Beijing takes centre stage on renewable energy

Renewable energy was discussed by the international community for first time in a developing country when China hosted a major conference.

For the first major international conference on renewable energy held in China on the 7th and 8th November, over 1,200 delegates from more than 80 countries gathered in the Great Hall of the People to review progress and develop future strategies to accelerate the development of such resources.

China's leading role in this field was exemplified by Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan's opening address in which he noted that already renewable energy meets 7 percent of China's energy consumption and this will rise to 15 percent by 2020. He also announced that the target itself had been increased by half again from its initial level of 10% of total energy share. Such progress will be supported by the Renewable Energy Law which comes into force from 1st January 2006.

The Global Status Report, commissioned by REN21 and released during the conference, paints an optimistic picture in which over US$30 billion is estimated to have been invested in renewable energy on a worldwide basis in 2004, equivalent to 20% of the total investment in the conventional power sector.

Grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV) represent the fastest growing energy technology with existing capacity increased 60% per year over the last four years; at least 48 countries worldwide now have some form of renewable energy promotion policy.

With this background there were wide ranging and lively presentations on the status and trends of renewable energy development, advances in technology and success stories from many countries. Later plenary sessions addressed approaches to quantifying the increase in the use of renewables and the importance of effective international cooperation to ensure continued growth in this field.

UK environment secretary Margaret Beckett said, "it is important that the time frames of policies to promote sustainable energy fit with the time lines for investment by the private sector."

Parallel workshops on investment and finance, the needs and visions of industrialists and entrepreneurs, and specific forums on technological advances and south-south cooperation, saw standing room only for many of the presentations.

Stavros Dimas, Environment Commissioner at the European Commission, remarked that, "renewable energy has been viewed as an something only rich countries can afford, but now we see it is something developing countries cannot afford to be without".

A limited number of side events included the official launch of Roaring Forties, a joint venture between Hydro Tasmania and CLP Power Asia that has recently added the Datang Jilin windfarm in China to its existing portfolio of wind projects in Australia and New Zealand.

In an event hosted by REEEP, regional activities and current projects were described; REEEP support for developments in Mexico was detailed; the REEEP / REN21 Information Clearing House was presented and the Australian government confirmed the establishment of a new secretariat for Oceania and South East Asia.

At the conclusion of this conference - the first of its kind in a developing country - a joint political declaration agreed by 78 countries called for continued global support and collaboration to ensure the accelerated development of renewable resources. "The fact the conference is taking place here in Beijing confirms taking up renewable energy is no longer the sole purview of developed countries and that emerging countries also wish to play a leading role in this area." said Stavros Dimas.

While many obstacles still exist, there has been notable progress and there was little doubt in the minds of most delegates that this conference marked a significant point in reinforcing the importance of renewables and demonstrating that there are much clearer strategies to ensure continued movement forward.

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