I recently attended a workshop on the topic of global sustainable energy development and local initiatives. The seminar was supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Society for International Development (SID) and Austrian Development Agency and hosted by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). With Rio+20 beginning today, the workshop took place at a very opportune time.
Each workshop session provided a kind of sneak peak into the lives of these inspirational academics and field researchers. Although the sessions covered a diverse range of material, there were several unifying qualities. Each presenter showed dissatisfaction with the status quo, highlighted the need for cross-sector cross-level collaboration, and emphasized the impact of local initiatives.
Here are some of the key take-aways I gained from the 2 day workshop:
SYSTEMS INTEGRATED THINKING
Sustainable development is a global system, not a mosaic of countries. Therefore, we need to treat the world’s greatest challenges (energy, sustenance and poverty) as an interrelated system.1 [More]
TRADEOFFS ARE EVERYWHERE
Conflicting criteria is inherent in implementing energy projects. Take the World Bank’s US$ 3.75 billion loan as an example.2 The loan was provided to South Africa to build a coal-fired power plant, representing economic and social gains at the expense of environmental protection.
FOSSIL FUELS WILL MEET AT LEAST 50% OF FUTURE ENERGY DEMAND
Energy demand is guaranteed to rise in future demand forecasts and fossil fuel is necessary to meet our thirst for consumption.2
Source: Global Energy Consumption by Energy, BP Energy Outlook 2030 (2012)
MYTH: UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO ENERGY NEGATIVELY IMPACTS THE ENVIRONMENT
3 billion people currently lack access to clean cooking fuel. Although energy consumption would rise, the gain in energy efficiency from switching from biomass to cleaner fuel is surprisingly climate neutral.3 [More]
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO ACHIEVE ENERGY ACCESS FOR ALL?
Annual investments of US$ 36 – 41 billion until 2030. Although this figure seems large, it represents 3 – 4% of total annual investments in energy projects globally. Implementation would involve microfinance and subsidy schemes, enabling the poor to purchase equipment.3
DISCONNECT BETWEEN LOCAL INITIATIVES AND DONORS
Many effective community-based projects in developing economies require small amounts of funding but have no communication channel through which to voice their needs. Projects could further benefit from increased access to technical support.
SUCCESSFUL LOCAL INITIATIVES HAVE ADAPTIVE CAPACITY
Local initiatives must be resilient and competitive in order to be adaptive. Resilience enables sustainability, while competition fosters innovation. Both are essential to adapting to change.4 The project lead from Solanterns explained its aid + trade strategy for switching Kenyans from using kerosene to solar lamps.
AUSTRIA HAS BREATHTAKING VENUES
Well this is more of a personal take-away. IIASA is located in the regal palace of Schloss Laxenburg. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the palace was one of the summer residences for the royal Hapsburg family.
Although the takeaways seem to diverge in different directions, I believe that the messy overlap of ideas and research can bring to light fresh solutions.
Five universities (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, University of Vienna, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna University of Economics and Business, and Modul University) were in attendance, which contributed to the richness and interdisciplinary nature of the discussions.
1 Kabat, Pavel. Director/CEO IIASA
2 Wohlgemuth, Norbert. University of Klagenfurt
3 Pachauri, Shonali. IIASA “Promoting Universal Energy Access: Achievements and Challenges”
4 Lukesch, Robert. OEAR