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Box 2: The rising profile of renewables

As concerns mounted about climate change, the health impacts of air pollution, rising oil prices, and the need to ensure energy access for all, 2004 saw governments strengthening their commitment to renewable energy. A key study found that renewable energy has already shown significant potential for contributing to solving energy security and environmental challenges (IEA 2004).

In June the German government hosted a major intergovernmental conference, Renewables 2004. The conference adopted an International Action Programme on Renewables, embracing over 200 ongoing or planned efforts, policies and projects in over 150 countries.

More than 20 countries committed themselves to specific targets for the renewable share of total energy use. These included China (10 per cent of installed capacities by 2010); Egypt (14 per cent of electricity demand by 2020); Germany (20 per cent of electricity sources by 2020); Pakistan (10 per cent of electricity generation by 2015); and United Kingdom (10 per cent of electricity generation by 2010).

These countries are part of a growing international initiative of nations that have formally committed to increase the role of renewable energy (Secretariat of the International Conference for Renewable Energies 2004).

Funding for renewable energy was also boosted. Germany announced a US$666 million fund, and the Global Environment Facility increased funding by US$100 million per year for projects in developing countries.

Along with increasing pressures on the natural environment came some encouraging responses from the political realm. A number of new global environment agreements entered into force, while the Kyoto Protocol, a critical driver of global negotiations on climate change, will enter into force in early 2005. Other political achievements covered the areas of chemicals management, plant genetic resources, and ballast water management. Meanwhile the growing role of biotechnology in agriculture offered both promise and challenge.

The international community succeeded in reaching various targets for the year, agreed at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) - particularly in the areas of biodiversity and chemicals management. However it missed the target of establishing a process for regular global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment. It also missed a number of goals for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) on waste and pollution, sustainable tourism, and energy supply and services.

The incorporation of environmental priorities into the mainstream of development concerns has been an ongoing process. But the year 2004 saw the global environmental agenda increasingly integrated with the global development agenda. Donor support for environmental concerns is shifting towards issues linked to international development goals - especially those agreed at the 2000 Millennium Summit and the 2002 Monterrey International Conference on Financing for Development (OECD 2004). This shift prepares the ground for the 2005 High-Level Plenary meeting, to be held during the 60th session of the UN General Assembly, which will review progress towards the commitments of the Millennium Declaration. Also in a first for multilateral environmental agreements, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted at its seventh meeting a decision on the Millennium Development Goals, reinforcing the recognition of the inseparable link between biodiversity and the wider sustainable development agenda (CBD 2004b).

International environmental governance saw other advances both inside and outside the UN system. The 8th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum decided to develop an Intergovernmental Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building related to UNEP's work. In June at Renewables 2004, an initiative on global renewable energy was launched (Box 2). In April over 40 countries in the Group on Earth Observations adopted a ten-year framework plan to share data to improve understanding of the Earth's systems. Initiatives like these strengthen government commitment to environmental issues, and increase synergies and cooperation.

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