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Keynote Address by Prof. Anthony Chen at Launch of CIPORE

April 24, 2009


Dr. Barnett, Ms. Mona Whyte … Thank you for inviting me here to speak about a subject that is close to my heart.


Can anyone doubt that a new era with a bright future for renewable energy is here?  It will be a future amazingly fast paced, with dynamic industries jam packed with emerging technologies, differing policies and incentives, and a constant stream of new entrants.  For someone who has been a long-time advocate of renewable energy, the scenario is sweet.   We have arrived at this point out of necessity brought about with what can be called the energy crisis of 2000s and the climate change crisis of this century.


The energy crisis of 1970s was brought about by restriction in oil supply by the OPEC cartel.  The crisis of the 2000s owes it genesis not only to supply restriction, but to the increase in demand for oil by Asia and Latin America, greed of speculators, the shortage of oil refineries and probably most of all by fear of energy insecurity.  The rise in demand is happening simultaneously with the growing concentration of a majority of oil and gas reserves in relatively few places. This creates concerns over energy security in the large consuming markets of Europe, North America and Asia. Today, 80% of the world oil reserves are owned by national oil companies, and gas supplies pass from the source to the customer through many countries.  The recent stand off between Russia and the Ukraine over pricing had repercussions in Europe.  Russian gas to European countries which passed through Ukraine was affected.  Poland suffered the greatest disruption, with supplies via Ukraine down by 11% compared with earlier months.  Other countries affected were the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Croatia and Greece.  So it is not just high oil prices that we should be worried about, but also the security of the supply.


In the case of climate change it is now globally accepted that man made greenhouse gases is causing global warming.  Just last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a document that proposes to acknowledge that greenhouse gases pose a threat to human welfare. To us, that statement may sound like an utterly bland assertion of what we agree on. But sadly — because it should have happened long ago — the announcement is exactly what so many have hailed it to be: a landmark in US environmental history. It is the EPA’s first formal claim that it has the power to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions without any further authorization from Congress.  Apparently the statement is still subject to comments before EPA can gain the power to regulate.


If we do not limit the rise of global warming, dangerous effects such as the unstoppable melting of Greenland and the West Antarctica ice sheet and eventual sea level rise of several meters over hundreds of years will be the result.  To limit the rise of global warming, it is necessary for the developed countries of North America and Europe to make drastic cuts in the emission of greenhouse gases.   By drastic we mean that they should cut back emissions to about 45% below 1990 level by 2020 and by up to 80% by 2050.  The European countries have indicated that they are willing to accept these reductions and President Obama in his speeches has indicated that he understands the gravity of the problem.



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