Gorbachev and Green Cross

Commentary: Rio+20: Understanding the Present in Light of the Future
By Mikhail Gorbachev

GENEVA, Switzerland, June 12, 2012 (ENS) – They say if you want make God laugh share your plans. I planned to come to Rio+20, but my 81st birthday has had unwelcome toll on my plans.

2012 will inevitably be a year of reflection. Those of us who are concerned for the future of our Earth and its inhabitants must do all we can to ensure it is also a year of action, and one that marks the end of a period of apathy and shortsightedness.

Nobel Peace Laureate 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev addresses the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, Chicago, Illinois, April 23, 2012 (Photo by George Todt Photography)
Overcoming such lack of vision was what brought us to Rio 20 years ago for the first Earth Summit on Environment and Development. But that event’s tangible results, and those of the many subsequent conferences here and around the world since, have fallen far short of what is needed to steer our world onto a sustainable path.

Looking back to 1992, when I switched the focus of my activities from national politics to international development and the environment, the situation was very different. During and just after the Rio Earth Summit, there was an overwhelming air of enthusiasm and hope for the future. It was a time of optimism and, in retrospect, innocence, as everyone celebrated the end of the Cold War.

Then, incredible social and political changes that were deemed impossible just a few years earlier were, in fact, implemented. This was no accident. In order to unleash these energies on both sides we had to overcome the strong opposition of the existent power structures that blocked the way ahead. But the changes resonated the hopes of the time and leaders had the courage to respond to the call. The Berlin Wall was brought down in the belief that future generations could solve challenges together.

Today, 20 years later we are instead surrounded by cynicism and, for many, despair. This is hardly surprising at a time of an economic crisis exacerbated by increased pressure on natural resources, spreading of poverty, diminishing human security, continuing violent conflicts, and environmental degradation.

Children in poverty, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Photo by CARF)
I feel bitter when I look at the cavernous gulf between rich and poor, the irresponsibility that caused the global financial crisis, the weak and divided responses to climate change, and the failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The opportunity to build a safer, fairer and more united world has been largely squandered.

The world was already faltering to reach the eight overarching Millennium Development Goals by 2015. These targets now look even more distant. Take infant mortality, one of the most compelling causes: the World Bank now estimates that an additional 200,000 to 400,000 babies will die this year because of the fall in economic growth.

With just three years to go, the goals set at that Millennium Summit in 2000 are little more than pious wishes for hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, particularly in Africa.

The promises of increased development assistance, fair trade, improved market access and an easing of the debt burden of developing countries are not being kept.

And even when one of the goals – on access to safe water – is claimed to have been met, the celebrations and backslapping fail to hide a stark reality for those 800 million people who today still have no such access.

Everything bears the stamp “too little too late.”

Refugee in South Sudan finds water, May 7, 2012 (Photo by Christian Als courtesy Danish Refugee Council)
I can’t qualify this failure as being anything other than one of leadership and vision.

Yet it is clear to me that the efforts of politicians alone will not be enough to respond to the challenges that we face. What we need is the interaction of politics, business and civil society.

The world finds itself at an important inflection point. The choice is between a perfect storm of progressively deepening set of crises or expanding perspectives of unprecedented opportunities.

The economic, environmental, political and, most important, moral crisis we face has shown that the currently dominant model of economic growth is unsustainable. This model engenders crises, social injustice and the danger of environmental catastrophe.

There is a clear need for a rapid transition to a different model.

We need to rethink the goals of economic development. Consumption must not remain the only or the principal driver of growth. Growth should be seen as a tool of societal development. The economy needs to be reoriented to goals that include public goods such as a sustainable environment, people’s health in the broadest sense of the word, education, culture and social cohesion, including absence of glaring gaps between the rich and the poor.

Green Cross Argentina team in Antarctica to deliver a climate change warning, 2006. (Photo courtesy Green Cross Argentina)
But in the face of every great challenge there is always a choice. The future is not predetermined. It depends on what we do today.

The choice we have to make is a collective one. Everyone – politicians, business leaders, activists – has a role to play. The question is whether we want to ensure a safe, sustainable future for everybody or keep being held hostage by the current mix of political and economic interests and motivations.

I hope that clever terms that are in vogue ahead of Rio, like “green economy”, “green jobs” and “green growth,” are not going to serve as little more than “green band-aids” for plastering over the festering sores sickening our planet – and its inhabitants – today.

For if the “green economy” concept does not enable real environmental sustainability, equitable development and reduced consumption of resources and products, then it is a flawed concept that merely paints bad economic practices green.

How can we ensure that economy becomes “green” and not just “painted green”?

The Rio+20 conference must produce a coherent and verifiable plan for transformative action to put the world on the path to sustainable development.

The outcome must reflect the need to re-invent measures of progress that must be transparent, inclusive, environmentally sound and socially fair, and recognize the need to incorporate the value of natural and social capital into an economic model that will make markets operate in a fair and transparent manner and deliver the goods and services required for a sustainable society.

The leaders who will assemble in Rio must use this platform to announce specific sustainable development initiatives, challenges and commitments that befit part of the global inter-governmental framework to promote an effective means of sustainable development.

Young people from around the world at Youth Blast, Conference of Youth for Rio+20, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 10, 2012 (Photo by Karuna Rana, Speak Your Mind)
The document should provide specific solution-based paths commensurate with the declared ambitions of the Summit. For example, the document could envisage cutting military funding and proposing such proceeds be invested in meeting the MDGs and other initiatives that promote sustainable development, particularly in the developing world. It should prioritise the fast phasing out of subsidies for socially and environmentally destructive practices.

An ambitious and action-oriented Rio+20 outcome document must be politically-binding and recognize the imminent threat of exceeding our planet’s natural limits.

The good news is the sustainable development issue is back on the global political agenda. We must not let this chance pass. Rio has been a place where people have been coming for years to do just this. Bold initiatives have been forged in Brazil, like Agenda 21 and the Earth Charter (as a footnote, I must criticize the apparent “dropping” of reference to the Earth Charter from the current draft of the Rio+20 outcome document. I hope this is rectified.)

Green Cross International, that was born 20 years ago in Rio and which I am proud to be part of, will contribute to Rio+20 with a number of meaningful and interesting events, that you are very welcome to join.

I do hope that Rio+20 will avoid replicating the fate of many initiatives, with aspirations fading soon after the ribbon was cut and cameras stopped rolling. We do not have the luxury of waiting 20 more years for Rio+40. Society is evolving. Understanding the present in the light of the past, we see only the problems, resulting in gloom. But understanding the present in the light of the future compels us to evolve and see the opportunities it points to.

Only thus can Rio+20 be able to, in the words of the Green Cross slogan, “Give Our Planet a Chance, give Humanity a Future!”

{Editor’s Note: Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union and 1990 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is the founding president of Green Cross International, which he established in 1993 after requests from delegates to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, Green Cross operates in 31 countries. To ensure a sustainable future for humanity, Green Cross has five main programs: Water for Life and Peace, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Social and Medical, Smart Energy and Value Change.}

Renewable investments grow

Global Renewable Energy Investment Hits Record $257 Billion
NAIROBI, Kenya, June 11, 2012 (ENS) – More renewable energy was installed worldwide last year than ever before, and solar energy surged past wind power to become the renewable energy technology of choice for global investors in 2011.

Solar attracted nearly twice as much investment as wind, driving the renewable energy sector to another record-breaking year, according to two new reports on renewable energy trends issued today by the UN Environment Programme and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, REN21.

Silver State Solar, the first completed, large-scale solar project on U.S. public lands, began generating power in May 2012. (Photo courtesy Enbridge)
UNEP’s “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment,” based on data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, has become the standard reference for global clean energy investment figures.

This year it shows that despite a tough competitive landscape for manufacturers, total investment in renewable power and fuels last year increased by 17 percent to a record $257 billion.

The increase was achieved at a time of falling prices for renewable energy equipment and severe pressure on fiscal budgets in developed countries.

But despite the increase in investments, share prices in the renewable energy sector had a dismal 2011 in the face of overcapacity in the solar and wind manufacturing chains and investor unease about the direction of support policies in both Europe and North America, according to the reports.

The two publications were launched jointly by Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director; Mohamed El-Ashry, chairman of REN21; Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance; and Professor Dr. Udo Steffens, president and CEO of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, which hosts the Frankfurt School – UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance.

Steiner used the launch of the two reports as a platform to encourage suppport for a green economy among world leaders coming to Rio+20, the UN sustainable development summit taking place from June 13-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“This sends yet another strong signal of opportunity to world leaders and delegates meeting later this month at the Rio+20 summit – namely that transforming sustainable development from patchy progress to a reality for seven billion people is achievable when existing technologies are combined with inspiring policies and decisive leadership,” Steiner said today.

“It is essential to continue government policies that support and nurture the sector’s growth, and to de-escalate damaging trade disputes. Otherwise,” he warned, “the low-carbon transition could weaken just at the point when exciting cost reductions are starting to transform the economics.”

More than 100 heads of state and government, together with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders are expected to attend Rio+20 to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

Construction of the Santo Antonio dam on the Rio Madeira near Porto Velho, Rondonia, Brazil. The dam is due to start generating power in 2012. (Photo by Agencia Brasil)

The gathering follows the Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio, during which countries adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.

“Despite the continuing economic crisis in some key traditional markets, and continuing political uncertainties, more renewable energy was installed last year than ever before,” said Dr. El-Ashry, who chairs REN21.

The REN21 Renewables 2012 Global Status Report shows that during 2011 renewables continued to grow strongly in all end-use sectors – power, heating and cooling and transport.

“Policies helped to drive renewable energy forward. Policy development and implementation were stimulated by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan, along with improvements in renewable energy costs and technologies. As a result, renewable energy is spreading to more countries and regions of the globe,” Dr. El-Ashry said.

“Globally there are more than five million jobs in renewable energy industries, and the potential for job creation continues to be a main driver for renewable energy policies,” he said.

In 2011, renewable energy technologies continued to expand into new markets. Some 50 countries installed wind power, and solar photovoltaic capacity moved rapidly into new regions and countries. Worldwide, solar hot water collectors now are used by more than 200 million households and in many public and commercial buildings.

Interest in geothermal power has taken hold in East Africa’s Rift Valley and elsewhere; interest in solar heating and cooling is on the rise in countries around the world; and the use of modern biomass for energy purposes is expanding in all regions of the globe, the reports show.

In the power sector, renewables accounted for almost half of the estimated 208 gigawatts (GW) of electric capacity added globally during the year. Wind and solar photovoltaic accounted for almost 40 percent and 30 percent of new renewable capacity, respectively, followed by hydropower at nearly 25 percent.

By the end of 2011, total renewable power capacity worldwide exceeded 1,360 GW, up eight percent over 2010.

Renewables made up more than 25 percent of total global power-generating capacity – estimated at 5,360 GW in 2011 – and supplied an estimated 20.3 percent of global electricity.

Highlights 2011 from both reports:

Total investment in solar power jumped 52 percent to $147 billion and featured booming rooftop photovoltaic installations in Italy and Germany, the rapid spread of small-scale PV to other countries from China to the UK and big investments in large-scale concentrating solar thermal power projects in Spain and the United States.

The United States surged back close to the top of the renewables investment rankings, with a 57 percent leap to $51 billion, as developers rushed to cash in on three significant incentive programs before they expired during 2011 and 2012. After leading the world for two years, China saw its lead over the U.S. shrink to just $1 billion in 2011, as it recorded renewable energy investment of $52 billion, up 17 percent.

India’s National Solar Mission helped to spur an impressive 62 percent increase to $12 billion, the fastest investment expansion of any large renewables market in the world. In Brazil, there was an 8 percent increase to $7 billion.
China’s Jiangsu Rudong wind park began operation in May 2012 and was Siemens’ first order for offshore wind power outside Europe. The site is offshore Nantong City on the north bank of the Yangtze River. (Photo courtesy Siemens)

Competitive challenges intensified sharply, leading to sharp drops in prices, especially in the solar market – a boon to buyers but not to manufacturers, a number of whom went out of business or were forced to restructure.

Renewable power, excluding large hydro-electric, accounted for 44 percent of all new generating capacity added worldwide in 2011 (up from 34 percent in 2010). This accounted for 31 percent of actual new power generated, due to lower capacity factors for solar and wind capacity.

Gross investment in fossil-fuel capacity in 2011 was $302 billion, compared to $237 billion for that in renewable energy capacity, excluding large hydro developments.

The top seven countries for renewable electricity capacity, excluding large hydro: China, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, India and Japan, accounted for about 70 percent of total non-hydro renewable capacity worldwide.

At least 118 countries, more than half of which are developing countries, had renewable energy targets in place by early 2012, up from 96 one year before, although some slackening of policy support was seen in developed countries. This weakening reflected austerity pressures, particularly in Europe, and legislative deadlock in the U.S. Congress.
Calling this an important moment for strategic policymaking as winners in the new economy form and solidify, Professor Dr. Steffens of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management said today, “Renewables are starting to have a very consequential impact on energy supply, but we’re also witnessing many classic symptoms of rapid sectoral growth – big successes, painful bankruptcies, international trade disputes and more.”

Faced with plunging green energy technology prices and economic austerity measures, many governments slashed their renewable energy subsidies and allowed other support schemes to expire. The result was a succession of company failures and factory closures in 2011-2012, including five significant solar manufacturers in the United States and Germany.

“We are entering a fascinating period, with clean energy’s costs starting to be competitive with fossil fuels,” said Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who compared today’s renewable energy sector to the early automotive industry.

“In 1903, the United States had over 500 car companies, most of which quickly fell by the wayside even as the automobile sector grew into an industrial juggernaut,” Liebreich said. “A century ago, writing off the auto industry based on the failures of weaker firms would have been foolish. Today, the renewable energy sector is experiencing similar growing pains as the sector consolidates.”

“The challenge for policy-makers is to reduce support mechanisms at just the right pace,” he said, “too fast and the long-term future of the industry will be harmed. Too slow and you do the world’s taxpayers and energy consumers a great disservice.”

Joke break.

When chemists die, they barium.

Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

I know a guy who’s addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.

How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.

This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I’d never met herbivore.

I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.

I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.

They told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.

PMS jokes aren’t funny, period.

Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations.

We are going on a class trip to the Coca-Cola factory. I hope there’s no pop quiz.

I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?

When you get a bladder infection urine trouble.

Broken pencils are pointless.

I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.

I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.

All the toilets in New York’s police stations have been stolen. The police have nothing to go on.

I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

Velcro — what a rip off!

A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy

Venison for dinner again? Oh deer!

The earthquake in Washington obviously was the government’s fault.

Be kind to your dentist. He has fillings, too.

Efficiency, solar, wind. Good news

Did You Know? America’s economy has tripled in size since 1970 and three-quarters of the energy needed to fuel that growth came from energy efficiency advances – yet, much more can still be done. The economies of Japan and several European countries are about 50% more energy-efficient than the U.S.

Did You Know? According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2011 renewable energy sources provided 11.7% of domestic U.S. energy production and 12.7% of net U.S. electrical generation.

Did You Know? The U.S. wind industry now totals 48,611 MW of cumulative wind capacity. There are over 8,900 MW currently under construction involving nearly 100 separate projects spanning 31 states plus Puerto Rico. The U.S. wind industry has added over 35% of all new generating capacity over the past 5 years, second only to natural gas, and more than nuclear and coal combined.

Did You Know? The U.S. is the world leader in utility-scale geothermal energy with 3,187 MW of installed capacity, including ~91 MW of new capacity brought online between 2011 and early 2012. Currently, geothermal electric power generation is occurring in AK, CA, HI, ID, NV, OR, UT and WY while AZ, CO, LA, NM, ND, TX and WA have geothermal capacity in development.

Did You Know? Solar power in the U.S. grew 140% in the third quarter of 2011, making it one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy. Solar now exceeds 3,650 MW, enough to power 730,000 homes. More than 100,000 Americans work in the solar industry, double the number in 2009. They work at more than 5,600 companies, the vast majority being small businesses, in every state.