“Rio cannot afford not to have concrete results. Rio must get it right.” So wrote Connie Hedegaard, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, in an editorial published in The Guardian yesterday. But as proceedings get underway at the Rio+20 Summit, its credibility – and the ability of its delegates to achieve the necessary environmental and sustainability goals – is under attack. Bloomberg reports that delegates from 190 nations finalised a draft agreement early this morning that addresses cuts in fossil-fuel subsidies, provides support for renewable energy and details measures to protect oceans. But environmental groups from WWF to Greenpeace have condemned the text, saying it has bowed to pressure from business groups to water down the text. They called on world leaders to firm up language in the agreement before they formally adopt it when the meeting closes on June 22.
“We will now only be presented with a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests,” said Daniel Mittler, political director for Greenpeace International. While the organisation’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, told The Guardian that Greenpeace was moving to a war footing, in light of what it sees as the failure of Rio+20 negotiators. “We have been investing a lot of effort over the past couple of years to understand the industry and where the leverage points are and I think we are close to this point and finance institutions should be put on notice that not only Greenpeace but others are going to be putting them under much greater scrutiny,” Naidoo said from the summit. “Our aim is to get all banks to say we won’t make loans to oil, coal, gas and deforestation-related activity. We want to shut off the flow of capital. The time is right because the banks are at their most vulnerable in terms of public legitimacy.”
Jim Leape, director general of WWF complained that the delegates had inserted “toothless language” into their agreement that would do little to roll back CO2 emissions or protect the oceans from toxic waste. Friends of the Earth International said the UN process had been taken over by big business, thus diverting from traditional priorities of standing up for the poor and protecting the Earth. “Governmental positions have been increasingly hijacked by narrow corporate interests linked to polluting industries,” said chairman Nnimmo Bassey. “The UN is increasingly catering to the demands of corporate interests.”
Bloomberg reports that the accord represents an effort to chart the middle ground between richer countries, like the EU’s 27 members, which want to push a “green economy” with renewable power and energy-efficiency measures, and poorer nations, whose priority is lifting people out of poverty. “If you look at Rio being successful as dependent on a big new agreement coming out, we are not going to have any success coming out of Rio,” Dawn Rittenhouse, director of sustainable development at DuPont told Bloomberg. “Look at it as a way to energise organizations. People are making commitments. They are talking about the commitments. Hopefully the governments will follow.”
Govt backs NEM study
The University of Melbourne has been awarded a federal government grant of $900,000 towards a $1.2 million study that will investigate how Australia’s National Energy Market can achieve the cheapest cuts in carbon emissions, using more renewable energy. Announcing the funding (through the Emerging Renewables Program) today, federal energy minister Martin Ferguson said the study – “Achieving Cost-Effective Abatement from Australian Electricity Generation,” would produce software modelling of Australia’s electricity market.
“The project will allow many thousands of simulated combinations of wind, solar and thermal power, with optimisation tools helping to find the lowest cost combination,” Ferguson said. “(It) will see the development of open source modelling software to assess the performance of future energy systems, including transmission networks, under different levels of renewable energy penetration,” he said. “The software will be publicly available so that it can be used by researchers in academia or industry, allowing for scrutiny and refinement over time.”
The project, which will commence on 1 July 2012 and is scheduled to end in early 2015, is being conducted by the University of Melbourne, with support from the University of New South Wales, the Australian Energy Market Operator, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance, General Electric and consultants Market Reform.
While various parties at Rio+20 duke it out, some are just getting on with business, like the Caribbean island of Aruba, whose government has today announced a partnership with Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room that will see it implement an economy-wide transition towards clean energy sources. BusinessGreenreports that the small Dutch protectorate, which perhaps faces a more imminent threat from climate change than some, already sources a fifth of its energy needs from wind power, while several solar projects are in development. The new partnership aims to develop a sustainable growth roadmap consistent with Aruba’s “social dialogue” approach, which Mike Eman, the island’s prime minister, said would “propel Aruba to the next level in our progress toward achieving sustainability.”
The preliminary plans, to be unveiled today, include the development of a smart grid and installation of commercially-viable renewable energy technologies, along with new low-emission transport technologies designed to help Aruba wean itself off fuel imports. The scheme could also include incentives for households and commercial properties to improve energy and water efficiency, while the agricultural sector will be encouraged to make best use of water resources, to reduce the island’s reliance on imported food. Speaking in Rio, Branson said the implementation of CWR’s Smart Island Economies strategy at Aruba was a world first, but could be replicated across other Caribbean and Pacific islands. “Aruba can set a wonderful example for other island nations to prove that they can get rid of fossil fuels, protect their wonderful natural resources and still grow their economy,” he said.