3E Intelligence

Several speakers at the “post-carbon society” conference organised by the Commission’s DG Research on 24 October underlined the need for stronger regulatory action to deal with the twin challenge of climate change and energy security.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol presented “a flavour” of the upcoming World Outlook 2007 (which will be presented in London on 7 November). The WEO-2007 will focus on the climate/energy challenges of the exploding Chinese and Indian economies. The results “shocked my views like an earthquake”, said Mr Birol. The energy-hungry economies of both new economic giants will pose a risk for climate change as well as for security of supply for Europe. With non-OPEC production “peaking”, said Birol, “the West will become dependent on 3 Middle East states and Russia for 75% of its oil and gas supplies”. The picture is even bleaker for the effects of China and India on climate change. “Climate change is not on China and India’s political agenda, they are only interested in economic growth”, said Mr Birol. [WDB comment: Who can blame them when the actions of the West are not very much different? As Mr Birol acknowledged himself: ” the talk and the walking” in the West are very different].

Last but not least, the IEA chief also pointed to the link between energy and poverty (“1.6 billion people have no access to electricity yet”). “We are not running out of energy but we are running out of time“, Birol concluded.

Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency, underlined in her intervention that we will have to “redesign the way we live” in at least three areas: housing, food and drink and mobility. She also recommended new ways of thinking about trade and the need for a “smarter GDP” which takes account of natural resources. We need “legislation, legislation, legislation”, said McGlade, a plea which made some industry representatives in the room look pretty worried.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research talked about the state of art on research concerning climate adaptation (“managing the unavoidable”). “We need a quantum leap in adaptation research”, said the German director and he criticised also the EU’s 7th research framework programme for not having enough attention for adaptation (“you need a longstanding lobbying network to get big projects from the Commission”).

In a second session, Swedish social-democrat party leader Mona Sahlin talked about her party’s plan to rid Sweden of oil by 2020. “For social-democrats, the fight against climate change is what the fight against class was in the 19th century”, said the Swedish politician. I wonder if Tony Blair and Gordon Brown see it the same way 🙂 .

In a press briefing after the morning sessions I had a brief discussion with McGlade and Sahlin about the support of citizens for climate change measures. “It is citizens, who are now pushing politicians to act”, said Sahlin. I reacted that at some point public support for climate change urgency actions could backfire. People feel confused and helpless in front of climate change and there is certainly no awareness yet of the lifestyle changes that will be needed to solve these issues. And politicians, who do understand, like Sahlin, do not have the courage to tell the citizens because it would lose them the next elections. Of course, climate change and new energy policies will create opportunities (the new “green is green” mantra) but in order to solve a crisis of this magnitude there will be some sacrifices (like in any war). Whoever is silent about that (and most politicians are) is guilty of misleading the public and will dig democracy’s grave in the long run.

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