For centuries now, the world economies’ over-dependence on fossil fuels has been creating serious damage to the environment. Data from the Key World Energy Statistics 2008 of the International Energy Agency show that in the year 2006, the world depended on oil, coal and gas for roughly 80.9% of its energy requirements. The same source said that only 12.9% was sourced from renewable energies (RE).
This over-dependence on fossil fuels leads to increasing global temperatures. Nations, mostly developing ones, now suffer the brunt: low agricultural productivity due to water supply instability, public health concerns due to increasing incidences of malaria and other climate-related diseases, and loss of lives and properties due to floods, typhoons, and cyclones.
The worsening air pollution is also quite alarming. The Global Environment Facility’s The Challenge of Sustainability, An Action Agenda for the Global Environment (2002) cited that about 4 million premature deaths per year, mostly of young children, are caused by exposure to dirty cooking fuels. The same source said that the economic costs of air pollution caused by fossil fuels are substantial, perhaps $350 billion per year, or 6% of gross national product of developing countries.
The Need to Increase Share of RE in Nations’ Energy Mix
These realities should provide enough reasons for governments to realize the urgency of reviewing energy policies particularly in increasing the share of RE in the energy mix.
According to a German government publication Environmental Policy: Renewable Energy Sources in Figures (March 2004), the use of RE in generating heat and electricity in a country the size of Germany can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 51 million tons per annum. The same publication cited that a 5-megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant which can generate electricity over a 20-year period would save a country 550,000 barrels of oil or 300,000 metric tons of coal. These would mean avoiding 186,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 1,269,000 tons of sulfur oxides (SOx), and 1,163,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, the main culprits for global warming.
Making Electricity More Accessible to the People
Apart from climate concerns, RE is also an answer to the call for increasing people's access to electricity. At a time when information could easily be accessed via the world wide web and cellular phones, two billion people around the world still have no access to electricity. According to the World Energy Assessment, Overview Update (2004) of the United Nations Development Programme, access to affordable energy services is fundamental to human activities, development, and economic growth.
In some countries, children of school age (those lucky enough to attend school) use oil lamps to read at night. Computers, and much more, Internet access, are unheard of. Crops and produce also perish faster because there are no cooling or refrigeration systems. For instance, in Barangay Diarabasin, Aurora (Northeastern Philippines), farmers are often confronted with rotten produce or fruits when typhoons come and they are unable to transport them to the nearest market centers.
Obviously, access to electricity is necessary for human and economic development. Tapping and maximizing the potential of RE can very well address this lack of mass access to energy sources.
So it is not simply a question of priorities. Renewable energy is a question of urgency. Governments can start by having clear targets. The European Union, for instance, targets a 20% share of renewable energy in the whole energy mix by 2020. All countries should follow the same route.