UN Climate Change
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This article is part three of a three-part series detailing teen climate ambassadors Inka Vogt and Fabian Beveridge’s trip to Bonn, Germany. Inka and Fabian are currently cycling 10,000 km across Europe to raise awareness about climate change and the need for climate action. In Bonn, they visited the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat’s headquarters, the Sustainable Development Goals Action Studio, the Momentum for Change Advisory Panel, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Our young climate ambassadors Inka Vogt and Fabian Beveridge from Wellington, New Zealand recently visited the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), where they got the chance to have all their renewable energy questions answered, and shared stories about renewables they have seen during their travels.
Increasing society’s use of clean energy, which does not emit greenhouse gases, is crucial to deliver the key goal of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which is to limit the global average temperature rise to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Renewable energy is beneficial in many ways for the climate but primarily there is an economic case for it, and having a space where countries can get together and exchange views, identify priorities and have a common effort to accelerate it is very important,” Elizabeth Press, IRENA’s director of planning and programme support, told Inka and Fabian.
During their discussion, Elizabeth spoke with Inka and Fabian about many new promising developments in renewable energy around the world. For instance, in early July France announced its intention to end the sale of fossil-fuel-powered cars by 2040, and the UK made a similar announcement last week. What’s more, RE100, a group of multinational companies committed to achieving 100% renewable electricity, recently reported that they have reach 100 members, bringing their total revenue up to USD 2.5 trillion.
Elizabeth told the cyclists about IRENA, explaining it is a global international organization that supports its 150+ member countries transitioning to a sustainable energy future, by helping facilitate their use of bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy.
IRENA has published a recent report showing that clean energy could achieve 90% of the energy related CO2 emission reductions required to meet the central goals of the Paris Agreement. Read more here.
UNFCCC Climate Ambassador Inka Vogt posing with a solar panel in Portugal
Inka and Fabian saw many examples of renewables at work along their cycling journey. They saw large privately-owned solar panels while travelling through Portugal, they saw wind turbines each day of their journey across Spain, and were impressed by the number of private households with solar panels on roofs throughout Germany.
Questions and Answers About Renewables
Fabian asked Elizabeth how to respond to critics arguing that renewable energy infrastructure has a large environmental footprint because of the building materials it uses.
“Everything is a balance, everything is a compromise,” Elizabeth replied. “It’s a matter of choice and trade-offs. Solar and wind energy sources have environmental impacts, but it is significantly less than other energy types. We have to work more and more to keep innovating these technologies.”
“This is where the importance of the Paris Agreement comes into play and how important it is for countries to integrate their own strategies. We have these long term goals for energy that say we have to decarbonize by mid-century to meet the Paris Agreement. If you have this target embedded in your government policies, the private sector will innovate,” she said.
Inka and Fabian also asked her what happens when renewable sources are not available due to a lack of sunlight or wind, for example.
Elizabeth explained that it is important to have an energy system that is flexible, by relying on a mix of energy sources. She said that some regions, such as Inka and Fabian’s home country New Zealand, rely on hydro power, which can be switched on and off when wind or solar are not available.
She also emphasized the potential of offshore wind power, which provides a steadier supply of energy than onshore wind.
The cyclists asked how to respond to people who complain about living near renewable infrastructure, for instance, those who have wind turbines near their homes.
“Nobody likes anything in their backyard,” Elizabeth replied. “They don’t like wind turbines but they also don’t like nuclear power stations or coal power stations. Contextualizing it is important. It’s not a rejection of renewables, it’s a rejection of anything in your neighbourhood.”
Elizabeth told the cyclists of her dream to paint wind turbines, making them art pieces to bring more appreciation to clean energy production. Inka and Fabian loved the idea and suggested having a competition to allow kids to submit designs for the turbines.
The climate ambassadors are now continuing their journey through Europe, on their way to Greece through Italy. They will return to Bonn in November for the annual UN Climate Change Conference COP23 (6-17 November).