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Is energy contributing to sustainable development ?

Contribution to the RIO + 5 Review in 1997


| Introduction | Methodology | Conclusion | Documentary sources |

The picture emerging from the various reports may remain incomplete and sketchy. We can, nevertheless, sense that what happened between Rio and now is not what we would have expected to see, had governments and citizens kept in mind the commitments taken in 1992, be it only on the climate change issue. One or two countries may be able to stabilise their CO2 emissions in the year 2000 at the 1990 level, the others will have increased them. Global environmental sustainability has not improved.

This failure to stabilise levels of pollution means not only that the environment, not just the climate, is increasingly impacted and that, therefore, external costs will keep increasing to the detriment of the economy as well. If Northern economies are affected, the Southern way of life cannot improve, because the rich neighbours will not buy as much or, when they do, it will be at ever lower prices... Socio-economic sustainability is therefore more threatened than before, in the North as well as in the South.

Some decisions taken in the energy field seem to have worsened the situation mainly in less developed countries. Privatisation, for instance, has rendered public utilities more accountable to the shareholders, but their transfer to the private sector may not always have benefitted the public interest. Some subsidies have been removed, but many kinds of public support to dirty sources of energy remain. Life-cycle full cost pricing of energy is still far from being contemplated in any country even though it is the only way of paying for what we are actually using.

Tensions on the supply side are not more worrisome than they were in 1992. New oil and gas discoveries are being made and will likely maintain a low energy world price. Coal, seemingly, is forever. Renewables are progressing on many fronts: PV in rural electrification and wind mainly in the North. Generally, renewables show valuable progress cost-wise and efficiency-wise.

On the demand-side, however, the general observation is that energy efficiency is not progressing as planned, given its abundance and low cost. This is an opportunity lost, which contributes to more pollution, and more degradation of public health and of resources. This inefficiency is detrimental to the economy overall, not to mention the social question of intergenerational equity.

This report provides a view of some of the national means and available tools to build viable and acceptable energy strategies. Among international tools, exist the Global Environment Fund (GEF), the UNDP Initiative on Sustainable Energy as well as some regional programs. All should be used to their best advantage as we need a worldwide movement towards energy sustainability.

Existing programs, however, do not seem to be able to cope with the immensity of the task and the variety of geopolitical interests that confront them. We have known for a long time that energy use can be tremendously increased, that renewable energy would come into its own sooner or later and should be phased in more speedily and that we should make sure that less industrialised countries leapfrog over our dirty technologies. We need more than knowledge!

To harvest the energy efficiency potential and trigger the widespread use of renewables, some suggest approaching the energy issue differently, to be service-oriented, rather than supply-determined to fulfill better the actual needs of people. This new approach reflects a new frame of mind, a post-Rio awareness. To enact it, new decision- and policy-making processes are already being put in place in some countries. and this is real progress.

There are now, around the world, plenty of environment-conscious NGOs and professionals in the energy field, ready to provide these services and promoting clean and lean energy systems. If they can do their work adequately within civil society and motivate people towards a better future -where they can have a sane vision of themselves and their family in a likable life- then sensible energy policies will have to adapt to this new political will, and global sustainability will return.

| Introduction | Methodology | Conclusion | Documentary sources |


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Horizon Local 1997-98