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Opinion: Wind power can show the way to a new climate change agreement

07.12.2009

Today in Copenhagen, negotiators from around the world begin the decisive phase of discussions on a new, strengthened post-Kyoto agreement designed to aggressively scale back on humankind’s destructive — and potentially lethal — greenhouse gas emissions.

Described by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as “the most important international gathering since the end of the Second World War,” the UN climate change conference will test the flexibility, fairness and honesty of policy makers representing the future dreams of 192 nations.

Simply put, we will know by the time the meeting adjourns on 18 December whether agreement has been reached by politicians, or whether narrow national self interests have won the day.

Science clearly shows that humankind has to reject the business-as-usual approach to energy derived from polluting fossil fuels, that we have to collectively lower the temperature of our warming atmosphere, that we have to embrace a new green revolution that encompasses, among other elements, emissions-free wind power.

It is a terrible dilemma and one that we can not run from. But, as recently as last week, there was evidence of optimism in the lead-up to the conference in Denmark.

Nicholas Stern, an economist who analyses the cost of climate change, said national emissions pledges already made are just a few billion tonnes shy of CO₂ cuts needed to meet global 2020 targets.

Annual greenhouse gas emissions have to drop from about 47 billion tonnes in 2010 to approximately 44 billion tonnes in 2020, Stern said, adding they then have to decrease to much less than 20 billion tonnes in 2050 if humankind is to have a 50-50 chance of avoiding a global temperature increase of more than 2˚C, which many scientists regard as the threshold for dangerous climate change.

“If you add up the most ambitious of the intentions to reduce emissions that have been expressed so far, they are, if delivered, around two billion tonnes higher than the overall 2020 goal,” said Stern, calling on politicians to reach a strong political agreement in Copenhagen that would prompt a revolutionary transformation.

Furthering this optimism, India, the world’s second most populated nation, revealed its initial position at the conference by indicating it would reduce its so-called carbon intensity by 24% by 2020.

Brown, writing in the Guardian, said politicians have to reach a political agreement in Copenhagen to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it lapses at the end of 2012.

“Sometimes history comes to turning points,” said Brown, adding a legally-binding agreement has to be concluded within six months of the UN climate change conference. “For all our sakes the turning point of 2009 must be real.

The editorial column that appeared in 56 newspapers around the world on 7 December to coincide with the opening day of the conference also gives a six month limit, saying the June 2010 meeting in Bonn “should be the deadline” for a new treaty.

As policy makers tried to keep on top of last week’s fast-paced developments, good news about wind power was also circling the globe.

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) predicted in a new and revised publication called Pure Power that the industry — local, affordable, sustainable and environmentally-friendly — can meet up to 16.6% of EU electricity demand by 2020, or 14.1% in a lower, business-as-usual scenario.

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported on an academic study in the Scientific American which said wind, solar and water technologies could supply 100% of the planet’s energy needs by 2030, thus eliminating the need for fossil fuels entirely. More than half of the total global electrical demand could be provided by 3.8 million large wind turbines, the study added.

EWEA would like to remind politicians trying to limit the potential ravages of unchecked global warming caused by dirty fossil fuels that wind power continues to represent a proven solution to the vexing climate change conundrum.

It is vitally important that a transparently strong new international emissions-reduction agreement be reached during the next two weeks in Copenhagen. Wind power not only wants to part of that healthier, cleaner revolution: it already is.

Visit EWEA's climate page here.

Chris Rose, EWEA

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