Definition: Clean technology (“cleantech”) law concerns the production, distribution and development of clean technologies.

Cleantech law became recognized as a specialty around the beginning of the 21st century.  Energy law first becoming recognized as a specialty following the energy crises in the 1970s.  Similarly, cleantech law developed following a consensus among top scientists around the world that a crisis was occurring due to human-made greenhouse gas emissions. Unless a drastic shift from the world’s conventional energy technology use occurs, the world was destined for an irreversible, catastrophic climate change with foreseeable consequences. Impacts from climate change included loss of polar ice caps, animal species and human lives. The scientific consensus that a crisis is occurring due to human-made greenhouse gas emissions that will have irreversible, catastrophic climate change impacts unless a drastic shift from the world’s conventional technology use occurs.

“Clean technology” means any product, service, or process that harnesses renewable materials/energy sources, dramatically reduces the use of natural resources, and cuts or eliminates emissions and wastes, such as recycling, renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, tidal, geothermal, biofuels, etc), information technology, green transportation, electric motors, green chemistry, greywater, and energy efficiency appliances.  Its counterparts are referred to as conventional technologies. We are closing in on tipping points to greenhouse gas emission levels and global surface temperatures that could be irreversible.

“If it all burns, it all melts”[1].  A recent study on climate change found that at the current rate, all fossil fuels will be burned by the middle of the 21st Century [2].  As a result, the average temperature of the planet would rise to a level that could render vast stretches of the earth too hot and humid for human habitation, cause food production to collapse, and drive much of the plant and animal life of the planet to extinction. (3)  Some researchers have argued that the most serious consequences of global warming might be avoided if global average temperatures rose by no more than 2 °C (35.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels (1.4 °C above present levels). (4)  Opinions vary on the exact value to limit the rise in global surface temperatures and reduce the rate of greenhouse emissions.  Despite this ongoing discussion around temperature, it is undisputed by the majority of the world’s scientific community that we are closing in on tipping points for both temperature and emission levels.

The question is: Can clean technologies replace their conventional counterparts fast enough to limit the average global surface temperature increase and avoid dangerous climate change?

The United States of America first began adopting global warming related legislation in the last decade or so.  In California, the “Global Warming Solutions Act” (Assembly Bill 32) was adopted in 2006.  This Act requires California to return to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.  On September 11, 2015, the California Legislature built on these targets passing Senate Bill 350, which requires utilities to procure at least 50 percent of their electricity from eligible renewable resources, such as wind and solar, by 2030.  California’s landmark Cap-and-Trade Program begun in 2012 created the nation’s first economy-wide cap and trade market.  These measures and others are part of California’s leadership effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.  As the seventh largest economy in the world when compared to other countries, California is a leader not only by choice but also by legislation.

At the federal level, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 provided various incentives and subsidies for CleanTech such as the 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) for commercial and residential solar energy systems.  In 2007, global investment in clean energy topped $100 billion, with solar energy as the leading clean energy technology for venture capital and private equity investment. The solar tax credits helped to create unprecedented growth in the U.S. solar industry from 2006-2007.   Still, the industry struggles with continual expirations and changes to the tax incentives provided by this Act.  In August of 2015, the Obama Administration announced the EPA’s Clean Power Plan that sets standards for power plants and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change.

On the world stage, global warming is now top on leaders’ agendas.  The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris will be held from November 30 to December 11, 2015.  The objective of the conference is to achieve for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.  On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis’ published his encyclical Laudato si’ “On care for our common home” calling for action against human-caused climate change.

The answer to the climate change problem is simple: astronomical growth of the Cleantech Industry is needed fast, and it’s all hands on deck.

(1) “Combustion of available fossil fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice Sheet,” Winkelmann, Levermann, Ridgwell,& Caldeira (11 Sept 2015) Science Advances, Vol. 1,no.8, el500589.
(2) Id.
(3) Id.
(4) Rogelj, J.; Hare, B.; Nabel, J.; Macey, K.; Schaeffer, M.; Markmann, K.; Meinshausen, M. (2009). “Halfway to Copenhagen, no way to 2°C.” Nature Reports Climate Change.