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Editorial: Time for a Change

Drawing from the cartoon competition ‘Humankind & Energy’ for EXPO 2000.

Drawing by Alfredo Martirena Hernandez, Cuba
See article page no. 5.

There is an urgent need for changes in the way we use energy and for changes in the way we produce and transport energy. This was a statement from the International NGO Conference “Energy in Transition: Asian Perspective to Sustainable Energy Development”, Thailand, October 25-27, 2000 (see page 8).

Most decisionmakers know that energy savings, energy efficiency, and renewable energy are the solutions to the energy problem.

Today, we have vast experience in Sustainable energy, both in the industrialised world and in developing countries. Regional conferences like the one in Thailand provide an important and highly appreciated opportunity for NGOs to share experiences and to strengthen the cooperation within INFORSE. We are all concerned about energy development. Over time, in almost every country, social development has been firmly linked to energy consumption. Access to energy is an imperative for human development, and global energy consumption indeed has increased over the time. It could be a positive development showing the increase in global welfare, but the world energy system today is not sustainable from a socio-economic and environmental point of view. The benefits from this development are unequally distributed, while all in the world share the environmental costs.

Today, around 20 % of the world’s population is responsible for more than 60 % of global energy consumption. People in Western Europe and in the United States use 7 time the energy per capita of people in Asia. The increasing consumption of energy has caused serious damage to the world’s climate and to other aspects of nature. With increasing evidence of climate change and still more than 2 billion people living without access to modern energy, present energy supplies and usage pose serious problems. It is time for changes.

There are many kinds of transition going on in the energy sector. The transition from vertically integrated monopolies in the oil and gas industry and in the power sector to more decentralised structures creates opportunities for competition and thus for improved efficiency. Commercialisation of state-owned companies could further improve efficiency and decentralisation. Consumers should benefit from these improvements in efficiency through price reductions and better supply. However, combined with privatisation, there is a major risk that private investors will go for the quick profits and not for the long-term sustainable development of the energy sector. Neither will they necessarily improve the situation for those without supply of modern energy. Public regulation of the sector is a must to ensure the other important transition, namely the transition from a non-sustainable system towards a sustainable system. It is a huge challenge for civil society to demand and to participate in the formulation of public regulation.

The NGOs in Asia decided to look critically at their national energy policies to ensure that civil society will be involved directly in the preparation of national energy policies as well as in their implementation. This calls for capacity-building, which will be an important area of INFORSE activities in the coming years as one pillar in the bridge to a sustainable energy future.

Michael Kvetny