November 8, 2005

Global Energy Meet Agrees to Roadmap on Renewables

By Lindsay Beck

BEIJING -- Environment officials from around the world agreed in Beijing on Tuesday to work to increase reliance on renewable sources of energy, underscoring a commitment to renewables after oil prices hit record highs.

The draft statement stopped short of setting a firm goal but it recommended the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development consider the launch of a 10-year framework to "substantially increase the use of renewable energy."

The Beijing Declaration was the culmination of a two-day international conference that was a follow-up to meetings in Johannesburg in 2002 and last year in Bonn that aim to promote cooperation on renewable energy.

"The 10-year framework is much more specific than Bonn. They now have an official request of the UN Commission that feeds back into the UN system," Christine Woerlen, of the Global Environment Facility, told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

The statement also did not set a target for investment in the renewables sector, though it stressed the need for funds for research and development, support for commercialization of new technologies and the transfer of technologies from rich nations to poor.

"Targets and timetables do matter. But there is a dispirited feeling that the U.S. just rejects multilateral target-setting for the time being," said James Cameron of Climate Change Capital, a UK-based merchant bank that focuses on energy and the environment.

Nonetheless, he said the commitment to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind power was growing.

"Years ago, there wasn't the same solidarity about exposure to oil price risk, exposure to climate risk, the manifest air pollution problems. Those are powerful confluences," he said.

The world will need massive investment in infrastructure to meet surging energy demand, otherwise it will face soaring greenhouse gas emissions, increased dependence on the volatile Middle East for fuel and even higher prices, the International Energy Agency said in a long-term outlook on Monday.

Global investment in renewable energy hit a record $30 billion last year, accounting for 20-25 percent of all investment in the power industry, according to a Worldwatch Institute report released on Sunday.

Although renewable forms of energy are still more expensive than coal and oil, the Beijing Declaration acknowledged that record high global oil prices were focusing attention on alternative sources of power.

"We also note with concern that recent trends in the world energy market, especially the doubling of oil prices in less than two years, has increased the economic risk of relying primarily on imported energy and a volatile world energy market," it said.

On Monday, China, which is the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States, raised its target for renewable energy, saying it should account for 15 percent of national consumption by 2020.

Some delegates said the conference was only meaningful if there was a commitment to similar targets globally and more concrete pledges on technology transfer.

"For the developing world, we want concrete terms," said Ramialiarisoa Harivelo, of Madagascar's Energy Ministry.

"We don't want declaration after declaration."