The COP14 climate talks next week are taking place amid circumstances that are drastically changed compared to the last round of negotiations; the world’s economy is in severe turmoil. That means one thing – global leaders’ resolve to combat climate change will be put to the test.
The talks, which will take place December 1-12 in Poznan, Poland, could be the scene of intensified difficulties and any climate action may be seen as a trade off against economic growth. The experts at the United Nations are prepared for it. In a recent interview with Reuters news agency, they said their calculations show that the maximum sacrifice rich nations will be making to avert the worst effects of global warming is less than 0.12 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually until 2030.
Nevertheless, we’re already seeing the first major carnage; the US’ largest wind power operator, FLP Group, announced that it will reduce its 2009 spending by 25% to $5.3 billion. Reason being not only the terrible situation on world capital markets but more specifically, the effects this has on oil prices. The renewables industry has been doing well in light of expensive oil – a situation which has made things like wind and solar power -still very much in the development stage- look reasonable even though they’re expensive to develop.
Other companies have been downright hurt by the turmoil on the markets. One of the worst affected was China’s Suntech Power Holdings whose share price tumbled more than 90 percent. Suntech Power Holdings is the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer.
“The minute the financial crisis struck, industries said ‘this makes it difficult to take on expensive targets’,” said Ivo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat in an interview with Reuters. Other experts also confirmed that the precarious global economic situation is a matter of concern next week. Hopes are pinned on the future effects that the election of Barack Obama as the new US president has on the talks.
Obama has plans for a costly stimulus package to revive the economy whose focal point is green jobs which are an important part of his environmental targets. He has also said that the economic turmoil won’t hold him back to tackle climate change. Obama is committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The U.N. is pushing for a reduction in emissions of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by rich nations in order to keep temperatures below the so dreaded 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) rise.
The climate talks, which are aimed to result in a new climate deal by the end of 2009 will focus on progress made. The 8,000 participants will also discuss new ideas like clean technology and a mechanism to reward tropical nations for combating deforestation. Poor countries are the central point in the discussions this time. The delegates are also going to start negotiating ideas for a new treaty.
To get a picture of what the new ideas entail, read this communique by European scientists united in the European Science Foundation. They propose that Europe subject its energy policy to a paradigm shift in order to maintain environmental stability and stay economically competitive. Direct conversion of solar energy into fuel is one of very few major options that humankind has to provide socially, economically and environmentally robust and resilient renewable fuel with energy security, according to the ESF.
The organization pleads for substantial increases in public R&D budgets allocated to renewable energy technologies. “Contrary to the massive public investments to traditional energy sources and energy infrastructure, the share of clean energy in R&D budgets remains as low as 7-8 percent”, according to the communique. The ESF proposed particular steps towards workable research programs and implementation strategies for better understanding the challenges of clean fuel research and related socio-economic issues.
Basically, there are no fundamental engineering concerns that would limit a full-scale commercial use of solar-to-fuel energy conversion in the future, the scientists argue. Two of the most promising technologies where – given effective support – major scientific breakthroughs are expected are solar-to-fuel conversion in micro organisms and photocatalysis.
“Both technologies have the potential to provide CO2 neutral fuels with a higher efficiency than those based on field crops. But they need support to blend the underlying basic science into cross-cutting technological applications”, the ESF says, adding that this is a perfect example of high impact science.
A new, clean fuel energy infrastructure’s social, economic and political implications should not be underestimated, though. A lot of work needs to be done still to get people adapted to the alternative paths in a future solar energy socio-technical system.