Renewable energies for sustainable development: Impulses for renewables 2004
Energy is a key theme for future world development. Worldwide energy demand is mounting rapidly, particularly in the developing and newly industrializing countries, which seek to catch up with the level of economic development attained by industrialized countries.
The great challenge now is to meet this energy demand in a sustainable manner. However, sustainable development will be inconceivable without a deep-seated reconfiguration of worldwide energy systems. One goal in this context must be to protect natural life-support systems and, in particular, to prevent dangerous anthropogenic perturbation of the climate system. If the present path continues and rising energy demand is met mainly from fossil sources, this would trigger intolerable global climate change with high consequential costs, and would thus also jeopardize economic development. A second necessary goal is to eradicate energy poverty in developing countries in order that these countries can make use of development opportunities. It is essential that 2.4 billion people gain access to modern forms of energy so that they can shake off the yoke of energy poverty.
To attain these two goals, energy systems need to be turned towards sustainability. To that end, efficiency must be improved at all levels of the energy system, and fossil energy sources must be substituted by renewable ones. The potential of renewable energies, above all solar energy, is almost unlimited and can be harnessed sustainably. Energy system transformation towards sustainability is thus the first step into the solar age. However, without rapid and resolute international policy support, the expansion of renewable energy sources will not be able to develop the necessary dynamics in time.
The international community recognized this challenge, putting renewable energies on the agenda of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002. Unfortunately the Summit fell short of expectations with regard to sustainable energy system transformation. In particular, states were unable to agree upon concrete expansion targets for renewables. Consequently, upon Germany’s initiative, even during the conference a group of states formed the Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition (JREC) with the aim of taking joint action to move beyond the WSSD resolutions. The International Conference for Renewable Energies (renewables 2004) due to take place in Bonn in June 2004 is a milestone of this process.
The conference holds out a unique opportunity to amplify and coordinate at the international level the necessary political support for renewable energies. This opportunity must be grasped, for the window of opportunity to prevent dangerous climate change is closing rapidly. Only if the right strategic decisions are taken now will it be possible to finance and implement energy system transformation towards sustainability without severe interventions in the socio-economic systems of industrialized and transition countries alike.
In its two most recent reports – “Towards Sustainable Energy Systems” and “Kyoto and Beyond” (WBGU, 2003, 2004) – the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) has shown that the transformation of energy systems will require major effort even if it is launched immediately. However, the Council has also made it clear that this transformation is both technologically and financially feasible. It has further illustrated which technologies and instruments can be harnessed, and has signposted a roadmap towards a sustainable energy future. The present policy paper sets out the Council’s recommendations in a condensed and targeted form as input to renewables 2004.