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Home » Climate Change, COP21

Can national governments keep up with the change in the world?

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 10:48

Anna Leidreiter, Policy Officer, Climate and Energy, World Future Council shares positive stories of how to mitigate climate change and boost socio-economic development

Anna LeidreiterThe UN Climate Conference in Paris was a test to see whether national politicians could keep up with the change we are seeing in the real world. While nations brokered the climate deal, mayors from around the world have already shown in recent years what’s working in the fight against climate change. In fact, especially the growing global movement for 100% renewable energy (RE) proves that climate action is not only a moral obligation but socially and economically the most beneficial path.

The City of Frankfurt is one example that shows how local economies can be strengthened by transitioning to 100% RE. By 2050, the City will produce 100% of its energy consumption with local and regional renewable sources. Hereby, the City brings down its current energy import costs of €2 billion a year to zero. Thanks to its public local utility which drives this transition, the city of Frankfurt not only benefits from these savings but also generates additional income in the form of revenues and tax incomes.

By prioritizing energy production from within the city and from the surrounding region – while still being connected to the larger national grid – the money will stay in the region. Energy efficiency measures have saved Frankfurt €100 million in energy costs, a number that is projected to rise. Finally, the city has reduced emissions by 15% since 1990, while its economy grew by 50% for its approximately 715.000 inhabitants.

Looking at North America, one city that leads this movement is Vancouver. Widely recognised as the most livable city in the world, its environmental footprint is currently three times larger than it can sustain. Mayor Robertson and his team are committed to changing this by putting the city on track to meet all its energy needs via 100% renewable sources as part of a grand plan to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world.

By 2050, Vancouver will obtain 100% of the energy it uses from renewable sources and emit 80% fewer GHGs than in 2007. But it is not only the climate and environment that motivates the government to take this action: The city of Vancouver is a great example on how climate and environmental protection on the one hand and economic growth on the other hand can complement each other. A study by Brand Finance estimates that Vancouver’s brand is valued at $31 billion due to its reputation as a “green, clean and sustainable” city. Additionally, by steering the city towards 100% renewable energy and focusing on local sustainability, the City has helped create more than 3,000 new local green jobs in only 5 years.

In fact, both cities prove that converting our energy system is about more than replacing fossil resources with sun and wind as new sources. The business model for renewables is completely different. It starts in the fundamental way our energy system is structured. The current fossil fuel based energy system is characterized by complex centralized infrastructures where a) the fuel is transported to the power plant, and b) energy production and distribution is controlled by some entities. The supply chain is vertical, and the benefits are shared only among a few stakeholders. In the necessary transformation towards 100% renewable energy, this is changing.

As Tony Seba puts it, renewable energy will flip the architecture of energy and bring abundant, cheap and participatory energy to everyone. The technologies are based on a decentralized way of energy production and consumption, embody a horizontal supply chain, and require innovation in infrastructure and energy markets. New stakeholders, including citizens, farmers and small businesses, are entering the system; claim ownership rights, and have direct impacts on the implementation. New ownership models are required and are being developed as different stakeholders become directly involved in the transformation.

A pioneer of this movement is Denmark. The country is well on its way to achieving its 100% renewable energy target for electricity, heat and transport by 2050 thanks to the success of the co-operative enterprise model that places people, local communities and regions firmly in the driver’s seat. Over 100 wind turbine co-operatives have a combined ownership of three-quarters of the country’s turbines and hereby drive local development in rural communities.

One example is Hvide Sande – “White Sand” – on the west coast of Denmark. The three turbines at the Hvide Sande harbour were set up in December 2011. As per Danish law, 80% of the turbines is owned by a local business fund from the Holmsland Klit Tourist Association which initiated and financed the project. Hvide Sande’s North Harbour Turbine Society I/S pays an annual rent of €644,000 to the local harbour.

The other 20% is owned by local residents living within a 4.5 km radius, again according to guidelines set out by the Danish Renewable Energy Act. This wind co-operative has 400 local stakeholders, and with an annual return of 9 to 11% the turbines are expected to pay for themselves in 7 to 10 years. The fund is used to initiate new business initiatives for the benefit of the harbor and local municipality.

While many energy experts and governments see citizen participation and the involvement of communities as a necessity to ensure acceptance and avoid nimbyism, the benefits go much beyond this. In fact, adopting a people-centered approach and empowering citizens, farmers and small businesses to invest in renewable energy projects, is a tool for socio-economic development and wealth distribution.

Last September, a German study revealed that some 5.4 billion € were generated in Germany in 2012 through renewable energy projects that were partially or fully owned by local investors – including citizens. Local private investments created a total of about 100,000 jobs that year in both the construction sector and operation.

So, have national politicians actually passed the test in Paris? Can they keep up with the change we are seeing in the real world? Looking at the final agreement, one could say: Indeed, the Paris Agreement marks a fundamental paradigm shift as for the first time, 195 countries have agreed to keep the earth hospitable for human beings. However, it lacks any clear figures or measures on phasing out greenhouse gas emissions but still tries to manage them. This is well reflected by the fact that parties could only agree upon the goal of “achieving a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases.”

It is an illusion to think that we can continue with “business-as-usual” and burn fossil fuels and emit carbon, as long as the emissions are off-set by sequestration through negative emissions technologies (like nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage), afforestation (planting trees), or geoengineering techniques of ocean fertilization. Likewise, it is an illusion to think that simply fueling the same system with different resources will lead us to more equal wealth distribution, social well-being, or keep the planet habitable for future generations.

With the international community starting to implement the Paris Agreement as well as the new Post-2015 Development Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals, there is the urgent need for standards and indicators that allow measuring and assessing policies and implementation. For this, we must learn from pioneers of the global 100% RE movement as they are the most shining example on how to mitigate climate change and boost socio-economic development.

Therefore, members of the Global 100% RE campaign have initiated a consultation process to develop guidelines that support policy makers on how to reach a sustainable 100% RE vision.