TRIESTE, Italy - An alliance of environment groups took the lash to oil majors and the wealthiest industrialised countries here Saturday, accusing them of hamstringing renewable energy sources by lavishing resources on fossil fuels or nuclear power.
"The unsustainable technologies of the past have had their day," Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said in a report issued at a Group of Eight (G8) environment ministers meeting.
In 1997, the European Union (EU) and its members devoted 10.2 billion euros (9.2 billion dollars) in subsidies for coal and other fossil fuels, as well as 4.7 billion euros (4.25 billion dollars) in help for the nuclear industry, they said.
Police special marine unit patrol the sea of Trieste's port in front of the Regione palace March 2, 2001, ahead of a G8 environment ministers' meeting in the northern Italian coastal town of Trieste. More than 3,000 regular officers and paramilitary police, backed by special bomb and marine units, sealed off the center of the port city of Trieste in preparation for possible anti-globalization demonstrations against the G8 environment summit. REUTERS/ Vincenzo Pinto
But renewable energy, from the sun, wind and sea, received only 1.5 billion euros in subsidies, they said.
In the United States, of the 111.5 billion dollars in federal subsidies allotted to energy research and development from 1948 to 1998, 66 billion went to nuclear energy and 26 billion went to fossil fuels, leaving less than five billion for non-hydro renewable sources.
"Without enhanced support in G8 and other industrialised country markets, renewables will not be able to reach the production levels necessary to drive costs to an affordable level for mass markets" in the southern hemisphere, the three groups warned.
"Today, the opposite occurs in G8 nations -- conventional fossil and nuclear energies continue to receive the vast bulk of government subsidies and policy support."
Fossil fuels -- oil, gas and coal -- have become the favourite target of environmentalists because they release carbon dioxide and other pollutants when burned.
Billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are disgorged into the Earth's lower atmosphere each year, creating a "greenhouse" effect that is causing the planet's air temperature to slowly rise, with potentially catastrophic consequences, scientists say.
In addition to scrapping unfair subsidies and tax breaks for polluting energy sources, G8 countries should also smash the "culture of fossil fuel addiction" within the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and export credit agencies, the three groups said.
From 1994-1999, G8 export credit agencies supported over 115 billion dollars for fossil energy projects in developing countries, while their support for renewable energy was "negligible."
The environmentalists also took aim at the oil major Shell, saying it was trying to reap a harvest of green sentiment around the world by publicising its renewable energy programme, when its real effort in this field had been marginal.
A "task force" on renewable energy, set up by the G8 last year and due to submit a report to a summit in Genoa in July, should recommend that the G8 next year set a target of 2010 for deriving a fifth of their energy needs from renewables, the environmentalists said.
That target is more ambitious than that agreed by EU members last December. The EU 15 decided that renewables should account for 22.1 percent of their electricity needs, rather than overall energy needs, in 2010, compared with 13.9 percent in 1997.
The G8 comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Copyright © 2001 AFP