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Planet Earth – A vision of how the world can be run on renewable energy by 2050

The Energy Report looks at how the world can be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050

If you enjoy reading end-of-year accounts, or poring over corporate brochures, you will love The Energy Report - the eco-equivalent of a BP audit statement. Written by a huge number of people from WWF, together with some from `Ecofys (a Dutch renewable energy consultancy), the report has been designed by AMO, the consulting arm of Rem Koolhaas’ OMA.

The report’s stated aim is to show how the world can be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. The first half is the high-gloss, high-quality design stuff with soundbite pull-quotes in huge letters superimposed over images of sand dunes at twilight. This section is partial, rhetorical and speaking to the converted.

It is an example of what is called advocacy research, which, unlike real research, has a biased objective, and uses facts to prove its stance. The second half of the report, written by Ecofys, is data heavy and visually tedious, presumably because the designers did not think that many people would get that far, or that geeks don’t appreciate aesthetics. However, it is this latter half that is the useful, relatively value-free analysis of the data.

The WWF section contains grainy photographs of cars in unspecified flood conditions overwritten with the warning that ‘Climate change is already a reality’. A row of evil, black metal canisters meets with the statement: ‘Nuclear is an unethical and expensive option.’ This section is thus merely polemic and we have heard the argument before. Notwithstanding the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster (see pages 20-22), the WWF’s anti-nuclear stance runs counter to many leading activists, but this is not allowed to stand in the way of a rhetorical flourish.

By contrast, the Ecofys’ half of the report comprises future modelling scenarios, based on relatively neutral assumptions. In the process of outlining its projections for 2050 and beyond, at least it allows for manufacturing improvements that would happen, regardless of the nudging hand of environmentalism, over the course of the next 40 years. So for example, it predicts improvements in steel smelting, resulting in efficiencies of
two per cent per annum in any case.

Similarly, the trend to substitute high-energy clinker for fly ash in concrete production will lead to a natural reduction in fuel use. Ecofys states that it is hopeful of ‘increasing living standards and continuing economic development’. When you scratch the surface, it doesn’t actually mean it. Take, for instance, the authors’ recommendation that ‘renewable energy must be at the heart of… international aid programmes’. They do not display the slightest concern for what this might mean for the sovereignty and development of under-developed countries.

Liberals may recall the devastating conditionality programmes of the International Monetary Fund in the 1970s, where it gave aid at extortionate interest rates. Conversely, this report’s conditionality is based on not giving any aid in the first place, unless the recipient can show responsible fuel behaviour. Lo, the missionaries can still taketh away. There is one peculiar theme that runs through the document: the advice that we in the West should reduce our meat consumption by half to free up land for biomass crops.

The developing world would be allowed to eat 25 per cent more meat than they do at present, although how this totalitarian rationing would be orchestrated is not explained. Equally perverse is the recommendation that ‘everyone has an equal right to healthy levels of protein’, which makes the meagre United Nations Millennium Development Goal ‘to halve the number of people who suffer from hunger’ sound positively revolutionary.

Co-written by Dutch and Swiss authors, this report has a few refreshingly nonstandard environmentalist attitudes that would have undoubtedly infected a UK publication of this type. It is, for instance, a relief to find not one trace of Malthusianism in this document.

However, environmental activist, John Thackara condemns WWF for being in bed with Big Tech. ‘Ecosystems and natural justice have never been a priority for the de facto house architect of globalisation,’ he says. ‘As for Ecofys, the report’s other partner, it’s a technology company with no pretensions to be competent on social or environmental issues’. This is the ultimate Green insult, intended to allude to the ‘evils’ of Big Pharma.

He suggests that the low-tech underdeveloped world should be our model for the future. Mercifully, even though this report advocates that we drive and fly less, and ‘avoid things we don’t need’, what commends the latter half of this report is that it appears to have higher ambitions than normal.

To find the full version of The Energy Report visit

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