Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action in the European Commission since February 2010, gave a great keynote speech at the World Future Energy Summit (part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week) a few days ago. Below are two videos of her speech and a text summary of the key points (in my opinion). (Note: CleanTechnica also landed an exclusive interview with Connie that I think is worth viewing.)
Connie started off with a staggering figure: “By 2030 — it’s only 17 years from now — the world will need at least 45% more energy.” Alone, that would be a huge challenge, but we also have an equally or even greater challenge, Connie immediately adds: “At the same time, climate change is accelerating. And sometimes I wonder if we really do need a moral compass; do we really need more incidents, more floodings, more heavy precipitation, more storms, more hurricanes, more melting, in order for all of us to realize, that to continue business as usual does not come for free — that actually comes with quite a substantial price tag. So, we need to change course. And it will take a lot of political will, and it will take significant investment to meet the rising energy demand whilst mitigating climate change. But the good news is that it is do-able.”
She then transitioned into Europe, and the positive economic benefits that Europe is seeing as it transitions to a clean energy economy (note that 70% of new EU power came from renewable energy sources in 2011). “In Europe, the clean energy revolution is already under way. It is not only a huge challenge, but we also tend to see it as a huge opportunity, also to help us combat the economic crisis, and to exit the economic crisis, because we can see that this sector also has a huge potential for job creation, and that is what we need more than ever. So it’s an opportunity to create jobs; it’s also an opportunity to diversify our economies and investment portfolios.”
Great points — what a high-quality call to action and what important reflections on some of the key and underacknowledged benefits of a clean energy revolution! Here’s more from Connie’s speech, followed by what I consider some of the key quotes:
From that video above, below are some of Connie’s key points.
“In the United Kingdom, they have continued to focus on renewables, and if they actually do that as they have planned up to 2020, what we can see is a 4-time increase in the jobs in the renewable sector… to 400,000 by 2020.”
“Even if fossil fuel resources are not going to run out tomorrow, making a fossil fuel transition to”
Fossil Fuel Subsidies Must Go
“Furthermore, [the EU has] mapped out a cost-effective pathway to becoming a low-carbon society by the middle of this century. Even if fossil fuel resources are not going to run out tomorrow, making a transition to the low-carbon economy is imperative if we to avoid leaving a world at the mercy of dangerous climate change to our children and grandchildren. The challenge we face is to ensure that the projected growth of global energy use is accompanied by a substantial reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions….”
“First, we need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. The G20 has pledged to do so — they actually pledged it many times — but we still need to see it implemented…. Last year, development went in the wrong direction and fossil fuel subsidies globally grew by 30%. Now it’s up to $523 billion in a year. How wise is that as a strategy, if we actually cared about developing into a low-carbon world?
“According to the International Energy Agency, they estimate that if fossil fuel subsidies were completely phased out by 2020, global energy demand would fall by 5%, equivalent to the current consumption of Japan, Korea, and New Zealand combined.
“But for now, consumer subsidies for the use of fossil fuels are still around 6 times higher than what we use for subsidies for renewables. Here’s something to address politically, and it’s actually urgent.”
Not only should we not be subsidizing fossil fuels, but we should actually be adding the cost of pollution to their price tag, as Connie eloquently argues.
“The second big change that would help with this: the price of different energy sources needs to reflect that cost to the climate and to the environment in general. Carbon markets is one key tool here.” She was happy to note that at least, aside from the EU, other countries have implemented such policies. She noted South Korea and California (not mentioning Australia for some reason). And, “most exciting maybe,” noted a pilot project by China in this regard.
The water–energy nexus was the focus of this first-ever Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. Naturally, Connie did an excellent job nailing the link. She focused on the fact that water is fresh, clean already a scarcity in many parts of the world, and that it will become more of one as global warming grows and climate change continues. As few do, she pointed out that we need to stop wasting this water in our electricity production processes by contaminating it or evaporating it. She didn’t explicitly say so, but that is what happens when we produce electricity using natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy. Solar PV and wind power are tens or even hundreds of times better for the preservation of our water supplies.
Beyond water, she also noted how increasing droughts and record heat are already driving the price of various crops to socially destructive levels, and how that story will only grow as the world continues to warm.
What can I say — as expected, Connie nailed the concerns of climate change, the various benefits from tackling it, and how to tackle it.
For more content from Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, check out our archive pages for Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, for the World Future Energy Summit, and/or for the International Renewable Energy Conference.
Full Disclosure: my trip to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week was funded by Masdar. That said, I was completely free to cover what I wanted throughout the week, and at no point did I feel under pressure to cover any specific events or Masdar in any particular way.
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