WASHINGTON - International energy and climate talks opened Tuesday amid contention over whether the agency entrusted with leading the financial charge against global warming is doing enough to drum up investment in projects designed to harness the wind, sun, and other sources of renewable energy.
Pressure group Friends of the Earth, in a new report, accused the World Bank of doing too little to promote renewable energy, prized because it is considered to be in infinite supply--unlike oil, coal, and gas--and because it involves little or no pollution compared to those fossil fuels.
The Washington, D.C.-based bank, in a statement, countered that it had doubled its financing for renewable energy and for efforts to improve energy efficiency around the globe.
The World Bank building is shown in Washington, DC, in 2004. International environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) slammed the World Bank for failing to play an effective leadership role on climate change and renewable energy. (AFP/File/Brendan Smialowski)
The controversy came as energy and environment ministers gathered in London for international talks on climate change and clean energy.
Steering the process is the Group of Eight (G8) dominant countries, which in July asked the World Bank to develop a global framework for financing clean energy as part of a broader effort to tackle climate change beyond the 2012 expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.
In its report, entitled ''Power Failure,'' Friends of the Earth said the bank did not appear up to the task.
''Based on an examination of publicly available documents for World Bank Group energy lending, the bank has failed to adequately fund and create policies to push the development of clean energy and has failed to meet even its own commitments,'' the report said.
''This failure to adequately fund clean energy misses a tremendous opportunity to use these energy sources to promote development and poverty alleviation, and it continues the bank's long-standing over-investment in harmful energy sources.''
World Bank financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency amounted to a slim nine percent of all the institution's financing in the energy sector, Friends of the Earth said.
The bank increased funding by only seven percent, or $14 million, in fiscal year 2005, less than half its announced target of a 20-percent increase annually over the next five years, the advocacy group added.
The bank countered that it had in fact exceeded its $251 million target and boosted spending by $299 million in fiscal 2005, which ran from July 2004 through June 2005.
In fiscal year 2005, it added, the lender and its private sector and insurance affiliates--the International Finance Corporation and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency--supported renewable energy and energy efficiency to the tune of $748 million. This included $449 million for large dams; $212 million for wind, solar, and small-scale hydropower projects as well as efforts to harness energy from the Earth's heat and from farm waste; and $87 million for energy efficiency.
''Each dollar of World Bank Group commitment,'' the bank said, ''leveraged an average of nearly five dollars from private investors, governments, and other donors.''
The $748 million committed in fiscal 2005 more than doubled the $339 million allocated the previous fiscal year, the bank said, adding that it expected to see further advances.
Even so, Friends of the Earth report co-author Elizabeth Bast urged a massive and immediate boost in financing.
''The bank will have to make immediate and aggressive changes to dramatically increase its renewable energy and energy efficiency lending if it hopes to have any impact on climate change before it is too late for developing countries.''
Environmentalists say that wind and solar power and small dams, combined with aggressive efforts to rein in energy use by improving the efficiency with which we power our livelihoods and lifestyles, can dramatically cut emissions of greenhouse gases.
Scientists blame these gases, including carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, for changes in global climate that are contributing to droughts in some parts of the world, floods and storms in others, and the spread of tropical diseases to temperate zones.
In poor countries, renewable energy also can help to alleviate poverty and can provide electricity to people lacking access to traditional power grids, Friends of the Earth said.
Renewable sources account for a scant two percent of the world's energy use, compared to about 30 percent for oil, according to Chris Flavin, president of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Worldwatch Institute.
However, energy companies and governments are driving growth in the renewable sector, which is attracting roughly $30 billion in investment annually, Flavin told an energy conference in late September.
As a result, production of biofuels, wind power, and solar energy is growing by 20-30 percent per year, compared with growth rates of around two percent for oil and gas, he said.
Norway gets 45 percent of its energy from renewable sources and Sweden, about one-fourth. By contrast, the United States relies on renewable sources for 4.2 percent of its energy use.
China, a major industrial power and polluter, also is a leading user of clean energy, according to Flavin. Some 35 million Chinese homes already get their hot water from solar collectors--more than the rest of the world combined, he said.
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