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A carbon map to development

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OCTOBER 15, 2013

One of the biggest challenges for sustainable international economic development is the need to control greenhouse gas emissions. Before we can make meaningful progress toward stabilizing the planet’s climate, we need to have an international roadmap for economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation that still bends the curve on emissions.

Solutions for saving the planet need to be ones that contribute to economic growth! Certainly, for developed economies, we need to have a plan for sustainable growth that includes emerging energy-efficiency technologies, novel green generation technologies and new infrastructures. For the developing world, however, the path to development goes through an increase in per capita consumption of energy. A fundamental sticking point to agreeing to an international agreement on carbon emissions has been the concern in developing economies that such an agreement will stymie GDP growth.

I deeply believe, however, that it is possible to chart a course for economic advancement in both developed and developing economies while still curbing greenhouse emissions. On the demand side, overall energy consumption can be grouped into three categories: buildings, transportation and industry. For example, energy-efficiency technologies have the potential to reduce energy consumption in buildings in an economically viable fashion by as much as 50 percent in the next five years, with the consequent drops in greenhouse gas emissions. In countries in the midst of building booms, new advances in materials and green cement will lead to even higher savings.

On the supply side, new technologies such as smart grids, solar thermal, nuclear and hydrogen fuels hold rich possibilities. The specific trajectory to economic growth, however, will vary from economy to economy, and the overall trajectory will need to be set strategically through a rigorous and vibrant roadmapping process.

This carbon emission quandary, with stalled international negotiations and ineffective policies, is analogous to a problem faced by the semiconductor industry.

Although the semiconductor industry had been doubling every 12 to 18 months for close to three decades, by the late 1980s, the complexity of the semiconductor supply chain began to dampen innovation and cost billions. Semiconductor industry groups, academics and manufacturers met to discuss best practices and fundamental decisions underpinning their industry and created the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors in 1992. The plan continues to be updated annually and exists like a living document.

If the current boom in the Information Age and the ubiquity of devices such as smartphones, which rely on cheaper and faster semiconductors by the Silicon roadmap, is any indicator, the plan is working well.

To pursue the analogy between the Silicon roadmap and a carbon roadmap, with colleagues at UC Berkeley such as professors Spanos, Zysman, Ramesh and Doyle, we have launched the Center for Research in Energy Systems Transformation. CREST is under the rubric of the campuswide Berkeley Energy and Climate Initiative.

CREST is working to create roadmaps that are owned by implementers and are cooperatively developed for the purpose of guiding the world’s energy system toward high efficiency while producing fewer greenhouse gases.

The CREST carbon roadmap has two arms. The first is to develop long-term plans for specific carbon-reducing technologies. As a test case, Berkeley engineers are investigating how sensors and networks deployed in smart, green buildings can be designed for easy adoption on different scales. CREST makes use of Berkeley’s deep vein of multidisciplinary, smart building-technology research.

Second, CREST seeks to develop locally adapted tools and technologies that are sensitive to place, politics and culture. That’s why the second part of the CREST carbon roadmap is to identify obstacles to cross-national technology development and implementation. Colleagues such as professors Brewer, Miguel, Gadgil, Wolfram and others power the Blum Center for Developing Economies’ new partnership with USAID in a project called the Development Innovations Laboratory, which includes the development of sustainable energy technology roadmaps in economies such as India, Indonesia, Kenya, etc.

I was recently asked to serve on a new United Nations Scientific Advisory Board, which will provide guidance to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on international sustainable development issues, staffed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization with its mandate for science and technology.

I look forward to expanding on bringing the work that we are doing at centers such as CREST and Blum to the international conversation about sustainable development.

I am confident we can create a carbon-roadmap-style plan that outlines how equitable prosperity can be reached across the planet and shows that economic growth, job creation and greenhouse gas reduction are not mutually exclusive.

Shankar Sastry is dean of the College of Engineering and the faculty director at the Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Contact Shankar Sastry at  or on Twitter


OCTOBER 15, 2013