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Global Laggard on Clean Energy

J. Mijin Cha

We’re number eleven.

It doesn’t quite have the same ring as “we’re number one” but the fact is that when it comes to renewable energy investment, the U.S. is quickly being outpaced and out-invested by other countries. In clean energy investments as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranks number eleven, behind the rest of North America, Brazil, China and many European countries. When it comes to overall clean energy finance and investment, the U.S. lost the top spot to China last year. The clean energy race is in full steam and we are losing.

The lack of U.S. leadership is no more apparent than at the UN climate conference, which opened today in Durban, South Africa. Despite the increasing harms of climate change, expectations for meaningful conference outcomes are low. And, among the participating parties, the U.S. is one of only a few developed countries with no comprehensive domestic program for reducing its greenhouse has emissions. We are also not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

The U.S. is also the only country where there is a public political debate on whether or not there is such a thing as climate change, even though climate-change related disasters in 2011 alone cost the U.S. $53 billion. Not content with stopping our own country’s progress, the U.S. is also threatening to derail a global climate change fund that would help developing countries combat climate change. The fund was one of the few tangible agreements to come out of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, not only can we compete in the clean energy race, we can win. Close to three million people are currently employed in the clean economy and that number is growing. Renewable energies now produce more of our electricity than nuclear power. The future potential of our clean economy is ours to decide.

The Durban conference marks the 17th meeting of the parties to the UN convention on climate change with little to show for it. The International Energy Agency warns that we have little time to implement bold policy changes to limit planetary warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the level at which adaptation is still manageable. With the great potential for clean economic growth, it’s time for the U.S. to step up and take the lead.

Besides, who can rally behind “we’re number eleven”?