Friday, July 17, 2009

Desertec Industrial Initiative

Monday found me in Munich with my fellow Board Members of the DESERTEC Foundation for the press conference of the ambitious launch of the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative (DII). The 12 founder European companies are HVDC makers ABB, the German insurer Munich Re, the energy groups E.ON and RWE, Deutsche Bank, HSH Nordbank, M+W Zander, MAN Solar Millenium, SCHOTT Solar, SIEMENS, ABENGOA Solar from Spain and the Cevital industrial group from Algeria. All the founder companies of the DII, whose regional focus is on Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EUMENA), signed a memorandum of understanding on the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative.

Sometimes an idea has it's time. For DESERTEC this seems to be it. Arising out of a decision between Munich Re and the DESERTEC Foundation a month ago to found the DII, these 12 companies eagerly stepped forward to join, with many more queueing behind to participate. In the whole of it's history, Munich Re has never hosted such an enormous press conference (housed in a glorious palace with underground tunnels connecting other buildings - so complex you need guides in pretty red uniforms to take you from one area to the next without getting lost. I'll wager they have to sit exams just to ensure they know where to go). As you can imagine such an auspicious event being organised by Germans, this was run with military efficiency. The line-up was stellar, with the various Chairmen of the founder companies speaking of their strong commitment to back the most ambitious project ever for renewable energy, plus a sprinkling of MENA embassy representatives, and bold support from German governmental ministers, including Matthais Machnig, Secretary of State to the German Federal Ministry of Environment. Other participants included key North African players such as Lalia Georgy, Chair for Technical Affairs NREA, Egypt and Jamia Matar, Head of Energy Department, League of Arab States. All were timetabled in to speak to the minute, and at the end of the session I glanced at my watch to discover that it had indeed concluded at the appointed time - to the minute. This is one of the reasons I so admire Germany; such efficiency gives great confidence that things will indeed come to be done as planned. Quite simply, this country gets things done.

It was exactly one year ago that President Sarkozy launched the Med Solar Plan under his Union for the Mediterranaean. Industry, always capable of moving fast, have now taken up the baton. These companies, and many more who have stepped forward are wanting to be at the forefront of what they perceive to be the building of the new world. The DII itself is based on New World principles of co-operation rather than competitiveness. By 31st October a planning entity in the form of an incorporated company will be in place for the DII. It will not be in istelf a profit-led organisation but rather one to ensure the advancement of the DESERTEC principles, to which all future shareholders will subscribe. All companies involved will of course benefit enormously in pursuing the commonly shared objectives. The vision is now to become reality.

The aim is to ensure by 2050 that solar power from the northern Sahara will meet at least 15 percent of European electricity needs and a significant proportion of local electricity demand in the countries of North Africa. The purpose of the newly founded initiative is to clarify the technological issues and create the neccessary political, socio-political and economic foundations and develop a vaible implementation plan within the next three years. The DII is expected to network closely with the scientific community, non-governmental organisations and governement organisations. The DESERTEC Foundation will play a central role in this respect.

What I witnessed in Munich was a collective endeavour to make things happen. Industry can always move faster than governments in this regard, and today demonstrated much promise. One of the biggest hurdles so far has been political will. That is now shifting as well.

But we are still living in a world of 'should' rather than 'must'. The difference between these two words is legislation, from business as usual with nobs on to a radical and rapid turn-around governed by international law. This industrial initiative is a clear indication that industry is now gearing up and ready for entering into the world of must. International legisation such as a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights would provide one such mechanism to accellarate DII into ever more rapid transformation. The Right Not To Be Polluted would effect enormous advancement to put in place a clean electricity framework worldwide in as little as 10 years. Such a right would place the burden on the other foot - it would be for energy companies to positively advance clean energy systems and the generation of dirty energy (note that 78% of excess GHG's are generated by fossil fuel) would be rendered illegal. Emergency legislation to ensure this effect could be passed overnight (every country in the world can use emergency legislation - Bush recently did so by pushing through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act 2008 in his 11th hour to bail out Wall Street to the tune of $700 billion).

It all just depends on whether you now think we have reached a state of emergency. The scientists do, much of the world does, now we have to persuade governments that it is so. What an irony it is that governments are the ones slowest to recognise this.

What we need now in Europe Middle East and North Africa is the equivalent of Al Gore's recent Climate Project - We Can Solve the Climate Crisis - petitioning from the people to push for the aim of repowering America with 100% clean electricity within 10 years. Over 2.3 million have already pledged their support. The same can be done here, so lets do it!

DESERTEC Industrial Initiative

Press: Renewable Energy World, Reuters

See here for excellent summary of international news coverage in English (best heading of the day: 'All the Worlds Saviours are Sitting in Munich Today!')

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Matrix of Life

The last year has been a remarkable journey for me. This is my story.

It began with a simple thought on the 28th June 2008 after seeing my brother's film on the 10 New Commandments at last year's Edinburgh Film Festival. What would be the top 10 Rights that should be drafted into a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights? I had been playing around with the idea of how to instigate a Duty of Care for the planet into international legislation, and the UN seemed the inevitable starting point. Three days later whilst up a Scottish hillside searching out the ancient cup and ring rocks of the Kilmartin Glen , I set my intent. Such a Declaration was the necessary starting point to re-establish the relationship we humans have lost with nature. How, I wondered, could I get this to the attention of the UN?

Telephone reception being rarer than sightings of mating osprey, I switched on my mobile; a momentary flicker of activity and it rang. It was the United Nations. The date was fixed, and 5 months later I had presented my proposal.

That was the beginning, and those who have followed my blog, the Trees Have Rights Too website and heard me speak at various conferences know of some of the landmark moments. Last week, my journey culminated with me travelling into the heart of Sweden to present the call for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights at the Tallberg Forum.

Tallberg is a remarkable place in Sweden situated on the edge of the Siljan, a lake created by a meteorite over 300 million years ago. Such achingly beautiful countryside, the stillness of the lake stretching out below, it served as a potent reminder of the planet it all it's glory.

We heard from the world's foremost experts on climate change, we held workshops on potential solutions, we plotted and planned. People from the world's foremost institutions came together with the intent of making the planet a better place. These are the people who can take an idea and make it happen. As a counterbalance to all the intense discussions, I camped out beside the lake, I swam, and I thought more. Two messages came across strongly; firstly, it is too late for many of the longer-term plans being debated within the international fora. Secondly, our time-lines are wrong. We need to be looking at the next 3 years, not the next 20 to 50 years.

I realised that a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights was Plan A, but that a Plan B was needed, and by the 28th June, I had in my hand a Plan B.

So, I arrived at Tallberg with an idea - an idea for international legislation, and departed with an idea for a global social movement - a social declaration for all beings, a declaration that applied to individuals and communities rather than one within the hard law context, one that all could apply to ensure life for all, one based on values and our duty to the planet. This is not to negate the Planetary Rights, it is a part of it, but we need to go further, I realised.

Of course, no-one has ownership of ideas, and so I have now handed over the baton for Planetary Rights to the institutions and organisations that can drive it into the UN. That is the top down approach. My work in this regard is now done - my campaign is in effect over, as I believe that the baton has now been safely handed over.

Now we also need is to address matters from the other end of the spectrum - something that speaks not to institutions but to people.

What I devised was a matrix - a matrix for all life.

I can feel a global social movement coming on...

Today is the 4th of July, my birthday, and it's a glorious day. I am beside water again, this time the wide and wild expanse of Holkham beach in Norfolk, with winds caressing the sands over the empty dunes. Time now for a little time out.

Today is also known as Independence day. I look forward to the day it is renamed Interdependence day.

Thankyou all who have helped me in my journey over the past year. May this next one be even more exciting.