South Africa: U.S., Saudis Oppose Summit Plan on Energy

Move Angers Environmental Groups

JOHANNESBURG -- The United States, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy nations reportedly worked today to water down proposals at a U.N. summit to rapidly expand the use of clean, renewable energy technologies.

Such renewable energy sources as wind power and solar energy produce smaller and more expensive amounts of electricity than a traditional power plant. But the technologies generate a fraction of the smog of oil, coal and other fossil fuels, as well as gases believed to accelerate global warming.

A proposal for the World Summit on Sustainable Development's action plan calls for the use of the technologies to be increased to account for15 percent of the world's total energy production
by 2010.

Sources said delegates from the United States, Saudi Arabia and other industrialized and oil-producing states were lobbying to eliminate the provision.

The European Union also wavered on the agreement.

"We may have to bend if we can't convince all of our partners," said one EU official, Christine Day. "It's early in the negotiations."

The moves by the industrialized countries angered environmental groups, which are demanding stiffer anti-pollution measures.

The 10-day summit is focused on uplifting the world's poor and protecting the global environment.

During today's open session, delegates called for increased global efforts to bring new agricultural technologies to impoverished farmers and railed against European and U.S. agricultural subsidies, saying they made it difficult for the farmers to compete on the world market.

Developing countries are hoping the summit's action plan will call for the reduction or elimination of subsidies, a provision opposed by wealthy countries. The summit is unlikely to resolve the issue. "No country can realistically be expected to make a major commitment here on those matters," said Alec Erwin, South Africa's trade minister.

Targets and timetables were added to the summit's implementation plan as organizers sought new ways to compel nations to live up to their pledges. In the 10 years since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, treaties protecting biodiversity and limiting climate change have languished.

However, the United States is seeking to erase specific targets and timetables on many topics throughout the plan, which includes 150 pages addressing biodiversity, food security, clean water and health care.

Instead, U.S. officials said they prefer voluntary partnerships with business and other groups.

"I don't know of a goal that has protected a child from a waterborne disease or provided energy to a village," a senior U.S. diplomat told reporters in a background briefing. "Goals do not by themselves bring about change or results."

Also today, non-governmental groups complained they were being sidelined at the summit, saying they had trouble getting seats at the main event in a building that can't hold all the accredited delegates. The United Nations said it would try to accommodate them.

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