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Energy turnaround needs to be nature-compatible and socially equitable

Vienna, 12  March 2013
At the international Naturefriends Environment Conference “Future/Energy/Turnaround: Is Europe headed in the right direction”?, held in Salzburg on 9 March 2013, top-class experts and representatives of Naturefriends organisations addressed current challenges in the light of the European energy policy.

The urgent need for a reorientation towards renewable energies is uncontested. When it comes to the practical implementation, however, there is evidence of major shortcomings – such as the unbridled development of wind and solar energy, lacking coordination among the EU member countries and disregard for social repercussions.

The unchecked combustion of fossil energy, such as oil, gas and coal, will not merely push up energy prices but will also cause the consequential costs of climate change to skyrocket to unmanageable levels. Speakers were agreed that “unbridled climate change would cause five times the costs of timely investments into measures designed to drastically reduce climate-damaging emissions”. It follows that a reorientation towards renewable energy generation is urgently called for –even though the options are limited. “Ever more frequently, green opposition is raised against blanketing landscapes with wind turbines, solar panels or hydropower stations”, warns Manfred Pils, President of Naturefriends International (NFI).

What is called for, is a fair dialogue based on clear-cut criteria for the nature-compatible generation of renewable energy, which need to form part of the licensing procedures for individual projects. “Nature and landscape destruction can only be prevented, if all nature protection laws, directives and regulations are accorded the same status as energy law“, claims Karl Frais, Chairman of Naturefriends Austria.

The prevailing  energy system has had its day
Efficiency –  in other words reduced energy consumption – is an indispensable part of any sustainable energy policy. In this context it was criticised that transportation, which consumes one third of the available energy, is left completely out of consideration and that the potential of building refurbishment is not fully utilised. Unless transportation and building refurbishment are factored in, the 20% reduction which has been set as the European Union’s efficiency target, will be out of reach.

Naturefriends draw attention to the fact that energy policies are frequently focused on promoting specific measures without considering possible negative effects – such as the massive rise in food prices triggered by the promotion of biofuel. When it comes to energy saving, responsibility is frequently shifted to the citizens, irrespective of the fact that energy efficiency depends on the interaction of the entire energy system.

The odds for an energy turnaround in the EU depend on relocating the energy production to Europe. Instead of spending billions of euros on purchasing oil and gas and by implication shifting the environmental problems to other regions, some of this money can be spent on investments in Europe, with the added effect of creating jobs as well as an industry fit for the future and for efficient energy production and distribution.

No quarter for bulk consumers
ZThe described reorientation doubtlessly requires major investments which are currently funded by way of cost sharing on the part of energy consumers. The growing energy poverty of low-income households in Europe calls for still another rethinking process. Manfred Pils: “It is incomprehensible why especially bulk consumers, such as industrial enterprises, are spared, while small households have to cover a disproportionately high share of the costs. People living on minimum wages cannot afford thermal insulation. Those exempt from the levy should be first and foremost the small consumers; on bulk consumers, on the other hand, the levy could act as an incentive to invest in renewable energy sources and in energy efficiency systems.“

Rapidly reduce energy consumption
The lesson to be drawn from this Naturefriends Environment Conference is clear: Right away, a stop must be put to the increase in energy consumption; and consumption as such needs to be dramatically reduced. Top priority must be given to more energy efficiency. In future, expenditures on major investments must be more equitably shared. The energy turnaround is the joint responsibility of our societies: It depends on the involvement of all the stakeholders, when it comes to supplying renewable energy, and it requires clear-cut criteria for licencing procedures. The remedy for energy poverty is energy generation within the countries concerned, which will not only create local jobs but will also prevent ever more money being channelled to energy importation, to the transportation of fossil and nuclear fuels and to extraction technologies in remote countries, which is currently the rule applying to power generation.

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