EDITORIAL
Klaus Toepfer
United Nations Under-Secretary
General and Executive Director, UNEP

A pioneering project to map the solar and wind resources of developing countries from Latin America and Africa to Southeast Asia is now under way. The project, backed by UNEP, plans to pinpoint sites where solar cells and wind turbines can be deployed cost-effectively as part of an international effort to fight global warming and poverty.

Renewable energy’s benefits are manifest: while manufacturing solar panels and turbines may emit greenhouse gases, these devices operate without pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

The costs of renewable energy have also tumbled in recent years, making wind and solar power cost-effective in many parts of the world, particularly rural areas without access to a traditional electricity grid.

Despite promising environmental, economic and development benefits, obstacles to widespread use still remain. Investors require accurate information on the likely levels of electricity a proposed site will generate. Here, the Solar and Wind Energy Resources Assessment (SWERA) project can help.

The sun and wind levels of 13 developing countries across three continents will be assessed and linked to GIS mapping systems with a $6.7 million investment from the Global Environment Facility. We hope this exercise will reduce uncertainty by enabling potential developers and investors to match suitable locations to the likely solar and wind resource – and that it will demonstrate that these countries have much greater renewable resources than is currently supposed.

It is timely. The G8 Renewable Energy Task Force has drawn up recommendations on how alternative forms of generation could be delivered to over a billion people by 2010. Meanwhile agreements recently made in Bonn and Marrakech as part of measures to fight global warming have added new impetus.

I refer, of course, to the Special Climate Change Fund, the special fund for the least developed countries, new adaptation funds and the Clean Development Mechanism, all of which have grown out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.

Leaders, policy-makers and communities need to be given confidence in renewables, by being re-assured that they are genuinely first-rate sources of electricity, superior not inferior to conventional ones.

So I welcome the Task Force’s suggestion that 200 million of the 1 billion extra people expected to benefit from renewable energy systems should be in the industrialized world. This sends a clear signal that renewables have come of age and are truly ready to take their important place in providing more sustainable forms of electricity generation.

UNEP will work closely with ministers, officials and communities in developing nations and stands ready to advise them on how to best exploit green energy schemes and the opportunities provided by the Bonn agreements. We host the secretariat of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment.

The new fund for least developed countries – set up to streamline the procedures for delivering green energy schemes of less than 15 megawatts – should also play a key role.

We are already seeing cleaner forms of energy generation across the globe. The World Energy Council in London recently estimated that voluntary actions by companies, organizations and governments are set to cut carbon dioxide emissions by a billion tonnes by 2005. It believes the real reductions could be as much as twice as high as new schemes come on line.

The outlook would not be so promising if it were not for the climate change agreements. All this voluntary activity is partly occurring because many industrialized countries are facing the need to reduce emissions both at home and through schemes in developing countries. Without deals in Bonn and Marrakech the impetus might well have faded away.

Some 2 billion people lack the energy they need to heat and light homes, pump water and keep medicines refrigerated. Even if the Task Force’s ambitious recommendations are achieved, many will still be in desperate need. So we must also push hard to deliver cleaner versions of conventional fossil fuels. We also need intensive efforts to make electrical appliances, homes and cars less polluting and wasteful. Energy efficiency, all too often ignored, must be improved.

We stand on the threshold of a potential new beginning in the way we manage and care for our planet. Just like the energy we use, let us not waste it


PHOTOGRAPH: B. Wahihia/UNEP


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Secure and sustainable | Fuelling multilateralism | Meeting growing needs | Make way for the zero-litre car | Power sharing | Oil and rising water | Energetic challenges | At a glance: Energy | Competition | Power to the people | Cutting carbon | Winds of change | Power and choice | Rising sun | Give us a wave! | Less energy, more wealth

 

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate and Action December 1998
Issue on Climate change December 1997
José María Figueres Olsen: A climate of change (Beyond 2000) 2000
Madeleine K. Albright: Changing course (The Environment Millennium) Sept 2000

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Energy
Climate change
Air pollution