A comment from GCI President Alexander Likhotal:
As the Russian Ukrainian gas vaudeville seem to be reaching its final scenes signalling an end to the current gas dispute between the two countries, the crisis will have a longer lasting effect by bringing the issue of energy security to the top of the international agenda. It is essential that all dimensions of this complex and multifaceted challenge are addressed and that both the nations involved and affected draw the necessary conclusions that lead to action and are not overlooked due to political considerations or short-term calculations.
In recent months, rising unemployment, a sharp fall of income and profits as well as a contraction of government tax revenues have cast doubt on commitments to cap emissions and the ability of governments to encourage private investment in clean energies. As evidenced by the lack of agreement and progress at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan last month, the environment and investment in renewable energy sources take a backseat to economic recovery when in reality, the two should be linked.
While the temptation during the crisis may have been to shelve environmental concerns for a quick fix, namely returning to the use of nuclear energy with both Slovenia and Bulgaria seeking to utilize nuclear plants that have lay dormant since the countries entry into the EU, and Poland and some other eastern European Member States favouring traditional coal based solutions, the gas crisis demonstrates the need for new energy policy paradigms based on decentralisation, diversification and development of renewable energy sources.
Tempting as it may seem to be, conventional plants that generate CO2 and other greenhouse gases that effect emissions (which, in turn, have a significant environmental impact on water, biodiversity, landscape, etc.) as well as nuclear power plants, pose huge environmental risks. Nuclear energy is not a viable solution from both a security and a financial perspective as it requires taking into account large financial costs in the form of security, liability insurance, accidents, waste burial, decommissioning of old plants, repairs and refurbishing. In the US alone, direct subsidies for nuclear energy totalled $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies. In contrast, subsidies during the same period for wind and solar combined totalled only $5.5 billion. During the first 15 years of development, nuclear subsidies amounted to $15.30 per kWh generated. The comparable figure for wind energy was 46 cents per kWh during its first 15 years of development.
GCI believes that the world must accelerate the transition to efficient and renewable energy that will bring enormous economic, social and environmental benefits. After all we should not forget that the Earth receives more energy from the sun in just one hour than the world uses in a whole year. Solar power is indeed the energy of the future, due in part to the fact that the costs of harnessing solar power are sharply decreasing.
Whether using mirrors that utilize desert sunlight to harvest heat and spin turbines or rooftop photovoltaic panels that turn sunshine directly into an electricity current, solar is on track to deliver electricity to residential users at a cost on par with natural gas and perhaps even coal within the next four to seven years, as forecast by industry experts.
The goal of renewable energy is not only important for the development and environment, but also for global and regional security. By decreasing our dependency on oil and gas, we would be eliminating many current tensions, which would lead to a reduction in military spending and conflict around the world while maintaining a strong economy. Furthermore, a reduction in dependence on fossil fuels in conflict-ridden regions of the world could be instrumental in diminishing the current threats of terrorism. In addition, as renewable energy facilities are deployed in increasingly smarter and more decentralized power grids, the risk of terrorists taking down an entire region’s power supply with a single attack is significantly reduced.
Thus we should thank Russian and Ukrainian leaders for teaching Europe this unpleasant lesson and demonstrating the perils of continued dependence on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the timing is of special importance. The lesson demonstrates that business as usual coupled with the least expensive solutions is rarely successful especially during times of crisis that require “out of the box” thinking. However remote possibilities for transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy during the economic downturn might seem, starting it now would simply match long-term objectives to short-term needs, in effect killing two birds with one stone.
It is obvious there are no quick-fix solutions. Breaking our dependence on fossil fuels will not be quick or easy. But if we embrace the real solutions – renewable energy, decentralized networks and improvements in the efficiency of our buildings, vehicles and appliances – we can dig ourselves out of the recession much quicker and begin building a genuinely sustainable world economy.
This is the direction that the leaders of the world should be guiding us towards. It is critical that the lessons of the Russia – Ukrainian gas conflict push Europe and the world towards recognizing the need for and development of renewable sources of energy as well as boost the cooperation and vital decisions being taken at the London G8 summit in April and the Copenhagen Climate Change talks in December.