NEW YORK - Leaders of the world's industrial nations have drawn fire from international civil society groups after they embraced an energy plan that favors continued reliance on oil and other fossil fuels with no hint of any solid steps to deal with the impending threat of climate change.
Monday, at a summit held in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries endorsed a joint statement on "global energy security," indicating their readiness to spend billions of dollars on further exploration of oil and nuclear energy infrastructure, despite strong opposition from environmental activists.
The summit was attended by all heads of state from the G-8 countries, which include the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Russia. Leaders from five fast growing industrial countries--China, Brazil, India, South Africa, and Mexico--also took part in the meeting but as observers.
The G-8 statement on "energy security" identifies nuclear energy as one way to address global climate change, but environmental activists contend that this cannot be considered a favorable way to reduce carbon emissions. They reason that nuclear reactors are dangerous, extremely expensive, take many years to build, and require massive government subsidies.
Critics say they would like to see the proposed amount of funding spent on drastic cuts in carbon emissions through energy efficiency measures, development of renewable energy sources, and restoration of damaged wetland and forest ecosystems.
The G-8 countries represent just 15 percent of the world's population, yet they produce 45 percent of all human emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.
"Poor, indigenous, and environmentally vulnerable communities should not bear the brunt of the global climate change that the rich countries are creating," says Ethan Green of the Rising Tide North America, a group that organized a series of protests in the United States on the issue of climate change last Sunday.
Equally critical of the G-8 plan on energy security, Mike Hudema of the U.S.-based advocacy group Global Exchange notes that the world's top 20 oil companies are based in the G-8 countries, which according to him, enjoy "open door" policies with their governments.
"It's no surprise that these companies are the biggest polluters," says Hudema. "The G-8 already gives over a hundred billion dollars in subsidies to nuclear developers, yet refuses to subsidize safer sustainable alternatives--like wind, water, and solar power."
To him, the G-8 plan "makes no ecological sense."
Scientists who work with the G-8 hold quite similar views. Last Friday, they issued a joint statement urging the Group to heed its own recommendations prepared at the previous summit held in Gleneagles, Scotland, and pursue sustainable energy growth, in response to the increasing threat of the climate change.
Shortly before the start of the three-day summit, a coalition of youth groups, representing more than 20 countries from around the world, appealed to the G-8 leaders to rethink their position on energy security.
Their statement responded to a leaked G-8 document suggesting the Group invest an estimated $17 trillion in building infrastructure for nonrenewable energy sources over the coming decades.
Reflecting on the consequences of the proposed G-8 investment in nonrenewable energy resources, the youth coalition said it would "lock the world into a massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions that can only lead to dangerous and irreversible global climate change."
Currently, nearly 80 percent of the world's energy comes from oil, coal, or natural gas--fossil fuels that contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that precipitate climate change--according to the Worldwatch Institute, a U.S.-based independent think tank.
The Institute's researchers note that in the past two years there has been no let-up in demand for fossil fuels despite continued increase in energy prices.
Last week, members of the youth coalition and other groups organized demonstrations in Russia, where the summit was to be held, as well as in other G-8 countries including the United States, Britain, and Germany. In recent days, anti-G-8 protests have also taken place in Venezuela, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.
Activists claim that during the demonstrations in St. Petersburg more than 200 activists were arrested and many who came from outside Russia faced intimidation and harassment at the hands of local police. Some protesters charged that police had confiscated their passports in an attempt to discourage them from taking part in the rallies.
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