Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Make climate action cool

Making climate action cool
Intervention at UNEP workshop on the
Trade and technology nexus to achieve
Agenda 2030 goals for developing countries

1.     As you may know, the Earth spins on its axis at 1600 kilometers per hour. Its orbital speed around the sun is of 108,000 kilometers per hour. Now, as some of you may know, last July NASA achieved the remarkable goal of putting a spacecraft in Jupiter’s orbit. By the name Juno, it launched from Earth on August 2011. In October 2013, it encountered Earth’s orbit again and used it as a slingshot to gain significant speed on its travel voyage towards Jupiter. Five years and 2.8 billion kilometers later, Juno slowed down to avoid crashing against Jupiter’s gravity forces and enter into orbit, which was achieved successfully. A remarkable fact is that the top speed it reached on this trajectory was 265,000 kilometers per hour, or more than twice the orbital speed of Earth around the sun. Another remarkable fact is that it traveled all this distance and reached this astounding speed using solar energy as predominant source. What NASA has done is commendable indeed: they have made aerospace science and exploration cool. If someone like me can share this story with you is because I was drawn into NASA’s social media outlets and explanations for the non-technical public. Bravo, NASA!
2.     I am from Costa Rica, and it is a country that has a very cool brand. We are a sought-after destination for ecological tourism, we generate 100% of our electricity from renewable sources, our economy has tripled in the last 30 years and in that same period of time our forest coverage has doubled, representing a unique case worldwide in the last 50 years. This can be considered a good example of regenerative development, where growth is both in financial and natural capital simultaneously. We have learned throughout the decades that there is a virtuous spiral between renewable energies, environmental conservation, forest coverage, biodiversity, ecological tourism, services, jobs, and wellbeing. This is a recipe we believe can be considered by countries with similar geographical location and climate, many of which face considerable developmental challenges. May I remind you about the billion people worldwide without access to electricity; the two billion people without access to drinkable water; the three billion people without access to three meals per day; and the four billion people without access to the Internet.
3.     Regarding Sustainable Development Goal 13a., related to the creation of a Green Climate Fund that hopes to raise US$100 billion/year to finance mitigation efforts in developing countries, it is a fact that globally we are spending US$1.5 trillion/year in military equipment. Only a 6% reduction in this expenditure would provide all the cash required by the Fund. Let’s choose our battles wisely!
4.     One of the most important lessons learned from the Paris Agreement is a successful mindset that positively affected the attitudes and behaviors of key participants in the process. This included optimism to always expect a brighter future; imagination to create an innovative agreement; vision to have a broader, more long-term approach; strategic thinking to prioritize actions with key stakeholders; and the ability to design a critical path to take the necessary steps to make it work.
5.     Regarding the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) currently under negotiation at the World Trade Organization (WTO), it is an agreement whose aim is partially assisting climate change mitigation and adaptation, partially improving insertion into Global Value Chains (GVC), and also fostering innovation. Costa Rica can share the success story of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) signed in 1996, which allowed the country to attract an important investment like the manufacturing plant of INTEL, which at its peak of production was exporting from Costa Rica 99% of all server microprocessors used worldwide. This created a high-tech cluster that triggered the development of multiple small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that engaged in GVCs through innovation and high competitiveness. INTEL decided in 2014 to transfer its manufacturing plant from Costa Rica to Asia and decided to leave in Costa Rica an innovation lab. This means that Costa Rica has moved, in 20 years, from agricultural production to high-tech manufacturing to high-tech innovation, creating enormous value for the company, its suppliers and the world in general. The most important aspect of this success story is that education has been at the core of it, from school preparedness to the ability to develop public-private partnerships with higher education institutions to adapt to the needs of foreign multinationals, to being able to develop world-class talent to operate at the highest level of performance.
6.     Another important topic related to trade and climate action taking place at the WTO is the leadership of the group of Friends of Fossil Fuels Subsidy Reform which seeks the elimination of these subsidies that, according to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, amount to US$500 billion/year. Furthermore, they have calculated the social cost of these subsidies at US$4 trillion/year. Reducing them would immediately create incentives for renewable energies by proving fossil energy not cost competitive without such subsidies.
7.     Clean technology offers the possibility to address different needs through different solutions. For example, geothermal energy should be prioritized wherever there is an accessible volcano. Solutions should grow organically from there. Is it towards clean tech manufacturing clusters or towards agriculture or towards ecological tourism? It will depend on each case. It is important to consider a different paradigm when thinking about clean tech. For example, an electric car is a great solution to a particular problem of carbon emissions, but better than an electric car is an electric bus that can provide massive, public and clean transportation.
8.     Innovation requires that we identify the constraints within which we must innovate. For example, why do researchers work on the vaccine of a disease they are not suffering? They have the constraints and they look for potential developments that will advance the knowledge and science and technology frontiers organically in a variety of directions depending on the findings and additional constraints incorporated along the way.
9.     Humanity has put a satellite on Jupiter’s orbit powered with renewable energy. We have the challenge to make climate action cool. Millennials know what is cool, not only because they are young and in every generation it is the youth who determine what is cool and what is not, but because millennials are not motivated by money or power or glory, but by purpose. We are not rocket scientists but is this the best we can do to make climate action cool? If we don’t do it, then who? And if we don’t do it now, then when? Thank you.