Imagine a world where:
- Humans contribute less than the 57% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from burning fossil fuels they create now (overall decreasing pollution and helping to mitigate climate change)
- More people have independent access to clean and sustainable energy, reducing the current number of1.4 billion people who don’t have any access to electricity right now
- Expenses for importing fossil fuels are reduced
- Human health is improved globally
- Energy security is advanced and…
- Numerous jobs are created
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
But it’s not! All thanks to renewable energy!
Of course, there are certainly downsides to renewable energy to be considered – not every major issue of climate change and pollution can be addressed perfectly. But these cons shouldn’t deter use of renewable energy as a solution. In fact, many of these cons can be minimized when RE is introduced through effective and appropriate policy. What are these policies, then, and how do we employ them in nations across the world?
A number of policies promoting the development and use of RE sources are recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Global Energy Network Institute (GENI), as well as other organizations. These are explored in detail below. But before jumping into the policies, let’s consider how they can be advanced.
The International Energy Association (IEA) is a great vehicle for doing just that! The IEA, whose goals include “analyzing policy options to offset the impact of energy production and use on the environment, especially for tackling climate change,” could use its resources and connections with various nations to recommend and encourage policies promoting RE in countries that are currently lacking such legislation. Of course, there are a number of countries (i.e. Poland) who already have an array of policies dedicated to increasing RE in place of traditional fossil fuels (consider their National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP)). But, there are also dozens of other nations (i.e. Algeria) whose governments have exhibited little to no consideration for RE in their structure. The IEA can help change this and, at the same time, help save our world by encouraging more countries to utilize RE!
“How could this be done?” you might be wondering. Well, given a nation’s economic status and capabilities, the IEA can recommend policies that will minimize cons and maximize benefits. Consider the examples below:
- One concern about increased use of renewable energy sources in some countries is that it could create competition within markets for other necessities. For instance, increased biofuel production would require more land usage, which would then result in less land for the production of food to feed the 795 million who go hungry everyday and could cause an increase in the price of food. But, consider how increased focus on agriculture can spur growth and rural development in a way that is economically stable. There exist policies that can offer incentives to rural farmers who aren’t currently using land for food production to use it for biofuel production. This type of policy would not only create jobs, but also ensure that food production and prices are not compromised. Similarly, the money saved from eliminating fees to pay for importation of traditional fossil fuels to provide energy can be rechanneled by these policies in the form of subsidies and other benefits for rural farmers to produce biofuel. These policies can structure land use and production chains so as to not harm food production while assuring that rural farmers are able to reap the benefits of this increase in agricultural growth. These are examples of the types of policies the IEA could encourage in nations where food security is a concern.
- Another concern for many countries, especially developing nations, in regards to RE is increasing and optimizing access to energy/electricity. The GENI suggests that “encouraging competitive energy markets in all nations around the world will accelerate the use of renewables,” but many of these developing nations may not have economies stable enough to attract or increase competition in the energy market, thus they have concerns about being left behind and compromising equal access to energy among their citizens in a switch to RE. A policy recommendation for addressing this concern would be one like that mentioned in Energy for Sustainable Development: Policy Agenda which suggests the introduction of RE and competition to the energy market through “restructuring or the entry of new independent power producers” which can then help lower prices and increase access to sustainable energy sources. However, this policy would also have to assure the use of “sound business principles” when it comes to pricing, accounting, and transparency if it is to minimize the drawbacks of increased competition in the energy market. Additionally, the policy the IEA might recommend for developing nations would also have to safeguard against “private oligopolies” in place of the public monopolies that might current exist in the energy sector because these private oligopolies have a lot of the same issues that public monopolies have in terms of promoting RE (explained in three bullets below).
- Another policy solution the IEA could recommend to nations concerned about securing equal energy access to promote economic development among its citizens is to reform subsidy programs to focus on development of independent RE sources like solar power that do not require access to a grid or funding for an intricate energy system. By utilizing policies focused on rechanneling money within a nation away from traditional fossil fuels and towards independent, secure, and sustainable energy sources like solar power, developing nations can not only help save the world against the dangers of climate change but also provide their citizens with better, more equal access to electricity/energy.
- For other nations with varying types of economies and concerns, the IEA might recommend other types of policies. Overall, though, these policies would not leave the development of RE sources solely to the market because of at least three reasons:
- It is difficult to separate social and economic progress from access to secure and modern energy sources, so subsidies must be carefully designed in order to increase access in developing nations
- Energy policy is needed to reflect negative environmental and social impacts of energy use in energy prices
- There are certain characteristics of natural monopolies in the energy sector (i.e. electric grids) that exclude competition in order to obtain economic efficiency
Thus, the IEA can help address these issues through its policy recommendations to nations with little or no RE policies currently.
The issues of climate change and pollution are some of the toughest challenges our world faces today. Armed with the development and use of renewable energy sources, though, we can overcome them. The solution has been found – now all we need to do is implement it. The IEA and other international organizations such as the UN can be used to recommend policies that maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks of RE to those nations that have little or no legislation currently.
The IEA and others may not be able to suggest the perfect policies for each nation – their proposals might not be successful in eliminating all of the cons associated with RE sources, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. The time for action is now, and we can’t let uncertainty inhibit us from doing what we know we can to address some of the most important issues of the 21st century.
 “IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation” IPCC, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 3-400.
 “Policies to Promote Renewable Energy,” Global Energy Network Institute, last modified March 24, 2009, http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/policy/renewableenergy/#accelerate.
 Thomas B. Johansson and Jose Goldemberg, “Overview and a Policy Agenda,” in Energy for Sustainable Development: A Policy Agenda, (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2002), 1-23.