TCS Daily

An Energetic Victory

By James K. Glassman - September 3, 2002 12:00 AM

JOHANNESBURG - On a day when European leaders like France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder parachuted into this giant Earth Summit to blast the lack of American leadership on the environment, the United States scored a stunning victory on the contentious issue of energy - with the help of developing nations.

Negotiators agreed to an energy provision for the final Implementation Plan of the World Summit on Sustainable Development that rejected targets for renewables like wind and solar power, avidly sought by radical greens and most European delegates.

A source involved in the negotiations said that the text - emphasizing economic growth rather than environmental regulation - resulted from pressure by poor countries, which resisted calls by Europeans for a requirement that renewables generate 15 percent of the world's energy by 2015.

"The overall feeling," said the source, "was that renewables might be fine for Europeans, but Africans and Asians need to boost their economies by using energy that is inexpensive and abundant." The source was clearly referring to oil and coal, which will provide the vast majority of energy for China and India over the next decade.

What is remarkable is that the final text, completed late Monday night by a panel headed by South Africa Minister of Environment and Tourism Valli Moosa, does not mention renewables targets at all. To the contrary, it directly links energy use, in general, to the alleviation of poverty. The text emphasized what has become - to the chagrin of the radicals - the theme of this conference, that economic progress is directly linked to environmental progress.

As a result, WWF International on its website proclaimed, "The Johannesburg World Summit will go down in history as a missed opportunity to... kickstart the renewable energy revolution that is required to protect the climate. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Canada, and Australia left the convention center today secure in the knowledge that they had protected their fossil fuel interests."
The WWF statement conveniently omits the fact that the U.S. was backed, not merely by countries like Japan and Canada but by the developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Greenpeace International accused the energy negotiators of "failing the planet's future." The organization's climate policy director, Steve Sawyer, said, "After over a year of debate,... the energy section does not represent a single step forward."

In fact, the text represents substantial progress - especially compared with previous international environmental conclaves. For example, the text states that, while nations should "substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources," they should also ensure "that energy policies are supportive to developing countries' efforts to eradicate poverty." The text repeats this point in another section: "access to energy facilitates the eradication of poverty."

The text also rejected the efforts of radical Green groups to exclude hydro (water-driven) power from the list of renewables. Again, the text went even further, putting fossil fuels (coal, petroleum) on a par with renewables and, in a snub to the greens, specifically named "hydro" as one of them.

The text negotiated last night states that nations should "diversify energy supply by developing advanced, cleaner, more efficient, affordable and cost-effective energy technologies, including fossil fuel technologies as well as renewable technologies, hydro included, and their transfer to developing countries on concessional terms as mutually agreed."

Later, the text reiterates this point, advocating the public-private partnerships that have been the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy in Johannesburg. It even makes specific mention of the role of business.

The text states: "Countries are urged to develop and implement actions,... including through public-private partnerships, taking into account the different circumstances of countries, based on lessons learned by Governments, international institutions and stakeholders and including business and industry, in the field of access to energy, including renewable energy and energy-efficiency and advanced energy technologies, including advanced cleaner fossil fuel technologies."

While the International Herald Tribune headlined, "Disappointment at Summit," the unhappiness was mainly limited to European delegations and Greenpeace camp followers, including, of course, the enviro press. The conference could be characterized as a triumph for the United States, which agreed to targets for improving world sanitation and clean water but prevailed on the important issues of energy and climate change.

The only provision on global warming stated simply that countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol urge countries that haven't to do so.

As for disappointment: The most disheartening development was the speech yesterday by Chirac, so filled with hyperbole that it verged on psychosis. The French president declared that "our house is burning down and we are blind to it," that humanity is becoming "the enemy of life itself," and that "alarms are sounding across all the continents."

Chirac added, "Europe is beset by natural disasters and health crises. The American economy, with its often-ravenous appetite for natural resources, seems to be hit by a crisis in the way it is managed."

While you are puzzling that one out, consider the remarks of Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, who faces a tough re-election fight in a few weeks. He linked European floods and African droughts to global warming - even though there is no scientific evidence of such a connection (after all, Prague had worse floods 100 years ago, long before the advent of SUVs). "There has been a dramatic increase in extreme weather conditions," said the Chancellor - another statement for which there is no evidence, even from the UN's own climate-change experts.

When it comes to environmental matters, Europeans, allied with groups like Greenpeace, are wild romantics. Fine for them, but not for the suffering people of developing nations. In allying themselves with the U.S. on the key issue of energy, the delegates of those poor countries sent a clear message: they want to improve their economies and alleviate poverty, right now.



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