Magdalena A K Muir, Research Associate, Arctic Institute of North America; Adjunct Professor, John Hopkins University, and Advisory Board Member, Climate, Coast and Marine Union.
Sustainable energy development is increasingly important globally, nationally, and within the circumpolar Arctic. The tension between environment and development is evident in the production and use of energy. Fossil fuels have supported modern societies and lifted billions of people out of poverty. They have also changed landscapes and polluted both air and water. Now the production of CO2 is changing the climate. Oceans and islands can play a combined and supporting role in sustainable energy development.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recently launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, and 2012 has been designated as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. The initiative has three interlinked global objectives for 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix.
The circumpolar Arctic, remote regions, small island developing states (SIDS), and developing countries all need flexibility in how they generate energy, but this energy can be low carbon, renewable and both delivered and used efficiently. Terrestrial and offshore winds, solar, geothermal energy, biofuels, and other renewable resources can collectively meet energy needs, while simultaneously supporting local development, achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions, and addressing crucial issues such as energy and water security. In all of these areas, coasts, oceans and renewable energy can play a vital role.
National and regional policies, fiscal initiatives, public-private partnerships, and civil society programs are all key tools for encouraging the development of renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency. This is true across all regions, with the circumpolar Arctic and SIDS being no exception. Specific projects focusing on education and training are required, as well those striving to emphasise the links between renewable energy and water efficiency – especially in places such as the circumpolar Arctic and SIDS.
Renewable energy projects in coasts and offshore areas can address water security as well as water quality and quantity, through innovative integrations of energy and water systems. A particularly good example here is the integration of renewable energy with desalination and aquifer replenishment and management systems. The Arctic, SIDS and arid regions all share a common need to integrate energy and water systems to increase the efficient use of both these resources. Increased efficiency in these areas can in turn be a driver for poverty alleviation and mitigate against climate change.
For example, the Arctic, SIDS and arid regions have extensive geothermal, ocean, solar, and wind resources in coastal and marine zones, but typically rely on hydrocarbons to generate electricity. In particular, the Arctic and SIDS share common environmental and oil spill risks to land and seas, from the transport of hydrocarbons from tanker to refinery. All regions have common issues with water quality and water scarcity that renewable energy, desalination, ground water and aquifer management and replenishment, as well as innovative approaches to water treatment can all address.
The Arctic, SIDS and arid regions are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Each are already experiencing higher temperatures, fluctuating precipitation rates, depletion of aquifers and groundwater, saline intrusion of coastal and island aquifers, and increased water quality issues and increased incidences of waterborne illnesses. Abundant renewable energy can assist in addressing all these concerns.
In all regions, the intermittent nature of renewable energy can be addressed by energy and water storage options (including hydrogen storage and aquifer re-injection and management) or by retaining hydrocarbon generation as a backup, emergency or peak energy source. For adjacent islands, transmission lines between their coasts can integrate renewable resources and markets. This is yet another service provided by coasts and oceans.
All regions possess rich sources of both local and traditional knowledge and technologies with regards to the use and management of energy and water resources. These include rainwater water harvesting and storage; agricultural terracing and irrigation; energy and water efficient traditional architecture and buildings. Such innovations can augment and compliment renewable energy knowledge and technology, and the integration of energy and water systems. Similarly, as projects utilising these methods evolve, so too does the scope for knowledge and technology transfer, seeing capacity development occur across the Arctic, SIDS and arid regions.
Sustainable energy development and water linkages have already been recognised in the lead up to Rio+20. There have been preparatory conferences, submissions, and paragraphs in the Zero Draft text, which have all explicitly recognised the links between energy and water. There are opportunities for collaboration and strategic allegiances at Rio+20 and beyond on research, project development, technology and capacity development transfer for energy and water across all key regions. Additionally, there could be opportunities for building synergies between those arid regions, which are currently leading in the use of renewable energy technologies and projects to address water security and scarcity, the Arctic, small islands and other regions of the world. Last, renewable energy projects that are not integrated in electricity grids may also be eligible for carbon credit as small scale renewable energy projects under the Clean Development Mechanism, which may improve the economics of some of these projects.
Other international meetings and processes have also recognised the linkages between oceans and energy. For example, at the 2nd Assembly of the International Renewable Agency and the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January 2012, there was clear political recognition of the nexus between energy and water by the arid countries of the Middle East and Gulf States, as well as focused assistance on the Pacific region for renewable energy and desalination by Asian states. This connection was also recognised in the Marseille Declaration, which was issued on March 13, 2012 at the World Water Forum. Finally, the launch of the International Water Summit, in conjunction with the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January 2013, also indicates the growing acknowledgement of the connection between energy and water. Rio+20, therefore, represents an ideal opportunity to further strengthen this connection in both policy and practice.
This text is derived in part from a sustainable energy development project being implemented by in cooperation with the Master of Science – Energy Policy & Climate Program at John Hopkins University in Washington D.C., the Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC) based in Leiden, Netherlands; and the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary.