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UN Warsaw Climate Change Convention Sparks Wrong Conversation

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The Climate Change conversation needs to change the conversation from "who pays," to "who invests for growth."

This is readily apparent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that started last week in Warsaw. Ironically, as the talks started, Mother Nature declared war on the Philippines with a Typhoon that has killed an estimated 4,000 people. It also has left tens of thousands homeless.

Was this caused by Mother Nature, or human nature? Let's assume it was Mother Nature - and let's add Hurricane Sandy and every other recent catastrophe as her fault - not ours.

With no one listening, the global climate change negotiations in Warsaw have only resumed the bickering around whether extreme weather is a result of climate change. The burning question was not rampant wildfires in the western part of the U.S., it was, "how much should developed countries pay to emerging markets for its historic reliance on fossil fuels to achieve its current quality of life?"

As was reported in the Washington Post, "Major breakthroughs are not expected at the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change." At issue is of course whether highly industrialized countries like the United States and European nations are responsible for catastrophes like the recent typhoon.

Before the current convention in Warsaw, the U.S. comment by Todd Stern on October 22nd was that "... the hard reality: no step change in overall levels of public funding from developed countries is likely to come anytime soon."

Summed up in the statement is admission that industrialized nations bear at least the responsibility for these "natural" disasters.

Stern has said that many developed countries are experiencing low-growth rates with high upcoming liabilities. The key issue on the table according to the New York Times is if the "results of climate change are irreversible ... the countries that are hit hardest first must be compensated."

Fundamentally, we need to change the conversation from "who pays," to "who invests for growth." The issue should be, how to increase global economic growth by investing in emerging markets infrastructure needs while reducing climate emissions. In fact, one could make the case that the climate crisis actually represents the largest wealth creation opportunity on the planet.

And, climate change solutions have been tested and confirmed. From the International Energy Agency to the World Bank group, there is wide agreement that investment can be deployed at sufficient scale in a number of industries from shipping to buildings to renewable electricity to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

Today more than 5 percent of electricity globally is powered by expensive diesel fuel. Countries from the Seychelles to Kenya are making vocal noises at the Warsaw meeting about fairness and reparations. But can they commit to signing contracts to replace the very diesel fuel that is bankrupting their economies?

I have been working with companies trying to sign contracts in both countries. Neither country is willing to replace the diesel it burns at speed and scale. Many countries provide the excuse that they aren't sure about whether renewable electricity generators can provide reliable power. The World Bank group and developed country governments have technical experts available to help speed this transition - if only the emerging market governments would ask.

Further, this is not an exercise of buying developed country technology to install into the emerging markets. China, India, South Africa, Brazil, and other emerging markets have been working hard to support local innovators. Each are leveraging developed world science and creating products suited for deployment at scale.

More importantly they are taking the science to the next level. Technologies from the last century were "bigger is better." Instead, today's Climate Change technologies are "small is beautiful." From solar panels to low-friction paint on the side of ships, these technologies can change the world $10 to $100,000 per deployment. The prices of these new technologies don't require traditional government guarantees because they are accessible to the masses.

An example of how this has sparked economic growth is in India. Most economists agree that India's rupee has depreciated 25 percent due, in part, to its fuel import bills. They are not alone. Almost every emerging market with a weak electricity grid, bolstered by diesel fuel is in the same boat.

The Carbon War Room is helping ten countries through its Island Nations Operation accelerate this switch. This is not easy, but it is straightforward. Companies like GE, ABB, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Eskom, Hyundai, and many others have been installing the technologies to de-carbonize their grids. The diesel surcharge alone on electricity bills in these island nations can pay off the costs of the upgrades in just a few years.

To build these programs we need persistent local sales and marketing people. This can break the inertia of diesel implementations, and mindset of charity versus investment.

The inertia can be broken with the equivalent of 100,000 sales people on every continent selling climate change solutions. Each needs to sell $10 million of climate change solutions by 2020 - in fact the International Energy Agency confirms that these sales people are on track to reach over $4.4 trillion by 2020. There are simply not enough of them. We need to double the number. We need to add another 100,000 people on each continent, each of them selling $10 million of solutions by 2020.

Globally we need the equivalent of 100,000 businesses selling $100 million in climate change solutions - or $10 trillion by 2020. Persistence will get us there. Persistence is what the climate change negotiators in Warsaw are teaching us this week. I hope that their host governments are equally persistent about deploying cost effective climate change solutions and change the discussion from "who pays" to "who invests."

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