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Philippe Joubert, Managing Director, Energy and Climate, World Business Council for Sustainable Development & Executive Chair, Global Electricity Initiative

15 Apr 2014

Managing Director, Energy and Climate, World Business Council for Sustainable Development & Executive Chair, Global Electricity Initiative, Philippe Joubert, speaks to Deepak Sahu on the sidelines of the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) about the global electricity initiative and why its message continues to be about use of coal, oil and gas to produce power. Excerpts.

How will the Global Electricity Initiative help in achieving the sustainable development initiative?

Global Electricity Initiative is under the leadership of World Energy Council. We are gathering the opinions, vision and constraints of leaders in energy and electricity production. We have already got the first findings of this survey, which is gathering 80 per cent or more of the electricity produced globally. We now have a good sample and what is interesting about the message is that it says that we will continue to use coal, gas and oil to generate electricity till there is a clear policy that sends us a message that we have to change the electricity needs. Moreover, we are seeing a lot of problem coming ahead. We are seeing problem of integration of renewable because we are missing some technology like electricity storage or acceleration of micro or mini grid for remote locations, and there are too many issues coming and this was the very interesting message given by section of CEOs. Also, other problem we are facing is availability of land as what all technology we are using now has a much bigger footprint than what we were using and we also need transporting electricity across the country borders. Second problem is of water. We are working on this and the report will be issued during summer. We will deliver two things, first the practice -- what already exists in the world to produce electricity in a clean, safe, reliable and a competent way and some message to the policymakers to do that will help in developing the markets.

Do you see any possibility of change in business strategies by the corporate world?

Absolutely. This is a common characteristic of a business which thinks about long term. So it is obvious that only a few can ignore the constraints of environment on their strategy. So, most of the big companies are using environment as a first highway to the strategy. They all know that there will be constraints on the resources. Most of them are also using what we call "shadow price" for externalities. Nowadays, big companies are already using $40 or 50 per tonne for carbon dioxide, despite that the market of carbon dioxide is just $2-3.

There has been off and on debate about developed and developing countries as developed countries are using 90 per cent of the energy which is being generated in the world and all the developing countries are using around 5-10 per cent. Where do you think is it going to fit in?

Nobody denies the past and nobody also denies the future. Because if you continue the line, then we will see that in the next 10 years the emission coming from the so-called developing countries will be exactly the same as the developed countries.

Do you think developing countries can actually leapfrog this step where they can become major polluters?

They are already. When you look at the way some technology is being implemented in countries like China or India, it is going faster than any other country elsewhere. As I said, the technology exists already. It is just a matter of using it. India, China and Brazil have the market and they scale up solutions much faster than any other so-called developed countries because they face another problem which is the stranded assests.

As an active member of the World Business Council, would you say that the world is going on a right sustainable development pathway?

The world energy council always looks out at energy problems also called energy dilemma, i.e., security, equity and impact on environment. Any solution around energy security is our priority. Currently,for some countries energy security is topic number one but the climate situation and environment impact of energy is so dramatic that we cannot just play with one aspect of the problem. It will be foolish as a social community only to look at one aspect and neglect the other which is obviously the environmental impact. When I am speaking about environmental impact, it is not only about climate change. We have heard of acidification of ocean or the problem of water which is dramatic. We are perfectly aware that for some nations, security and equity of environment is fundamental for their development. But, I tend to say now that this is after we respect the obvious “our planet”.

Where do you see India stand in terms of sustainability?

It is quite complicated to speak about one country. We are clearly facing a problem now. There is no solution if only one nation tries to play an independent game. It is obvious that a country like India needs to develop. India, along with a lot of other developing countries, would be the first to suffer from environmental degradation or climate change. No country or society will escape the impact of climate change and there is a need for fundamental shift to a more sustainable development pathway though it is big challenge. So, it is in the interest of India and other developing countries to fight for this condition.

How will private sector lead in this initiative?

I belong to the organization called World Business Council for Sustainable Development. We are gathering the leaders of the advanced companies and we are advocating for a change in the way the performance of a company is addressed. We are trying to push the agenda of integrated reporting. We are also trying to push the agenda of cost of externalities in a way and secondly we are working by projects with these companies to propose solutions. What is remarkable and makes me very optimistic is that old technological solutions exist already. We cannot address the issue. The only problem is the scale up. So what we are trying to do in our programme called action 20:20 is to propose scale up of actions in a domain of climate change, for example, we are working on carbon capture and storage, on capturing carbon dioxide through forests and electrifying cities and resilience of the system. So, this is the way we can contribute.