In a bold move designed to spur the developed world to cut back its use of
coal, oil and gas, Mikhail Gorbachev's international environment group Green
Cross is urging delegates to the World Summit on Sustainable Development to
set up a $50-billion (U.S.) fund to promote solar energy.
The twist is that the group wants the money to come from subsidies already
paid to coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy. The World Bank has estimated those
subsidies equal $210-billion a year, mostly in the form of direct financial aid,
tax breaks and loan guarantees.
Releasing its plan at the Earth Summit yesterday, the Green Cross hoped to
prod the United States, which it believes is the biggest obstacle to any giant
leap toward so-called clean energy sources.
"There is a certain culture in place in Washington which continually has
its view of the future blocked by an oil-drilling rig," said Dennis Kucinich,
a U.S. congressman who is a member of the American delegation to the summit and
a supporter of the Green Cross plan. "It's really hard to see past a drilling
rig when you're standing in front of it."
The Green Cross wants the subsidies to support investment in photovoltaic cells,
as well as other renewable sources such as hydrogen, wind and geothermal energy.
Theoretically, as the investment kicks in and production of the cells increases,
the cost of making the energy will fall.
The goal over time is to make sure that 20 per cent of the world's energy is
produced from clean renewable sources.
Matt Petersen, president of the U.S. arm of Green Cross, said he expects the
solar fund to take "a couple of years" to set up.
Mr. Kucinich added: "The tides of change are irresistible."
The solar scheme would have the advantage of helping to cut down on greenhouse-gas
emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. Emissions are thought to be responsible
for the planet's changing climate and increasingly volatile weather.
Both the United States and Canada are under pressure at the summit to ratify
the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, or to find other ways to
reduce climate change.
As it stands, Ottawa spends about $12-million a year supporting renewable energy.
A report prepared by the Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition, made up of representatives
of big business and environmental organizations, is pushing for more. Its research
says that Canada, which could be a leader on this front, produces just 0.1 per
cent of its electricity from wind. Denmark, by contrast, produces 18 per cent
of its electricity from wind.
If Canada could produce 10 per cent of its energy from various renewable sources
by 2012, for example, that would deliver 13 per cent of Canada's commitments under
the Kyoto protocol.
Since 1946, Canada's federal government has spent about $6-billion on nuclear
technology, according to a report in 2000 by Canada's commissioner of the environment
and sustainable development.
Direct federal spending on other non-renewable energy sources such as oil,
gas and coal, was $40.4-billion. in Canada from 1970 to 1999. Over the same span
of time, the federal government has written off $2.8-billion in loans and investments
in the non-renewable energy sector and has forgiven $2.4-billion in export charges
Stephan Barg, a senior corporate adviser for the International Institute for
Sustainable Development in Winnipeg, said that those figures would be much higher
if they accounted for the environmental costs of burning oil, gas and coal for
which governments eventually must pay.
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