Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s now famous comment, “Never let a serious crisis to go to waste,” could not have been more true of Hurricane Sandy, which was a harbinger of the costly destructive power of climate change.  Sandy made clear that willful ignorance of climate science and inaction is simply not a sane option.

We need action, and that takes leadership.  Thankfully over the past year we have seen significant–hopefully world-changing–leadership emerge in both the largest development agency and in the wealthiest nation.

First, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim commissioned a report last year that found that “The Earth system’s responses to climate change appear to be non-linear … If we venture far beyond the 2°C guardrail, towards the 4°C line, the risk of crossing tipping points rises sharply. The only way to avoid this is to break the business-as-usual pattern of production and consumption.”  This finding has been verified time and time again by international research efforts.  The 2°C “hard stop” demands that new coal-fired power plants, which if built can last half a century, must be avoided at all costs.

What is important in this formulation, that deserves repeating to all agencies involved in international development and the financing of infrastructure, education and other projects that are drivers of economic growth, appears in the preface of the report where World Bank President Jim Yon Kim emphasized that:

… most importantly, a 4°C world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs.

The second significant development was President Obama’s watershed speech on June 25. (See “Obama Unveils Climate Change Strategy.”)  In that speech the president declared that to address climate change the United States will regulate and curtail greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants and end public financing of coal plants overseas. President Obama made dramatically clear that we can no longer mortgage our children’s future.  Furthermore, thanks to our innovative capacity, and with the dramatic advances in cost effectiveness and availability of renewable energy technologies, we can very clearly pivot the energy systems to define a clean energy future.

In response to Obama’s speech, Dr. Kim at the World Bank President noted that, “If we don’t confront climate change, we won’t end poverty,” which is the core mission of the Bank. Now he is poised to lead the bank to a historic step: a phaseout of new coal plant financing at the World Bank. When he finalizes this policy, he will have cemented his legacy as a transformational leader at the institution.

Today we have the perfect starting point to put the words of President Obama and Dr. Kim into action, because both the U. S. government and the World Bank are considering how to address the dire energy shortages and pollution problems that face Kosovo, which is home to the most polluting coal-fired power plant in Europe.  The World Bank and the U. S. government agree that this old, relic, power plant must be closed.  Its replacement is the issue.

Dr. Kim’s words show that it is time for the development community – both at the World Bank and in the U. S. government offices that engage in international development projects — to make climate-friendly development their exclusive priority. With climate science as our guide, and advances in clean energy technology at our back, we are poised to make the old dichotomy of environment versus development obsolete. The leadership is there, Kosovo is the opportunity, and now it is time to invest.

The combination of solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower available in Kosovo, combined with improvements in the grid can meet the nation’s energy needs without tying the poorest nation in Europe to coal. In an assessment of these resources, my laboratory has shown in a report published in 2012 that in Kosovo poverty reduction and climate change goals can be met at the same time.

With both President Obama and Dr. Kim agreed on the need to move public investments beyond coal to clean energy, what could be more straightforward than using the opportunity and need of the people of Kosovo to turn these outstanding words into action?

Daniel M. Kammen is the Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 2010-11 was the first Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the World Bank.  He serves today as an Energy and Climate Partner for the Americas Fellow for the U. S. State Department.


  1. Mark Eckels
    July 18, 2013, 7:39 pm

    A significant number of people in Kosovo have no jobs. There are hundred of thousands expelled non-Albanians, with their property taken from them, and with no security to travel or visit their graveyards. Most of the Christian churches in Kosovo have been destroyed in the presence of NATO peacekeeping forces, and more than 2000 non-Albanians were abducted and never found: nobody was ever put on trial for these atrocities. Pristina used to have 40000 Serbians living there, now only 17 (seventeen) all living in one building under 24/7 protection. On top of that Kosovo is also officially under UN administration and its status is defined in UN resolutions, which is still officially making it part of Serbia.

    I cannot see anyone in clear mind investing in something that is built illegally, and with force. Most of the energy companies are still being paid off by the government that took credits to build them, and might be only accidentally be placed in parts of Kosovo where people would not submit to violation of UN and other agreements. This might look like another wave of ethnic cleansing wrapped in the blanket of environmental climate changes efforts.

    NATO general who was orchestrating 1999 bombing is now behind a private coal deal (search for: “Wesley Clark puts name behind Kosovo coal project”), while Madeleine Albright (US secretary of state at the time) took ownership of other companies in Kosovo. I am really disappointed to see NGM getting involved in this propaganda, this boils down to land steal and ethnic cleansing for monetary benefit, now wrapped in environmental concerns. Disgusting!

  2. Nenad
    July 18, 2013, 9:19 am

    It is very unfortunate that NG is an extension of momentarily politic position of US toward part of this historic Serbian territory (even the names “Kosovo” and “Obilic” are purely Serbian). The sole fact that you pay attention on such small and in terms of climate change completely irrelevant territory both in energetic and economic sense is sad prof that the only meaning of this article is political one not scientific one or of environmental or economical nature. Times are changing and this part of Serbia (Kosovo and Metohija) one day will again be under full Serbian control.

  3. Jewel Hyland
    United States
    July 8, 2013, 12:33 pm

    I was saddened to learn that National Geographic does business with a paper company that is raping the rain forests in Indonesia. Why don’t you practice what you preach?

  4. Charles Darwin
    July 5, 2013, 3:10 pm

    Global warming is a complete lie. Please stop.

  5. Nicholas Cendrowicz
    July 5, 2013, 8:45 am

    If you want Kosovo to close down the Kosvo A plant as soon as possible, there are no options other than to build a new (lignite) facility. It is nonsense to imagine that Kosovo can build that level of renewable energy alternatives in such a short time. Or that it can take on the debt necessary to fund the renewables facilities. Or that consumers could affort to pay the increased bill. Kosovo should not be the battleground for US NGOs crusades not even against climate change but against the World Bank.

  6. Bashkim
    July 3, 2013, 6:53 pm

    Thank you to and to Daniel Kammen who are helping Kosovo to show how the World Bank and US is trying to push and build the coal plant in Kosova. I lived 5 miles from current plant in Obilic and I can tell you that people are suffering with health issues which is coming from pollution of the coal plant. Water, earth and air is contaminated so much that the rates of the cancer cases are very high.
    Thank you again and keep writing about this issue.

  7. Clean Future
    July 3, 2013, 5:04 pm

    Kosovo has all the clean options available that can allow my young country become an example on how the fight against the climate change can be lead, at a time when Kosovars would benefit the most from clean renewable options. Today we are the most polluted country due to coal burning and it makes me sad see the world bank push for more coal when it’s already too much of it. I honestly hope that US and others will listen to their best guy on this field and shift Kosovo’s energy future from coal into clean renewable energy development.

  8. Justin Guay
    United States
    July 3, 2013, 11:37 am

    Great to see Dr. Kammen’s leadership on this issue. Kosovo has clean energy alternatives that won’t kill people. Time to move energy lending into the 21st century