Summit News

World Bank energy chief aims to speed clean power

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even before he became the World Bank’s clean energy chief, Daniel Kammen had a lustrous list of accomplishments: professor of energy, public policy and nuclear engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and Energy and Climate Fellow for the Western Hemisphere.

So why take on the formidable dual tasks of seeing that the world’s poor get better access to energy while curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change?

“We need to make a clean energy transition and we need to do it in a way that is inclusive and supportive of the poor, and not for the wealthy first and the poor second,” Kammen told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit on Tuesday.

“There’s no place on earth that has the reach and the concern and the distribution team of the World Bank,” he said. Because the growth in energy use is largest in developing countries, he said, “if you want to impact the system, both on the technology side and the policy side, the market side, really developing countries are where it’s at.”

Kammen, 48, began his new post as the World Bank’s chief technical specialist for renewable energy and energy efficiency on October 4.

He acknowledged the bank’s reputation as an organization that can move slowly, but noted a “new awareness that action is needed more quickly, and not just at the World Bank group.”

As an example, Kammen talked about a major push for photovoltaics in South Africa, especially for development of novel new solar cells to be produced domestically. The World Bank can work to build capacity and to restructure tariffs to encourage this development, he said.


“One of the nice features of working at a bank is that banks are focused on the bottom line,” he said. “And if the bottom line traditionally has been just the finances of projects and the attention to the poor, the metric that we’re adding ... is going to be carbon, but carbon combined with understanding (energy) access.”

The world’s wealthiest nations have agreed to cut climate-warming emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050 while addressing poverty, but so far there have been no binding commitments by the top emitters, including the United States and China.

U.N. meetings last week in Tianjin, China, brought some progress on financing but no resolution of differences on a climate pact, and hopes are low for the next round of meetings in Cancun, Mexico, in November and December.

Despite these low expectations of a global deal, Kammen sees the potential for useful partnerships among developing countries, dramatic improvements in cost and efficiency of clean energy technology -- including solar and micro-hydropower -- can take place while pushing for an international accord.

One of the bank’s, and Kammen’s, key tasks is to scale up development of clean energy, from village to region to country.

“We have to scale up because we are a carbon-intensive global economy today and in only four decades we have to be a carbon non-intensive economy. That means re-creating a new industrial revolution in 40 years.

“If we don’t scale up, we don’t get there in terms of the twin goals of development and environment.”

Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko. Editing by Robert MacMillan