G8 ministers fail to recognise environmental risks of energy options beyond GHG emissions

10 July 2009 | News story

In the G8 declaration released this week, ministers set a joint target of 80% reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a large focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies – though potential environmental and social barriers were not considered. While renewable energy technologies hold much promise for delivering energy with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, IUCN advocates for the establishment of legal and regulatory policies that are robust and which safeguard the environment and people as an important part of the enabling framework for renewable energy.

IUCN welcomes the G8’s initiative to prioritise greater use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. These technologies can help nations move towards delivery of the UN Millennium Development Goals, while meeting the objectives of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As IUCN stated at the UN General Assembly Interactive Thematic Dialogue on Energy Efficiency, Conservation and New and Renewable sources of Energy, energy efficiency and conservation measures should be pursued as the highest priority strategy for reducing emissions without risk to people or the environment.

Environmental safeguards to accelerate renewable energy adoption

Developing renewable energy resources provides an opportunity to diversify energy supply mixes and to phase out increasingly expensive fossil fuels. The wide range of available renewable technologies (including wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydro) allows policy-makers to choose an optimal mix of resources best-suited to their environment. Renewable energy technologies provide the additional advantage of their ability to be deployed on a smaller scale, thus creating opportunities for rural electrification and lower cost as compared to large, central generating stations and their associated extensive transmission grids.

However, in IUCN's experience, the perceived and real adverse impacts of some renewable technologies on the environment and on people's livelihoods have resulted in delaying or even halting the pursuit of some renewable energy projects. Through robust legal and regulatory frameworks, however, the implementation of renewable technologies can be fostered while safeguarding the environment and peoples’ livelihoods. IUCN hopes that the G8 ministers can recognise the importance of such action and include this in their next discussions.

Empowering communities for informed energy decisions

Engaging stakeholders (including, in particular, women and vulnerable groups) in the choice of technologies can also help build commitment to investments, ensures the sustainability of the investment, and can assist in developing financing mechanisms that accommodate the project and local circumstances. G8 energy policies should encourage communities to embrace renewable energy technologies, and to make informed decisions in adopting technologies that are well-suited for the local environment. Donors supporting energy projects should respect national priorities and decisions about appropriate technologies and sites for energy infrastructure.

Investing in natural systems that underpin energy futures

Ecosystems like water catchments are needed by energy systems such as hydropower, bioenergy and power plants (which rely on water for cooling). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, on the other hand, has found that more than two thirds of the world's ecosystems are degraded or in decline, which poses significant threats to our energy future. Investing in ecosystem services for energy options should be part of national and global energy security strategies as well as corporate investment programmes.

IUCN and its member organizations are ready to assist the G8 in advancing equitable access to ecologically sustainable, socially equitable and economically efficient energy systems.