Warming up for the kyoto convention

As proponents of the most commercially successful renewable so far, members of the wind industry have an important role to play at the UN climate change convention in December. The European Wind Energy Association has been adopted as an official advisor to the UN on renewable energy. The fossil fuel sector's fear of tougher targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions underlines how important they could be for the future of renewables.

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The wind lobby is increasingly finding its voice in the global political arena -- and nowhere more so than in the warm-up to December's United Nations convention on climate change, to be held at Kyoto in Japan. The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) has not only been offered a free display booth at the event, but has also been adopted as an official advisor to the UN on renewable energy.

"Here we have the UN asking us to come and lobby them," says an enthusiastic Christophe Bourillon of EWEA. "This is an opportunity which must not be missed." He recently met with UN officials in New York who, he says, are calling on the renewable energy industry to act as a counterweight to the fossil fuel lobby.

The oil, gas and coal industries are currently pouring enormous amounts of time and money into a concerted campaign at Kyoto, says Bourillon, who before taking up his post at EWEA was public affairs manager of the World Coal Institute. They are driven by a genuine fear that the 185 participating countries could indeed set tougher targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions than those decided on at the Rio convention. The fossil fuel sector's fear of such targets, says Bourillon, underlines how important they could be for the future of renewables.

Long term process

"At EWEA we believe Kyoto to be extremely important. We need to bear in mind that it is a long term process. It is sometimes difficult for companies -- our members -- to have such a long term view. That is why it is important to pool our efforts," continues Bourillon. He says the fossil fuel industry will be treating the Kyoto convention as a highly significant trade mission -- and heads of wind plant developers and turbine manufacturers should be thinking in terms of putting together a trade delegation.

"Our advantage is that we will have an official UN stamp of approval, a UN badge. Delegates at Kyoto will want to hear what we have to say. They have listened to the fossil fuel lobby. Now they want to hear from us," says Bourillon. EWEA has assisted Greenpeace in a study to "unveil and explain the extraordinary efforts by the fossil fuel industry to oppose any commitments to mitigate climate change," states Bourillon. Its well funded lobby groups hope to derail the Kyoto talks. "These groups have names such as The Climate Council and the Global Climate Coalition which could lead people to believe they are environmental groups. Under these names hide BP, Shell Exxon and many coal producers," adds Bourillon. The Greenpeace study, Puppets of Industry, identifies some of the lobbying activities in which the fossil fuel industry has invested millions of dollars.

Bourillon is currently attempting to gather the entire wind industry's lobbying resources in preparation for Kyoto. The Canadian Wind Energy Association has already pledged its support and he hopes for a similar commitment from the American Wind Energy Association.

European lead

Indeed, at the second Canadian Renewable Energy Markets Conference in April (Windpower Monthly, May 1997), lobbying for global, legally binding emissions targets and emissions trading was a main theme of the event. Chris Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC said he saw growing pressure for legally binding emissions limits in Kyoto. A new political coalition in the climate debate is starting to take shape, he added, led by the European Union. The coalition would counter the stand of the "carbon nation club" and its powerful fossil fuel lobbies led by the US. "Nineteen-ninety-seven is the critical year to put in place a strong new treaty," said Flavin. The new coalition must push aside the fossil fuel lobby.

He was backed by Bourillon: "It looks like the European Union might be up to something at the climate change meeting in Kyoto later this year. Actually, I think the European Union has finally decided to act as it wants to be perceived: as a serious player in these climate change negotiations," said Bourillon. He felt that such an EU commitment to reducing greenhouse gases reflects its commitment to wind energy. "It is fair to say that the real development of wind energy in Europe was kick started by the European Commission," he said.

Not all countries are as forward thinking as Europe, though. Douglas Russell of Global Change Strategies International in Canada warned that in his country the public, industry and provinces are not yet sufficiently engaged in the need to stabilise and reduce greenhouse gases. Political will is also missing. The country badly needs to agree on accountabilities on legally binding targets, movement on emissions credits and the will to take a strong stand at Kyoto, he said.

Support was evident at the conference for "an emissions cap and trade system." According to Paul McKay, a director of the Independent Power Producers' Society of Ontario, this would also help "create a new, permanent business-investor base which has an incentive to lobby for lower emissions ceilings in the future." He was backed by Fred Gallagher of Vision Quest Windelectric, a potential wind plant developer based in Alberta. He said Vision Quest is now actively preparing for a "cap and trade" greenhouse gas emissions regime anticipated as an outcome of negotiations in Kyoto. He saw emissions trading and banking as an "emissions currency," which would allow market forces to operate. "We at Vision Quest are ready to deliver to an active emissions market," he stated. Gallagher is also chair of a Canadian lobby group campaigning for a fair market for clean sources of energy, the Independent Power Stakeholder Task Force.

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