After Japan's Nuclear Crisis, A New Emphasis on Renewable Energy
Asia Society's Sustainability Roundtable will be a regular feature on the re:ASIA blog featuring insight and analysis on current events from our team of sustainability experts. This week, we asked our roundtable to reflect on last week's G8 summit, which took place May 26-27 in Deauville, France. How did the summit address issues such as nuclear safety, climate change and the ongoing bioenergy debate?
Rohit Viswanath is a foreign policy analyst with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) in New Delhi.
The G8 — although a frivolous grouping without the BRICS [an economic grouping acronym that refers to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] — concluded its 37th summit by raising some serious concerns, including the fallout of the Japanese nuclear disaster. The Japanese tragedy could not have come at a worse time for the world economy. Struggling as it was from the aftershocks of the financial crisis, it is now being hit by a double whammy. Uncertainties in the oil-rich Arab world, combined with shutdowns in nuclear energy production in Japan and Germany, have driven up oil prices past $100/barrel.
The energy scarcity has had a domino effect on all economic activities. Costs of food products have risen due to higher costs of production and transportation, and also because the crisis has rendered cultivation of bio-fuel more profitable, with agricultural land increasingly being diverted for this purpose.
It is important for every country to develop a policy that will deliver not just energy security but also climate change mitigation goals. Nuclear energy has for long been advocated as the main alternative to fossil fuels. This claim will now have to be seen through the prism of the Fukushima catastrophe and will be further qualified by a cost-benefit analysis given the need to ensure highest safety norms. This is perhaps the reason behind Germany's junking nuclear power altogether.
A successful energy policy will have to consider both affordability and environmental friendliness. It will also have to ensure sustainability and security by being centered on a wide mix of energy options — not just fossil and nuclear but also renewables like solar, wind, hydro, biomass and others. Thanks to high R&D investments and installed cumulative capacity globally, renewable energy is increasingly becoming commercially viable, albeit at small scales. This is a significant development for rural communities. The political establishment must ensure that support is provided for developing renewable energy infrastructure in smaller communities and rural areas for delivery and maintenance of these systems.
Nonetheless, governments must facilitate drastic end-use and life-style changes aimed at cutting down energy use. That is key to ensuring a sustainable future.