Breakthrough in Buenos Aires

From day one of the UN's fourth Conference of the Parties (COP4) on the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, wind was in the headlines. A concerted lobbying effort co-ordinated by Greenpeace and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) paid dividends worldwide, with television, radio and newspaper reports extolling the potential of wind power to help governments reduce C02 emissions.

The gathering of governments in Buenos Aires last month to discuss climate change might not have done much for the environment, but for wind energy the event was a hit. From day one of the UN's fourth Conference of the Parties (COP4) on the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, wind was in the headlines. A concerted lobbying effort co-ordinated by Greenpeace and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) paid dividends worldwide, with television, radio and newspaper reports extolling the potential of wind power to help governments reduce C02 emissions.

"The key issue was to get wind on the agenda. This we did in a number of ways. The political reward for that work will hopefully come in the future," says Corin Millais of Greenpeace. "Our aim is to raise the political and public profile of wind energy and what it can achieve in the climate change arena. We need to get decision makers to stop listening to fossil fuel and nuclear and start listening to wind. We have to push the dirty options down the ladder of choice."

From EWEA, Christophe Bourillon enthusiastically praises the input at COP4 of a handful of wind industry members, mainly from Vestas and NEG Micon, but also including a lone British firebrand, Dale Vince, the UK agent for German wind company Enercon. They had taken time out to help staff the EWEA booth, speak at workshops, and answer questions from the around 10,000 delegates, observers and press gathered in Buenos Aires. "We clearly put wind energy on the platform at the UN. Wind energy was really all over the place," says Bourillon.

Wind burst into the public conscious at COP4 from the opening of the conference on November 2. Greenpeace activists scaled the 70 metre Obelisk in the centre of Buenos Aires -- Argentina's main national monument -- unfurling a huge banner reading "Save the Climate -- Clean Energy Now." It was supported by five huge model wind turbines which Greenpeace action teams had installed around the monument overnight. The action drew press attention to hard hitting Greenpeace sound bites: "The key question is whether governments will support renewable energy solutions to climate change or whether they will continue to pay lip service only and protect fossil fuel and nuclear interests," stormed the organisation's Stephanie Tunmore. "There is a real danger here that a thick blanket of jargon and details will pave the way for more coal, more oil and more nukes," she added. And so-called "flexible mechanisms" for reaching national emissions targets should not amount to export subsidies "for ailing industries in industrialised countries."

Raising the profile

Back in the COP4 building, EWEA's information booth was receiving a stream of visiting delegates, most of them asking "Is it true? Can wind provide the answer?" An enviable position had been secured for the booth -- in the cafeteria area, between the press rooms and the rest of the exhibition, says Bourillon. "The great thing was that for once there were enough wind people here for us to man it all the time," he adds. Together with EWEA vice president Søren Krohn, director of the Danish wind industry association, Bourillon also spoke at a well attended workshop, while access was gained to events at the British and French embassies. Bourillon estimates the wind team provided over 100 press, radio and TV interviews during COP4.

"What we have to realise is that lots of people from the fossil fuel and oil industries being seconded onto UN committees," he says. Countering their considerable influence on UN climate change policy is a daunting task. Krohn agrees. "Now is the time to act. We must capitalise on the political good will towards renewables before the fossil lobby starts to promote a load of hot air solutions, like so called clean coal," he says.

Auken and Meacher

Two of Europe's most wind friendly environment ministers, Denmark's Svend Auken and Michael Meacher of the UK, were persuaded to give a press briefing. The chance for face-to-face interviews with two high profile politicians on the green scene proved attractive to the press. Auken highlighted his country's goal for 35% of total energy consumption to come from renewables by the first quarter of the new century. Meacher referred to renewables as a "major part" of the UK's climate change program and said the aim was for them to provide 10-14% of the national target saving of carbon.

Wind's profile at the event was further boosted by the well published news that Argentina had passed a wind law with a kilowatt hour subsidy (page 8), even though the president had vetoed it just days before COP4 began. Backing for the law in the Senate was so substantial that the veto was overturned.

A visit laid on by Greenpeace and AWEA to Argentina's "Antonio Moran" wind farm -- a 6.5 MW project of NEG Micon turbines near Comodoro Rivadavia -- also proved a hit with the press. Flown into the area in helicopters, the stunning sight of clean white turbine towers gracing a hill in the middle of an oil field -- complete with dirt, grime and "nodding donkey" oil pumps -- had photographers scrambling over themselves for good shots, reports Bourillon. Greenpeace also placed large advertisements -- featuring wind turbines -- in the Argentinean press to whip up support for wind power as a solution to climate change.

Global target

The release of a Greenpeace sponsored report, setting a global target for wind to meet 10% of electricity demand (see separate story) also attracted a deal of attention from press and delegates alike, once again providing fodder for headlines around the world.

Further support for wind came from an unexpected quarter. The International Energy Agency chose to release its 1998 World Energy Outlook during COP4. Although the report barely mentions renewables, a press release accompanying it made much of the need for governments to take action now to encourage their use: "Electricity generation from other renewable energy sources [wind, geothermal, solar and tidal power] is growing fast, but without post-Kyoto policy changes it will still represent less than 1% of world electricity generation by 2020. New policies will be required," states the IEA. Predictably these new polices should be designed to promote nuclear as well as renewables, according to the IEA.

Bourillon is not impressed. "I do not have much faith in the IEA. They are fed by coal, gas, oil and nuclear," he says. The nuclear industry took the opportunity of COP4 to strongly promote itself as the clean energy answer. But the sight of 50-year-old men from the nuclear camp patrolling the floor in T-shirts bearing the slogan "The Young Workers of the Nuclear Industry," could turn out to be a prophetic irony, says Bourillon. The IEA report assumes wind will reach 46.4 GW by 2020.

COP4 ended on November 14 with the adoption of a two year Plan of Action by the 170 governments in attendance. The plan fills in missing details from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and sets political timetables for the various policies, mechanisms and compliance instruments needed. The protocol's 5% emissions reduction target "aims to arrest and then reverse the historical upward trend in greenhouse gas emissions from these countries," states the UN. The Kyoto Protocol is to come into force "sometime after the year 2000."

The conference's more than 5000 participants included one prime minister, several vice presidents and deputy prime ministers, 70 ministers and 1500 government officials. Also in attendance were 2600 government and non-government organisation representatives and 880 members of the press.

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