If you think sustainable business is a trend confined to industrialized countries, or that wind and solar power is too expensive to take off in the developing world, it’s time to think again. The sustainable investor network Ceres reported recently that for the first time ever, the developing world is on-track to install more wind energy capacity than industrialized countries this year. All told, developing countries will install more than 22,000 megawatts of wind this year, laying the foundation for growing low-carbon economies.
According to Ceres, some of the countries making the most significant investments in renewable energy include China, India, South Korea, and Mexico. These countries haven’t drawn clean tech industries by coincidence either: in each one, national or regional government initiatives are in place to encourage the growth of sustainable business while simultaneously curbing or restricting carbon emissions. Such policies have sent a clear message to clean tech companies and sustainable business leaders that they can invest in these nations with confidence.
Ceres contrasts this commitment to sustainable business with the quite different situation in the United States. Though the US national government has made some investments in renewable energy in the last couple of years, there is no clear trend that would assure clean tech investors they can count on sustained support. Political interest in clean energy tends to come in fits and starts in the United States, with no guarantee that incentives in place in any given year will be the same next year. This fall, for example, sustainable business advocates had to struggle just to get existing tax credits for renewable energy project renewed for another year. Understandably this makes some clean tech companies wary of setting up shop in the United States.
As the developing world takes the lead on clean energy, many developing nations are also becoming leaders in reducing greenhouse emissions. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the country that’s done more than other to curb global warming is Brazil—partly due to efforts that have curbed deforestation in the Amazon over the last few years. In countries like India and China carbon emissions are still climbing at an alarming rate, because even as they invest in clean energy they are also building new coal plants and adding cars to their roads. But both China and India are taking encouraging steps meant to limit the growth of carbon emissions, and eventually help transition their economies to clean energy. India has put a tax on coal and is implementing a suite of new environmental laws, while China is considering a cap on coal production and may be poised to pass a national cap-and-trade program.
So what should the United States do in the face of such competition from developing countries? If the US is going to recover from the recession and create green jobs that can re-power the economy, the only choice is to make a renewed commitment to encouraging sustainable business. In 2011 the United States should take steps that have helped other countries and individual US state grow their clean energy economies, like passage of a climate bill and a national renewable energy standard. Then perhaps this country will see the same surge in renewable energy investments that is already re-powering the developing world.
Article by Nick Engelfried, appearing courtesy Justmeans.