NEW YORK- The number of meetings that could be stars in the "Conference Galaxy" are great in number. The number of constellations in the "Conference Galaxy," where one meeting actually brings together world-class speakers from a true multi-stakeholder perspective, connects them to form a discernable outcome, and sends everyone home not only inspired but feeling as if you have formed some lifelong friendships are rare indeed. One would need a powerful space telescope to find only one such conference on the "green energy economy," as the international system is buzzing with debate on this topic.
But a space telescope was not needed to discover the unique partnership between the Korea Energy Economics Institute and the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware. Over the course of two days, this conference, which began on time, ended on time, and amazingly offered everyone a healthy breakfast, provided participants with maximum opportunity to attend breakout sessions with interactive networking during breaks and meals.
Where do we find conferences that blend the values that we strive to incorporate into development work with stimulating science (understandable by almost anyone) and views of where the world needs to head in terms of energy needs and use in creating a new economy. Any conference that includes sessions on how the State of Wisconsin is using its biogas opportunity (a report written by students from the CHANGE Program at the U. of Wisconsin at Madison) and includes a Q&A exchange in a science panel on what the parking meter of the future will look like, needs to viewed as truly thinking "out-of-the-box".
Many fine conferences suffer from the critique of "how could you schedule so many speakers that I wanted to hear directly next to each other in parallel session"? This conference could not suffer that fate, since each and every breakout session had three speakers that needed to be heard!
Who was the mastermind behind this international green energy economy conference (and notice the very clever and unique combination of the two, green energy literally "fueling" or powering the economy)? None other than Prof. John Byrne, Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy and Distinguished Professor of Energy and Climate Policy at the University of Delaware, and his team of colleagues who worked tirelessly to ensure a fruitful outcome.
The conference could not have taken place without the support of the Korea Energy Economics Inst. and partners such as Gale International, Perkins + Will, Pace Global, DGREZA, Citi, and the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment. All should be saluted for making this event the remarkable achievement and success that it was for 150 participants who found themselves in record-breaking heat in Washington, DC.
Professor Jin Woo Kim, President of the Korea Energy Economics Inst., and Ambassador Richard Benedick, President of the National Council for Science and the Environment in the US, helped frame the discussions at the opening of the conference. Governments and the private sector can assist in the shift to a green energy economy if they consider providing more active investment. The countries with the greenest economies will have the competitive advantage even in areas of trade.
It would be difficult even to highlight the many contributions from scientists and academics to the debate, but a number of ideas presented do need to be brought forward.
The fact that Americans could start shedding their "energy obesity" if, for one example, smart technology could enable electricity bills to more easily reflect how, when and for what purpose electricity is uesed made eminent sense.
Dr. Hoesung Lee, Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was able to explain with great clarity the findings of the most recent special report of the IPCC on renewable energy. Issues of system integration are important factors in development of renewables, as is the enabling policy framework.
The Special Report had the benefit of 122 countries nominating experts to make contributions. Over 24,000 comments from around the world were received and read to make this report a significant milestone in the case for renewables.
Professor Byrne did not fail to involve local elected representatives as well, with Senator Harris B. McDowell III of the Delaware State Senate in evidence moderating a panel on green utilities.
MedaniBhandari from Syracuse University discussed the importance that green energy will have as an issue in the upcoming Rio + 20 conference. The entire proceedings of this conference easily could be sent in before the 1 November 2011 deadline as a contribution for the zero draft of the Rio + 20 outcome document.
Lorelly Solano from the center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware gave a presentation on the multiple benefits of greening rooftop gardens, from water purification to actual lowering of temperatures in a city.
Peter Syre from Perkins + Will in New York presented on building design and ways in which to incorporate sunlight into the interiors of buildings. decreasing the need for lighting to be maintained at all hours of the day.
The well-known city of Curitiba in Brazil was showcased by Eduardo Pereira Guimaraes, Secretary of International Relations for the Government of Curitiba. Providing a different urban experience in terms of bus rapid transit has made Curitiba a major international icon in sustainable urban transit. The importance of municpal leaders such as former mayor of Curitibal, Jaime Lerner, can be key to success in driving the renewable/alternative energy agenda within cities, and in viewing the urban landscape in a different way.
Presentations were also made from the European Union, showcasing the way in which Finland has promoted the creation of renewable energy in its cities and even in grouping small cities to create what could be seen as regional "centers of excellence". Finland, it should be recalled, is the only country whose parliament has had an official committee to study the future.
The singular drive of a country such as Korea is demonstrated in creating free economic zones such as the DaeguTechnopolis, a high-tech science city centered around Research and Development institutes, engineering graduate schools and high-tech industries. The Korean business environment that is on the leading edge worldwide in developing solutions to many of our energy needs was a contribution that riveted the attention of the audience and captivated the imagination. Solar cities will also be a commonplace in the future.
Dan Kammen, Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the World Bank, covered the pros and cons in the issue of biofuels.
The keynote speech at the dinner closing the first day of the conference was given by the Hon. Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, former US Secretary of Energy, and former US Ambassdor to the United Nations. Governor Richardson took the room by storm when he opined that "the Green Energy Economy is not a future event, it is NOW."
Governor Richardson spoke eloguently and simply, stating that the hallmarks of the green energy economy should be its inclusiveness for all ethnic groups, that poverty eradication should be its moral compass, and that a green energy economy can bring energy systems into harmony with earth systems. Universal energy access should be a worldwide effort.
Special note should be taken of the climate cities initiative of the Clinton Foundation. The initiative is headed by Mr. Jan Hartke, one of Washington's most respected visionaries.
Day two of the conference picked up the theme with which Bill Richardson left off. The global and worldwide effort. Companies such as Walmart, equivalent to the 6th largest economy in the world, are leading in terms of impacting its bottom line with attention to its environmental footprint. Presentations dealing with China, the European Union and Korea provided reflection on developments in energy over the last 30 years.
The UN Environment Programme's Officer in the Energy Branch, Lawrence Agbemabiese, made for a truly far-ranging discussion. UN Environment Programme, in its work with NGOs, is looking to encourage more pro-active on-the-ground project leadership from NGOs. The book "Natural Allies", written some years ago by Eric Falt, then UNEP Communications Director, could serve as the basis for further development of the unique relationship that UNEP has with the NGOs accredited to its formal processes.
The role of women and teenagers was discussed not just as "add-ons" but as essential to the process of shifting to energy systems in consonance with the earth.
The closing keynote at lunch was both inspirational and imaginative, given by Miriam Horn, Director of the Smart Grid Initiative at Environmental Defense, sometimes referred to by its previous name "Environmental Defense Fund."
Ms. Horn presented her "Top Ten List on the Green Energy Economy."
We need giant feet on the accelerator.
A willingness to experiment, collaborate with each other across disciplines, and to be inclusive is also part of the equation.
For behavior change, information is gold -- for behavior change, knowledge and tools are needed by everyone.
Lots of stuff is old -- meaning that our infrastructure in providing energy needs, in some cases, has to be taken off line and replaced with new clean energy plants.
The wealth that new energy can provide needs to be equitably distributed.
"Some" policymakers "get it" -- more decision makers need to come on board to encourage through leadership and example the development and implementation of new laws that will enable green energy to be developed more robustly.
Global leadership is essential.
Developing countries can benefit from "leapfrog" technology, avoiding the errors in creating huge infrastructure that their more-developed counterparts spent years in building.
"The great unknown" was an invitation to all of us to "fill in our own blank" about actions individuals could take following the conference. What was the world like before Google, and how could we have envisioned 2011 at a time 20-30 years ago.
Lastly was the presentation of a video on the bicycle, with a song written especially by David Byrne of the music group "Talking Heads".
If the results of this conference can be brought to wider knowledge and to the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panels on Energy and Sustainable Development, an even greater and more far-reaching impact will be achieved than the organizers could have hoped for.