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Can Renewables Enhance Energy Security?

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  • May 01, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: B S Malik
    Discussants: V Raghuraman and Sanjay Verma

    Though the case for incorporating renewable energy into national energy policies has been around for decades, the growing debate on climate change has enhanced the profile and brought the issue of renewable energy to the forefront as a means of tackling global warming. However, more than climate change issues, it is energy security and the access to and control of fossil fuel sources that are the main drivers of the West’s policy. Given the critical place energy holds for economic growth, retaining their positions in the global economic order is a major factor for the traditional powers, particularly in the event of a scramble for non-renewable energy resources taking place.

    While it is true that the current global financial crisis and economic recession have seen the demand for energy falling substantially across the world, it is generally believed that once the recession is over and demand picks up the price of oil and gas could once again become prohibitive. There are several reasons why this may occur, including production cuts by OPEC, but mainly due to depleting reserves from mature oil and gas fields. According to the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, 80 out of 84 oil and gas exporting countries have reached a point where their field reserves have reached a plateau and production is decreasing.

    Hence, the Europeans took the lead in raising the issue of climate change as the most crucial national security issue, with the European Commission publishing what is termed as the “2020 by 2020” package, which includes proposals for not only reducing the EU’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, but also to ensure that 20 per cent of their energy is obtained from renewable energy resources.

    With Barack Obama’s election to the US Presidency, it is generally believed that the climate change issue has received a fillip. However, the US’ underlying concern is clearly about the country’s reliance, indeed, growing dependence, on imported energy resources. As President Obama stated in his presidential memorandum on January 26, 2009, “America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced.” Yet when one looks at the future plans for energy in the US as well as other developed countries, it is interesting to note that all of them are based on fossil fuels, as well as nuclear power, with renewable energy comprising only a small proportion of the energy mix.

    Despite the hype about renewable energy, developed countries will continue to rely on fossil fuels. It is a fact that major international oil companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil are freezing their research and investments in renewable energy, while continuing to invest in the petroleum sector, including carbon-intensive energy sources like tar sands and natural gas from shale.

    As the momentum for the negotiations on working out a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 picks up, countries like India and China are coming under increasing pressure from the rich countries to commit to binding emissions cuts. Some of the developed countries are also raising the bogey of employing “retaliatory mechanisms” through the WTO forum against China and India if they don’t adhere to binding emission cuts.

    However, though India is not giving in to such pressures and has adopted the position that since it is the developed countries that are responsible for most of the current levels of carbon emissions they should make the requisite technology and funding available for mitigating emissions, it is taking necessary action by putting in place projects that will allow it to further improve its energy efficiency and decrease the rate of emission increase.

    There is no doubt that renewable energy resources are required to deal with climate change and global warming. However, to increase the share of renewables in national energy mixes, particularly in the poor and developing countries, cooperative methods will have to be employed, not threats and trade-related pressures. Moreover, the developed countries have to acknowledge the responsibility for the current increase in emission levels and take steps to mitigate the same. Yet, the rich countries demand that developing countries take measures to accept binding cuts on emissions by cutting down on their fossil fuel consumption and employ renewable energy systems that are either inaccessible or too capital intensive for most poor countries to adopt without funding. However, the developed countries are not agreeable to technology transfers or adequate funding required to deploy such technology.

    Points in the Discussion:

    • India needs to develop technology for energy security and has to adopt a new approach to deal with the problem.
    • Need to look at the issue of climate change and global warming within the context of energy security.
    • The debate on climate change is only a political instrument used by developed countries.
    • When discussing energy security, climate change and global warming issues, there is a need to move towards an independent global process.
    • Need to analyze the impact that the financial crisis and China’s growing energy use have on climate change.
    • Need to expand on the impact of trade issues on the climate change debate,
    • India’s economic policy in next five years needs to taken into account the aspect of how to preserve our resources according to the country’s necessities.

    Prepared by M. Mahtab Alam Rizvi, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.