This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

August 28, 2002

Renewables Cause Controversy at World Summit

As 60,000 delegates kick off the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa this week, wrangling over the best ways to implement solutions to the world's most dire problems is in full swing. At issue is whether the summit's implementation plan-addressing energy, biodiversity, food security, clean water and health care-will carry specific targets and timetables.

Monday, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other oil states lobbied for voluntary goals in place of a proposed specific target that calls for nations to increase worldwide production of renewable energy to 15 percent of total energy production by 2010. Currently in the U.S., strictly speaking, renewables provide one percent of the nation's power. However the language in the summit implementation plan allows hydropower and wood burning to be counted as renewable energy. Using this definition of renewable energy, 14 percent of world power is supplied by renewables. To meet the target proposed for the implementation plan, production of renewables world-wide would need to increase by one percent. While developed nations debate the targets, participants seem to agree that in the short term the two billion people in developing nations who lack access to electricity or liquid fuels stand to gain most from the widespread deployment of renewables.

For daily coverage of the Summit, see the United Nations World Summit Web site.

Renewable energy was not even on the agenda at the Rio summit ten years ago, but a Worldwatch Institute policy briefing prepared for the Johannesburg summit points out how energy markets have transformed. Renewable energy markets have seen growth rates averaging more than 30 percent annually in the last five years. Worldwatch Institute says renewable energy represents roughly the same share of overall energy supply-and the same prospect for future growth-as petroleum did a century ago. In 1902 petroleum accounted for about two percent of the total, but was growing fast. See Worldwatch's policy brief: "From Rio to Johannesburg, Renewable Energy for the 21st Century".