Latin America Proposes Renewable Energy Quota
Por Mario Osava*
On behalf of the region, Brazil will head to the Rio+10 Summit in Johannesburg this August with a concrete and quantifiable proposal for the obligatory use of a minimum 10 percent "clean" energy sources by 2010.
SAO PAULO, (Tierramérica).-
The governments of Latin America and the Caribbean will propose a specific and quantifiable goal at the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa: the obligatory use of 10 percent environmentally friendly energy sources by the year 2010.
The adoption of a compulsory plan for the energy sector could prevent the failure - predicted by many environmentalists - of the United Nations-sponsored conference to take place Aug 26-Sep 4 in South Africa.
With the backing of Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil will sponsor this initiative, which was proposed by Sao Paulo state's environment minister, José Goldemberg, during a regional meeting earlier this month.
If adopted by the Johannesburg Summit, achieving the targets will require a major international effort, given that in 1998 clean energy sources supplied just 2.2 percent of global consumption.
The initiative does not weaken the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, nor is it meant to be an alternative to it, but rather is an additional agreement for promoting replacements for fossil fuels, Goldemberg told Tierramérica.
Excessive dependence on fossil fuels, like petroleum, coal and natural gas, is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to the global warming.
It is an idea that is more palatable than the Kyoto Protocol for some governments, including the United States. And even there one finds some state governments that are promoting clean energy alternatives, said Goldemberg, a physicist who served as host of the 1992 Rio Summit when he held the post of national Environment minister.
The Latin American initiative comes just when many world leaders are predicting frustration at the Johannesburg Summit, also known as Rio+10, shrouded in the pessimism of environmental activists due to the widespread non-compliance with the conventions and agreements made 10 years ago at the Rio Earth Summit.
"Even reaffirming the principles of 1992 would be progress," commented Venezuela's Environment Minister Ana Elisa Osorio in a conversation with Tierramérica during a meeting of the Forum of Latin American and Caribbean Environment Ministers, held in Sao Paulo May 15-17.
Asymmetrical globalization that lacks an ethical basis does not favor sustainable development because it benefits a limited group of countries to the detriment of all the rest, stated Ricardo Sánchez, regional director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Industrialized countries also failed to keep their promise to increase their official development aid to 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP). Worse, they reduced it to 0.2 percent, lamented Brazil's Environment Minister José Carlos Carvalho.
The United States withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty establishing compulsory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized countries, threatens to undermine the "only major advance" made in the last 10 years, commented Fabio Feldman, executive secretary of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change.
Given this discouraging panorama, the Brazilian initiative on renewable energy seems to have provided a glimmer of hope with sights on the Johannesburg Summit.
The proposal's idea of clean means energy generated from wind, solar, geothermal, ocean wave and biomass sources as well as small hydroelectric dams, but excludes the traditional use of wood, which entails a great deal of waste in addition to fomenting deforestation.
Latin America could be among the regions to benefit most from the scheme of trading emission rights, a mechanism that would allow an industrialized country to meet its emission reduction goals by financing clean energy projects in another, in a way that is simpler and "less ambitious" than the mechanisms laid out in the Kyoto Protocol.
For René Castro, an energy expert with the UNDP and former environment minister of Costa Rica, this is the correct route to take.
The global sustainable development agenda at the Johannesburg Summit will advance in the short term, particularly with regard to energy matters, but the biodiversity issue requires a debate and knowledge that will only be possible in the long term, he said.
The Brazilian proposal is the only quantifiable, timeline-specific objective included in the Latin American and Caribbean Initiative, a summary of the shared positions of the region's governments approved by the ministerial forum in Sao Paulo.
Other proposed goals for reducing poverty and inequality, for improving sanitation systems, halting deforestation and protecting biodiversity were not approved at the meeting, to the disappointment of the environmental and social activists present.
It is very little for a political document that does not even establish obligatory commitments, said Marcelo Furtado, representing the environmental watchdog Greenpeace, which has warned that the Johannesburg Summit will be a flop.
"Rio+10 could turn into Rio minus 20," reverting the situation to that of the first global summit on the environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, stated a sardonic Furtado.
But the energy initiative does underscore the political unity of Latin America and the Caribbean in their willingness to demand compliance with the 1992 commitments, he added.
UNEP regional director Sánchez highlighted the "great political value" of the document, in that it defines guidelines, priorities and goals, moving beyond concepts towards action. Taking on these goals would require "changing globalization, the unfavorable international economic context," he pointed out.
Economics, more than environmental matters, will likely turn Rio+10 into a new North-South battle, say observers.
The hefty increase in farm subsidies the United States approved this month are a sharp blow to development, equality and environmental quality in the region, agreed Sánchez and representatives from several countries.
At the Johannesburg Summit, in addition to the 0.7 percent GDP in official development aid, Latin America and the Caribbean will demand that the industrialized North provide more financial resources, access to markets and debt forgiveness for poor countries as necessary steps towards achieving sustainable development.
The region will also call for reinforcing the principles that were consolidated in 1992, such as "shared but differentiated responsibilities," the precautionary principle in adopting policies, and the sovereign right of each country over its natural resources.
The countries of the Caribbean will highlight their special interest in global compliance with the Kyoto Protocol and other measures aimed at mitigating climate change, the effects of which threaten the tropical region with increasingly severe natural disasters and rising sea levels.
* Mario Osava is an IPS correspondent.