Gordian energy knot tightens

The coincidental overlap in the staging of the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP6) in The Hague and International Energy Forum (IEF) in Riyadh last week could only bring into sharper relief the dilemma that the world has wrought for itself through its long-standing energy consuming and producing habits.

The coincidental overlap in the staging of the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP6) in The Hague and International Energy Forum (IEF) in Riyadh last week could only bring into sharper relief the dilemma that the world has wrought for itself through its long-standing energy consuming and producing habits.

The remit specified by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for COP6, is unambiguous: to "accelerate international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." In the first instance, this would involve hammering out the "operational details" of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol so as to win over at least another 25 of the 160 countries in attendance at COP6 to an overall 5% cut in 1990 emissions targets during 2008-2012.

Constructive attitude

Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, the conference president, welcomed what he described as the "very constructive attitude in the negotiations" amongst delegations during the first week of COP6. Many of the protocol's most scabrous issues, however, including its LULUCF (land use, land use change, and forestry) scheme-through which countries would receive credit against their emissions targets for advancing programs of reforestation to fortify carbon "sinks"-are still unresolved.

No matter what one's views on the link between global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, ratification of the protocol that would curb discharges of CO2, for one, is plainly a long way off.

Supply/demand stalemate

Meanwhile, at the IEF, discussions between oil producing and consuming countries of some key questions behind the global industrial complex's burning of fossil fuels-namely, oil supply and price-ended in a stalemate. UK Energy Minister Helen Liddell echoed others when she once again called on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to lower the "high [oil] prices [that] were harming world economies." OPEC echoed itself by answering it would add or cut its output depending on market behavior.

The only point of agreement was that steps must be taken to counter the wild swings in crude prices witnessed over the last 2 years. Stability continues to be the watchword, but even stability is differently defined: $20-25/bbl, according to US Energy Sec. Bill Richardson; $22-28/bbl, in OPEC's estimation.

In a presentation in Riyadh, the International Energy Agency brought home another incontestable reality connected to world's relationship with oil: demand will continue to rise-from 75 million b/d in 1997 to 115 million b/d in 2020. The hitch, of course, says the Paris-based energy watchdog, is capacity. "Significant" investment from OPEC will be needed to ensure oil production can meet future demand, it says.

Not a problem, in the opinion of Saudi Arabia's Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali al-Naimi, who told the conference his country could, in 90 days, place an extra 1.8 million b/d of oil on the market should a supply shortage "emergency" warrant it.

Back in The Hague, al-Naimi's assurances to consuming countries were likely being met either with a sigh of relief from politicians, whose short-term interest is to find a means of lowering oil prices by boosting supply and rebuilding oil stocks, or with exasperation from environmentalists, for whom higher demand equates to higher levels of emissions of greenhouse gases.

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