The Heat Is Online

US Blocks Clean Energy Plan at WSSD

US reaches energy deal at summit

No timetable for alternatives to fossil fuels

The Boston Globe, Sept. 3, 2002

JOHANNESBURG - The United States, in partnership with Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, pushed through a final deal on sustainable energy last night that preserves the primacy of fossil fuels and blocks time-based international commitments to develop renewable energy sources in poor countries.

The energy accord was the final piece of a broad-based plan negotiated at the Earth Summit on poverty alleviation and environmental issues.

The final language on energy, which took eight days of round-the-clock deal making, calls on countries to ''diversify energy supply by developing advanced, cleaner, more efficient, affordable and cost-effective energy technologies, including fossil fuel technologies as well as renewable energy technologies, hydro included, and their transfer to developing countries on concessional terms as mutually agreed.''

The deal emerged late on the opening day of speeches by world leaders in which presidents and prime ministers expressed their visions for sustainable development and criticized those countries - particularly the United States - that have not ratified the global treaty on climate change known as the Kyoto Protocol.

In a significant move, Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada vowed to sign Kyoto by the end of the year, making Canada the final country needed to ratify the climate treaty and set it in force.

Paula Dobriansky, US undersecretary of state for global affairs, hailed the energy agreement last night.

''The United States is proud to have participated in the negotiation of a document that properly reflects the significant role energy plays in sustainable development,'' she said in a statement.

''The document clearly highlights the need to increase access to modern energy services and signals the valuable role renewable energy will play in the future. We came together and today manifested our joint commitment to a future powered by a diversity of clean energy resources.''

But critics, including some European delegates and an international consortium of energy industry leaders, faulted the plan for failing to set the world on a decisive path toward addressing global warming and meeting the fast-growing energy demands of developing countries through environmentally friendly sources like wind and solar power.

''We have lost an opportunity to move forward substantially on renewable technologies internationally,'' said Michael Marvin, executive director of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. ''Higher efficiency technologies are important, but if we're truly looking to change patterns of investment, this doesn't do it.''

At the end of a final flurry of meetings, exhausted delegates emerged last night with all the pieces of a plan for implementing a broad range of economic and environment goals, which include:

Halving the number of people worldwide without access to clean water and basic sanitation by 2015.

Rehabilitating natural marine fisheries and protecting biodiversity.

Reaffirmation of the principle that trade should take into account environmental concerns.

Margaret Beckett, head of the British delegation, called the overall plan ''truly remarkable.''

''It's easy to make promises about the future; it's more difficult to take responsibility for the planet,'' she said in a statement last night.

With the implementation plan now complete, the final two days of the summit will focus on a political declaration expressing the collective aspirations of the leaders assembled here to overcome poverty. A draft of the declaration warns that ''if we do nothing, we risk the entrenchment of a form of global apartheid.''

Opening the plenary of heads of state and government, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa called on his colleagues to ''act in unity to ensure that there is a practical and visible global development process that brings about poverty eradication and human advancement within the context of the protection of the ecology of the planet Earth.''

As leader after leader followed, however, there was as much finger-pointing as consensus-building. Many developing countries - and some of their wealthier counterparts - called for an end to trade-distorting subsidies among Northern states and a lifting of Third World debt burdens. Most warned that environmental conditions in their countries have deteriorated, sometimes significantly, since the last Earth Summit in 1992.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and his key ally, President Sam Nujoma of Namibia, lashed out at the North - particularly British Prime Minister Tony Blair and institutions such as the World Bank - for perpetuating an imbalance in the global distribution of wealth.

In a speech that recalled the fiery oratorical skills he displayed earlier in his career as a leader of his country's liberation struggle, Mugabe won frequent applause, justifying his controversial land seizure program as part of ''a paradigm shift from the globalized corporate model to a people-centered paradigm that people must always come first in any process of sustainable development.''

One of the most consistent themes was the need for an urgent response to climate change. Leaders from a broad range of countries - from Costa Rica to Ireland - called for immediate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which would set deadlines for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

With many of the most industrialized nations - including Germany, Britain, France - joining the chorus, there was little doubt that the message was meant for Washington, which has withdrawn its support for the climate treaty.

''We must insist that all parties, especially the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, take immediate steps to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as a matter of urgency,'' said Saufatu Sopoanga, prime minister of the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu.

Recalling how parts of his island country were recently submerged by unseasonably high waves a few weeks ago, Sopoanga drew a poignant connection between two critical issues.

''It was a very scary experience,'' he said. ''This is why we had proposed right from the outset, for the establishment of a legally binding framework to set targets and time frames for renewable energy given the direct link between energy and climate change.''

That link, however, is not incorporated in the final language on energy in the implementation agreement finalized last night. According to the Washington-based National Environmental Trust, greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries will double by 2050. Those emissions include exhaust from cars and smoke from coal-fired power plants.

The summit opened with a proposal to require that the percentage of total global energy produced by renewable sources rise from the current 2 percent to 15 percent by 2015. Britain, the European Union, and a host of developing countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia supported the target. The United States made no secret of its opposition to any deadlines.

After a week of deadlocks and multiple drafts, the language that emerged last night seems to give everyone a bit of everything - clean coal, hydropower, renewables. The text acknowledges the urgency of linking energy production to poverty alleviation. But it requires no deadlines, without which, proponents of renewable energy say, nothing happens.

But as delegates emerged with the deal finally in hand, many expressed cautious optimism.

''The underlying policies and desires of many countries are not reflected in the final accord,'' said one European negotiator, ''but I think there's reason to be hopeful for the future.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/3/2002.
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Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.