EU negotiators were accused yesterday of capitulating to the United States
over renewable energy as governments reached agreement on the wording of the concluding
document of the earth summit.
Environmental and development groups were furious that what seemed an imminent
deal to set firm targets and a timetable to encourage the spread of wind, solar
and other renewable energies in developing countries suddenly was watered down
in favor of fossil fuel energies.
Americans, Saudis and Japanese have got what they wanted ... It's worse than we
could have imagined.
climate policy director of Greenpeace
The two-day deadlock was broken at midnight after two days of negotiations
which pitted the US, Japan and oil exporting countries against the EU, which was
holding out for firm targets, and a far more ambitious Brazilian target which
would have committed governments to achieving 10% targets by 2010.
The text now calls for countries only to act "with a sense of urgency" to substantially
increase the global share of renewable energy sources, but does not set a specific
target. The document also calls for countries to phase out energy subsidies that
inhibit sustainable development.
However, the British environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, tried to put
a brave face on the deal and said: "The overall outcome of this Johannesburg summit
is truly remarkable. We had to give it our best shot - to get the best deal we
could - and we did. I am in no doubt that our descendants will look back on this
summit and say we set out on a new path."
Last night the UN also tried to make the best of the agreement, but officials
were disappointed. The UN's Johannesburg summit secretary-general, Nitin Desai,
said the agreement was a positive step. "The issue of a target for renewable energy
was a worthwhile goal. But the reality is that with sustained action, we can build
up the renewable energy industries to the point where they have the critical mass
to compete with fossil fuel-generated energy.
"This provides us with everything we need to make sustainable development happen
over the next several years," she said. "The test is whether governments, along
with civil society and the private sector, can pursue the commitments that are
in the document, and take actions that achieve measurable results."
The final text, which has taken nine months to negotiate and seemed to be falling
part in July, must now be formally approved by the plenary session.
Two South African policemen walk past a mural which was unveiled in Johannesburg,
South Africa, Friday, Aug. 30, 2002. The mural, a Greenpeace initiative, incorporates
1.6 million signatures from people in 27 countries demanding a target for renewable
energy. The unveiling coincides with the World Summit on Sustainable Energy taking
place in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)
The major success of the summit will now be a world target to halve the numbers
of people without basic sanitation by 2015. There will also be weak targets to
reduce and then reverse the loss of biological resources like fish and forests,
and an unspecified reduction over time of agricultural and some energy subsidies
by rich countries.
Non-government groups are concerned that the private sector is exhorted in
the agreement to behave responsibly but there is no recognition of the need for
an agreement on corporate accountability. The issue is being deferred to the UN
Environmentalists attacked the compromise on energy amid suggestions that firm
targets had been dropped as part of a deal to secure commitments on sanitation.
Matt Phillips, of Friends of the Earth, said: "It is very disappointing to
see renewables being abandoned at this stage in the deal. Sanitation is important
but for sustainable development poor communities need clean, efficient energy."
Britain's international development secretary, Clare Short, denied renewables
targets had been sacrificed to a deal on water supplies. "We can still go forward
on renewables and we need to improve investment in renewables in our kind of countries
because at the moment they are still more expensive than other forms of energy.
"Getting the target on sanitation is a massive commitment for us," she told
the BBC2 Newsnight program. The summit has agreed to an aim of halving the number
of people without access to clean water and sanitation by 2015.
Steve Sawyer, climate policy director of Greenpeace, said: "The Americans,
Saudis and Japanese have got what they wanted ... It's worse than we could have
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002