We need energy for practically everything we do—for cooking, heating and lighting our homes and offices, for travelling, and for powering telecommunications and industry. Fossil fuels have dominated our energy supply for more than 150 years but we are paying a high price for this. The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that is wreaking havoc on the region’s nature and economy is just the latest signal of how urgently we need to shed our addiction to oil.

By burning fossil fuels, we emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; more than two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil energy sources. At the same time, almost half of the world’s population depends on burning biomass such as wood, charcoal and animal dung for their energy. The smoke harms people’s health and women and children in particular spend a large part of their day collecting fuel—time that could be spent at school or earning money. They need access to clean, modern energy.

Societies around the world are reassessing their energy options. Many are looking towards renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, wave and tidal power and biofuels. It is not possible to supply all of the world’s energy needs from just one source. A diverse mix is needed to meet global demand while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While the use of coal and oil is not going to stop overnight, far greater investment is needed in renewable energy sources.

But all energy options, even those billed as ‘green’, can have negative effects on both the environment and people. The best options are those that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. Decisions on which option to choose should be based on a full understanding of the advantages and disadvantages. And that’s where IUCN, its Members and partners come in. They provide the scientific information on which to make informed choices that limit environmental impacts.

“One option that has only positive effects for the environment and people is increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy use. This is one area in which we can all make a contribution, it’s not only good for reducing emissions and improving our collective impact on the environment, it’s also good for our bank accounts!” says Nadine McCormick, IUCN’s Energy Network Coordinator.

Friday 4 June marks the opening of IUCN’s new Conservation Centre at its headquarters near Geneva, Switzerland. The building is one of the greenest in Europe, using state-of the art sustainable energy measures such as geothermal heat pumps and photovoltaic installations. All of the building’s energy supply comes from renewable sources.

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Did you know?
  • A person in a low income country consumes less than a tenth of the energy of a person in a high income country.
  • In 2006, the USA accounted for one-fifth of all energy use globally, despite having less than 5% of the world population.
  • In developing countries, women and children spend on average 2.5 hours per day collecting fuel wood.
  • Renewable sources of energy are naturally replenishing and therefore, if sustainably harnessed, are virtually inexhaustible; 13% of energy demand in 2006 was from renewable sources.
  • Buildings are responsible for about 15% of the world’s emissions, and domestic housing is the single greatest source of greenhouse gases.
  • The internal combustion engine, the basis for the majority of road vehicles worldwide, was produced commercially more than 150 years ago. Electric vehicles are not automatically more sustainable – it depends on the source of electricity it is charged with.