Solar company executives from the United States, Asia and Europe are lobbying for solar-friendly policies at the United Nations' climate change conference in Poland this week.

First Solar CEO Michael Ahearn, Suntech CEO Zhengrong Shi, and SolarCentury executive chairman Jeremy Leggett are trying to convince delegates that promoting solar power will help their countries emit less pollution and fight climate change. And some of the best ways to promote solar energy include tax credits and requiring utilities to provide solar energy.

"The photovoltaic industry is much closer to generating affordable solar power than most people realize," said First Solar CEO Michael Ahern in a statement. "We call on world leaders assembled in Poznan to adopt policies individually and collectively that allow PV to demonstrate its full potential."

Solar, though, is still dependent on feed-in tariffs, tax credits and other subsides, which could become more difficult to obtain in a credit-crunched world. Feedback on these questions will likely be prominent as the conference continues.

The delegates from nearly 190 nations are in the city of Poznan to craft a treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol as the next global effort to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming (see U.N. Climate Talks Pose Big Impact on Greentech).

The delegates began meeting a week ago and are due to wrap up the discussion this Friday. The gathering marks a mid-way point in an effort by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to develop the new climate change treaty. The delegates first met in Bali, Indonesia last year, and they hope to come up with a definitive agreement when they meet in Copenhagen, Denmark at the end of 2009.

The new agreement will succeed Kyoto when it expires at the end of 2012. Thirty-seven industrialized countries ratified Kyoto, which sets goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5 percent below the 1990 levels by 2012.

Although Kyoto was considered groundbreaking, its ultimate success in reducing emissions remains a subject of debate (see Japan Proposes $4B to Cut Emissions). Last month, the World Meteorological Organization said the emission of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases, reached a record high in 2007. 

For the conference in Poland, Ahearn and his fellow solar industry compatriots have come up with an agenda advocating:

  • A mandate for utilities to provide solar power.
  • Incentives, such as tax credits, feed-in tariffs, rebates or loans for solar energy projects.
  • Stringent national and international policies for regulating carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Regulations to speed up the process of getting permits for renewable energy projects, including building new transmission lines.
  • Rules that allow consumers to get credits from feeding excess electricity from their solar energy systems.

Some countries – and local governments within the United States – already have laws similar to what the solar company executives are promoting. China, for example, is aiming to generate 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. California requires its investor-owned utilities to generate 20 percent by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020 (see Schwarzenegger: Permitting Process Too Complicated).

The new U.N. climate change treaty could have a significant impact on the greentech industry, which has grown largely as a result of government policies (see Lawmakers Approve Energy Tax Credits, Bailout, Spain Approves 500MW for Solar and Japan Promotes Carbon Trading, Hybrids).

To abide by the Kyoto Protocol, Europe and Japan, for example, have enforced regulations and spent millions to promote renewable energy such as solar and wind, biofuels and electric cars. Those regulations also have required some of the heavy polluters in Europe to pay for emitting above limits, in a program known as carbon cap-and-trade.

The big question for the future is whether U.N. members will see green subsidies as a way to build their domestic economies, or be a drain on it.

Some political leaders are worried about mandates that would require industries and countries to spend millions or even billions to meet at a time of ailing global financial health.

Others have argued that climate change initiatives will lead to new jobs as businesses embrace new technologies to generate greener energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions. That was the message from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a video broadcast at the U.N. conference on Monday.