The renewable energy era has begun, but requires emergency action

April 23, 2014
Peter Droege, EUROSOLAR President, GC, World Council for Renewable Energy:

The renewable energy era has begun, but requires emergency action - the time for universal and unilateral action has begun

This is a call for the world-wide move to phase out of fossil fuel energy systems and a global moratorium on new coal fired reactors; local, regional and worldwide closure of coal mines, and for the rise of a renewable economy and industry, at an equitable, steady-state economic development trajectory. To help preserve valuable financial assets, all plans for new nuclear asssets and the misguided carbon capture and storage CCS should be reassigned to renewable system deployment: a far more practical, economical and rapid path to carbon sanity.

At the brink and off the rails: IPCC reports and UNFCCC positions distract from the tasks ahead

As widely expected, the latest IPCC report is as weak und unfocused as the previous one: it continues to aim at the failed solutions of emissions trading, largely ignores the need to bring CO2 concentrations below 350 parts per million and generally reiterates the old mantra of concerted action of a kind that a diverse world community of a multiplicity of interests is by definition not capable of. Instead, barriers to unilateral national, regional and local moves to full renewable energy supply should be supported, and feed-in tariffs swiftly enacted. It is time to give up on the delay in action resulting from UN hopes for concerted action, dashed too many times.

While old-style fossil-industry protectionism rears its head even in Germany's national government, and across the ruling political spectrum forces mount, seeking to 'cap' the historical rise of innovation, the global investment sentiment, the political reason of enlightened mayors, the intelligence of enlightened policy and industry and leaders and the sense of responsibility and care on the part of local community leaders around the globe all point into one direction: towards replacing the conventional energy regime with renewables.

In 2014, the year of Hermann Scheer's 70th birthday, we are reminded of one important sentiment he voiced in his 2005 book 'Energy Autonomy': that industry and entrepreneurs will carry the road to reason, while attempts to block progress and reverse policy successes will rise as old business models become replaced by the new. This would normally be understandable, and could possibly be forgiven in the world of business - were the consequences here not so dire. In clear text the current IPCC report reads: there may still be a small but fast-closing window of opportunity to act. Fossil fuel combustion and outdated land management practices have raised the real spectre of runaway climate change as a global extinction-level phenomenon by removing the existential base of our species - before sending planetary surface temperatures far above any survivable range.

This is where the business protection case for the incumbent interests begins to weaken - to put it mildly. The fate of our climate is only one several simultaneous, human-made energy crises that are coming together. All were long foreseen, warned about for decades and yet continue to be ignored by incumbent politicians and industry alike, with stunning complicity in negligence

1 Carbon catastrophe. The prospects of an unchecked carbon cataclysm stretch from acidic, oxygen deprived oceans to the wiping out of all advanced life as we know it. The déjà vu of permanently equivocating IPCC reports, combined with the UNFCCC/COP process corrupted by conventional energy industry interests – these are increasingly behind reality, and perpetually mired in the impossible dream of concerted global action. The 2 degree target is both too high – and yet virtually impossible to maintain, unless measures match these. The global methane kick emerging from the Arctic permafrost - and indeed the global cryosphere - has begun to be released. It could easily double atmospheric CO2 concentrations in a relatively short time. Leading astrophysicists have warned that the long-term and worst-case scenarios may include a 250 degree C final surface temperature. Only immediate, ubiquitous and unilateral defossilisation offer promise – each country immediately using its best resources and networks.

2 Global nuclear irradiation. Fukushima threatens to become a radioactive torch for millennia to come, and could severely impair the habitability of the northern hemisphere. Its recovery process is haphazard, unlikely to arrive at acceptable results – and is partially uncontrolled. While we applaud the bravery and heroism of the stabilisation efforts: the nuclear madness must stop: a global moratorium on all nuclear energy use is the best and most responsible response. Every one of the more than 600 reactors world-wide is a liability.

3 Rapid fossil-fuel deprivation. Economic and financial crises very likely will continue to be triggered  by inevitable price fluctuations, and especially the eventual collapse of petroleum EROI - energy return on investment. Without rapid divestment it moves inexorably towards 1:1, down from 1:100 in 1930. The bright task of restructuring global energy infrastructures to the advanced world of renewable energy has begun: moving not fast enough, it requires immediate acceleration.

4 Flashpoint: fossil fuel addiction. Governments in Russia, Europe and the United States have long toyed with the petroleum bomb that includes a global gamble around presumably 'clean' natural gas supplies. International fossil infrastructure investments in the Ukraine and Gazprom mean partnership in a geopolitical brinkmanship that exposes millions, even billions to this risk. Terminal fossil energy addiction and spectres of regional and global warfare go hand in hand: the conventional peak is long behind us.

These threats are countered by massive opportunities – also for new and regenerated energy industries. The rapid rise of renewables over the past years meant more investment of new renewable power infrastructure than all conventional power combined. This is supported by scientific and empirically proven studies that have long demonstrated enormous local, regional and national gains and value creation made possible by the switch to renewables. Community prosperity, lowered national debts, reduced threat of starvation, improved education and livelihoods, safeguarded water supplies, environmental human health: all these sustainability goals are pursued by the rapid switch to renewables, based on efficiency improvements and life-style improving sufficiency changes. Also required is the global transformation of agriculture and forestry into carbon sinks: that this is technologically possible has long and amply been demonstrated: our regions and communities can effectively biologically sequester atmospheric carbon in buildings and soils, in wetlands and waterways. Forget carbon capture and storage: the time for carbon biological and structural carbon sequestration (BSCS) has arrived.

The future looks bright - but there is work to do: a bright future requires exceptional focus and effort. EUROSOLAR and the WCRE stand united with all progressive forces committed to a renewable world.

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