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Powering Ahead with Renewable Energy

John Hay (tkw)June 3, 2004

As the international conference for the promotion of renewable energies enters its third day in Bonn, the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is preparing to bang his drum for a cause close to his heart.

Delegates at Renewables 2004 in Bonn are looking to a greener and brighter future.Image: AP

The chancellor proposed the meeting after the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in the South African city of Johannesburg failed to buckle under European pressure to draw up timetables and targets for boosting renewable energy use.

This time around, delegates at the four-day conference in Bonn aim to come up with an "international action program," setting out specific commitments by individual governments and the international community. Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin told the 3,000 conference delegates Wednesday that renewable energy sources could be the solution to poverty and climate change across the world.

"We need an accelerated global increase in the use of renewable energies," he said. "We must get down to business. We must enable this global increase to become reality, to combat global poverty, to combat global warming. Let's make it real."

Concrete steps

Energiekonferenz in Bonn
Participants in the Renewables 2004 conference attend a session in Germany's former parliament building in Bonn.Image: dpa Zentralbild

On Wednesday, 350 parliamentarians from more than 70 countries took a significant step towards pushing renewable energy sources further towards the mainstream when they released a document calling for the establishment of an International Renewable Energy Agency modeled after the International Atomic Agency in Vienna.

German parliamentarian and president of the Eurosolar organization for renewables, Hermann Scheer, believes it is the only logical way forward.

"Intergovernemtal agencies exist for the promotion of atomic energy, for the promotion of fossil energy, but not exclusively for renewable energies," Scheer told Deutsche Welle. "And this bias is one of the reasons why the dissemination of renewable energies doesn't come through world-wide and why much misinformation is filling decision-maker's minds."

Broad Agreement

Remarkably, German politicians across the political spectrum have agreed on the fundamental ideas of the new agency, as have parliamentarians from countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria .The precise content of the action plan is still unclear, but Germany's Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, co-host of the Bonn conference, has her sights set ambitiously high. She wants to see half the world using renewable energy sources by the year 2050, and not only for geo-political reasons.

"I think it could be possible to give one billion energy-poor people access to renewable energy. It might be ambitious, but it would also prevent other conflicts, make us less dependent on centralised powers, and fight climate change. So all the advantages are in this field," Wieczorek-Zeul (photo) said.

With Latin American countries pledging to increase their share of renewable energy sources by 10 percent before the year 2020, there is certainly some promise of commitment in the air in Bonn. But ecologists are worried that behind-the-scenes haggling could dangerously water down any real commitment, ruining the best political opportunity in a generation to help wean the world off oil.

Klimakonferenz in Bonn - Trittin und Wieczorek-Zeul
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (SPD) and Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin open the conference in Bonn.Image: dpa Zentralbild

There is a danger too, that the United States, Japan, France and Brazil, which managed to root out any reference to timetables or market percentages at the 2002 Summit in Johannesburg, might try to do the same once again in Bonn.