From the desks of Klaus Toepfer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UNEP, and Corrado Clini, Director General of the Italian Ministry of Environment and former co-Chair of the G8 Task Force on Renewable Energy

As delegates gather in Milan for the next round of climate change negotiations, some may wonder why such an event is necessary when the Kyoto Protocol, the international instrument for combating global warming, is not yet in force.

Surely, they will say, we can achieve little of substance until 55 countries representing 55 per cent of the emissions of the industrialized world have ratified it.

Such doubters should step outside the cocoon of gloom and smell the flowers.

In Italy – which hosts this ninth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – for example, energy producers have been obliged to deliver a fixed amount of renewable energy into the national grid since 1999. A national plan for increasing wind and biomass-based energy generation has been established: its fruits include new 800 megawatt capacity for wind, and 10 megawatts from biomass in Maratta Bassa, Umbria.

New laws, economic incentives and the fast tracking of projects – both nationally inspired and as part of European Union initiatives – have helped improve the prospects for cleaner energy.

Power companies and banks are actively involved, proving yet again that saving the planet is a profitable business which generates jobs.

Next year Germany will host the International Conference on Renewable Energies. Last October the United Kingdom launched its Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and in November Italy launched the Mediterranean Renewable Energy Partnership on the occasion of the Conference of the Parties to the Barcelona Convention. These are ideas that were born out of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg last year and modelled on recommendations made earlier by the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force.

Among early success stories are the installation of solar power in Brazil, India and Sri Lanka through partnerships including BP Solar and Shell Renewables.

REEEP may be the latest initiative of its kind, but it is by no means the first – or the last. Last year the Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development – involving specialized centres in India, Argentina, Senegal, Kenya and other countries – was launched at Johannesburg.

UNEP and the UN Foundation – whose sister body, the Better World Fund, has generously supported this issue of Our Planet – have been developing the Rural Energy Enterprise Development (REED) programme. It has three spin-offs: AREED, in Africa; CREED, in China, and B-REED focused on the Bahia and Alagoas areas of northeast Brazil. Other supporters include the Fund for International Partnerships, E+Co, the Blue Moon Fund, The Nature Conservancy and UNEP’s collaborative Riso centre in Denmark.

REED aims to establish networks of clean energy entrepreneurs and businesses in developing countries. AREED, for example, has invested in 15 clean energy enterprises, supporting projects including the manufacturing of efficient cooking stoves, solar water-heating systems, wind-powered pumping and improved distribution of liquefied petroleum gas.

Access to energy is essential if the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the WSSD Plan of Implementation are to be achieved, and the proportion of the world’s people in poverty is to be halved by 2015.

Some 3 billion people rely on dung, coal, charcoal and kerosene for cooking and heating. Inefficient use of these fuels contributes to indoor and local air pollution, linked to up to 5 per cent of global disease.

The Global Environment Facility is backing an assessment of the solar and wind potential of developing countries. And the Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative (SEFI), launched only a few weeks ago at a UNEP Finance Initiative meeting in Tokyo, Japan, will complement attempts to overcome financial barriers to a rapid, widespread uptake of clean energy systems.

These are just some projects, partnerships and initiatives. Others are underway in the United States, Japan and elsewhere. Clearly not all will be successful. Some may wither and die. But many different kinds of flowers are needed to make a beautiful bouquet, and so many are now blossoming that there is the real promise of a less carbon intensive future.

In Milan we must water this garden so that the initiatives so actively backed by many countries, companies and communities can be growing strongly when the Kyoto Protocol finally enters into force


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This issue:
Contents | Editorial | Key to development | The energy challenge | Plant power | Bioenergy: doing well while doing right | New energy for development | People | Delivering Change | Benign growth | Green energy | At a glance: Energy | Sustainable Dreams | Brightening the future | Greening oil | Blue-sky thinking | Books & products | New energy to assault poverty | New energy entrepreneurs | Time to get serious | Breaking the ice | In my lifetime – 100% renewable| Slimming the waste

Complementary issues:
WSSD, 2002
Global Environment Facility, 2002
Energy, 2001
Climate and Action, 1998
Climate Change, 1997