Renewable Energy and International Law network

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The Renewable Energy and International Law (REIL) network is an initiative of the non-profit Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership, which aims to develop markets for renewable energy. Members of the network usually meet once a year at Yale.

The Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) hosted the first Cambridge Roundtable of the REIL network in June 2011. This is an extract from an article which first appeared in Global Energy Review on 12 July 2011, highlighting some of the conclusions of that roundtable.

Renewable energy remains a policy challenge for many leaders around the world. It is a topic many probably wish was not there.

Climate change and energy security create a complex political challenge that must not only be considered in the context of well-entrenched existing energy markets and their incumbents, but also with a host of other issues such as international security, international trade, financial stability, inequity, debt, health care, pensions and poverty (in all its guises).

It is not helped by increasing divisions within countries which means passing any sort of national legislation is incredibly difficult if not impossible – never mind signing up to bold international treaties.

While there is some scope for the deployment of exciting technologies over the short term, sometimes supported by government policies such as Feed-in-Tariffs in countries such as China and Germany, to achieve the scale of deployment envisaged under international political negotiations such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), requires much more political backing and legislative support.

So the real challenge now is how to move renewable energy and the interelated challenges into the 'action' pile within national, state and local governments. This is a bold challenge and it needs bold leadership to tackle it. It is about risk management and economic growth, however it does need a wholesale change in the economic supply chain, which unfortunately is very difficult to achieve piece-meal.

A truly robust UNFCCC agreement should be able to provide a framework that allows countries to develop national policies, which are at least consistent, allowing global solutions to get to scale quickly. This is why the UNFCCC process does need to agree a framework for common approaches to policy development as soon as possible. This process will be supported by domestic action – but domestic action is not a substitute for it.

Kick starting a new industrial revolution is no small task, but neither is spreading democracy across the Middle East – and access to information and visionary leaders created the 'Arab Spring'. Maybe we need a 'Green Winter' to galvanise action to tackle climate change. With the Arctic ice melting at unprecedented rates we may achieve a 'Green Winter' sooner than we think.