The findings challenge the widely-held belief that the stalling of the Climate Change talks in the Hague last year and political disagreements over the science and the need for legally binding reduction targets have paralyzed the world-wide effort to fight global warming.
Studies by the WEC indicate that the number of new clean energy schemes, government initiatives and renewable energy projects will, by 2005, save equivalent of one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (C02) annually. This equates to a saving of over three per cent in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions emitted in the year 2000.
The figure of one billion tonnes may be a dramatic understatement A survey of 91 countries indicates the actual level of additonal projects planned or in the pipeline could raise the global C02 savings as high as two billion tonnes (two gigatonnes) by 2005 or six per cent of current global greenhouse gas emissions.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, of UNEP said that the pessimism and gloom hanging over the Climate Change talks, which are set to resume in Bonn on July 19, had masked small but real progress towards reducing emissions.
He highlighted the progress with the achievements made in China, which accounts for 14 per cent of world C02 emissions.
"China has, despite economic growth estimated at 36 per cent, managed to reduce it carbon dioxide emissions by 17 per cent since 1996/97. The figure of 17 per cent may prove premature, with the real reduction likely to be in the range of 10 or 12 per cent, but this is still remarkable and encouraging progress. It has been achieved by an active effort to promote energy conservation, end coal subsidies and support more efficient coal-fire power generation," said Mr Toepfer.
A study by scientists at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in California concludes that China's C02 emissions are already 400 to 900 million tonnes below what was expected in 2000 which is approximately equivalent to all C02 emissions from Canada, at the low end of the range, or Germany, at the high end of the estimate.
In the United States, which at 23 per cent has the highest share of global C02 emissions, levels of the greenhouse gas have grown from 4.8 billion tonnes in 1990 to over 5.4 tonnes in 1998, the International Energy Agency and the OECD estimate.
But even in the United States improvements are being made their official statistics show. From 1990 to 1998 the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP or economic growth declined by 11 per cent.
" The fact that two of the most important countries at the centre of the global warming debate are acting, and are managing to break the link between growth and a parallel rise in emissions, offers an important glimmer of hope which must be built on. We must do more, we have to do more. But the march to a less polluting world has begun and must be helped to continue even if there are disagreements between governments about the science and the need for legally binding emission reduction targets," said Mr Toepfer.
His comments come as informal climate change talks among 115 countries closed in The Hague this week The talks are aimed at trying to secure a successful outcome when countries meet in Bonn in mid-July to resume the stalled 6th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
They also come in advance of a report, also to be launched in July, by the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force, which has been studying the global prospects for green energy schemes.
Elena Virkkala Nekhaev, manager of programmes at the WEC, said: "There is a generally perception that little is happening globally to tackle climate change and that little will occur unless nations reach agreement at the upcoming talks in Bonn, Germany. But this is far from the case as our Pilot Programme on GHG Emissions Reduction demonstrates. Indeed the sheer number of cleaner energy schemes planned and in the pipeline make us confident that two gigatonnes, or six per cent of global emissions of CO2, will be saved annually by such projects by 2005 whether or not the Kyoto Protcol is ratified".
"Some of these clean energy schemes and conservation programmes may have other goals such as improving local air pollution, road congestion and peoples' health. But the end result is an important saving of greenhouse gas emissions," she said.
Mark Radka, UNEP's Energy Programme Coordinator, said: "In many countries like China old and inefficient power generation equipment is being retired and new, more efficient, power stations are starting to come on line. It is estimated that, over the next 20 years, some $15 trillion worth of investment is going to be made in energy infrastructure. This is a golden opportunity to make the world less dependent on fossil fuels and less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We must work hard to ensure that only the most energy efficient plant is built and, where appropriate, renewables are introduced. UNEP and WEC's assessment is that industry, many governments and organizations are rising to challenge despite uncertainties over the Kyoto process. There is cautious cause for optimism".
The C02 savings are coming from over 600 projects registered in the WEC's database. These projects are just completed, under construction or planned in the next few years. Some of the schemes involve the retiring of old and inefficient power plants in favour of modern, cleaner burning ones. Others involve fitting existing power plants with energy efficient equipment or choosing renewables over diesel, coal or oil generation. Projects also include some tree planting schemes designed to soak up C02, energy conservation measures and ones, such as those in Belgium, to reduce car use and emissions by restricting motor vehicle access to city centres.
Examples of the projects include a tidal power scheme in Australia designed to save 210 kilotonnes of C02 by substituting for disesel gnerators and a big wind power project Turkey that aims to save 940 kilotonnes. Others include a new, 1290MW combined-cycle power station in Rasht, Iran, saving 5,600 kilotonnes and a power station in Wisconisn, United States, that will save 1,107 kilotonnes by switching to gas.
Notes to Editors:
The World Energy Council was founded in 1923 and is a UN-accredited, UK-registered charity, based in London. It has established a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Pilot Programme and has recorded emissions reduction projects around the world in a comprehensive database located at www.worldenergy.org/ghg
The report on China's emission reductions is authored by Jonathan Sinton and David Fridley of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and published in the journal Sinosphere.
For more information please contact Nick Nuttall, Media Officer, UNEP, P.O.Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya. tel: 254 2 623084, mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail: email@example.com or Mark Radka, UNEP's Energy Programme Coordinator on tel: 33 1 4437 1427, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Elena Virkkala Nekhaev, Manager of Programmes at WEC, tel: 44 207 734 5996, e-mail: email@example.com or Lynn Yarris, media coordinator at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, on tel: 510 486 5375, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
UNEP News Release 01/85