Just over a year ago President Barack Obama first met many of his regional counterparts at the Summit of the Americas. The Summit was largely a diplomatic exercise but one idea—Obama’s proposed regional energy and climate partnership—may finally be gaining some traction.
A slew of initiatives were on display last week as representatives from 32 countries gathered in Washington for the Energy and Climate Ministerial of the Americas hosted by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Over two days, ministers of energy and other government officials met with their counterparts, the private sector and civil society to discuss paths toward a cleaner energy matrix in the Western Hemisphere.
That so many countries are joining forces in this initiative is a good start, but addressing the hard political and investment climate issues will be essential for the region’s energy security over the long term.
As described by Secretary Clinton at the ministerial, the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas is the Facebook for clean energy in the Americas. It is a user-driven framework for collaboration, bringing together countries that have information to share, seek assistance or want to provide support to clean energy and climate initiatives. The concept is a little mushy, and governments have struggled to convey its essence. But as initiatives get underway, ECPA is starting to take shape as a network of country-led knowledge centers, working groups and projects.
Countries are building on their interests and expertise to offer such things as Energy Efficiency Centers (Costa Rica and Peru), a Wind Research Center (Mexico) and a Geothermal Center (El Salvador). Other projects include an electrical interconnections program led by Colombia and a working group focused on reducing emissions from heavy oil recently announced by Canada. The list goes on.
At the ministerial, several new initiatives were unveiled as part of the ECPA umbrella. Among them, the Inter-American Development Bank pledged to increase its lending for renewable energy and climate initiatives to $3 billion by 2012. The United States announced a handful of initiatives, including providing support to clean energy projects in the Caribbean, leading a biomass working group and supporting three ECPA fellows.
Most of these projects are just getting off the ground, so only time will tell how effective they will be. But the interest and initiative on display at the ministerial are encouraging. Of course, if the region is going to address its energy needs for the duration, there remain larger issues to resolve. One step at a time.
*Nicole Spencer is a guest blogger to americasquarterly.org. She is Director of Energy Policy for the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.