Summary of Russian-American Forum on Energy Security and the G-8 Summit Washington, D.C., May 12, 2005
As part of the Civil Society/NGO process leading up the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg in July, a group of leading Russian environmental experts met with U.S. environmental representatives in Washington D.C. on May 12, 2006. A primary objective of this all-day meeting -- coordinated by the Russian Federation Public Chamber, the Center for Russian Environmental Policy and several prominent U.S. environmental groups -- was to seek input on the draft energy security recommendations that came out of the “Civil G8” Forum held in Moscow in March of this year. More broadly, the organizers of the May 12th meeting sought to discuss the current approach of Russia and the other G8 counties in framing the energy security agenda for the upcoming Summit.
In brief, there was strong support for Russia’s decision to make “global energy security” a top issue at the G8 Summit. There was broad recognition that a reliable energy supply is essential for continuing the world’s technological advances, reducing poverty and ensuring an overall higher quality of life. But grave concerns were raised at the meeting that the current energy strategy of Russia and the other G8 countries is not in the best long-term interests of their citizens from both an economic and environmental standpoint, and that instead a sustainable plan was critical to achieve true energy security. Accordingly, the meeting participants respectfully suggested that the final energy security recommendations produced by the Civil G8 initiative more clearly emphasize the following three themes:
1. Combating Global Warming Must Be Top Energy Security Goal
Global warming is the most serious environmental problem facing the planet. Thus, any comprehensive G8 energy security blueprint must make addressing global warming a top priority. The urgency of action is clearer today than ever before. Eleven national science academies – representing the G8 countries plus China, India, and Brazil – jointly stated in June 2005 that “there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring.” They added: “Carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for many decades. Even with possible lowered emission rates we will be experiencing the impacts of climate change throughout the 21st century and beyond. Failure to implement significant reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions now will make the job much harder in the future.”
We are already suffering dangerous climate impacts due to the build-up of global warming pollution that has occurred to date: stronger hurricanes, melting of the Arctic ice cap, killer heat-waves, floods, and severe droughts. Scientists have recently detected accelerated melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets – much faster melting than anyone had expected. If either of these ice sheets melts away, sea levels will rise more than 5 meters, with disastrous implications for coastal regions of all G8 countries.
While the G8 countries recognized the problem in their 2005 communiqué, the current Summit agenda does not reflect the urgency of the threat facing all nations. Data show that in many counties, including Russia, steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will also result in more efficient and cost-effective energy usage -- contributing to the modernization of industry and economic growth while as the same time saving money for average citizens. A well-implemented carbon emissions trading scheme can also mobilize billions of dollars of new capital that could be placed in one or more “Green Investment Funds” to support modernization of energy infrastructure.
2. Greater Action Is Needed to Develop Clean Energy Solutions
The centerpiece of the G8’s energy security strategy for the upcoming Summit appears simply to be ensuring a constant and reliable flow of oil and gas – especially from Russia -- to sustain economic growth. It is true that energy security for the G8 and other countries cannot be secured unless the reliability of supplies can be assured over the long-term. Indeed, in a globalized economy, the notion of national energy independence is illusory and countries will remain dependent upon one another for energy supplies.
Grounding economic growth almost exclusively on continued fossil fuel extraction, however, is not environmentally or economically sustainable over the long-term. In Russia, for example, most of country’s vast energy reserves are in regions where new development will inevitably have a negative effect on the global environment (e.g., destruction of virgin ecosystems, increase releases of greenhouse gases). And such an approach does not take into account the economic costs of pollution and the depletion of natural resources. Further, the current carbon-based energy system has significant local public health consequences – including large numbers of premature deaths -- for the citizens of Russia and other countries.
For all of these reasons, it is essential that the G8 nations commit at St. Petersburg to drastically boost efforts to develop and deploy energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. In a number of the G8 countries (particularly Russia), there continues to be a significant waste of energy, which could be reduced through use of proven and cost-effective technologies. Additionally, increased priority and funding should be provided for biofuel, wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, low-head hydroelectric, and hydrogen energy. The use of these alternative energy sources would contribute to greater energy security, less air and water pollution, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. While the efforts by the G8 to encourage the World Bank in its development of an “Investment Framework for Clean Energy” are welcome, much more needs to be done to facilitate the development of energy efficiency and renewables in the developing world.
Lastly, the G8 countries must also address the prospect of continued and increased reliance on coal as a source of energy over the next few decades. The G8 should establish a major new program on carbon sequestration, and require that all new coal plants include the capability to capture and store carbon dioxide.
3. Nuclear Energy Is Not The Answer
Given rising energy demands and the pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, the G8 should be evaluating all energy sources. However, the meeting participants did not accept the position of the G8 that nuclear energy is essential to energy security. Indeed, the history of nuclear power suggests quite the opposite. Nuclear power poses many serious health, safety, environmental, and security risks, including: (a) increased danger of accidents such as those that occurred at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; (b) further accumulation of radioactive wastes for which there is still no safe disposal solution; and (c) the risk that additional nations (and terrorists) will acquire nuclear weapons. To be sure, the G8 has shown support for the creation of international centers for nuclear fuel cycle services to address the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation. But this approach has already been tried once by the United States in Asia in the 1960s and it failed.
It is also important to rebut the assertion that an expansion of nuclear power is a solution to global warming. Even a crash construction program of hundreds of new nuclear plants around the world would have little impact on global warming in the coming decades. And such a plan would divert valuable attention and resources away from other energy investments, which can result in more rapid and less expensive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
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In summary, the NGO representatives at the May 12th meeting applauded Russia for focusing on energy security at the G8 Summit, and for launching the Civil G8 process to develop important recommendations on this issue. But there was significant concern that, as currently planned, the Summit will miss a golden opportunity to squarely address the worldwide problem of global warming and to advance cost-effective solutions that can help the G8 counties achieve real energy security. The meeting participants stand ready to assist Chairwoman Pamfilova and the Civil G8 process to finalize its energy security recommendations in Moscow on July 3-4, and to jointly press the G8 representatives in St. Petersburg to adopt a sustainable plan of action on energy security.