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Ban Ki-moon Says It's Time for Investors to Cut Some Checks for Renewable Energy

Nations agreed in Paris last year to quickly transition their economies away from fossil fuel sources and toward renewables — and the UN secretary-general says investors should double their commitment to clean energy sources by 2020.
Photo by Ali Haider/EPA

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told hundreds of investors on Wednesday that they should aim to double the amount of capital they commit to clean energy production by the year 2020.

The secretary-general said that in the wake of the recent climate change pact agreed upon in Paris nations had to move away from fossil fuels "immediately."

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To make that a reality, he called for a "massive" increase in investment in both clean energy and energy-efficiency.

"I call on the investor community to build on the strong momentum from Paris and seize the opportunities for clean energy growth," the secretary-General said.

He said that global investment in clean energy had seen a six-fold increase from 2004, totaling approximately $330 billion in 2015.

'For the secretary-general to actually appear at an investor summit is really pretty ground breaking.'

The investors gathered in the Trusteeship Council Chamber of the United Nations for a summit organized both by Ceres, which advocates for business and corporations to become more sustainable, and the United Nations Foundation.

According to Ceres, the assembled group represented over $20 trillion in wealth.

Sue Reid, the vice president for climate and energy at Ceres, said that the secretary-general's call for the money managers to double their investments in clean energy, like solar and wind power, was "bold and necessary."

"Having come out of the Paris climate agreement, this is the challenge that the world has agreed to confront," Reid said. "And the UN has brought tremendous leadership to reaching the Paris accord. For the secretary-general to actually appear at an investor summit is really pretty ground breaking."

She said that the secretary-general's presence at the event the important role the investor and business community plays in helping the world meet the target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

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Letha Tawney, who focuses on utility innovation and renewable energy for the World Resources Institute, said that the number of renewable energy deals in the United States was growing, and that the market was benefiting from a virtuous cycle: As more large companies pledge to buy energy from clean sources, it makes investing in clean energy projects like solar a safer bet.

She said that in the United States in 2015, for example, large companies signed contracts representing 3.4 gigawatts of renewable energy — enough electricity to power about 750,00 homes.

"We know there's a tremendous appetite from the large corporate buyer community to participate in those kind of projects that these investors would be looking for," Tawney said.

She said that clean, renewable energy plays a central part in helping the world meet the agreement hammered out in Paris. In fact, she said that compared to other pathways to helping the world fight climate change — like curbing deforestation or developing technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — renewables have actually "over performed."

"There's a real burden on renewables to continue that over performance," she said.

Related: Republicans Threaten to Shred Historic UN Climate Agreement

Tawney praised the secretary-general's goal for the investors to double clean energy investment by 2020.

"It is a challenging target, but I think it's crucial to actually closing the gap," she said.

"Just doubling [investment] is a lot to bite off," she added. "I'd be really pleased if we met that, although we always need to go further and faster."

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger