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Energy caucus blames lack of commitment

05 September 2002

Mildred Fernandes  - Johannesburg

The international Energy and Climate Caucus, a coalition of non-governmental           organizations, yesterday derided the UN Summit for failing to commit           world leaders to concrete action plans for reducing the use of fossil           fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy. The caucus, meeting shortly after negotiators announced the summit           declaration, said references to targets and time frames for clean energy           and the phasing out of subsidies for fossil fuels had been dropped           from the summit’s original draft because of pressure from the U.S.           and oil-producing countries.  The original text, which called for the phasing out of subsidies by 2007, was   replaced with a paragraph that asked only that countries consider phasing out   subsidies. “For the last 12 days we as a group have been fighting for the adoption of a few sentences that might have helped the world go further in achieving the aims of the summit,” said Mary Gilbert, caucus member and leader of the U.S.-based Friends Committee on Unity with Nature. “The agreement reached is an outright disaster,” she continued.  “All targets and timeframes were dropped, in spite of the call made by many world leaders, UN officials and NGOs to get clear commitments, targets and timeframes for energy access for the poor and to phase out subsidies to unsustainable forms of energy.” The international panel of caucus members from the U.S. , Iran , Russia , France   and Lebanon cited the link between Arab and OPEC countries and pressure from   the U.S. and Japan for the blockage of timetables and frameworks. “As a U.S. citizen, I’m extremely distressed with what my country has accomplished at this summit,” Gilbert said. “If we don’t take steps to mitigate the use of fossil fuels, we’re rolling the dice with all of our lives.” In a context of people trying to figure out how to get from here to there,   language that’s not specific is meaningless,” she said.  “If the world is ever going to make the urgently needed shift from fossil fuels to sustainable renewable forms of energy, a clear commitment is necessary.” Ali Darwish, from the Green Line NGO in Lebanon , said that in the short term,   the Gulf states and other oil-producers had achieved some success for themselves,   but had messed up in the long term. “If it was time commitments they were worried about, they could have extended the timetables,” Darwish said. “I don’t think people saw the whole picture. Oil will not be abandoned overnight – we will still use it for airplanes, transport, lubricants etc. The revenues will still be there. The problem is that the multinational corporations are squeezing the oil for their own purposes, not for the betterment of these countries.” At the current rate of consumption, Darwish said, oil supplies will not last.   But if oil was pumped in a manner that left supplies for the next generation,   countries would be able to get maximum use of their resources. “In Lebanon alone, more than $2 billion was spent to upgrade electricity services,” he said. “Then the service failed, and it was blamed on Israeli strikes. If we had instead invested the same money on decentralized renewable energy sources, we would have saved our money and ensured our own security.” The lack of commitment to energy will also turn into bad public relations for   the Arab world, Darwish said, as more and more people around the world are   likely to associate Arabs and their countries with increased pollution and   changing weather patterns. For now, however, he has hope in the increasing role of non-governmental organizations   in the Arab world and increasing awareness on the part of Arab leaders. “There is space for people to talk, and people are realizing that we need to develop alternative energy resources while there is still money and time,” he said.  “I believe it’s only a matter of time before we go into more integrated strategies because we have sun and we have wind. That is where our future is.”

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