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Germany

"Developing Renewables is in Everyone's Interests."

German Development Minister and host of Renewables 2004, Heidemarie Weiczorek-Zeul says it is important for the industrialized world to promote development in the energy sector as a means of alleviating world poverty.

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Industrialized countries need to maintain their credibility when it comes to environmental protection.

In an interview with German public television news Tagesschau, Heidemarie Weiczorek-Zeul says she hopes the Renewables conference will help focus attention on developing alternative energy sources and reducing the world's dependency on oil.

Tagesschau: Renewable energy resources are generally associated with environmental or economic policy rather than development. What does renewable energy have to do with economic cooperation and development policy?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul : The two are very closely linked. Two billion people -- that's one third of the world's population -- are without access to modern energy supplies. If we want to half the number of people living in abject poverty by the year 2015, then we have to ask ourselves how we can give them this access.

It's in everyone's interests that this occurs with the help of energy resources that don't damage the climate and which also help reduce developing countries' high oil costs, which add up to $60 billion a year. If these costs can be reduced, these countries will be able to spend more on education and health, for example.

The goal of the "Renewables 2004" conference is to prompt greater global commitment to use of renewable energy. How do you think it can do this?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul : It's three-fold. First, with the help of a political charter in which the signatories commit themselves to promoting use of renewable and efficient energy. Over 100 governments have already expressed their support for such a charter.

Second, all participating countries as well as international institutions such as the World Bank, need to develop and present their own plans of action. I hope this will give rise to the positive form of competitiveness that we know from donor conferences.

Finally, we hope that by agreeing on strategies we can be more effective in our recommendations to the policy-makers responsible. For example, our recommendations could contain a proposal to reduce the high subsidies for other forms of energy which would help make renewables more competitive.

The conference hopes that countries will act on a voluntary basis in order to avoid the fate of the Kyoto protocol, with individual states putting the brakes on. How do you hope to ensure that the voluntary targets are really implemented?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul : What I'd like to see is a network of ministers remain in place after the conference who ensure communication and links between respective strategic planning. A follow-up conference should also take place in one or two years time which checks up on how the countries are going about implementation. The U.N. division responsible, the Commission for Sustainable Development, will also do a follow-up check.

I'm also expecting participants to act out of self-interest because I'm gradually getting tired of the fact that every time oil prices rise, people talk about how we have to become less dependent on oil, but the practical conclusions are never drawn. Anyone who thinks we should not be dependent on an unstable region like the Middle East should ensure that energy sources are diversified.

What's German development policy doing to ensure this?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul : 157 projects involving renewable energy and greater efficiency are already up and running as part of regional programms.

In 2002, the German chancellor earmarked €500 million each for renewable energy and improved efficiency for 2003 to 2007. We'll be laying out further plans at the conference, including generous support for geothermal, energy extraction via earth warmth. For a lot of regions, this is a highly promising option.

There'll also be a fund for small and medium-sized businesses in South Africa and a joint initiative with the Inter-American Development Bank. Another example is a French-German-Afghan initiative for sustainable energy in Afghanistan.

How are the developing countries responding? Don't most of them prefer conventional fossil fuel?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul: There's a certain amount of skepticism in some countries. But our partner countries who are committed to renewable energy tell us that developing renewable energy resources helps create specific, qualified jobs. That helps tackle poverty.

So it's very important that the industrialized countries maintain their credibility in this respect. Otherwise they're hardly in a position to demand the developing countries invest in this form of energy.

What's Germany doing to maintain its credibility?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul : For a start, we've organized this conference. We've brought together all these participants and we hope that will prompt committed regional decision-making.

The renewable energy law approved by the Bundestag was also exemplary and gave us an international reputation as a pioneering country in this respect -- which makes it all the more unfortunate that the opposition majority held up the law, even though it failed to prevent it.

The dispute over the renewable energy law shows that implementing Germany's pioneering role on a political level will be made harder now that renewable energy is seen as a luxury that can only be indulged during times of economic prosperity?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul : No. That might be how its more vocal opponents see it, but surveys show that around 70 percent of the population disagree. They believe it's important to develop renewable energy resources -- and that doing so will also help create jobs.

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