World's big energy users agree to steps on clean energy

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 20, 2010 

WASHINGTON — As political agreements on clean energy remain elusive, the countries that use most of the world's energy launched steps Tuesday to get more clean energy into the global market, including moves toward TVs that waste less electricity, more cars that don't need gasoline, and buildings and factories that use power more efficiently.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the agreements at the first gathering of energy officials from countries that use 80 percent of global energy: the U.S., Russia, China, Canada, Australia, Brazil, India, European countries, South Korea, Japan, South Africa, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.

Chu said the plans would eliminate the need to build more than 500 midsized power plants worldwide over the next 20 years. They also could smooth the way for international agreements on how to reduce the risk of climate change, he said.

Negotiations failed in Copenhagen in December, largely because the United States had no national policy to reduce its share of carbon pollution. The plan is still stalled in the Senate. The global talks will resume in Cancun, Mexico, in November.

"What happens is in any long journey there's always the fear of the unknown," Chu said. "And as we all know, once you start down this path and make progress in very concrete ways, that always alleviates a lot of the unknown."

Gunther Oettinger, the commissioner for energy of the European Commission, said that the world would need groundbreaking technology in the future to shift from using fossil fuels. However, "the goal today is to put existing technologies into the market," he said.

The U.S. helped lead several of the plans, including:

  • Promotion of high-efficiency appliances, starting with TVs and lighting, which together make up 15 percent of household electricity use.
  • Advances in efficient buildings and industry. An international certification program would recognize methods of reducing energy use and pollution.
  • Development of electric vehicles. The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization, estimated that the electric vehicle portion of the plan would result in 20 million electric vehicles by 2020 and would reduce oil consumption by 1 billion barrels over the next decade.
Other plans announced at the meeting included getting solar lanterns to 10 million poor people around the world and improving technologies for storing carbon dioxide underground, the main heat-trapping gas that accumulates in the atmosphere and remains there for thousands of years.

Another called for encouraging young women around the world to go into clean-energy careers.

"When you want to win the green revolution, you need to draw upon the entire pool of talent," said Lykke Friis, Denmark's minister of climate and energy. "And that's not what we're doing right now."

On Monday night, on the first day of the two-day conference, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said that all countries faced immediate needs for reliable energy and a long-term need for clean energy.

"Over the longer term, we must focus on conversion from a fossil fuel-dominated global economy to one that depends much more on renewable resources and maximizes energy efficiencies," Lugar said.

"Each of our countries can work on energy independence though domestic efforts, but energy security is highly dependent on the decisions, investments and political attitudes of other countries," he said. "Consequently, there are few topics on which the international community has a greater responsibility to engage."

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