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Is energy contributing to sustainable development ?

Contribution to the RIO + 5 Review in 1997
| Introduction | Methodology | Conclusion | Documentary sources |

Approximately thirty years ago, environmental protection became a serious issue, largely due to energy expansionism, and nowadays more than half of the overall pollution burden is attributable to energy. The added economic and social dimensions of this phenomenon later emerged to stress the importance of promoting truly sustainable energy development. These concerns translated into important research as well as in several international treaties and in momentous decisions and resolutions. Civil society, through the creation of thousands of non-governmental organisations, has expressed a first-hand interest in seing these commitments upheld and the Global Energy Observatory (GEO) Project has been set up to monitor and report such progress.

The Global Energy Observatory has been established with the worldwide cooperation of actors and experts in different fields to assess and monitor the contribution made by energy systems in progress towards improved economic, social and environmental sustainability. The complexity of the task has been obvious from the moment that the creation of GEO was first contemplated, but the consequences of inaction are more daunting and irresponsible.

This document to the Earth Council reports:

1) on the efforts to establish GEO as a credible observer of the world energy and sustainable development scene. As a truly independent instrument for the civil society, GEO involves a variety of people of experience, both technically and politically in the wide sense. This is being done through the Steering Group (SG or the "GEO Team"), the Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) and worldwide correspondants within geographical nodes.

2) on the methodology that GEO plans to adopt to fulfill its role, This is the crucial part of the report and probably the part which will need to be improved constantly over the years, as data themselves and their collection will improve and technology will offer better facilities. Project GEO purposefully skirts around definitive definitions of sustainability and, to respect transparency and readability requirements, it deliberately keeps things simple, particularly in the choice of indicators and assessment procedures.

3) on the present situation compared to the era before Rio (1992). Only a broad brush assessment can be conducted, given the short time frame. The evaluation process is facilitated by the fact that GEO's team is spread across the world, geographically and in terms of its members' affiliations.

The picture evolved through the work of the GEO Team* is rather bleak and reflects Pascal's saying : "Humanity happily runs to the precipice after it has put something in front to hide it". GEO's report will disturb some people as it tries even imperfectly to unmask the precipice. But what is the choice ?


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Horizon Local 1997-98