New text is a green light for fossil fuels

19 June 2012

So the Brazilians pulled together a draft and shared it with at least some of the world on Saturday night (some delegates had not even received it on the Sunday). Like everyone else, ECO was scrambling to see what was in it, specifically for energy and climate.

Oh the irony of climate and energy

As expected, there was good and bad, but unexpected was the irony: the new text was strong on climate, reaffirming the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities. There was a temperature target (2 or 1.5), and a nod, i.e. ‘recognise the importance of’ mobilising funds and transferring technology, as well as urging parties to honour their Kyoto commitments (hint hint, Canada et al).

And yet what’s driving climate change, what’s responsible for two thirds of all emissions, what’s destroying local communities and their environments – we’re talking about our addiction to dirty fossil fuels for energy – has been completely watered down.  In fact, the energy paragraphs positively promote fossil fuels. It makes achieving the climate paragraph a near impossibility.

Actively endorsing fossil fuels

Thanks to Canada, Russia and others, where we talk of ‘an increased use of renewable energy sources’, the text also adds ‘and other low-emission technologies’, and even goes further, explicitly including ‘cleaner fossil fuel technologies’. There’s a recognition that renewable technology and energy efficiency are necessary for sustainable development, but there’s no means of achieving it: all mentions of technology transfer and finance have been removed, with finance only be mentioned for energy access. While this is of course incredibly important for sustainable development – and great that it gets its own paragraph in the text, if a little weak on access for who – but it’s not the whole picture. If we’re expecting countries to leap frog our own dirty development pathways, rich, industrialised countries need to provide the adequate and appropriate technology and finance in line with commitments that have been in place for the past 20 years.

Sustainable Energy for All

Ban Ki-moon’s ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ (SE4All) initiative, which isn’t part of the official process but was ‘welcomed’ in the zero draft, has now only been noted after a united position from G77+China. While it’s addressing the right challenges – climate change and poverty – a statement signed by over 100 civil society organisations from across the world shows how much work is needed. As it stands its unambitious targets are inadequate to meet the climate crisis, while civil society and the energy poor – those it should be helping – have been left outside a process dominated by corporate fossil fuel, finance and utility interests. Not being in the text will not mean the end of the initiative, as the Secretary General’s office have been predicting this for a while, so the challenge now is ensuring that after Rio, the initiative launches a people-driven process to see how we can genuinely deliver sustainable energy for all.

Fossil fuel subsidies

One way we can start is by ending government hand-outs to the fossil fuel industries, but they’ve been dealt a heavy blow in the latest text. Rather than honouring commitments made back in 2009, the text ‘recognises the need for further action’ – collective amnesia? Like all issues, there are nuances, so the first step is addressing subsidies given directly to dirty energy companies, but pushing them out of the text is another step backwards. Today over a million signatures are being handed to world leaders, all calling on governments to stop handing our money to dirty industry, because Rio is a real chance to make some progress. We need to make sure that happens.

The Future We Don’t Want

This text is not going to deliver a sustainable future, driven by clean, safe and affordable energy, but it reflects what’s round the table: no political commitment from those that can make it happen. We need to challenge fossil fuel interest

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