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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Remaining Energy Issues Prove Difficult to Resolve

Johannesburg, 30 August— Agreement has already been reached on a range of energy issues, including provisions calling for the promotion of energy efficient technologies, the elimination of lead from gasoline, the reduction of the practice of flaring and venting of gas during crude oil production, and creating a level playing field so clean energy sources can compete.

But several basic issues are still in dispute, including proposals for a target for renewable energies, shifting subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuels toward renewables, and whether countries should launch "energy programmes."

Energy is one of the central issues of the Summit, and it has wide ramifications for fighting poverty and protecting the environment. Nearly two million people live in a pre-industrial energy age, relying firewood and biomass for fuel, and the indoor air pollution caused by burning these fuel is responsible for causing respiratory and other health problems. Women in these communities are particularly affected, as they are most often responsible for collecting the firewood and fuel, and are most affected from the smoke from cooking.

The richest people in the world, however, use about 25 times as energy per person as the poorest people. Fossil fuels, which serve as the main source of energy in developed countries, are blamed for contributing to air pollution and are the major factor in the release of greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for climate change.

Gustavo Ainchil, Councellor for the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the United Nations, who has facilitated the negotiations on the energy sections of the outcome document of the Summit, said most of the energy text was agreed upon at the Bali PrepCom, and was based on the agreements reached at last year's meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

Some countries want to implement what was already agreed, he said, but others wanted to go further.

Still to be agreed, Ainchil said, was a provision on how partnerships would be considered and reviewed by the international community, adding that consensus on that issue would come only at the very end of the Summit.

But other differences, he said, reflected different conceptions on how countries wished to proceed. For example, some countries want the Summit to require countries to launch "programmes of action" that would require a degree of decentralization, while other want a more decentralized approach.

A target for promoting renewable energy has also proved elusive. The European Union has proposed that countries attain the goal of using renewable energy for 15 per cent of their energy needs. But the United States maintains that since the cost of renewable energy is still more expensive than conventional energy sources, it is not always appropriate. Developing countries also maintain that they do not want their development options constrained.

Ainchil said the issue that was not a North–South issue, but cut across various regions and negotiating groups. "It is one of the very difficult issues, and there are different approaches within the same regions and groups."

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24 August 2006