Switching on the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All

Paging through some old copies of Chemistry World I came across an editorial written by one of my predecessors that had a very eye-catching title: ’Chemistry’s big question’ (Chemistry World, October 2007, p2). What would it be?, I wondered. And one did not need to read on for long to discover that the editorial was about energy production and the ’big question’ he was referring to was: ’How do we keep the lights on without destroying the world?’

The article may have been written over four years ago, but the question still remains largely unresolved today. And note that I say unresolved and not unanswered, as the answers are many and it is the choice that is overwhelming. Indeed, the prospect of deciding on an effective combination of energy technologies and planning a sustainable energy future has proven to be a daunting task for all the governments around the world. 

A chance for energy to shine 

So what is the likelihood of 2012 going into the annals of history as the year in which we learnt how to keep the lights on without destroying the world? I’d say that’s not very likely but worth a try. And the United Nations seem to be of the same opinion: their General Assembly has recognised the importance of energy for sustainable development and, to that end, has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Thus, during 2012 there will be a series of events and initiatives designed to bring about action towards achieving universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global mix.

It is an excellent follow-up for the International Year of Chemistry and there is a lot we can do as citizens and as professionals. There will certainly be something in it for us chemists because, as my predecessor acknowledged in his 2007 editorial (and I couldn’t agree more), ’the most realistic solutions [to the problem of creating sustainable energy technologies] all rely on chemistry’.

Energy, the environment and sustainability all go hand-in-hand, providing multiple areas for chemists to make an impact, and so 2012 will be another opportunity for our discipline to shine. Inspired by the theme of environmental sustainability, the four features of this – the second – issue of the year all have an environmental angle: 

  • Besides providing a wonderful insight into earthworm behaviour, ’Silver soils’ follows the pathways of silver nanoparticles entering the environment.
  • ’Damage limitation?’ analyses the issues surrounding the production of potentially harmful fluorinated chemicals and how these make it into our environment and our bloodstreams.
  • ’Keeping the tap on’ describes how Singapore, a country in short supply of potable water, has turned to technology and become one of the world leaders in tapping unconventional water sources and declaring itself ’a global hydrohub’. The issue is: what is the environmental impact of the desalination plants?
  • ’The future of cool’ delves deep into magnetic cooling and explores the promise of cooling devices with greater energy efficiency and an end to harmful refrigerant gases.

Don’t miss out! 

Bibiana Campos Seijo, editor