Renewables 2004 concludes successfully in Bonn

Renewables 2004 Worldwatch’s delegation left Bonn, Germany, last Friday satisfied with the results of the conference and the role the Institute played in supporting its success. The four days spent on the Rhine River in the light-filled Bundeshaus—the former home of the German parliament—left the 3,000-plus participants exhausted but energized by what had been achieved.

The International Conference for Renewable Energies—Renewables 2004— concluded Friday with a strong declaration by 154 governments that renewable energy should play a major role in the energy economy of the 21st century. According to a statement issued by the German government, “Together the delegates have paved the way for a global transformation in energy structures and for a massive increase in the use of renewable energies. This will alleviate global poverty and protect the climate.”

Amid concern about rising oil prices and the environmental and health costs of a fossil fuel economy, much of the world has now settled on renewable energy as a key priority. For developing countries, renewable energy has the potential to provide power for the rural poor, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and create thousands of new jobs.

Renewables 2004 was unusual in that it was designed as a formal intergovernmental conference but with official participation of U.N. and other international organizations and a variety of other “stakeholder” groups, ranging from the private sector to rural development organizations. It turned out to be the largest ever meeting of government and private sector leaders on renewable energy, with over 3,000 participants according to the organizers.

The conference produced a two-page political declaration that affirms the importance of renewable energy in meeting energy needs, reducing poverty, and protecting the world’s climate. The declaration did not include binding numerical targets (the main sticking point in the decade-long battle over the Kyoto Protocol) and is therefore more voluntary and less-binding in character. However, the conference also produced an international action programme that contains 165 individual commitments by governments, international agencies, and private groups to promote the use of renewable energy—many of which represent important new initiatives.

The follow-up mechanisms for Renewables 2004 are still being developed, but are likely to include an official monitoring process that reports to the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development in 2006 and 2007. In addition, a global policy “network” or “forum” will likely be created to provide information exchange, analysis, and capacity building both in governments and in non-governmental organizations. Worldwatch will be actively involved in these processes.

Conference Highlight:
China pledged to increase its use of small hydro, wind, solar, and biomass power generation to 60,000 megawatts (the equivalent of 60 giant power plants), providing 10 percent of its generating capacity by 2010. With this announcement and the related new policies now in the works, China may be on the verge of becoming the world’s next leader in renewable energy. Major new goals were also announced by the Philippines and Germany.

Conference Lowlight:
Saudi Arabia’s representative said that his government saw no problem with dependence on fossil fuels, and recommended that the key priority is reducing taxes on oil in industrial countries. Laughter was heard across the hall.

Dramatic Moment:
A member of the California Energy Commission told the conference that he was embarrassed by the U.S. delegation’s performance. Delegates from other countries reported that the U.S. government was actually more constructive and less obstructionist than it had been in Johannesburg or in the year of preparations for the Bonn conference.

Worldwatch Activities in Bonn
Worldwatch brought a strong team to Bonn, including Chris Flavin, Janet Sawin, Susan Finkelpearl, Eric Martinot, and David Hales. Working closely with the staff of its German partner Germanwatch (who generously hosted Worldwatch staffers in their homes), Worldwatch was actively engaged in the negotiating process from its delegate seat at the conference. Renewables 2004 also provided opportunities for information exhange and networking with hundreds of people working on renewable energy around the world. A variety of new partnerships are likely to result.

1. World Renewable Energy Forum
The intense week of “conferencing” began with a Forum hosted by the World Council for Renewable Energy. From Saturday through Monday, a variety of NGOs, academics, and government representatives from around the world spoke on topics ranging from innovative architecture to innovative financial mechanisms. The meeting was hosted by Dr. Hermann Scheer, a senior member of the German Bundestag and the widely recognized “godfather” of renewable energy in Europe. Worldwatch president Chris Flavin and visiting fellow Eric Martinot gave back-to-back speeches to the roughly 300 attendees at the forum. Together, they provided a big picture view of the current state of renewable energy technologies, markets, and policies, setting the stage for a long list of prominent speakers who followed.

2. Worldwatch Press Conference
On June 1, the first day of the conference, Chris Flavin joined Klaus Milke, co-chairman of Germanwatch, and Rajendra Pachauri, president of the Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, to provide their assessment of prospects for Renewables 2004. Among the questioners were several German reporters and a correspondent from Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. (The New York Times sent a reporter to Bonn on the final day of the conference, and interviewed Chris and Janet about their interpretations of the conference.)

3. Stakeholder Forum
Worldwatch policy counsel David Hales served as chairman of the seven-hour stakeholder segment of the conference on the first day, deftly holding over 100 government officials, and representative of stakeholders ranging from big business to youth groups to two-minute presentations. As a delegate to the conference, Chris was asked to sum up the views of scientific and technical organizations at the end of the day. His recommendations included increased R&D for renewables, more capacity-building in developing countries, and incentives for more private sector R&D via regulatory market reforms.

4. Worldwatch Side Event
Together with three international partners, Worldwatch sponsored a panel discussion on June 2 entitled “Lessons from the Frontline: Who’s Succeeding with Renewable Energy and Why.” Speakers from Japan, Germany, Spain, and the United States, including Janet Sawin and Eric Martinot, described the policies that have worked in their countries—as well as the political challenges ahead. Chris and Klaus moderated the discussion, which several audience members described as one of the liveliest and most engaging events in Bonn.

5. Ministerial Round Table
A roundtable of ministers met in the plenary hall on June 3 to discuss policies for renewable energy market development. Starting with a presentation by the CEO of Vestas, the world’s leading wind power company, ministers from a dozen countries offered examples of policies they have enacted and their plans for the future. Chris was designated the “eminent expert” for this session, with responsibility for summarizing the main elements of the discussion. According to his summary, key ingredients of national success include clear targets and stable policy frameworks that provide security and confidence for investors.

6. Other Events
Worldwatch participants in Renewables 2004 joined and spoke at many of the several hundred side events, meals, and receptions sponsored by various organizations. These included a session of developing country needs sponsored by the German agency for technical assistance in developing countries; “China Day,” which included the Chinese energy minister and other high-level officials; a meeting of business leaders involving UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer; and a dinner hosted by Germanwatch at the Bonn mayor’s house.