By Hélène Connor-Lajambe* | IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint
PARIS – The United Nations and other world agencies are geographically global in scope, but seldom seem able to work together on the same issue, however crucial it is, even when deep misery or armed conflicts ensue.
Climate change is the best example of the silo mentality within our highest institutions and most of our societies. It is only lately, for instance, that the World Bank has started to reconsider its funding of coal plants, and the International Energy Agency is at last making waves as it promotes energy efficiency while other agencies are still pushing the search for more oil reserves.
Climate destabilisation has been acknowledged as the single most crucial concern threatening life as we know it. Nevertheless, UNFCCC negotiations still fail to give precedence to the main countries impacted by drastic changes in climate, and give the floor to those responsible for creating the damage.
Too often the search for energy has been associated with land grabbing, assassinations, kidnappings and other acts of violence to secure access to stocks of fossil-fuel resources. Many of the recurrent conflicts in the Middle East are directly or indirectly linked to the ownership of oil-rich lands, and the costs in terms of money and human lives are huge.
These costs have never been counted in the price users pay for their energy – an omission that adds to the distortions already present in the energy market, in the form of various subsidies for instance, and which favours an overuse of energy.
But they are tallied on another tab. One way or another, society has to pay the price, more often than not perpetuating an endless cycle of poverty. Procuring energy does not need to be so brutal. Agencies working in isolation to repair the damage will never be up to the task. So let us try to be sensible and face the problem squarely.
Genuine Progress Indicator
Energy is a strategic tool, not an end in itself. What counts is not the sheer quantity of energy, but rather its efficiency at rendering services. Energy services are very diverse and are geared to improving human welfare. The latter, when measured not in terms of the traditional and inadequate Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but rather in terms of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which accounts for social factors and environmental costs, peaked around 1978 and has been declining since. A recent study has shown that 1978 was also the year in which our ecological footprint, our demand on the earth’s ecosystem, began exceeding its capacity to produce resources and absorb waste.
For the past thirty years we have been simultaneously increasing our use of energy and our ecological debt. The financial and other costs of doing so are reflected in the present state of both the environment and the economy. Resource wars and other power struggles continue unabated in several regions of the world. Yet despite the disasters engendered, some still want more access to fossil-fuel derived energy and are ready to kill for it, unleashing the demons of terrorism in their wake.
Over the years, however, we have learned that our activities and our happiness are often limited not so much by a lack of energy but rather by the impacts of the energy sector itself.
The need for energy security has to date been misunderstood by many analysts to mean the need to increase supply at all costs. But grabbing more resources is not the way. On the contrary, such an approach increases unacceptable risks at incalculable costs. Moreover, it is unethical, considering that it is often foreign companies that develop energy resources in countries where the population has not been consulted and may not even be aware of what is going on.
More energy is not the way to trigger progress or improve global human welfare. Slowly but surely, we must phase out energy sources such as fossil and radioactive fuels, which irreversibly damage the environment and humankind’s health and genetic pool.
Renewable energy provides a freedom – within the strict framework set by the laws of nature. The new ‘energetician’ must be smart and have an understanding of the world that goes beyond mechanics. He or she deals with living entities and works for human beings. This can be more complex than digging for black stones or extracting liquid matter from the soil.
Certainly these underground substances have promoted part of mankind into a very comfortable material world, but this benefit should not have remained unshared. Renewable energy can be energy for all since it is the property of none. So let us drop the aggressive search for fossil fuels and turn to the energy present in our own backyard, which we can enjoy without harming others.
Governments and intergovernmental agencies should join the grassroots ‘yes in my backyard’ (YIMBY) movement in the making, which asserts that our energy systems can bring local benefits and promote peace without frontiers.
This YIMBY new wave has to succeed and we will unwittingly get more than we bargained for: better energy policies for one, and additionally, a lasting commitment to a world with fewer resource conflicts, particularly in relation to energy. This could also contribute to world peace; what a bonus!
*Dr. Hélène Connor-Lajambe, former OECD administrator, is the founder and honorary president of HELIO International. Founded in 1997, HELIO is an independent, non-profit international think-tank and network of leading energy analysts who identify, assess, measure and publicise the contribution of energy systems and policies to sustainable and equitable development. This article is taken from Stakeholder Forum’s magazine Outreach which took it from Issue 3/2013 of ‘Security Community’, the magazine of the Organisation for Security Community in Europe (OSCE). [IDN-InDepthNews – November 14, 2013]
Image credit: Stakeholder Forum | Duncan Hull