Brazil in the Joburg Summit Spotlight
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
Latin American governments and environmental organizations applaud the Brazilian initiative for clean energy announced at the Johannesburg Summit. But enthusiasm is not enough, and the proposal has little chance of winning global consensus.
JOHANNESBURG, (Tierramérica).- Brazil captured the spotlight during the first week of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, also known as Rio+10), where it is leading the debate on expanding "clean energy" sources, an issue that creates friction in the industrialized world.
On behalf of Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil proposes that 10 percent of the energy consumed worldwide should come from renewable sources by the year 2010.
This became one of the pricklier issues included in paragraph 19 of the draft Plan of Action, the main document to come out of the Summit, which lasts until Sep 4 in this South African city.
In a choir of praise, Latin American delegations and environmental groups enthusiastically back the initiative promoting solar, wind, geothermal and marine energy, but which, unlike a similar proposal from the European Union, excludes hydroelectric mega-projects or the use of biomass (firewood and waste), which are more widely used in the developing world.
During the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, governments agreed to change the criteria for what is considered sustainable energy. But since then, world consumption of coal, oil and natural gas has continued to rise according to the report "Vital Signs 2002" by Washington-based Worldwatch Institute. "Since 1950, fossil fuel use has increased by more than fourfold," says the study.
"Brazil has proven an unrivalled leader, because it sees the planet from the viewpoint of economic development combined with conservation and the appropriate use of resources, social development and improved quality of life," Yolanda Kakabadse, head of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), told Tierramérica.
But convincing delegates from the 191 countries present at the Summit to support the plan will not be easy. Energy has turned into the most conflictive of the WSSD's five central themes -- along with water, public health, biodiversity and agriculture -- proposed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The United States, which refuses to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions of climate changing gases, opposes any effort to set quantifiable targets in the energy sector. Its stance is largely supported by Japan, Canada, and Australia, and the members of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).
On the Brazilian side are nations like Sweden, Germany and New Zealand, and many of the small island countries, which are most threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change.
"We have many enemies, but also many friends. The Brazilian initiative is an excellent framework for this Summit. With its implementation we could reduce the cost of renewable energies to the point that they are competitive" on the energy market, Marcelo Furtado, of Greenpeace-Brazil, told Tierramérica.
Although governments and the private sector in Latin America and the Caribbean have promoted renewable energy projects, these "clean sources" do not represent even one percent of the region's energy consumption. Worldwide, renewable sources make up just 2.2 percent of the total.
In the WSSD negotiations last week, the United States and the EU, which set a deadline for 2015 to reach renewable energy targets, clashed when it came time to talk about diversifying energy sources and curbing industry subsidies for "conventional" energy sources, such as fossil fuels and big hydroelectric projects.
"We don't want to add new changes to what has been agreed to. We are not in favor of timeframes," said Najin Al-Rawas, a delegate from Oman, an oil-exporting country.
Given this context, the debate in Johannesburg will continue until the last minute as delegates try to hammer out a political declaration and plan of action in time for the heads of state to sign a consensus document. But so far, there is only agreement on the water issue.
* Marwaan Macan-Markar is an IPS correspondent, as are María Laura Mazza and Néfer Muñoz, who contributed to this report.