The Rio+20 Earth Summit
Actions for Clean Energy and Global Warming
To address global warming, we must accelerate development of clean energy, improve energy efficiency and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We must also find new ways to reduce greenhouse gases. To do so, leaders at Rio must take action to:
Phase Down Fossil Fuel Subsidies
Countries are providing nearly $1 trillion in subsidies each year to the fossil fuel industry. This is 12 times more than the renewable energy industry gets. Eliminating subsidies for oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels would make a significant dent in curbing global warming pollution. For example, eliminating just the subsidies for consumption would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by almost 5 percent by 2020 – 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2. Fossil fuel subsidies drain public resources, drive global warming, and make it harder for clean energy to compete.
In total, 53 countries have taken international commitments to reform and phase-out their fossil fuel subsidies including many of the world's largest economies. At the Earth Summit 2012, countries need to commit to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies by 2015 and leave Rio with a clear plan to act at home by enshrining specific phase-out schedules in their national law.
Scale Up Renewable Electricity
Renewable electricity is seeing rapid growth throughout the world. In fact, new investments in "electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year  compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal..." In the midst of this deployment, renewable energy has moved past the point of being a niche provider of electricity that is a "nice thing do if you can afford it". According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the cost of electricity generated from wind is now at record lows and is cost-competitive or cheaper than coal-fired power plants in many locations.
At least 119 countries had some type of national policy target or renewable support policy in 2010. At the Earth Summit 2012, it is critical that countries scale-up renewable energy use by undertaking specific policies and programs to speed up the deployment of clean energy in their country in order to more than triple the amount of wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal power that is used throughout the world.
Improve Energy Efficiency
Societies across the world waste energy – there are reams of reports that show how much more efficiently we could use energy. It is time for governments and companies to ensure that we are taking such actions as phasing out inefficient light-bulbs, investing in cleaner and more efficient cars, and demanding more energy sipping appliances. For example, electricity for lighting is responsible for 19 percent of total end use electrical consumption and 6 percent of global warming pollution. So any effort to improve the efficiency of how we light our homes, offices, businesses, etc., will have a significant impact on global warming. According to the UN Environment Program, switching from inefficient incandescent lights to more efficient light bulbs such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) would achieve annual CO2 reductions of 246 million tons – equal to the emissions of 61 million mid size cars. In addition, by shifting to CFLs the world could avoid the need to build the equivalent of 136 coal-fired power plants.
At the Earth Summit 2012, more countries and companies should commit to phase out inefficient light bulbs through the establishment of minimum energy efficiency standards that reduce energy use of new bulbs by at least 65 percent.
Phase Down HFCs (A "Super Greenhouse Gas")
The Montreal Protocol has provided huge climate side-benefits because many of the ozone-depleting chemicals are also powerful heat-trapping gases. But those benefits are now being eroded by the rapid growth of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the "super greenhouse gases" that are coming into widespread use as replacements for their ozone-depleting predecessors. Avoiding HFC growth and phasing current levels down could avoid an amazing amount of heat-trapping emissions -- equal to 88 billion metric tons of CO2 worldwide through 2050. That's equivalent to eliminating 12 times the current annual carbon pollution of the United States.
One hundred and eight countries have explicitly supported phasing down these super greenhouse gases under the Montreal Protocol, but a very small number of countries are blocking these negotiations from beginning. At the Earth Summit 2012, governments need to commit to phase down HFCs and other "super greenhouse gases" under the Montreal Protocol.
Sign up for NRDC's online newsletter
- The Minamata Convention on Mercury: Contents, Guidance, and Resources
- The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty that addresses the global problem of mercury pollution.
- China's Budding Environmental Movement
- Attorney Alex Wang talks about what it's like to be in on the ground level of a new environmental movement.
NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
- Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
- Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
- NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.