University Scholars Upbeat on COP15

The leaders of several university energy departments were solidly optimistic about the prospects of the international climate talks that begin in Copenhagen next week at an event at Google’s (s GOOG) San Francisco headquarters on Monday night. While Google grabbed our attention at the event by indicating the search engine giant’s move into clean energy project investment, three university energy department heads from UC Berkeley, MIT and Stanford explained to a group of journalists before a panel discussion that there is a lot of positive momentum and indicators from countries that very important progress will be made at COP15.

The important posturing from the U.S. and China — that they will set provisional emissions targets, and engage with the rest of the world on this issue — has already happened, explained Dan Kammen, Director of the Renewable Energy Lab at UC Berkeley. Dueling announcements from the U.S. and China’s leaders in recent weeks indicates that they’re starting to get on the right path, and this changes the equation completely at Copenhagen, said Kammen. No matter what gets officially signed, or gets prepped for signature at the next UN climate talks (taking place in Mexico City in 2010), the two biggest players now seem to be on board, said Kammen.

The Director of the MIT Energy Initiative, Ernie Moniz, seemed to agree. The perception that there would be a binding agreement at the event always struck me as being overly ambitious, and without a binding agreement, there shouldn’t be a sense of disappointment, said Moniz: “Copenhagen will lead to very significant agreements.” As Kammen pointed out, Moniz said the fact that China is at least making statements about emissions targets is a big step from the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, which did not require numerical emissions targets from China. “The issue has moved from how, to when,” said Moniz.

“The level of commercial activity and conversations among government leaders — that represents a sea change,” said Lynne Orr, Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford. As for Copenhagen, it will be “a step along the road,” said Orr.

Of particular importance at Copenhagen will be decisions about intellectual property, and technology transfer, pointed out Google’s director of climate change and energy initiatives Dan Reicher. It’s up to the greentech industry to crack the code of how to bring down the cost of clean power tech so that countries can make these commitments in an economical way.