LATE one night in the cavernous Johannesburg hall where world leaders
were holding their World Summit on Sustainable Development, I ran into the
well-dressed Mohsen Esperi, Iran's delegate in charge of energy issues.
I asked him why his country was opposing the proposed summit target of
a 10 percent increase in renewable energy. He replied that Iran only wanted
balance. I asked him to explain and he simply responded: ``I love oil.''
Then he turned and walked toward his colleagues from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Ironically, at this world summit, the United States and two of the ``Axis
of Evil'' countries -- Iraq and Iran -- were joined tightly together in opposing
significant expansion of solar energy and other renewable energy technologies.
This same ``Axis of Evil'' joined Washington in also opposing summit language
that U.S. delegates thought might be construed as protecting a woman's right
to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy.
While there were hundreds of speeches on sustainability, two of the most
basic requirements for preserving global well-being -- women's full empowerment
and renewable energy -- were deprived of vital support because of the unholy
alliance between OPEC nations and Bush administration hard-liners.
Outside of the more extreme fundamentalists, two things in this world
are taken as obviously crucial: Stabilize the global climate and slow population
growth through empowerment of women.
The business-as-usual scenario projects a world of 9 billion to 11 billion
people inhabiting an increasingly unstable world of gyrating climate changes.
The international delegates in Johannesburg did embrace a summit commitment
to halve the number of people who live without clean water and decent sanitation.
That is important and long overdue. But, at the same time, they refused to
make any bold moves that would put the world on a path toward genuine sustainability.
That would have required substantial investments in solar, wind and biomass, and a great push for energy efficiency.
The costs of renewable sources are coming down, but not fast enough to
permit rapid and widespread use. For this to happen, subsidies are needed
to create the needed economies of scale. Several nations at the summit, together
with dozens of energy activists, called for a Solar Investment Fund and a
10 percent renewable energy target -- 10 percent of world energy use from
renewable sources by 2015.
The beauty of this proposal was that it would transfer clean energy technology
to hundreds of millions of poor people who live without any electricity in
remote areas of Africa and Asia.
By helping in this way those who live on less than a dollar a day, the
rich world would help those most in need, protect the environment and bring
down the costs of solar and other renewable fuels so that people everywhere
would be able to make the transition to a clean energy future.
Yes, it would require billions of dollars, but this is a fraction of the
current worldwide subsidies given to oil and coal production, which could
and should be reduced to free up the necessary funds.
The world is at a crossroads. The kind of thinking that put us where we
are will be totally inadequate to take us where we must go. The World Summit
on Sustainable Development offered that opportunity, but our leaders missed
it -- to our country's detriment and to the benefit of oil-producing nations,
some of whom we identify as the ``Axis of Evil.''
Jerry Brown, a former California governor, is now mayor of Oakland.