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In Davos, talk of linking clean tech and economy

At the World Economic Forum annual meeting, economists ask governments to use economic stimulus spending to promote clean technologies that mitigate climate change.

The World Economic Forum calculates that $515 billion in yearly investment is required between now and 2030 to transition the world to cleaner sources of energy production.

At its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum released a report (click for PDF) on Thursday urging policy makers to make clean-technology incentives and investments part of government stimulus plans to revive flagging economies.

Economists who authored the report said alternative-energy technologies have the potential to address two pressing global problems--energy security and climate change--while generating good financial returns.

"It is essential that this stimulus also build our capacity to solve the longer-term climate crisis. Well-meaning but short-sighted economic stimulus programs could lock us into a predominately fossil fuel-based world economy for decades," according to the report.

A number of initiatives related to clean-energy, such as retrofitting government buildings to be energy-efficient, can create jobs and lay the foundation for longer-term economic growth, according to the World Economic Forum.

The report identified eight "large-scale clean-energy sectors" that government policies should seek to promote. They include: onshore wind, offshore wind, solar-photovoltaic energy, solar-thermal electricity generation, municipal solar energy, waste-to-energy generation, sugar-based ethanol, cellulosic and next-generation biofuels, and geothermal power.

In the United States, the Obama administration has made clear that it trying to tie economic development to clean technology. There are a number of provisions related to clean energy in a stimulus plan, which just passed the House of Representatives and could be voted on by the Senate next week.

The World Economic Forum's call for massive investments in clean energy echoes the International Energy Agency's 2008 annual report. Because of growing energy demand and climate change, the IEA said the world's energy consumption is "patently unsustainable. Its report concluded that trillions of dollars are needed to "decarbonize" the energy infrastructure and curb greenhouse gas emissions growth.