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Progress and positive change on the horizon
By Tom Zara

On December 11, 2011, a small but significant step was taken in Durban, South Africa at the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference – one that recasts the way the energy sector will progress in the next decade. It’s important to take a quick look back to better appreciate the consequence of 193 nations contentiously deliberating the corrective course for climate change.

The year 2011 was unkind to Earth and its inhabitants. Natural disasters, profound weather changes, elevated price of fossil fuels, unprecedented drought and shortages of food/water shortages, and a depressed global economy would make one highly discouraged and disheartened about the future. Yet year-end predictions provide an opportunity to consider the resourcefulness of human ingenuity to make positive change a reality.

A future deal and a new fund
The 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held from late November into early December. In the final hours, delegates agreed to a legally binding deal comprising all countries, which will be prepared by 2015, and become effective in 2020. Progress was also made regarding the creation of a Green Climate Fund, for which a management framework was adopted. The fund’s goal is to invest $100 billion per year to help poor countries combat the impact of climate change. This significant infusion of focused capital creates a funded incentive for energy innovation. The opportunity to invent and install low-cost energy sources for developing nations is now available to motivated entrepreneurs, not just established energy companies.

A shared responsibility toward global energy policy
The UN Conference is significant in identifying the shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty adopted in 1997 in an effort to stabilize climate change (the U.S. is one of the only countries not to have ratified it). Many are optimistic that a broader constituent of developing nations, such as India and China, as well the industrialized nations of North America and Europe, will adhere to reductions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). A more inclusive shared responsibility toward global energy policy is a crucial element in finding effective and equitable means to reduce GHGs while fostering economic and political stability. The probability of disruption to the Kyoto Protocol is unfortunately real.

As we look to 2012, there will continue to be storm clouds on the horizon and we must stay vigilant to ensure that meaningful progress in energy policy is achieved in the months and years ahead.