ABU DHABI // Individual governments must act now instead of waiting for a global deal to avert catastrophic climate changes, the UN secretary-general said yesterday.
“National action cannot wait for the negotiations to advance,” he said. “In fact, such steps can actually help negotiators to reach the agreement we need.”
Ban Ki-moon was addressing a distinguished audience of heads of state, ministers, enterpreneurs and clean-energy specialists on the first day of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.
Talks within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are currently trying to reach inter-governmental agreement on cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Ban said the international climate summit in Mexico last month had achieved some success and “we must build on it as we prepare for the next meeting in South Africa”.
But rather than wait for the outcome of those talks at the end of this year, governments needed to act today, he said.
Environmentalists have been calling for a change in the world’s energy systems, which are based on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. The burning of these fuels in power plants and car engines is a contributor to climate change, which could have devastating impacts on the planet in future. Renewable energy from the sun, wind, ocean currents and other clean sources is believed to be one way to mitigate some of that damage.
Mr Ban yesterday pointed to the magnitude of the challenge. In the next two decades, global energy consumption would rise by 40 per cent, he said. Most of that growth will be in developing countries, where three billion people still rely on wood and other inefficient energy sources to cook, and to heat their homes.
The high-level panel on global sustainability that Mr Ban established in 2009 recommended two ambitious global targets:universal access to modern energy sources and a 40 per cent increase in energy efficiency. Achieving the targets will require $35 billion (Dh129bn) a year over the 20 years. This was just three per cent of projected global investment in energy for the same period, Mr Ban said.
“We need to get our priorities right,” he said.
Dr Sultan al Jaber, chief executive of Masdar, the Abu Dhabi renewable energy company, said governments must encourage competition in the energy field and develop policies that encouraged the adoption of clean technologies.
“Competition drives innovation,” he said. “We must catalyse the implementation and develop the required regulatory framework that encourages the use of clean-energy technologies.”
But Dr al Jaber said world leaders should not altogether discount fossil fuels. Energy must come from a mix of sources, he said, including “clean fossil fuels and peaceful nuclear energy”. Abu Dhabi is developing a nuclear energy programme and is also leading efforts in carbon capture and storage, a new technology that proponents hope will allow for greenhouse emissions to be captured and stored in geological formations rather than emitted into the atmosphere.
The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, gave his country as an example of the energy challenges facing the world. With a fast-rising population, Pakistan must double its current power capacity of 2,000 megawatts in a decade if its economy is to continue growing.
“We are an example of the world’s energy crisis,” he said.
The flooding in Pakistan last year, which left 20 million people homeless and an area the size of Italy under water, has reminded its people about the need to balance economic growth with environmental concerns, he said.
“Even the most cynical can no longer question the consequences of environmental abuse,” Mr Zardari said.
Also on the podium yesterday was Jose Socrates de Sousa, the prime minister of Portugal, where more than half the electricity consumed in 2010 was generated by clean sources such as solar, wind and hydro power, he said.
“The Portuguese people know now that renewable energy is good for the environment, of course, but it is also very good for economic growth and to create jobs.”