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Renewable energy in the news


Steve Sawyer

Steve Sawyer continues his tour of high-level meetings around the world in his role as ambassador for GWEC, and remains frustrated by the intransigence of many who should by now know better.

You only need to read the newspapers to vividly see the extent to which renewable energy has fast-tracked its way into the investment psyche. And reports such as the landmark offering from the United Nations Programme Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative – The Global Sustainable Energy Investment Report 2007 – paint a picture of a booming industry, which attracted over US$100 billion in investment in 2006, in both the industrialised and developing countries.

Produced in collaboration with New Energy Finance, it also points out that the finance sector is far ahead of Governments in recognising that the solutions to energy security and the threat of global climate change are already to hand; and they're putting their money where their mouths are. As the authors say,when Governments talk about climate change, they spend a lot of time discussing “technologies of tomorrow”; but the finance sector is putting its money on the technologies of today, more than doubling investments in the last two years.

It seems that they're on to something. The WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index (NEX) – a global index of 88 leading companies in renewables, conservation and efficiency, listed on 25 stock exchanges in 21 countries – has risen by more than 90% since January 2006, and is now tracked by a fund available to individual investors. The projections for investment growth in the sector parallel the double digit growth of the leading renewable energy technologies. Meanwhile…

…The climate juggernaut rolls on. Earlier this year, the UN General Assembly 61st session closed out with an Informal Thematic Debate – Climate Change as a Global Challenge. Governments listened to experts lay out the science of climate change (which even the OPEC countries and George Bush himself no longer find any mileage in disputing) as well as another session on the mitigation options.

I must confess I didn't listen to all the speeches which followed – officials reading words they don't really understand from prepared texts is one of the most effective sleep aids available – but the ratio of the appearance of the words “renewable energy” to “carbon capture and storage” was almost 1 to 1, which is an improvement, believe it or not. But far too many Governments are still arguing for “the technologies of tomorrow” (or the day after) with not enough emphasis on what they need to do today.

The UNFCCC reconvened in Vienna at the end of August for a special session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Future Commitments, and for the first time reluctantly set a “range” of emissions reductions required by industrialised countries of minus 25%-40% on 1990 levels, by 2020.

While the result was not bad, the meeting itself was awful. While political leaders are increasingly sounding the climate change alarm from various pulpits, their negotiators are still stuck in the same old arguments; with too many rich country Governments hiding behind US inaction, and too many developing countries refusing to accept the slightest responsibility for dealing with this global problem.

Sitting next to a veteran negotiator listening to a particularly ideology-bound speech from a certain well-known official from a large developing country, we both swore that we'd heard the same speech out of his mouth before – in 1986!

At the latest meeting of the so-called Gleneagles Dialogue, ministers and officials from G-8 countries met in Berlin in early September, and adopted conclusions based on a report by the Club of Madrid, a collection of ex-Presidents and Prime Ministers who have tried to come up with a global framework for the future climate regime. Their plan can be found here – http://www.unfoundation.org/files/pdf/2007/GLCA_Framework2007.pdf – and it calls for global emissions reductions of at least 60% below 1990 levels by mid-century, as well as 30% reductions by industrialised countries by 2020.

It has many positive elements, and the section on technology is useful food for thought for our industry. Our new mantra should be – “if we're serious about 30% reductions by 2020, then we only have three options in the power sector: efficiency; fuel-switching; and renewables (lead at this point in time by windpower). And yes, we need all three of these.'

Next it was on to Husumwind, the grand-daddy of all windpower exhibitions, for its biennial meet from 18–21 September. Having reached an agreement to join forces with Hamburg, there will now be one major international windpower conference and exhibition in Germany – in Husum – every other year, starting in 2008. Having attracted 640 exhibitors from 30 countries, and around 18,000 visitors from 40 nations, I thought it was a good opportunity to try out the new mantra:

  • If we accept the science, then regardless of what happens by 2030, 2050 or the end of the century, the first thing we have to do is to get global emissions to peak and start to decline before 2020;
  • The power sector is still the largest single sector in terms of greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Our options for massive emissions reductions in the power sector before 2020 are – efficiency; fuel switching from coal to gas; and renewables, with windpower playing a vital role.

New York, September 24

The Future in Our Hands was the title of the UN high-level event hosted by Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, attended by more than 80 Heads of State and Government. It elicited all manner of populist, pious and sometimes pompous protestations on the urgency of the climate change crisis; the need to work together as a global community; the need to address the fact that climate impacts affect the worlds poorest first etc., ad infinitum, and, some would say, ad nauseam.

The assembled masses were even blessed by the presence of the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who called for, “Action, Action, Action!” And by former US Vice President Al Gore exhorting the assembled worthies to embrace the moral dimension of the fight against climate change. One only hopes that these messages get passed down the food chain to the Government negotiators at some point.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, the climate policy world's centre of gravity shifted south to Washington in recent weeks for US President Bush's Major Emitter's Meeting or the MEM as it is now known. Despite desperate attempts by the White House spin-doctors to paint this as the Bush Administration's new offensive on climate change, delegates from the 16 major economies in attendance were universal in voicing their disappointment that despite all the hullabaloo, Bush delivered the same old empty words about voluntary targets, “aspirational” goals for mid-century emission reductions, and how we were going to save the world with “technology”.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel dubbed the meeting “a giant leap for the US, but a small step for mankind”. US Congressman Ed Markey suggested that the Bush Administration's “aspirational” goals could be more accurately described as “procrastinational” goals, and that Bush's prescription for the planet's growing fever was the equivalent of “take two aspirin, and call me when I'm out of office”.

On to beautiful, historic Quebec City for the 23rd Annual Canadian Wind Energy Association Conference, with more than 1500 delegates and 160 companies participating in the largest ever such event in Canada. With many new companies and lots of interest, wind energy looks set to take off in a big way across Canada in the next few years.

On to Auswind 2007, which is noteworthy for two reasons: one, because this will be the last conference hosted by the Australian Wind Energy Association, as it is merging with the Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the Renewable Energy Generators Association to become the Clean Energy Council – to provide a single, strengthened voice for the renewable energy industry as Australia faces up to some inconvenient truths in its climate-change-ravaged land; and two, the soon-to-be-announced elections will probably be the end for John Howard's Government, signalling the end of Australia's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, and their rejoining with the rest of the world in the fight against global climate change.

That will be good news as the UNFCCC climate summit opens in Bali on 3 December, good news for renewables, but bad news as that will leave the Bush Administration completely isolated. Stay tuned…

About the author:

Steve Sawyer joined GWEC as the first secretary general on 2 April 2007. He has worked in the energy and environment field since 1978, with a particular focus on climate change and RE since 1988.

He spent 30 years working for Greenpeace, primarily on a wide range of energy issues. He was the ceo of both Greenpeace USA (1986 – 1988) and Greenpeace International (1988 –1993), and he served as Head of Delegation to many Kyoto Protocol negotiations on climate change. He also lead delegations to the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002 and numerous sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development. He is also a founding member of the REN21 Renewable Energy Policy Network and was a member of the Steering Committee of the Renewables 2004 ministerial conference in Bonn. He has also been an expert reviewer for the IPCC's Working Group III.
 

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Energy efficiency  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power

 

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