UNITED NATIONS - Late last week, representatives from 165 industrialised and developing countries -- excluding the United States -- agreed to extend a global plan to reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming past its expiration date of 2012.
But experts say a long-term energy strategy is not just about reducing greenhouse gases. It also requires programmes to boost conservation and energy efficiency, and shift economies toward renewable resources like biogas, wind, solar and hydrogen.
According to statistics from the European Commission, if current policies remain unchanged, world energy demand will soar by over 50 percent by 2030.
The World Bank's recently released "Little Green Data Book 2006" notes that the richest countries devour 51 percent of the world's energy production, and consume on average 11 times more energy per capita than low-income countries.
"The book shows that high-income countries are not saving enough (energy) resources for the future," said Laura Tlaiye of the World Bank's environment department.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, 36 highly industrialised nations must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Meeting in Bonn this month, parties to the Kyoto pact agreed in principle that even deeper cuts in emissions would be needed after that deadline.
''There is a strong sense of urgency and there's clear consensus that there should be no gap after 2012, when the first commitment period ends,'' said Michael Zammit Cutajar, who chaired the session, in a statement.
The United States, which has rejected the Kyoto Protocol as too costly to enforce, consumes nearly 37 percent more energy than other high-income countries. Although it accounts for only about 4.5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. uses 25 percent of global energy resources.
India, with 17 percent of the global population, uses only 3.2 percent of the world's energy -- nearly eight times less than the U.S.
However, a recent report by the Washington-based WorldWatch Institute says this situation is rapidly changing. India and China, with 40 percent of the world's people, are growing economically at breakneck pace.
Last year, China consumed 26 percent of the world's crude steel, 32 percent of the rice, 37 percent of the cotton, and 47 percent of the cement, according to the report.
As a result, these two countries will be "central to whether the world succeeds in building a healthy, prosperous, environmentally sustainable future for the next generation", it says.
Another recent study of India, China and Brazil found that unless energy efficiency measures are dramatically stepped up, the trio will more than double their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions within a single generation (by 2030) with major impacts on global energy markets and climate.
Richard Kinley, acting head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, notes that one of the most challenging questions will be "the role of the developing countries (in more sustainable practices), where there is not really a consensus in the international community".
One problem with the Kyoto treaty, Kinley said at a recent U.N. forum on sustainable development, is that, "Developing countries have the view that they're waiting for industrialised countries to demonstrate real leadership on limiting their emissions before agreeing to accept binding commitments, and in the industrialised world, there is the view that more action from developing countries is required."
World Bank data shows that carbon dioxide emissions were 24 billion metric tonnes in 2002 (the latest year for which data is available), up an average of 15 percent since 1992.
Although the "Little Green Data Book 2006" noted that developing nations, particularly China and India, are producing an ever greater share of CO2 emissions, the United States remains the worst offender, with 24 percent of total emissions.
"The U.S has showed an (emissions) increase of 16 percent since 1990, and the projections are for them to continue to increase unless limits are established," Dan Lashof, deputy director of the Natural Resources Defence Council, told IPS.
Thus far, the George W. Bush administration has shunned mandatory cuts, asking industries to voluntarily create programmes to reduce their emissions. But "it's clear that this is not working and won't work in the future," Lashof said.
However, he noted that major initiatives are being carried out at the state and municipal levels to promote renewable energy use and energy efficiency, and to pass legislation, especially in the northeastern states, that establishes emissions caps.
Although "the source of the (global emissions) increase is pretty widespread" and has already had serious consequences, including "sea level rise, extreme weather events and the melting glaciers", Kinley believes "the world is engaged in bringing down GHG emissions".
"The kind of emission reductions which are being looked at now are approaching 900 million tonnes of CO2 and this is equivalent to the emissions of Canada and Belgium in 2003," he added, referring to the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The CDM allows industrialised countries that are bound to limit the amount of greenhouse gases they produce to offset their emissions by investing in clean energy projects in less developed countries.
The CDM is one of the "flexible" aspects of Kyoto, similar to the emissions swapping permitted under the treaty.
But cutting emissions has not proved easy. A Canadian report released at the Bonn meeting found that 19 of the 36 countries bound to make mandatory reductions have not yet submitted reports showing demonstrable progress, indicating they are having difficulties meeting those requirements.
The next round of talks under the Kyoto Protocol will take place at a United Nations Climate Change Conference Nov. 6 to 17 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service