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The world needs to stop subsidizing the major oil and gas companies as soon as possible in order to be able to live, work, and produce goods in a CO2-neutral way. That’s what Daniel Kammen, Nobel laureate and professor of energy at Berkeley University in America, said during The Business Booster at the end of 2020. At the event, 150 European start-ups presented their technological products that are designed to contribute to the energy transition. “The amount of subsidies available for these industries is much higher than the annual investment in the development of sustainable energies,” Kammen commented.

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This subsidy keeps oil and gas companies afloat, according to Kammen. The value of these companies fell by 360 billion US dollars last year. In contrast, the value of companies in renewable energy has increased. Annually, oil and gas companies receive more than 5 trillion dollars in subsidies, usually in the form of tax benefits or exemptions.

Green Deals are cropping up all over the world

Nevertheless, he is optimistic about the future. “There is a European Green New Deal, and there is a South Korean Green New Deal and a New Zealand Green New Deal. In the United States, ten states have a plan to become CO2 neutral by 2050.”

The most progressive of these are California and New York. In California, a Cap and Trade Market has been established for trading CO2 emission rights. This generates more than ten billion dollars a year, Kammen claims. The fact that these states tax CO2 emissions so heavily is having an impact on the rest of the US, Kammen notes. “Forty percent of the American GNP is earned in these two states. I don’t think that the major companies based there are going to move because of that tax.”

He hopes that other parts of the world – including Russia and China – will also impose or start imposing CO2 taxes. Large companies will make their technology CO2-neutral, regardless of which government will be in power. Even if Donald Trump (who is an opponent of the climate accord and CO2 reductions) had won the elections, he believes that this would have no influence.

Once tipped as Secretary of State for Energy under Biden

Kammen is a staunch opponent of the policies of Trump. He advised Barack Obama on energy during his presidential campaign in 2008. But he stopped advising the Republican government Trump on science after the riots in Charlottesville because Trump did not want to distance himself from racist and right-wing extremist activists. Now that Trump is leaving, Kammen had been named in several media outlets as a potential candidate to become Secretary of State for Energy in the government under Democrat Joe Biden. Although Biden eventually went on to select former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

In California, the policy is that 35 percent of the amount that goes into the Cap and Trade Market for CO2 must be spent on minorities in the interests of social and environmental equity. Kammen firmly believes that Europe and other parts of the world should also adopt this system. “New York is also busy working on a system of this kind. There are millions of climate refugees that this money could be used for.”

Climate refugees are migrants who flee their country due to storms, floods, extreme droughts and earthquakes. The number is growing as a direct consequence of climate change.

US investment program in sustainable energy

Kammen says the US has enough talent and knowledge to bring about the energy transition. Like the EU, which invests in new technology with the help of the European Institute of Technology, the U.S. has an institution that invests in the development of sustainable energy sources and their storage.

Kammen says the US has enough talent and knowledge to bring about the energy transition. Like the EU, which invests in new technology with the help of the European Institute of Technology, the U.S. has an institution that invests in the development of sustainable energy sources and their storage. This is called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, abbreviated to ARPA-E. Based in Washington it finances research programs at US universities that generate new technologies.

Kammen contends that the energy transition offers students and recent graduates tremendous opportunities. “The most exciting area for innovation is in materials science and chemistry. At first, most people thought lithium-ion technology was the holy grail for battery storage. But nowadays, there are all kinds of other options under development for energy storage. Flow batteries and hydrogen are just some examples.”

Next step: Repairing damage to nature

Kammen is a physicist and led the governmental advisory group, the IPCC, which was involved in drafting the climate agreement. He received the Nobel Prize for Peace for doing that. The climate accord aims to reduce CO2 emissions. However, this is just the beginning, according to Kammen.

“We need to look beyond that. We need to look at the damage that CO2 emissions have done to the earth. Reducing CO2 emissions and manufacturing with clean energy will not resolve the devastation of forests. It will not fix the pollution of the oceans caused by plastic. But it does help us to tackle those problems and move to CO2-free agriculture, for example. New technology is an ‘enabler’. But it is not a solution in itself.”

The Business Booster (TBB) is a trade fair for start-ups who are developing products to generate or use CO2-free energy. The TBB is an initiative of EIT InnoEnergy. EIT InnoEnergy is a joint vehicle of the European Commission and private entrepreneurs for investing in companies that help meet the Paris climate targets and to work, live and work CO2-neutral by 2050. 

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