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Oleg Deripaska, CEO of the EN+ Group (Paul Scott)
Oleg Deripaska, CEO of the EN+ Group (Paul Scott)

Oleg Deripaska

Climate progress doesn't only come at summits Add to ...

It's easy to be disheartened by the failure at Cancun to take major steps toward an international agreement on fighting climate change. Despite apparent consensus on the threat that global warming poses and the need for urgent action, short-term national interest is still being put before the long-term collective good.

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Fortunately, business leaders across the globe are not waiting to act. And co-operation on the regional level such as that between Russia and China demonstrates there's the will to combat climate change.

Away from the international arena, there's reason for optimism. Businesses are not waiting for global agreement to reduce energy consumption. Governments the world over are re-examining their sources of energy and generation capacity. The United States is spending $66-billion to develop and harness alternative fuel sources. The European Union wants to generate 20 per cent of its power renewably by 2020. China has passed a $47-billion green energy bill and is using subsidies and other financial tools to boost investment in wind and solar power.

Enabling China to continue developing its economy without a huge increase in carbon emissions is critical to tackling climate change. Even if its per capita levels are still way below American levels, China has now overtaken the U.S. as the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitter.

But, again, there's reason for optimism. China is very much aware of the challenge and has promised - as part of its bid to kick-start the post-Kyoto talks - to reduce emissions per GDP unit by as much as 45 per cent by 2020.

To deliver these cuts, China is overhauling and replacing older coal-fired stations and is a leader in carbon-capture technology. And China is ahead of the global trend in renewed attention to nuclear power - a reliable, clean and safe source of energy - building more nuclear power stations within the country than the rest of the world combined.

But of all the sources of clean energy, it's hydroelectricity that holds the greatest promise. Last year, hydroelectric output was the world's most rapidly growing major fuel. With major projects such as the Three Gorges Dam in place, China generates more than 16 per cent of its electricity from hydropower. But this has to be increased sharply. So, along with speeding up new hydropower projects within the country, China is looking across its border to Russia to help meet its need for clean energy.

Russia has among the greatest untapped hydropower resources in the world. And the greatest potential for growth is in Siberia and Far East Russia, close to the Asian markets.

The Russian and Chinese governments have big ambitions for energy co-operation. Energy exports from Russia to China are expected to increase 60-fold over this decade. To help transfer the power efficiently, China is investing the equivalent of $250-billion in improving its national grid.

With prices being up to three times higher in China than in Russia, a compelling business case for both countries to co-operate is clear. The ongoing debate in China on the introduction of an internal carbon price will only make Russian hydro even more attractive.

But while our governments can set bold targets, it's businesses that will deliver. The recent agreement between EuroSibEnergo, part of the EN+ Group, and China Yangtze Power Co., the country's largest listed hydropower corporation, to develop hydroelectricity projects in Russia demonstrates the progress already under way.

This is by no means the only example of large-scale cross-border co-operation. The EU is considering super-grids to enable the continent to benefit from solar power generated in North Africa. Canada's Manitoba Hydro and the U.S. utility Minnesota Power are co-ordinating to harness hydropower for American consumption. And there are plans for Mongolian wind energy to be transmitted to South Korea and Japan. This is just the kind of activity that should help lift the gloom from Cancun.

We must keep pressing for a global climate-change agreement. But progress on the ground, fortunately, is running ahead of international talks.

Oleg Deripaska is the CEO of the EN+ Group, a Russia-based mining, metals and energy group, and a member of the World Economic Forum's Low Carbon Prosperity Task Force.

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