16 june 2011

Thinking like scientists, acting like leaders

"...there simply can be no other option than to build and judge future growth in terms of quality and sustainability, not just quantity. Because some kinds of quantity just kill quality and undermine sustainability."

Speech by José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission on the occasion of the launch of IPCC's Special Report on Renewable Energy sources and Climate change mitigation (SRREN)

Europa, Brussels, 16 June 2011

Doctor Pachauri,
Professor Jean-Pascale van Ypersele
Professor Edenhofer
Dear Connie,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, thank you for inviting me here today.

And let me congratulate you for your scientific leadership. And I would like to express my gratitude to all the scientists and citizens dedicating their efforts to fighting climate change. I wanted to come here today to tell you how much the Commission supports your efforts.

The European Commission warmly welcomes this landmark IPCC report. Coming as preparatory talks for December's UN summit in Durban are underway now in Bonn, this report provides exhaustively researched and much-needed scientific input to national and international policy-making.

It gives renewed impetus to move towards a low-carbon economy and clearly makes the case for investment in renewable technologies.

The science of climate change has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but it has held up beyond all reasonable doubt. Not least because the effects of climate change are – quite literally – all around us.

The body of evidence is compelling. And so we need now to spend our time fixing the problem instead of disputing it.

Extreme weather is on our doorstep. Much of Northern Europe has experienced its warmest and driest spring on record, with as little as 25% of its usual rainfall.

The resulting droughts are reaping havoc for agriculture and threatening wildlife. As a consequence, we are witnessing sustained disruptions to food production.

Food shortages and riots are something we associate with other eras and sometimes with distant parts of the world. But this is happening today among our Mediterranean neighbours, and may get worse if climate change spirals out of control.

It is no surprise then that all this is happening when the International Energy Agency is recording the highest carbon output in history. 30.6 Gigatonnes, which represents a 5% jump from the previous, record year in 2008. These figures are a stark warning that the world needs to do much better if we are to limit temperature increase to 2°C, called for by the IPCC, and as supported by the European Union.

These are irrefutable facts. The world is heading towards a point of no return. Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we need to hit the brakes, and fast. And renewable energy offers us a significant tool in doing so.

Hence, the launch of today's report from the IPCC is further proof of the need to put bold policy action on the back of this science.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 2011 has demonstrated yet again that the world is more interdependent and connected than most have realised.

The ripple effects of the Fukushima nuclear incident, for example, are still being discovered. We need to be careful to ensure the highest levels of nuclear safety.

But we also need to ensure that our response to Fukushima does not inadvertently reduce our low carbon supplies.

Here the task is for the renewables sector to prove itself as a scalable, affordable and secure energy source. The renewable sector therefore faces its most important test in the coming decade. That of moving from an alternative source of energy into the primary source of energy supply. I believe that is going to happen.

Europe also faces a great test to its green leadership in this decade. The share of renewable energy in the European Union energy mix has risen steadily to some 10% of the gross final energy consumption in 2008.

In 2009, 62% of newly installed electricity generation capacity in the EU was from renewable sources. Europe is home to 23 of the 25 world’s largest photovoltaic power stations. However, Europe’s lead is challenged.

Emerging economies have made low-carbon and energy-efficient technologies a main focus of their growth strategy. Globally, public expenditure on research, development, demonstration and commercialisation of low-emissions technologies has been rising in the wake of the crisis.

In other words; our partners are stepping up the renewables challenge. This is great news for the planet, and I want to congratulate all of them for their efforts. But it is not an economic challenge Europe should leave unanswered. Europe will do more to retain and deserve our leadership place in renewables technologies in the 21st century.

We will promote a technological shift which enables rapid decarbonisation of the power sector and transport. This requires low-carbon technologies to be affordable and competitive – the core idea of our Europe's Strategic Energy Technology Plan.

We are also committed to upgrading our grids so that smart grids, with better interconnections and large-scale storage deliver the potential of renewables to consumers.

Up to 12% of renewable generation in 2020 is expected to come from offshore installations, notably in the Northern Seas. Significant shares will also come from solar and wind parks in Southern Europe or biomass installations in Central and Eastern Europe. Decentralised, or micro, generation will also gain ground throughout our continent.

So it essential to integrate the powerful logic of the single market into our grids to drive the cost of renewable deployment down.

Although I cannot yet anticipate the Commission's proposal for the Multi-annual Financial Framework, there will be important commitments to renewable energy and resource-efficiency.

More broadly, increasing the use of renewables is central to building a new economic model.

Over the last 5 years we have created 300,000 new jobs on our continent by actively developing the renewable energy sector – 300,000 jobs. If we continue at this pace, this could mount to 1.5 million jobs by 2020, locking in a virtuous circle.

By investing what we save from importing oil and gas, we plough the money back into our own domestic manufacturing industries, creating a more secure, more sustainable, and increasingly affordable supply.

Imagine that, ladies and gentlemen; instead of importing €300 billion of energy each year, instead of watching helplessly as our oil bill rises (by €70 billion in 2010), we can slash this bill. Instead of relying on scarce fossil fuels, we can take advantage of an abundant supply that will only get cheaper as the market expands.

Despite the pressures of the crisis, the EU remains committed. For we are convinced that renewable energy is a story of untapped potential.

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