2013-07-12

Co.Exist

Why Are We Learning Energy Efficiency Lessons From The Middle East?

In places like Algeria and Bahrain, they’re being more forward-looking about their energy future than many parts of the United States.

Two weeks ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger, chairman of the R20 Regions of Climate Action (on whose governing board I sit), signed an agreement in Algeria to address waste and sustainable energy challenges in the Mediterranean and North Africa. At the same time, a meeting of officials in Bahrain examined technologies and strategies to help that nation evolve into one of the most energy and water efficient economies in the world. Are there lessons in those examples for the U.S. now that President Obama has reignited the debate over climate change policy?

The governments of Algeria and its Oran region have realized the potential of energy efficiency measures, development of renewable energy sources, and the conversion of waste to energy and valuable commodities. These initiatives, being developed in conjunction with R20, will create thousands of new jobs by utilizing existing resources more efficiently, including the abundant sunshine in that part of the world, and using waste productively, instead of dumping it in a landfill. In the process, Algeria will become a model for other countries in the region, which face unrest from unemployed youth and job-seeking college graduates.

Meanwhile in Bahrain, Governor Sheikh Abdulla bin Rashid Al Khalifa has convened a unique multi-agency task force, including the R20 and UNIDO, to maximize every resource in his Southern Governorate. In addition to a menu of options similar to Algeria’s, Governor Al Khalifa is using his region’s building boom to adopt the most efficient building standards and apply them first to things that benefit the public most, including schools and police stations. He also recognizes the connection between a healthy environment and healthy citizens. In his part of the world, water to grow crops comes from energy-intensive desalination projects, so his waste and energy efficiency initiatives will simultaneously facilitate the production of locally grown and healthy food.

Closer to home, the usual suspects are attacking President Obama’s renewed effort to tackle carbon pollution using many of the same strategies as Algeria and Bahrain. How is it that oil-producing countries recognize that their resources will one day be exhausted and that measures which benefit the environment also benefit and diversify their economies, but in the U.S. we bicker over long-settled science and stall progress in a similar direction?

“California is 40% more energy efficient than the rest of America and we already get 20% of our energy from clean renewables on the path to 33% by 2020,” Schwarzenegger pointed out during his speech in Algeria. “If the U.S. followed California’s example, we could retire most of our coal-fired power plants and save billions of dollars, while creating a lot of green jobs and new investments.”

We risk falling behind in a globally competitive world if we leave these efficiencies and job opportunities on the policy cutting room floor, but we also add unnecessary strain on state and local budgets and taxpayers. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in nine northeastern states raised a record $124.5 million in its most recent quarterly auction of carbon pollution “allowances”. All of that money goes to balance state budgets and invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, which repays the cost of those carbon allowances many times over.

“RGGI continues to generate hard data showing that market-based emission-reduction programs are an effective way to realize environmental goals,” said Collin O’Mara, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. If the country followed RGGI’s example, how much more money could be generated for similar purposes and, like Algeria and Bahrain, how many new jobs and industries would be created in the process?

Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same thing over and over, but expecting a different outcome. We can learn from innovative governments around the world and from many of our own states, or we can let partisan politics impose unnecessary waste and costs on this generation and those still to come.

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