The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change came to a miraculous conclusion this weekend, albeit amid boos aimed at the U.S. delegation. While the U.S. was successful in removing specific numbers and dates, the agreed-upon framework provides for developed nations to help get clean technologies to the developing world while the developing world assumes more responsibility for their contribution to global climate change.
What does this mean for cleantech? It means that once the future of carbon is globally agreed upon, including by the world’s two biggest emitters, China and the U.S., the cleantech industry will explode. The U.S. and China are now sizing each other up in a “green cold war,” a game of carbon brinkmanship. Both are investing heavily in their respective cleantech industries, but neither will agree to carbon caps. The stockpiling of green technologies could possibly turn into the equivalent of a green arms race once carbon mitigation is agreed upon. Say, how the economics of the Cold War drove the military-industrial complex, the economics of a cleantech-industrial complex could spread the technological achievements of cleantech too.
The numbers that the U.S. seems really afraid of are 2 degrees Celsius, 445 parts per million of carbon dioxide, and a 25-to-40-percent reduction in global-warming gases, as the AP noted. The U.S. claims that aiming for definitive emissions reductions goals will hurt the economy unless China and other large, polluting economic players agree to aim for the same targets. This sort of indecisive fear is not, for better or worse, the American foreign policy of yesteryear. Sure, switching to a green economy is going to be hard, but don’t Americans like taking risks and making splashy moves.
China and the U.S. rival each other not only in their desire for global economic hegemony, but in their polluting, with reports claiming that China has officially surpassed the U.S. in carbon emissions. Meanwhile China’s cleantech investment has jumped up to $720 million from $170 million in two years. It’s still small compared to the U.S.’s $2.9 billion, but cleantech is already China’s third-largest category of venture capital.
The UN climate talks over the next two years will be a decisive time for American foreign policy. Although the outcome of the federal election, the cost of oil and the strength of the dollar are all wildcards that will play a role as well, one thing is for certain: the American cleantech sector will continue to grow. And the industry will start contributing more money to candidates’ campaigns and working, as other American industries work, to ensure its growth through political maneuvering. Bali will help accelerate cleantech’s rise as a corporate industry. The green Cold War with China will heat up not because of the fear of climate change but the fear, or perhaps the realization, that China’s cleantech industry could one day eclipse that of the U.S.’s.