Energy Program del Worldwatch Institute- la domanda energetica mondiale nel 2030 può essere ridotta di un terzo semplicemente puntando sull’efficienza.  E la metà della rimanente domanda energetica, sempre nel nostro scenario, potrà essere garantita dale rinnovabili con una diminuzione delle emissioni di gas serra pari al 52%.  Naturalmente, a patto che introduciamo un efficace sistema di regolamentazione e modifichiamo il nostro stile di vita: se ognuno dei 6,8 miliardi di abitanti della Terra conducesse una vita simile a quella di un nordamericano medio, il Pianeta sarebbe già collassato.

[Read the full article published in Oxygen 11 (10/2010): “Green Power”]

India’s new leadership on energy

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Nov 052010

DelhiWorkshop_2010from: Worldwatch Connect Newsletter Nov. 2010

Worldwatch’s Director of Climate and Energy, Alexander Ochs, recently returned from a trip to India more optimistic than ever about India’s role as a global leader in sustainable development.  Through numerous meetings and discussions with governmental and non-governmental representatives from the Indian energy sector, Ochs advanced the work of Worldwatch’s India Program and laid the groundwork for future partnerships. And he returned with hope and enthusiasm both for India’s promise for innovative leadership and Worldwatch’s potential role in this transition.

This optimism is due in large part to what Ochs observed as a dramatic shift in attitude and approach towards energy resources and economic development in India.  For the past two decades, India has shared the belief with much of the World’s developing nations that they held the right to support development with fast and cheap energy resources. Much like the United States, United Kingdom, or Germany, India would have an industrial age of rapid development supported by abundant and easily-utilized resources like coal and oil, with some regrettable but necessary negative impact on the local and global environment. The  prime goal needed to be quick development at whatever ecologic expense. While this remains a widely-held paradigm, it is no longer driving the dialogue amongst a large portion of India’s policymakers and business leaders. Today, India chooses to take an active role as one of the biggest global energy markets.

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Ma questa è l’unica via

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May 042010

A colloquio con Alexander Ochs, direttore del programma

È uno dei massimi esperti americani di politiche energetiche, nazionali e internazionali, e di sicurezza energetica. Il suo nome è Alexander Ochs e La Nuova Ecologia l’ha intervistato per fare con lui un punto sull’impegno, e sui risultati, di Obama sul fronte della lotta ai cambiamenti climatici.

Qual è lo stato della legislazione statunitense sui cambiamenti climatici?

Per chi non conosce il nostro sistema politico – la divisione del governo, i controlli e i bilanciamenti dei poteri esecutivo e legislativo – è difficile capire. La Camera dei rappresentanti ha approvato a giugno l’American clean energy & security act,

un documento con obiettivi modesti e a lunga scadenza su clima ed energia. È stata però la prima volta che una Camera ha approvato una legge per limitare le emissioni dei gas serra. Una legge, va sottolineato, passata per pochi voti: 219 contro 212, solo 8 quelli republicani. Ora tutta l’attenzione è al Senato, dove i democratici Barbara Boxer e John Kerry hanno portato a settembre il Clean energy jobs and american power act, una nuova legge sulle emissioni che implica massicci investimenti nelle energie pulite e nella ricerca e cattura dell’anidride carbonica. Vista con favore dagli ambientalisti, ha incontrato l’opposizione dei conservatori, che la ritengono troppo complicata, costosa e d’ampio raggio. Se passerà non sarà nella versione originale.

Ora che cosa accadrà?

Sono in discussione altre leggi. Innanzitutto il Carbon limits and energy for America’s renewal act, introdotto a dicembre dalle senatrici Maria Cantwell e Susan Collins. Con limiti più modesti sulle emissioni, questa legge cerca nuove strade nel dibattito sul cambiamento climatico e sull’energia. Prevede un sistema di tetti e dividendi che fornirebbe fino al 75% degli introiti della vendita all’asta dei permessi d’inquinare alle famiglie per compensare l’aumento dei costi energetici, che si presume saliranno dopo la regolamentazione delle aziende. Il rimanente andrebbe a un fondo di ricerca e transizione verso un’economia pulita.

 [Si prega di leggere l’intera intervista qui]

The future of the CDM

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Jun 112009

On 8 June 2009 at the UNFCCC negotiations in Bonn, my friend Heleen de Connick asked me to jump in for another colleague as respondent on an ECN panel  on “Confluence or convolution of mechanisms, technology and finance: how can streams meet in Copenhagen?”. In my response to Stefan Bakker’s presentation on “The Future CDM”, I pointed out, among other things, that:

– CDM projects in developing countries and Annex I action alone will not be enough to halve global emissions by 2050 and reach a global peak of emissions before 2020 – both important thresholds to keep a worldwide temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, as science suggests
– sectoral approaches in rapidly developing countries are an innovative step forward fitting into the concept of low-carbon development strategies including three types of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs): unilateral action, conditional action and participation in the carbon market (crediting)
– CDMs should not be abandonned but continue to play a role in sectors not covered by sectoral approaches and in least developing countries
– the CDM can be improved; one particularly valuable suggestion is to go from project-based approval to a positive list of actions (or programmatic CDM) in order to speed up the process and make it more transparent

You can find an On-Demand webcast of the side event here

Key Findings from our Developing Country Project presented at Latin American Regional Workshop

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Mar 292009

On March 25, at a workshop in Santiago, Chile, I presented our research teams’ results on Mexico and Brazil as part of CCAP’s Developing Country Project. We held the workshop at the headquarters of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (also a co-host of the event). Officials from seven South American nations attended the workshop, gathering to discuss the status of the international climate change negotiations and to hear about the climate-related research CCAP teams in Mexico and Brazil had conducted. The topics of discussion included:

• Nationally appropriate mitigation actions, a key feature of the Bali Roadmap;
• Analysis of GHG mitigation options in Brazil’s forestry sector;
• The GHG and other implications of expanding the production of biofuels, both ethanol and biodiesel, in Brazil; and
• Lessons learned from a first attempt to propose sectoral goals for GHG emissions in Mexico’s cement and oil refining industries.
The participants expressed a strong interest in seeing this work continue and for the project to expand into other countries, such as Chile and Argentina. The CCAP Developing Country Project is funded by the UK Department for Foreign Investment and Development (UK DFID), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Tinker Foundation.

Please find my introduction here: ochs-chiledfidworkshopintro_090325.pdf
and my presentation on NAMAs and the Global Deal on Climate Change here: ochs-chilenamatheglobaldealoncc_090525.pdf

Auf der Suche nach neuen Verbündeten: Neue Führungsmächte als Partner deutscher Klimapolitik

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May 092008

Die wissenschaftliche Beweislage zum Klimawandel ist erdrückend. Erste Auswirkungen sind weltweit spürbar. Dass der Mensch die Hauptschuld an der Klimaveränderung trägt, steht dabei außer Frage. Die Verbrennung fossiler Energien, die Abholzung großer Waldgebiete sowie bestimmte landwirtschaftliche und industrielle Verfahren setzen Emissionen frei, die den natürlichen Treibhauseffekt der Erde immer weiter verstärken. Gelingt es nicht, die großen Volkswirtschaften zu reformieren – und dazu ist in den Worten des Bundesumweltministers nicht weniger nötig als eine „dritte industrielle Revolution“ – drohen im besten Fall unwirtlichere Lebensbedingungen, im schlimmsten eine Katastrophe kaum mehr kontrollierbaren Ausmaßes. Für die Problembekämpfung wird neben den Großemittenten des Nordens das Verhalten einiger zentraler Akteure der südlichen Erdhalbkugel maßgeblich sein: Bekommen China, Indien und Mexiko ihre explosionsartig steigenden Emissionen in den Griff? Wird der Waldschutz in Brasilien und Indonesien seinen notwendigen Beitrag zum globalen Klimaschutz leisten? Können Südafrika und Südkorea ihre fast vollständig auf fossilen Trägern basierende Energiegewinnung reformieren? Und wird die Blockademacht Australien künftig den ihr angemessenen Verantwortungsteil leisten? Die Bundesrepublik hat sich in den letzten Jahren als Lokomotive der internationalen Klimadiplomatie etabliert. Ein klimapolitischer Dialog Deutschlands mit wirtschaftlich und politisch aufstrebenden Staaten des Südens wäre einer Fortsetzung dieser Führungsrolle in einem immer wichtiger werdenden Politikfeld und damit der Profilbildung als Weltordnungspolitik mitgestaltende Mittelmacht äußerst dienlich. Im Erfolgsfall – wenn es also gelingt, neue Nord-Süd-Koalitionen im Klimabereich zu schmieden – könnte ein lang ersehnter Durchbruch in der globalen Klimagovernance gelingen.

BUCHKAPITEL in Günther Maihold/Stefan Mair (Hg.), Kooperation Deutschlands mit Führungsmächten des Südens, SWP/Nomos: September 2008


The Climate Changes: Europe Learns to Lead

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Mar 012008

At their summit last week, the twenty-seven member countries of the European Union agreed on an impressive package of climate policy targets. The union committed to an overall goal of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Bio-fuels in transport must then account for at least 10 percent, and no less than one fifth of EU energy will have to be generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydro power. The agreement was quickly praised as “groundbreaking” and “bold” by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, “the most ambitious package ever agreed by any commission or any group of countries on energy security and climate protection” by EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and as constituting a “new quality of climate policy” and the basis for a “third technological revolution” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Politicians’ eulogizing of their own efforts is nothing new in politics, not even in the EU which has not exactly been crowned with success in recent years. Still, for a number of reasons the accord might indeed stand as a remarkable milestone in European diplomatic history.

BLOG, March 2007 (PDF)


AICGS Event – The Third Industrial Revolution: Energy Security, Transatlantic Relations, and the Economic Case for Climate Policy

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Dec 032007

On December 3, 2007, AICGS was pleased to host AICGS Senior Fellow Alexander Ochs for a lecture titled “The Third Industrial Revolution: Energy Security, Transatlantic Relations, and the Economic Case for Climate Policy.” This lecture was made possible by the generous support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Mr. Ochs began his presentation with an overview of American and European climate policy, including the differing international, national, and sub-national approaches taken by the U.S. and the EU; the difficulties facing the Kyoto Protocol (namely the gridlock between the U.S. and major developing countries); and the main sticking points of transatlantic disunity (including disagreements over the necessity of binding emissions reduction targets and time frames, mechanisms for their implementation, and the inclusiveness of the international regime). He then offered his perspective on the next crucial steps for successfully implementing effective international climate policy. These included the importance of U.S. domestic legislation, the design of a sustainable post-Kyoto framework, a leadership role for the U.S., and the EU’s willingness to continue leadership both at home and in the international sphere.

The challenges of climate change and energy security, Mr. Ochs argued, are intrinsically tied to each other. The climate problem cannot be solved without reforming the energy sector and, likewise, energy security is not possible or affordable with our current energy mismanagement. Thus, we are faced with an ecological problem (increased global temperatures lead to more frequent and intense weather extremes, sea-level rise, and risks to plant, animal and human life); a political problem (overcoming the horizontal and vertical complexities of the world’s “most global” problem); an ethical problem (the poor countries are the most adversely impacted but the rich countries are most responsible for the problem); and an economic-technological challenge (reforming an economy that has been thriving based on fossil fuels for most of the last one and a half centuries since the second industrial revolution).

[Please find a full summary here and the presentation slides here]