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Giving clean energy an affordable makeover

Political will to tackle climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions, never very strong, has all but disappeared across much of North America and Western Europe in the last 12 months.

Climate concerns have fallen victim to the recession, with fears about jobs, growth and the cost of switching to clean energy undermining support for climate policies.

Clean energy is seen as an expensive luxury for households and businesses already burdened with rising fuel and food prices, stagnant incomes and falling pensions.

Policy-makers are responding by trying to repackage policies for limiting combustion of fossil fuels and encouraging uptake of renewable energy in terms of their benefits for energy security and affordability, rather than climate change alone. The focus is on making energy affordable for struggling consumers as well as saving the planet for future generations.

Clean and affordable

Energy security and encouraging economic development trump environmental concerns in a new paper from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The authors emphasized the role of renewables in a diverse energy portfolio to limit the impact of supply disruptions and reduce the volatility associated with prices of fossil fuels.

“It is increasingly clear that having a significant share of renewables in a country’s energy supply can increase energy availability by enhancing the overall diversification of the risk portfolio,” according to the agency.

The agency urges policy-makers and consumers to take a long-term view on costs.

“An energy system that will deliver energy at a very low price while putting the future of entire nations at stake cannot be seen as secure.”

The paper seeks to redress the negative emphasis on the costs of switching to clean energy by talking up savings from lower spending on fossil fuels as well as benefits from the creation of “new markets” reconciling limited natural resources with economic growth, something it calls green growth.

The aim is to rebrand clean energy as affordable energy, something that can spur economic growth and employment rather than damaging competitiveness and jobs.

U.K. energy statement

The same rebranding exercise is underway in the United Kingdom. The country has been hit hard by the recession, but the Energy Ministry is in the hands of the Liberal Democrat party, which is fervently committed to policies limiting greenhouse emissions.

Rising fuel costs have become a politically sensitive issue, and it is unclear how far voters support the government’s green energy agenda if it means higher bills for gas, electricity and transport.

So Britain’s energy minister, Chris Huhne used his recent annual statement to Parliament on energy strategy to shift the focus on to clean energy as affordable energy.

Sidelining global warming, Huhne insisted, “We must ensure the consumer is protected as far as possible from rising prices.

“We will secure our energy at the lowest cost: in the short term by promoting competition. In the medium term, by insulating our homes. And in the long term by steering us away from excessive reliance on fossil fuels and on to clean, green and secure energy,” said Huhne.

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