Clean Energy

Ceres' Lubber discusses challenges to exponentially scaling investments to meet Paris goals

As businesses of all sizes become more focused on clean energy investments, what challenges exist to scaling these investments to meet the goals established in the Paris Agreement? During today's OnPoint, Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, discusses the public- and private-sector efforts needed to achieve international targets on emissions reduction.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint, I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres. Mindy, it's nice to have you back on the show.

Mindy Lubber: Great to be here, thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: So, Mindy, as businesses of all sizes become more focused on clean energy investments, your work at Ceres, and in particular through your Investor Network on Climate Risk, is seen as a framework, essentially, for scaling clean energy investments. With all the global momentum there is right now on clean energy, on climate change, what do you identify as the core challenges to advancing global clean energy investments?

Mindy Lubber: Well, the good part is, we came out of Paris where 175 countries from around the world got together, and they didn't just get together, they have days if not years of deliberations. And they agreed to a 35-page framework about what our future should be as it relates to energy, and beyond energy, transportation. That document says that by 2050, to stay at a 2-degree world -- the level of temperature scientists tell us we can't go above and they actually even talked about going below that -- to do that we need to be a fossil-free world.

Now think about what that means. The difference between now and then, how we're going to run our energy systems, our transportation systems, our city, our manufacturing facilities, with different kinds of energy. It is a huge jump. So the good part of the story is we have a framework, and I have 175 heads of states agree to it.

The thing that keeps me up at night is what we have to do to make sure we're able to meet that. The United States can't just wink and all of a sudden we're going to get to a non-fossil-free world. We've got to change our energy systems and our transportation systems, and that's an enormous hurdle, it's a big leap. To do that I think we'll need leadership of companies and investors and consumers, but we're also going to need policy changes. Because, you know, 100 companies could say they commit to 100 percent renewables, or 100 percent electric vehicle fleets, but we've got thousands and tens of thousands of companies that need to do that as well. So we need some policy change.

Monica Trauzzi: We hear the phrase exponential scaling of clean energy investments used, right, "exponential." What exactly does that mean in numbers, and is it actually feasible?

Mindy Lubber: So it is a hard task but it is feasible. We need to get to about a trillion dollars a year. Now, that's a big number, and a lot of zeroes, but a trillion dollars a year by 2030, to be meeting our clean energy goals and to get to where we need to be. Now, one way to think about it is today $350 billion is going into clean energy around the world, not just the United States. So we need to triple that. That's not impossible. Over the last five years we've tripled it, we've grown. We have $350 billion going into renewables, $350 billion -- I think we could get to $500 billion by 2020, and that we could get to a trillion by 2030.

And part of the reason is, $680 billion -- and these are a lot of numbers and then I'm going to stop boring you with numbers -- but $680 billion on average has gone into mining and looking for new fossil fuels every year for the last 10 years. We're starting to see a major change in that. We're seeing tens and hundreds of billions of dollars being pulled out of tar sands in Alberta, being pulled out of drilling in the Arctic. Some of that money is going to go to renewable energy. Those sources of energy are not profitable over the long run, and for some of the new investments they're not even profitable over the short run.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you believe that there is a broad acknowledgement and understanding among all the international players that investments of this scale are going to be necessary?

Mindy Lubber: I think there's unquestionably an acknowledgement that to get to a world where we're not using fossil fuel to run our cars, our homes, our refrigerators, our appliances within our homes and our offices, that we need a massive change. And to power the billions of people in India and Africa who are not presently online getting that power, we will need a massive amount of energy.

I think we understand what's needed; it's just going to take steps and hard work to get there. There are some who believe, well, we'll invest in clean technology in the United States, but we don't know about rural India or rural Africa. Those are the places that need it most. Those are the places that will be hardest hit by climate change, and we've got to put our attention not only to the developed world but to the developing world as well.

Monica Trauzzi: So here in the United States, for example, without a policy like the Clean Power Plan, do you believe that the private sector will continue to move in the direction that it's already moving in, and essentially reach the targets on their own? I mean, do you need a broad policy like the power plan to get to where we need to go?

Mindy Lubber: It would be good to have, and I think it would make it far more realistic. I think doing it without that pricing, that market signal, that law, will be tougher. But I do think we're moving in that direction. We've seen solar and wind tax credits that are certainly helping the equation, although we do have to level the playing field. If we're going to give subsidies to the fossil fuel industry we need to give equivalent subsidies to the renewable energy industry, which we don't. But at the moment we do have wind and energy tax credits and that will help.

I think over time we need a price on carbon. Basically carbon pollution that creates climate change costs us as a society billions and billions of dollars. But in most places we price it at zero, and when something is free, we get more of it. So we have got to at some point stop and put a price on carbon.

Can we move where we need to to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement and get to a fossil fuel world? I think we can. I'm hopeful. But the speed and scale would be significantly more if we had a level playing field, a policy that said not only are the leaders be out there doing this, we need to hear from not only the Ikeas and the Unilevers and the Nestles on this and the leading companies on that, but we need to hear from everybody.

But we are seeing it. Citigroup, last year Citi said we're going to put $100 billion into a clean energy future. Bank of America, $125 billion earmarked for the developing world. Some of the largest public pension funds have committed to putting more money into solar and wind energy. So we're starting to see it, more so this year than last year, and it will grow like everything else.

Monica Trauzzi: And you are in Washington this week being honored with the Climate Visionary Award at the Earth Day Network Climate Leadership Gala, what does the next phase of your work look like? You've been involved in this for a long time.

Mindy Lubber: Sure, well, the next phase -- I think one of the most important pieces of our future is to take this life-changing issue out of the debate of politics, out of it's about Republicans versus Democrats, and East Coast versus the middle of the country, and only Berkeley and Brooklyn care about it, and only Democrats from blue states care about it. We are all parents or human beings. We are looking at one of life's greatest challenges and threats that will build a future for our children one way or the other, a future that they can live in with the luxury and grace -- and I don't mean luxury from a financial, but access to resources as we have had the privilege of doing -- or it will be a lot harder. Climatic changes spare nobody. And so this should not be about do the Democrats want it and the Republicans don't -- we have got to change this debate. It is about all religions and all politicians and all politics.

We have a Mack truck driving at an unabated speed towards our children, and any human being would jump in front of that truck to save their kids. We have got to stop this truck called climate change. We're capable of it, we are up to the challenge, but we've got to de-politicize it. This is just not about politics and regulation and Washington, this is about our future.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show, nice to see you.

Mindy Lubber: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching, we'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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