The Global Clean Energy Action Forum
Brings Something New to the Climate Fight
by Michael Machosky
September 29, 2022
Last week, the eyes of the world were on Pittsburgh, as the Global Clean Energy Action Forum (GCEAF) brought together many of the world’s most important environmental leaders to plan a climate change strategy for the world.
It featured something unusual after decades of dire predictions for the future — hope.
The climate “doomers” have been sounding the alarm forever, and so far, they’ve been right. The wildfires, hurricanes, and lethal heatwaves that have punished this world are only a taste of what’s to come. However, now the techno-optimists seem to be in charge (electrically charged, of course). People like Bill Gates, John Kerry, and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm are clearly energized by the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which is making achievable targets for renewable energy, clean transportation, and decarbonization — and putting forth hundreds of billions necessary to meet them.
It’s an investment that Granholm touts as a massive creator of clean-economy jobs first.
Is she right? Are we really at a tipping point where climate change can be solved — or, at least, its worst effects can be avoided?
Well, of course, nobody knows. But after watching these things from afar — like the 2021 COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, UK — this newfound optimism seems to be real. It’s also an acknowledgement that the world’s biggest economy needed to step up and put money on the table. Leadership has to come from us, or it won’t come at all.
“It’s certainly an exciting time,” said Bill Gates, during one of the keynote panels. “You know, in 2015 we achieved the great milestone of the Paris Agreement. And, at that time we launched Mission Innovation, with an R&D commitment. And I was pleased to be part of helping pull that together and make a commitment to create breakthrough energy that would take the great work that would happen with the increased research, and make sure there was venture/high-risk capital available to go and get behind those things. So it's pretty fantastic to be here six years later, and say that, that's all come together.”
GCEAF was also the most important international summit of any kind in Pittsburgh since the G20 in 2009, which put Pittsburgh on the map internationally in a way that was unique at the time. It’s not hard to imagine some of the international clean energy leaders in town returning to open a factory or something, though we won’t likely know for awhile.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf noted that “the city built on steel and coal is now all-in on clean and sustainable industries.”
After the steel industry collapsed in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and 70 percent of the steel jobs left (along with a huge percentage of the local population), it looked grim.
“Fast forward again, though — and this town would not stay on its knees,” said Wolf. “They were determined and thanks to smart leadership, strategic planning, and a commitment to clean industry and innovation. Pittsburgh is proud and standing tall and serves as a model for communities that are in transition.”
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm used the opening session of the Global Clean Energy Action Forum to discuss a new initiative to try to eliminate the carbon emissions from heavy industry, a notoriously difficult sector to decarbonize.
The “Industrial Heat Shot” targets the emissions and energy use of steel manufacturing, cement-making and food production, with a goal to reduce industrial heat's greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2035 — which will put U.S. industry on track for a reduction of greenhouse gas equivalent emissions by 575 million metric tons by 2050.
The planning stage isn’t over, but now it’s the time to actually do big things.
“Our task is really collaborative implementation,” said Granholm. “And this is the core idea that is really animating the Global Clean Clean Energy Action Forum. Collaboration, cooperation between nations — and not just nations, but business and academia, and labor and philanthropy and NGOs — collaboration, not on text and targets, but on collective action.”
“Be bold," said David Turk, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy. "This is not a time for nibbling around the edges.”