Lasting Balance: Toward a Global Sustainable Energy Policy

By Strong, Maurice | Harvard International Review, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview
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Lasting Balance: Toward a Global Sustainable Energy Policy

Strong, Maurice, Harvard International Review

Maurice F. Strong is Chairman of the Earth Council, Executive Coordinator for UN Reform, and Senior Advisor to the President of the World Bank.

As the world enters the next millennium, human civilization is undergoing profound changes that are often difficult to perceive. Energy use is very much at the foundation of these crucial changes; energy supply and security--and the viability of the electric power industry--will play a large part in determining our planet's future.

Nowhere is the challenge of sustainable development more clear than in the case of energy, which is at the center of the relationship between environmental and economic policy. Virtually every environmental issue--from local garbage dumps to the deterioration of the global climate--has an energy component. It is imperative that global economic development be sustainable. To achieve this, policy must address the environmental deterioration associated with unsustainable energy use, including the global socioeconomic inequities between North and South which are so often the root cause of global conflicts involving energy supplies.

The prospect of a significant increase in Third World energy consumption over the next 30 years, an increase of between a factor of two and three, underlines a critical point: the industrialized world must reduce its environmental impact in order to "leave space" for developing countries to meet their own needs and aspirations. There is now overwhelming evidence that the industrialized world cannot continue its historical patterns of production and consumption; but it is equally clear that the developing world cannot follow the environmentally destructive path of the developed world. The challenge is to devise sustainable means of providing the energy required by both developed and developing countries through significant increases in efficiency coupled with cleaner production.

It is critical that developing countries meet their rapidly growing energy needs in ways that will not move the human community beyond the thresholds of environmental security. The developed world, however, cannot expect them to respond to mere exhortations not to repeat the wasteful and harmful practices once practiced by currently industrialized countries. This is recognized explicitly in the UN Frame-work Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) which places the initial burden on the member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to set an example by significantly improving the efficiency of their own production and energy use, leaving space for developing countries to grow. OECD countries must ensure that developing countries have access to the latest, most environmentally sound and efficient energy technologies and to the necessary finances to purchase them. The OECD must also take the lead in the research and development of new technologies and in finding solutions to the unresolved problems of existing technologies, including nuclear power technology. Funding for energy research and development from both the public and private sector has been steadily decreasing. OECD government funding for energy research and development has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 15 years, a decrease equivalent to reduction by a factor of two relative to GDP. The share of funding allocated to the development of energy-efficient and renewable-energy technologies are minor components of the total energy research budget, about 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Energy Efficiency for Tomorrow

The most immediate and cost-effective course toward a sustainable energy future is energy efficiency. Two of the major ingredients of sustainable development are economics and efficiency, or "eco-efficiency" as it is called--efficiency in the use of materials and energy and in the prevention, disposal, and recycling of wastes. This was the main thesis of the book Changing Course, produced as the principal industry input to the Earth Summit by the Business Council for Sustainable Development.

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