Published on Saturday, May 13, 2006 by OneWorld.net
With Gas Prices Flying High, Annan Calls for Energy Revolution
by Haider Rizvi
UNITED NATIONS - With growing concerns over high prices of oil and its adverse impact on the world's poor and the environment, the United Nations is urging policy makers to explore the use of alternative sources for energy.
"We need a revolution in energy efficiency," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) this week. "We need mature, renewable, such as wind, hydro, and solar energy."
Currently, development experts and policy makers from around the world are attending a two-week meeting of the Commission in New York, which ends Friday.
Annan's call for energy-efficient resources comes at a time when oil prices are touching a record high of nearly $70 a barrel amid no sign of decline in the cost this year.
The high cost of oil not only imposes economic burden on the poor but also contributes to climate change, the UN chief said, adding that it is the poor who are "particularly vulnerable to climate change."
In many parts of the world, millions of poor people live with no electricity, and thus have to rely on wood, dung, and agricultural waste, which makes indoor air pollution one of the top 10 causes of death.
"We need to intensify research and development into long-term sources such as tidal energy, ocean thermal conversion, hydrogen, and fuel cells," said Annan while urging developing countries not to follow the traditional model of development.
A new study released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) suggests that increasing demand for conservation and alternative energy sources may not be a distant possibility.
"The high prices of oil are promoting conservation and efficiency efforts, and making renewable energy sources more competitive," according to the report entitled, "Trends in Sustainable Development."
The 24-page study says although oil remains the world's most traded commodity, and is essential to all modern economies, commercially recoverable reserves are found in relatively few countries.
But, still dependence on oil imports continues to grow in some major economies, such as the United States and China.
In the United States, net oil imports for domestic consumption rose from 40 percent in 1991 to 59 percent in 2004. In 2000, Chinese imports accounted for 30 percent of consumption. Now half of their oil consumption is based on imports.
In addition to increasing demand for oil from the United States and China, experts say oil prices are are also rising due to the U.S. Stand-off with Iran over nuclear issues, attacks on oil pipelines in the Niger delta, and threats of oil cutoff by Venezuela against the United States.
The Washington D.C.-based Earth Policy Institute (EPI), an independent environmental think tank, has called for a 30-cent-per-gallon hike in gas taxes each year for the next decade to encourage American businesses and consumers to seek other sources of energy.
To ease the financial burden on consumers, the eventual increase of $3 per gallon would be offset at every step of the way with a reduction in income taxes, under EPI's plan.
"The adoption of a 10-year tax shift...would accelerate the shift to alternative energy sources, and help reestablish U.S. leadership in building a sustainable energy future," said EPI president Lester Brown.
According to a forecast by the U.S. Department of Energy, the average price of crude oil is unlikely to fall to less than $64 a barrel this year. However, next year, it may decline to $61 a barrel.
Addressing the meeting at the UN, Annan urged developing countries to redouble their electricity generating capacity so as to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The MDGs are a series of targets set by the international communities in 2000 to reduce poverty, illiteracy, diseases, and environmental degradation.
All countries must be more rigorous in carrying out what they have agreed to do, the UN chief said, adding that any measures to lessen climate change or adapt to it had to be integrated into national sustainable development strategies.
"In this great endeavor, there is work for every one," Annan said. "Governments must use their powers to set the ground rules, lay out the standards, put the right incentives in place and deploy their purchasing power to procure energy-efficient goods and services."
"Financial markets, banks, private business and industry, civil society, and private citizens all have distinct roles to play," he said, noting that global financial institutions, which control about $4 trillion, have now signed on to a new set of principles for "responsible investment, which makes it clear that what is not sustainable is not responsible."
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