Wind power can help governments deal with accelerating climate change crisis

As delegates and observers get ready for the annual UN conference on climate change which begins next Monday in Doha, they will have lots of reports to consider as they being working towards the goal of extending the existing Kyoto Protocol designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to one of those studies, The Emissions Gap Report, which was coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Climate Foundation, shows that greenhouse gas emissions are now about 14% above where they need to be in 2020.

Released Wednesday, the report says that the concentration of warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased 20% since 2000.

In an accompanying press release, Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said existing technologies and government policies are able to reduce the growing level of emissions.

“There are many inspiring actions taking place at the national level on energy efficiency in buildings, investing in forests to avoid emissions linked with deforestation and new vehicle emissions standards alongside a remarkable growth in investment in new renewable energies worldwide, which in 2011 totaled close to US $260 billion,” Steiner said.

“Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive Green Economy is happening far too slowly,” he said. “While governments work to negotiate a new international climate agreement to come into effect in 2020, they urgently need to put their foot firmly on the action pedal by fulfilling financial, technology transfer and other commitments under the UN climate convention treaties.”

A day earlier, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) issued a bulletin saying that CO2 levels reached 390.0 ppm last year, a 40% increase since the beginning of the industrial revolution about 1750.

The WMO said the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011, adding that between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

Also on Tuesday, an influential group of the world’s largest investors, responsible for $22.5 trillion in assets, called on governments to ramp up action on climate change, saying the efforts so far have been mediocre.

In an open letter to governments of the world’s largest economies, the investors said it is clear that global greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise, increasing the risk of dangerous and disruptive climate change.

“Institutional investors note and commend the progress that a number of governments have made in responding to the threat of climate change and in implementing what we have described as investment grade climate policy,” the letter said.

“Despite the evident policy progress in some countries, extreme weather events are already increasing in frequency with often disruptive effects on communities, local economies, companies and investments.

“Current policies are insufficient to avert serious and dangerous impacts from climate change. Further delay in implementing adequately ambitious climate and clean energy policy will increase investment risk for institutional investors and jeopardise the investments and retirement savings of millions of citizens.”

The letter also suggested politicians phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, which remain six times higher than subsidies for renewable energy sources, while promoting large-scale investments in wind power and other low-carbon solutions.
On Monday, Spiegel Online published a story quoting Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leading climate advisor, saying that politicians need to get their act together on climate change.

In the story, Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, warns that the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius by 2100 will only be possible with a massive rethinking of priorities.
“We’re currently on a course to see a 3.5 to 4 degree change by the end of the century,” he said. “We’ve stressed time and again, that we need nothing less than a new industrial revolution, but many politicians haven’t listened. They’ve just sat back.”
Schellnhuber also said in the story that the European Union could easily achieve a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020 relative to 1990, instead of the 20% it has currently committed to, which is a position long advocated by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

On Sunday, the World Bank released a report saying that humankind is well on its way to raising the global temperature by 4 degrees Celsius before the end of this century, twice as high as scientists say is the safe limit for temperature rise.

The report, Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided, spells out what Earth would be like if it warmed by 4 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes.

“The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wet- ter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems,” Jim Yong Kim, World Bank President, said.

“Most importantly, a 4°C world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs, he said. “The lack of action on climate change not only risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world, it threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development.”

Lastly, delegates heading to Doha should consider a report that Greenpeace International and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) released 14 November which shows wind power could supply up to 12% of global electricity by 2020, creating 1.4 million new jobs and reducing CO2 emissions by more than 1.5 billion tons per year, more than five times today’s level.

By 2030, the report added, wind power could provide more than 20% of global electricity supply.

“It is clear that wind energy is going to play a major role in our energy future,” said Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of GWEC. “But for wind to reach its full potential, governments need to act quickly to address the climate crisis, while there’s still time.”

All of these reports essentially point in the same direction: the global climate change crisis is getting worse and politicians need to act now to speed up a new green economy that taps into wind power and other renewables while rapidly moving away from toxic fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, from a European perspective, the alarming findings of these climate change reports may be falling on deaf political ears. Tonight, EU Heads of State will officially start the squabble on the EU’s next multi-annual budget with some, perhaps spearheaded by the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, insisting on EU budget cuts. One implication of a cut in the EU budget is less funding for renewable energy R&D, and less funding for improving Europe’s electricity grids – both of which are needed to bring the massive amounts of renewables online that could make a serious difference to the amount of carbon Europe pumps into the atmosphere to create electricity every day.


By Chris Rose,