The Bigger Picture: The City in the Global Village


David Miliband's Speech to the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, 22-1-07

Practical solutions: 3 D energy revolution

The challenge is immense. But the economics point to the requirement not the impossibility of action. As the Stern report showed, the impact of climate change is estimated to be equivalent to a loss in average world consumption per head of 5-20% per year. This is far greater than the expected cost of cutting emissions which, consistent with a 550ppm CO2e stabilisation trajectory, is 1% of GDP by the middle of the century. To be pro-economic growth is to be pro environmental sustainability.

The positive news is that the practical and technological solutions are increasingly available and increasingly cost-effective. Let me highlight some key drivers of change across all countries, what you could term a 3-D energy revolution.

First, demand management. We are reducing demand by creating homes, cars and electrical appliances that are far more energy efficient. For instance, a hybrid car is about 30 per cent more efficient than its petrol-only equivalent. Homes built in the UK today are 40 per cent more efficient that those built in 2001, and we have recently committed to ensuring all homes are 'zero carbon' by 2016. The first industrial revolution saw mechanisation and mass production revolutionise labour productivity. A similar revolution is now underway in resource productivity. Economic growth is becoming decoupled from energy growth.

Second, all countries need to decarbonise their energy production. Renewable electricity sources are becoming more widely available at reasonable prices, from biofuels and biomass, to wind and solar power; and there is the prospect of diverting the carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations underground via carbon capture and storage (CCS). Third, we are increasingly decentralising our energy system. Since the opening of the world's first thermal power station in London in 1882 by Thomas Edison, the trend over the past century has been towards increasingly centralised power generation. While centralised production will remain critical, some countries are showing that we can increasingly rely on more decentralised and distributed power generation - from biomass fuelled combined heat and power stations serving a community, to individual citizens producing energy through solar or wind power and selling their energy back onto the grid. In the next thirty years, we could see the same transformation in energy production that we have seen in computers over the past generation - with a growing reliance on small computers connected via a network rather than a traditional mainframe. For instance, a large proportion of energy in Denmark and the Netherlands is produced on a decentralised basis - a transition that took around 20 years. But while the UK is having to make a transition from high-carbon to low carbon development, India has a unique opportunity. Forecasts suggest that by 2030, India's energy requirements will go from the existing 120,000 MW of electricity to about 400,000 MW. Half of India does not have electricity and the investment choices you make over the next ten to fifteen years will be crucial.

You therefore have the potential to be a leapfrog economy - going straight to a model of low-carbon development without having to scrap existing infrastructure and technologies. You are already leaders in some renewable energy technologies. About 100,000 biogas plants and 16,530 solar photovoltaic lighting systems were installed during 2004-05. You are the only country to have a Ministry dedicated to the use of renewable energy - sharing experience of development and deployment of these technologies can provide global benefits. You can forge a distinctive economic path that will give you a comparative economic advantage in future. As your President has suggested in calling for a goal of Energy Independence, renewable energy technologies could contribute 20 to 25 per cent of your energy needs by 2030. You have nearly 60 million hectares of wasteland, of which 30 million hectares are available for energy plantations. With each crop lasting 50 years and being carbon-neutral, biofuels could make a significant contribution meeting future demand in transport fuels and delivering emissions reductions.