Mother Earth Lit Up Here but Not Yet There

December 01, 2009
Here are two pictures (taken by astronaut Sunita Williams) of mother earth that capture why Arvind Subramanian and I are urging climate negotiators to rethink the narrative in Copenhagen. The picture on the left is the global North – you can see developed countries ringing the largely uninhabited (and unlit) North Pole and lighting the cosmos with their energy output . The picture on the right shows Africa at night – home to over one billion people yet also largely unlit.Granted, the second picture is neither India nor China (where emissions are growing) but for people in those two countries, per person use of electricity in homes is just 10% in China and 7% in India of Americans in their homes.Only when new technologies and their rapid diffusion worldwide break the link between carbon emissions and access to energy services (shown in the map as electrical output) can the rich world expect hard commitments to reducing emissions growth from developing countries, as I argue in a recent paper with Arvind Subramanian. That's why David Wheeler is right to be calling on the development community to support public subsidies for solar thermal anywhere in the world (though North Africa is his first stop). His mission? To move the world down the learning curve to rapid commercialization clean renewable energy.


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