Global Policy Forum

Sustainable Energy

Picture Credit:

Sustainable economic activity must be based on benign, renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. This section, moderated by Michael Tanzer, will focus on the policies and action of international agencies and organizations for the promotion of sustainable energy systems, by presenting key documents and reports, as well as general articles, dealing with these and related  issues. 

In the run-up to the international conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, the UN declared 2012 as the "international year for sustainable energy for all." Governments must cooperate to transform global energy systems as a key part of agreements for sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Due to global economic problems and the heavy influence of multinational corporations on global energy policies, governments are reluctant to work together on these urgent tasks, preferring to act according to narrowly-framed national interests and economic “stability.”  In their policy pronouncements, governments emphasize the short-term costs and problems, rather than the opportunities, of (radical) steps towards sustainable energy systems. 

Many scientists have ruled out arguments that market forces and technological changes can gradually lead to a sustainable energy future. This section considers the urgent need for energy system transition to avert catastrophic climate change. A good life for the world’s peoples does not require intensive energy use. 


2014 |2013 | 20122011 l 2010 l 2009 l 2008


Conference on the transition to sustainable societies: EU5P (February 11, 2014)

UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, announces the Francqui International Conference on "Europe's Fifth Project" (EU5P), taking place on 8-9 May 2014 in Brussels. The EU5P conference will discuss new ways to measure progress, new modes of living, producing and consuming, and new, transitional governance tools that can serve Europe’s transition to sustainable societies. (UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food)


Domestic Climate Laws are Essential, Says UN (January 13,2013)

As negotiations on a new global climate deal continue, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres stresses that progress post-Kyoto depends on domestic climate legislation. Governments are reluctant to take steps nationally for converting to a low carbon economy from fear of having an unfair competitive advantage compared to countries pursuing “business-as-usual”. However, creating national policies promoting alternative energy can help build support in the international community and change governments’ approach in future climate change negotiations. Yet, “clean energy” alone cannot solve climate change and efforts to address current trends in energy demands must continue at both a domestic and international level. (The Guardian)


World Energy Report: the Good, the Bad and the Really, Truly Ugly (November 27, 2012)

The 2012 World Energy Outlook report provides a grave depiction of our energy future. It mainly focuses on the positive that advances in drilling technology will increase US oil production to make it the largest producer by 2020. However, it is the result of a simultaneous production decline from tradition markets like Saudi Arabia and Russia. Thus, energy security remains a key issue especially since the report predicts growth in demand. Furthermore, future increase in renewable energy will be insignificant thus continuing the dependency on fossil fuels. More importantly, the report alludes to a 3.6 °C increase in long term average global temperature even with drastic measures to curb greenhouse gases. Thus, creating resiliency on both energy projections and climate change is the current global dilemma. Focusing efforts on reducing energy demands is ultimately more favorable due to the slow increase in clean energy. (Huffington Post)

Helping a Neighbor Ease its Oil Use (October 1, 2012)

The renewable energy firm Masdar backed by the Abu Dhabi government is looking into diversifying the energy mix in neighboring Saudi Arabia. With rising oil-consumption in Saudi Arabia owing to extravagant lifestyles, analysts speculate that “demand will grow threefold in the next 20 years, with supply unlikely to keep up.” When one of the biggest global oil producers is investing in energy diversification with future consumption rates in mind, there really is little excuse for other big energy consuming countries not to do the same. While diversification does not address energy overconsumption, it could be the first step towards a more sustainable model. (New York Times)

Can Energy For All be a Reality by 2030? (September 26, 2012)

UNGA Resolution 65/151 passed at the end of 2010 declared 2012 as the international year of Sustainable Energy for All. This global initiative led by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon aims to ensure universal access to energy, double the rate of energy efficiency improvements and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. These targets are meant to answer some of the key challenges posed by poverty, inequality, economic growth and environmental risks, but it is unclear who will fund the campaign budget, which will rise from $9bn a year to $40-50bn. More importantly, critics have questioned whether increase in energy consumption is what we should be lobbying for at the outset of serious climate change concerns. (Guardian)

Germany Rethinks Path to Green Future (August 29, 2012)

Germany has taken a bold step towards green energy by moving away from nuclear energy to renewable energy. Ambitious targets have been set for renewable energy to take up 35% of the energy mix by 2020. Although these efforts are commendable, much needs improving in terms of reducing the cost of green energy to consumers, who are experiencing rising electricity costs and are as a result having second thoughts on green energy. Many solutions, such as subsiding wind and solar energy and shifting costs to the largest electricity consumers, have been explored. The clock is ticking for the German Environment Minister to right the biggest project his government has undertaken, and set an example for other states to make the switch to green energy. (Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign)

Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment (July, 2011)

This report gives a comprehensive examination of the various  kinds of  investment in renewable energy in 2010, which in total reached a record of  $211 billion, up by 32% over 2009 and almost seven times the figure for 2004. While this growth is impressive, the report also notes that investment in all fossil fuels was still about five times that of investment in renewables. Moreover, while non-hydro renewables accounted for about one third of the total new capacity added by all fuels, existing total capacity of renewable power was only about 8% of total world electrical capacity; in terms of actual electricity generation, non-hydro renewables accounted for only 5%. (UNEP)

Nuclear Power Companies Buying up Wind and Solar Assets (March 29, 2012)

British and French nuclear power and engineering firms have in recent years been buying up billions of dollars worth of firms operating in the renewable energy area., according to a report of the consulting firm PwC. The report speculates that the nuclear disaster in Japan could speed up such acquisitions as the nuclear firms hedge against slowing growth in the nuclear area. (Oil Price)

US Fossil Fuel Boom Dims Glow of Clean Energy (March 29, 2012)

A boom in oil and gas production in the United States, led by an upsurge in tapping unconventional gas and oil reserves locked in underground shale formations, has been bad news for the renewable energy industries, particularly solar and wind power. The situation is epitomized by developments in Ohio, which in 2008 passed a law requiring utilities to buy 25 percent of their power from renewable sources. This soon led to growth of hundreds of companies employing thousands of workers in the renewable energy sector. Now, however, the changing comparative energy economics plus governmental action is leaning toward favoring the booming fossil fuel industry, and many renewable energy firms are cutting back. In the words of the president of the Ohio Manufacturers Association: “The energy picture has changed dramatically. The price of electrical power is low. The price of natural gas is low. It’s changed the thinking on all alternative technologies. It’s affecting solar. You could say it’s taking the wind out of wind.” (Yale Environment 360)

Wind Power Growth: From A Gust To A Breeze? (February 21, 2012)

Total installed capacity worldwide of wind power increased in 2011 by 21%, to a total of 238,000 MW, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). Although this is an impressive growth rate, the GWBC is concerned by the decline in the trend line for the growth rate: from 32% in 2009 to 24% in 2010. Further, the GWEC noted that "2011 is a tough year, as will be 2012", but held the view that "the long-term fundamentals of the industry remain very sound." (Earthtechling)

Cuba on the Road to Clean Energy Developmentt (February 7, 2012)

Solar power and other renewable energy sources are increasingly seen in Cuba as the best possibilities for economic development while at the same time fighting harmful climate change. Although Cuba has tremendous potential in terms of the amount of sunlight reaching it -- solar radiation received there is equivalent to 50 million tons of oil per day -- its present production of renewables is relatively very small. But plans launched in April 2011 to modernize the economy and make it more efficient give priority to renewable power sources. According to Luis Berriz, the head of CUBASOLAR, a non-governmental organization promoting alternative and environmentally friendly power sources, the key to moving away from oil is to develop the knowledge, technology and industry necessary to tap into the various renewable energy sources most available in each area. Plans include expanding solar panel production, but the pace is constrained by the huge financial limitations of the country. (IPS Terraviva)

New IEA-IRENA partnership will heighten co-operation and policy collaboration (January 16, 2012)

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency ( IRENA) have signed a partnership agreement to strengthen cooperation between the two organizations. One focal point will be development of a joint database of renewable energy policies, with the aim of maximizing output while avoiding duplication of efforts. The new initiative will build on an existing IEA database and will be known as the IEA/I RENA Global Renewable Energy Policies and Measures Database, which will also collect data from IRENA members and signatory countries. The database will be a updated at least twice a year and will be open to free public access. (IEA)

Wind Giant Vestas Cuts Back (January 13, 2012)

Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, the world's largest wind-turbine manufacturer, has cut its employment by 10%, in the face of “industry overcapacity.” Vestas has been under pressure from expansion of Chinese manufacturers, with half of all new wind power capacity in 2010 installed in China. Additionally, internationally governmental financial crises have put pressure on governments to reduce subsidies for wind power in the US and Europe. Although the International Energy Agency forecasts a fourfold increase in wind power generation from 2009 to 2020, the head of the renewable energy team at  HG Capital forecasts that "there will be more supply than demand probably for another five years in the wind sector." (Wall Street Journal)


In Solar Power, India Begins Living Up to Its Own Ambitions (December 28, 2011)

Use of solar power in India is beginning to take off, from a negligible level of 140 MW today toward a government goal of reaching 20,000 MW by the year 2020 – the same order of magnitude as Germany, currently the largest user of solar power. The principal factors propelling this growth have been large government subsidies along with a sharp drop in solar panel costs, by 30 to 40% in 2011, to less than $1 per watt. Although in India coal-generated power is still far cheaper than solar power, solar costs are now competitive with oil-based power. (New York Times)

Carbon Emissions Show Biggest Jump Ever Recorded (December 4, 2011)

According to the “Global Carbon Project,” carbon emissions increased almost 6% in 2010. This represents the largest absolute increase in recorded history and the largest percentage increase since 2003. This partly reflects a bounce back from the 1.4 percent decline in emissions during recession-impacted 2009. Overall the decade saw an average annual growth rate in emissions of about 3%, acceleration over the 1% average rate of the 1990s. While the bulk of the increase in emissions came from developing countries, a large part of this is attributable to growing production of energy intensive manufactured goods which are exported to the developed countries. The data suggest that global efforts to make energy systems greener have had little impact to date. (New York Times)

Oil and Gas Had Help. Why Not Renewables? (October 15, 2011)

The recent bankruptcy of Solyndra, a large solar power company backed by the U.S. government, has called into question whether the government should be providing support for renewable energy projects. The author, Robert B. Semple Jr., argues that it should because new technologies are inherently risky, and bringing them to market on a large scale often requires public capital and support to reduce the risk to the private sector. He notes that there is a long tradition of this in the U.S. energy sector, including providing land grants to help build the coal industry, Defense Department support for the nuclear industry and tax breaks and credits for the oil and gas industry. (New York Times)

Renewables, Competitiveness and Innovation – IITC Inauguration Workshop (October 6, 2011)

This workshop, hosted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), presented many papers on innovation and technology in the renewable energy sector. Some of the principal topics covered were the competitiveness and cost and benefits of renewables, costs and benefits of systems integration, innovations for accelerated deployment and the next big developments in renewables. Many of these papers are shown in full PowerPoint presentation, including notably a preview of the draft IRENA study on "the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies." (IRENA)

Sustainable Energy for All a Priority for UN Secretary-General's Second Term (Septembre 21, 2011)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proclaimed a top priority for his second term is promoting sustainable energy, stating that "energy is key -- to our planet, to our way of life. That is why we have launched a pioneering new initiative, Sustainable Energy for All.”  One  quantitative goal is to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by the year 2030. Part of this initiative is formation of a high-level advisory group of leaders from global corporations, financial institutions and foundations to work with UN agencies and member states. An immediate goal is to produce “within months” a comprehensive and concrete action agenda for the Rio+20 conference in June 2012. (United Nations Foundation)

Renewables 2011: Global Status Report (REN 21) (July 2011)

This comprehensive report by a group dedicated to promoting international cooperation in advancing renewable energies, provides much information on the current status of the sector. Major topics include an overview of the global market, focusing on the subsectors of renewable energy for power generation, heating and cooling, and transport fuel. Other topics include investment flows and industry trends as well as policy targets and their implementations in various subsectors, with a special section on rural renewable energy. The report notes that 2010 saw substantial expansion of renewable energy resources, despite the global recession, led by solar power growth fueled by sharply falling costs. (REN 21)

Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, IPCC SRREN: Summary for Policy Makers (June 14, 2011)

This report summarizes the findings of over 120 researchers on the potential for renewable energy usage by midcentury.The six renewable energy technologies reviewed are: bioenergy, direct solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy and wind energy. Four in-depth scenarios are analyzed to show a range of possibilities. The study's most optimistic conclusion is that "close to 80 percent  of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies." The most pessimistic conclusion is that renewables would account for only 15 percent of total energy in 2050, in line with its present share. (IPCC SRREN)

Nothing More than Hot Air: The World Bank's Perverse Incentives to Pollute Continue Preempting a Better, More Principled Way Forward (June 1, 2011)

The author argues that despite the World Bank's "mandate" since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help reduce carbon emissions, in fact its project funding has gone in the opposite direction. Based on studies by the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. one backward step has been the Bank's increased funding for investments in coal, oil and gas. In addition, by increasingly entering on a large scale into the "cap and trade” carbon offsets market, the Bank has "launched a whole new market in some of the most perverse incentives for increasing greenhouse gases ever imagined." (Institute for Policy Studies)

IAE Sees Record CO2 Emissions in 2010 (May 30, 2011)

The chief economist of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol,  warned that record CO2 emissions in 2010, driven mainly by growth in the booming coal-reliant emerging economies, were already close to targets set by the Cancun climate talks last year. With IEA studies showing that "80% of the electricity generation related emissions for 2020 are already locked in, the room for maneuver is only of 20%."Birol further warned: "every year we don't have a (climate change) agreement, every year we don't give a clear signal to pave the way for renewable energies and other clean energy technologies, the room for maneuver to get to the 2020 target shrinks." (Reuters)

First Solar and China Power International New Energy Announce International Cooperation Framework Agreement (May 13, 2011)

Recently a strategic cooperation agreement has been signed between First Solar Inc. of the United States and China Power International New Energy Holding Ltd. (CPINE) to collaborate on solar photovoltaic (PV) projects in China and the U.S. and other international markets. The goal is to bring together the advantages of First Solar as a leading photovoltaic solar technology company and CPINE as a leading renewable energy developer in China. First Solar has a 2.4 GW pipeline of PV in North America and CPINE plans to have a 2.0 GW pipeline in China by 2020. (Global Solar Technology)

Panel Urges Germany to Close Nuclear Plants by 2021 (May 11, 2011)

A 22 member Ethics Commission appointed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and drawn from the energy industry and nongovernmental organizations has called for the complete abandonment of nuclear power in Germany in the next 10 years. In a 28-page report, not yet published, the Commission argued that withdrawing from nuclear power must be fundamentally done for safety reasons, but could be a boon to the German economy: "a withdrawal from nuclear power will spur growth, offer enormous technical, economic and social opportunities to position Germany even further as an exporter of sustainable products and services." (New York Times)

Japan's Nuclear Future in the Balance (May 9, 2011)

The March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident at Fukushima have led to a debate over the extent to which Japan should favor nuclear power as opposed to renewable energy resources for its growing energy base. Because Japan has virtually no indigenous oil or gas, it has relied heavily on nuclear power to reduce vulnerability to fossil fuel supply disruptions. Before the accident, Japanese government policy was to expand nuclear power so that by 2030 it would account for about half of Japanese electricity generation. Now, however, supporters of sustainable energy have urged a major shift away from nuclear toward solar, wind and geothermal power, which today accounts for only 1% of electricity generation. Aside from issues of cost, renewable energy faces the political and economic power of the close alliance between the government, reactor manufacturers and Japan's 10 leading electrical utilities which seek to maintain centralized control over the power grid – something which would be threatened by the growth of numerous small producers of renewables. (New York Times)

Germany's Unlikely Champion of a Radical Green Energy Path (May 9, 2011)

In a remarkable turnaround in energy policy, Chancellor Angela Merkel in mid-March called for Germany’s complete abandonment of nuclear power, a  slash in the use of coal and sharp increases in renewable energy’s share of electricity generation: up from 17% at present to 35% in 2020, 50% in 2030 and more than 80% in 2050. In the author's view, the Japanese nuclear disaster was just the trigger to her change: Merkel's background in the 1980s as an East German researcher in quantum chemistry studying the probability of subatomic events long ago convinced her that "opponents of nuclear energy were "bad at assessing risks". But now, Merkel stated, "Fukushima has forever changed the way we define risk in Germany." (Yale Environment 360)

First Unified and Worldwide Symbol for Sustainable Energy (April 26, 2011)

Because there is no uniform global logo to identify sustainability, "Happy Energy” proposes a new symbol as a recognizable universal sign for sustainability. It was developed by Erik Schoppen, cofounder of Happy Energy, which describes itself as "a young future oriented movement that wants to propagate the positive philosophy of the sustainable society by means of renewable energy and sustainable products and projects that spread "happy energy", using the Happy Energy logo as an identifiable and universal symbol. (PR Newswire)

Report Details World Bank's Fossil Fuel Binge (April 14, 2011)

This report authored by experts at seven NGOs, charges that the World Bank, despite its proclaimed commitment to renewable energy, continues to lend heavily for fossil fuel development. The conclusion is based on seven case studies in the Global South, and raises objections to allowing the World Bank to have "an influential role in the UN's new Green Climate Fund." (Friends of the Earth)

La Via Campesina Declaration in Cancun (January 14, 2011)

Representatives of La Via Campesina, an international movement of poor and landless farmers and their supporters, denounced the results of the official United Nations climate change meeting in Cancun in December 2010: "instead of confronting the climate crisis, the resolutions in Cancun will only worsen it, as they failed to establish binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gases and obligatory goals to reduce emissions; instead they strengthened carbon markets." (La Via Campesina)


A Symbolic Solar Road Trip to Reignite a Climate Movement (September 7, 2010)

The author describes the various paths taken by solar hot water panels installed in the Carter White House in 1979 as symbolic of the decline of the U.S. climate movement and the passing of the solar technology torch to China. Removed from the Reagan White House in the 1980s, McKibben hopes to see modern versions of them installed in the Obama White House. Meanwhile, one of the original Carter White House panels has ended up in the private museum of a leading Chinese solar entrepreneur who has put up 60 million such systems in China. (Yale Environment 360)


ALBA Declaration on Copenhagen Climate Summit (December 29, 2009)

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), consisting of 10 Caribbean and Latin American countries, denounced the results of the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009. It criticized the "undemocratic process" by which decisions were reached favoring a small group of powerful countries. ALBA also asserted that as regards climate change "the model of capitalist production and consumption is bringing life on the planet to the point of no return... we reiterate 'don't change the climate, change the system!'" (Alliance for the Peoples of Our America)


The Role of IRENA in the Context of Other International Organisations and Initiatves (December 2008)

In January 2009 the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was founded by governments worldwide to "act as the main driving force in promoting a rapid transition towards a widespread and sustainable use of renewable energy." This paper analyzes the role of, and possibilities for cooperation with, other international groups that share this goal of promoting renewable energy, including the United Nation's Environment Programme (UNEP) the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNDP), the United Nations Development Programme, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the World Bank, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency partnership (REEP) and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). (IRENA)


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.