Hopes are High for Renewables 2004--Experts Emphasize Importance of Action, Follow-Up

Renewables 2004 Bonn, Germany— For the first time in 23 years, renewable energy has moved to center stage as ministers from around the world gather for Renewables 2004. The stakes are high as proponents of a new energy future struggle against the fossil fuel dependence that still dominates many national economies.

Renewables 2004 has the potential to accelerate momentum to tip renewable energy technology into the mainstream of today’s energy systems, according to Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., Klaus Milke, Vice Chairman of Germanwatch in Bonn, and Rajendra K.Pachauri, Director General of the Energy and Resources Institute in India, and Chairman of the IPCC.

Renewables 2004 marks an historic opportunity for the world to get ahead of the looming energy problems it now faces—an opportunity not seen since the Nairobi Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy in 1981. But it remains to be seen whether governments and other stakeholders at the conference will exert the kind of political leadership needed to secure a central role for renewables in global energy markets.

“The lack of legally binding targets in the planned conference declaration places even more pressure on governments and international agencies to come up with concrete actions that will move the global energy system in a new direction before it’s too late, “ says Christopher Flavin who participated in pre-conference negotiations and is serving as a delegate to the conference.

In a press briefing today, Flavin, Pachauri, and Milke expressed their hopes for the conference and laid down five key tests against which the success of the conference can be measured.

  1. Whether the action program includes government policy commitments that will move renewable energy into the mainstream of their national energy markets.
  2. Whether a strong, credible follow-up mechanism will emerge from the conference—one that is capable of monitoring and spurring action by governments, businesses, and international organizations.
  3. Whether the momentum created in Bonn will lead to large and sustained new markets for renewable energy. Among the countries to watch most closely in this regard are China, Brazil, and India.
  4. Whether the World Bank will commit itself to the goals contained in its own Extractive Industries Review, which calls for phasing out loans for fossil fuel development and strategically increasing lending for renewables.
  5. Whether additional financing mechanisms will be set up that channel new funding into the development of renewable energy.

Coming at a time when world oil prices have reached their highest sustained levels in nearly two decades, and prospects for any substantial increase in world oil production are uncertain, Renewables 2004 has taken on an urgency that could not have been anticipated when it was first planned nearly two years ago. Meanwhile, deteriorating security conditions in Iraq and the other Persian Gulf states demonstrate that security of oil supplies is no longer something that can be guaranteed, even by the world’s strongest military forces.

For developing countries, the success of Renewables 2004 will be particularly crucial. Sustained global growth in renewable energy will drive down prices, making it easier for developing countries to harness their domestic energy sources, create new jobs and industries, and provide the energy services that are so essential for reducing poverty.

Renewables 2004 will also be important for its impact on global efforts to combat climate change. Amid growing evidence of the potential for rapid and destabilizing changes in weather patterns in the years ahead, a strong agreement in Bonn to increase the use of renewable energy could revitalize the politically difficult process of implementing the Kyoto Protocol’s binding emissions limits. Coming soon after President Putin–s indication that he will send the Protocol to the Russian Duma for consideration, Renewables 2004 could make this a landmark year for efforts to protect the world`s climate.

Unlike the last time renewable energy took center stage, in 1981, it is now poised for a global takeoff. Solar power generation has more than tripled worldwide in the past five years, and wind power has nearly quadrupled. A recent study by the director of Worldwatch's energy and climate program, Janet Sawin, (www.worldwatch.org/pubs/paper/169/) asserts that political will and the right mix of policies—not vast resource potential—have made wind and solar power the world’s fastest growing energy sources over the past decade.

In Denmark, Germany, Japan, Spain, and some U.S. states, clear, long-term government commitments to renewable energy have overcome barriers and created the demand for these technologies that has led to dramatic growth, while advancing renewable technologies and driving down their costs. Already, new renewables—including wind, solar, geothermal and modern bio energy—supply enough electricity for more than 300 million homes worldwide. In 2003, an estimated $20.3 billion—about one-sixth of total global investment in power generation equipment—was invested in new renewables.

The question facing the leaders gathered in Bonn is whether these impressive success stories in five countries will be converted into a global energy revolution that can avert the serious energy and climate problems the world now faces.