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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Thinking like scientists, acting like leaders
Launch of IPCC's Special Report on Renewable Energy sources and Climate change mitigation (SRREN)
Brussels, 16 June 2011
Professor Jean-Pascale van Ypersele
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.
I personally think that the recent decision by Germany will help in an unprecedented way to develop renewable technologies. I also recently met with the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who informed me of the changes they are planning. I am sure we will soon see very important breakthroughs in this field.
With the right investment, it could help protect the environment, but also increase energy security, create jobs and improve public health. So it is a very important agenda. So with every euro we can attain different objectives.
As we emerge from the economic and financial crisis, the flaws in our 20th century world are exposed.
The last century saw the world population grew four times, our economic output 40 times and our use of fossil fuels by 16 times.
As we now construct a responsible economy fit for the 21st century, 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.
This is our last chance before causing irreversible damage.
To do so requires a fundamental shift in our thinking.
Decision-makers must be committed to driving forward the economic framework conditions to support this shift, based on the scientific rationale in reports like the one you are presenting today.
Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union has been taking bold steps in this direction for some years.
Our commitment to driving forward progressive and global climate change policy is clear.
Since 1990, the EU has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 10%, while our economies have grown by about 40%. This shows it is possible to do both things at the same time – growth and emissions reductions.
This significant turnaround was achieved mainly through legislation – and I am very proud that the European Commission was at the origin of this approach, especially as we were faced with some criticism when we presented it. This legislation binds our 27 member states to reducing their emissions by 20%, having 20% of EU energy consumption to come from renewables, and increasing by 20% their energy efficiency by 2020.
But 2020 is already around the corner and we need to think of intermediate steps up to 2050.
We need not only to think but to act. That is why we will keep our commitment to include aviation in the Emissions Trading System, which will come into force next year. Some of our partners who criticise us would do better for themselves and for the planet if they joined us instead in this effort.
We need to provide businesses with a long-term stable policy framework to support their investment decisions. Businesses are already taking their strategic decisions for the next decades. We have to avoid locking in carbon intensive investments.
That’s what our Low Carbon Road Map presented last March is about – accelerating and extending our investments in and our use of low-carbon and resource-efficient technologies.
The Commission will also present a 2050 road map for the Energy sector this fall, where the issue of intermediate steps up to 2050 will be given proper attention.
The experience of the European Union shows that it is possible to mainstream low-carbon and resource-efficient targets in all one's policies.
Our climate and energy policy framework is informed not only by the need to protect the planet.
It is about combining this moral imperative with an economic one: the need to create new industries and use our economic resources more efficiently.
At the same time, we need to get other international players in the same course of action. That is why we remain committed to the UN climate change negotiations. Cancun may have saved the negotiating process, but it has not saved the climate.
On the way to Rio+ 20, Durban needs to be another stepping stone in the way to a legally binding agreement that commits all major emitters to a low carbon path.
Ladies and gentlemen, our job now should be to think like scientists and act like real leaders.
It was the combination of science with leadership that drove the smog from our cities, reduced acid rain, and closed the hole in the ozone layer. It is also the evidence of science combined with leadership that has helped us fight diseases such as HIV/Aids.
We need that powerful combination to swing into action again.
Let us use this IPCC report to help fill the gap between our 2020 targets and our 2050 objectives.
It is clear to us that our current ambitious policy is working. But now it needs to be backed up over the long term. I will be working with my colleagues in the Commission and across the Institutions to ensure we match our words with actions.
I don't know if many of you will remember a song from 1968 called 'The Village Green Preservation Society' by Ray Davies from The Kinks. The song goes:
"We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety
We are the Desperate Dan appreciation society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties"
Sometimes I feel that the Commission is like a village green preservation society. But this is not just about preserving the planet we have inherited, it is about what we can do to make this a better place for living.
Let us not forget that this is a policy journey the public and businesses must join. We need both the science and public opinion to attain our objectives.
Winning that engagement is a challenge policy makers underestimate at their peril.
Renewable energy is neither a luxury nor a distraction. Investing in the right renewable research, infrastructure and regulatory environment is core business for the EU.
I look forward to further collaboration.