With oil and gas prices at record highs and fears mounting over future supplies, global energy security will take centre stage at this yearâ€™s meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations.
With oil and gas prices at record highs and fears mounting over future supplies, global energy security will take centre stage at this year’s meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations.
As heads of states meet in Russia — one of the world’s largest energy exporters and a country benefiting from record energy profits — they will no doubt call for greater cooperation to ensure that the global economy is not harmed by unstable oil prices and political instability in many energy-producing nations.
At this time last year, G8 leaders touted climate change as a top priority, but this upcoming meeting in St Petersburg appears set to ignore the issue in order to focus on securing energy supplies.
But there will be no real energy security without a stable and secure environment, particularly in an environment that is being threatened by the ill effects of climate change.
As climate change is the single most important environmental, if not global challenge that we are facing today, we need a plan. Not just any plan, but a comprehensive climate and energy security plan akin to the Marshall Plan after World War II that helped rebuild Europe — a plan that attempts to restore the Earth’s fragile ecosystem by cutting polluting gas emissions and dramatically improving energy efficiency.
Every litre of oil or gas, every bit of coal that we humans burn, adds to the increasing level of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a by-product of burning these fossil fuels. About 23 billion tonnes of CO2 are spewed into the Earth's atmosphere every year — most of it by western industrialized countries. This build-up of CO2 and other gases are contributing to global warming.
Scientific consensus shows that we face grave risks if global temperatures rise 2Â°C above those of pre-industrial times. Many around the world have already had a taste of what this would bring with temperatures up just 0.7Â°C — more frequent and severe storms and heat waves, drought, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Such events can have immense security and economic implications, including crop failures in key food producing areas, border disputes over resources, mass movement of “environmental” refugees, and the spending of billions of dollars needed to cope with natural disasters.
To help mitigate these risks, we need effective policies to reduce global warming before carbon emissions increase to such a point that they become too difficult to reverse. We need a resounding commitment by governments at the G8 Summit to energy efficiency, conservation measures and renewable energies.
More efficient use of energy must be seen as a crucial part of minimizing our dependence on fossil fuels and reducing CO2 emissions. By legislating national standards, energy consumption can be easily improved. A recent study calculated that stand-by power consumption, particularly for computers, amounts to up to 13 per cent of residential electricity use in many OECD countries. If households cut energy use by 1 per cent a year, savings would be significant, especially when added to other climate protection schemes such as switching from coal to natural gas as an intermediary bridging fuel and increasing renewable energy use.
Renewable energies are especially relevant from a security viewpoint as they diversify energy sources, promote efficiency and reduce reliance on extended supply routes and vulnerable infrastructure. There has been an explosive investment growth in wind, solar, sustainable biomass, geothermal and other technologies, and many are now competitive suppliers, even in the face of massive subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry. With ambitious support and simultaneous expansion of energy conservation, realistic targets are possible. Sustainable biomass could supply 15-30 per cent of electricity in OECD companies by 2020, and wind could supply 12 per cent of global electricity in the next 20 years.
More and more people are increasingly aware of the importance of saving energy, not just because it means less impact on their pocketbooks, but less impact on the planet. Our aspirations for the future cannot be met unless we start to tread more gently upon the thin crust of the sphere upon which our lives depend, and take better care of the atmosphere that sustains us.
Just as the Marshall Plan looked to ensure stability in Europe at a time of great uncertainty, G8 leaders today have an enormous responsibility to steer the world away from climate change and energy insecurity towards a safe and secure future through a stable climate.
* Jennifer Morgan is Director of WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme.