A major agency of the United Nations wants a majority of the $15 trillion to be invested in new power projects over the next two decades to be directed to clean energy technologies.
PARIS, France – “Cost-effective policy and technology solutions now exist for cutting greenhouse gas emissions,” says Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “We now need the necessary decisions and action from both policy-makers and business leaders.” “I believe this new UNEP publication on renewable energy technologies and the associated policy frameworks will make a useful, practical contribution to the choices available and support our goal of a clean energy future,” he says in releasing ‘Natural Selection: Evolving Choices for Renewable Energy Technology and Policy.’ An estimated $9 to $15 trillion will be invested in new power sector projects over the next 20 years, estimates the UNEP. If most of that money were directed to clean energy technologies, the world will enjoy a global economy that is more secure, more robust, and much cleaner than that of the 20th century. The demand for energy has increased steadily in recent years, and the energy systems developed so far to meet this demand are clearly unsustainable, says the UNEP report, because of their direct or indirect impacts on health, ecosystems, land and water contamination, loss of bio-diversity, and global warming. “The economic burden of this pollution is estimated at 0.5 to 2.5 percent of world GNP, some $150 to 750 billion per year,” says Toepfer. “These facts alone are reason enough to find new sources of energy and change the way it is used. However, the world’s increasing appetite for fossil fuels has created an even more compelling reason to accelerate the switch to clean forms of energy, namely global climate change.” Fossil fuels provide three-quarters of the energy in the world, but there are solutions, notes the report. “The destructive link between unsustainable energy use and environmental quality can be broken. Improvements in technology, and the willingness of governments to experiment with new economic approaches to energy pricing, are fundamentally changing energy markets and presenting new opportunities.” “We also have to make much bigger gains in energy efficiency; we really should be pushing this a lot harder,” adds Toepfer. “Demand for energy has increased and this should catalyse the drive to greater energy efficiency.” If the growth in demand was cut from 2 to 1.5 percent through efficiency measures, “this would add to the overall benefits of utilizing renewable energy,” he explains. Renewable energy is the most cost-effective energy source for a variety of applications, meeting between 15 and 20 percent of total world energy demand and 24 percent of the world’s total electricity supply, says the report. Renewable energy in the form of traditional biomass fuels, represents 14 percent of the world’s total energy consumption, more than coal. The contribution of newer renewable energy technologies is increasing rapidly, in spite of new competition from deregulated energy markets, it continues. From a small base in the 1970s, biomass, geothermal, solar, small-scale hydropower and wind technologies have grown proportionally faster than any other electricity supply technology. The wind energy industry has grown in two decades to become a multi-billion dollar industry that generates 14,000 MW of electricity in 30 countries. The evolution of wind energy has “far exceeded even the most optimistic predictions” and the cost of wind-generated electricity has dropped seven-fold, which makes it competitive with most fossil fuel technologies. “It is increasingly true that there are no technical, financial or economic reasons why the nations of the world cannot enjoy the benefits of a high level of energy services and a better environment,” says Toepfer. “It is simply a question of making the right choices.” The report provides an overview of major renewable energy technologies and the policy frameworks that will further their development, as well as some scenarios that can lead to a sustainable energy future.