Bush's Clean Technology Fund: Too Little, Too Late

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson penned a piece in today’s Washington Post that pushes the president’s proposed $10 billion international Clean Technology Fund. The fund, which Bush referenced in his State of the Union address this year, is designed to subsidize cleantech projects in the developing world.

The piece was published on the heels of the president’s attendance at last week’s G-8 Summit , where he reiterated that the U.S. would not agree to binding emission reductions unless the world’s developing economies, namely China and India, also signed on.

The fund is an attempt to show the developing world that the U.S. is willing to work collaboratively on climate change. But this isn’t about altruism, for it would involve the U.S. and other developed nations selling their clean technologies to buyers in developing countries and subsequently retaining the bulk of cleantech intellectual property — the very same model upon which the fossil fuel industry was built.

The fund would work by financing the differential cost between, for example, a coal-fired power plant and an equitable wind farm. Through a mix of loans, grants, equity investment and credit guarantees the fund, as managed by the World Bank, would pay the incremental cost of the wind farm over the coal plant while private business and the country’s government would cover the remainder.

And while Lugar and Paulson do use wind as an example, they make sure to specify that “clean technologies” include the administration’s favorite controversial clean technology: clean coal. “Such emerging technologies include carbon capture and storage, which separates carbon dioxide before it goes up a smokestack and sequesters it underground,” they write. China is currently bringing online about one coal-fired power plant a week, making carbon capture critical but still elusive, as many don’t think the technology will be viable for at least a decade.

Bush wants the U.S. to contribute $2 billion over the next three years while other developed nations fill in the remaining $8 billion. However, Lugar and Paulson point out that the World Bank estimates it’ll cost $30 billion per year to deploy clean energy technologies in the power sector alone.

The decision as to whether or not Bush’s clean technology is the best way to get China and India to come to the climate change table will be left to the next president. But while McCain and Obama have made both lots of noise about energy and foreign policy, neither has yet articulated a cogent foreign energy policy.