APEC energy summit pursues oil security

June 1, 2007

Environmental activists, excluded from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation's May 27-30 energy summit, erected a large inflatable cooling tower outside the fenced-off security zone surrounding Darwin's Parliament House. Energy ministers from the US, Australia and the Pacific rim failed to come up with any solutions to the global warming crisis, reaffirming instead the dominant role of fossil fuels in future energy supplies.

Ian Macfarlane, the Coalition government's resources minister who convened the APEC meeting, described his vision for a future energy mix as one dominated by coal and punctuated by uranium. Outside, activists urged the decision makers to move to clean, renewable energy technologies and reject the nuclear non-option. Despite a one-kilometre exclusion zone around the conference dinner site, policed by police on jetskis and speed boats, a lone protester repeatedly sailed his small skiff into the zone.

The APEC summit was mainly concerned with securing oil supplies for the 21 member countries, which together make up 41% of the world's population and 60% of global energy demand. By 2030, it is expected that APEC countries will rely on imported oil for 52% of their overall supplies, up from 26% in 2002, making them vulnerable to supply disruptions and high oil prices.

A May 29 Bloomberg News article noted that an APEC working group will be set up to "assess how to cooperate with state-owned companies". This comes in the midst of BP's recent loss of its licence to mine a massive Siberian gas deposit to the Russian government, and the Venezuelan government's plans to take control of 18 oil rigs, formerly operated by multinationals, following the re-nationalisation of the country's main oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) in 2002.

The APEC countries are not so much concerned about state ownership as they are about the presence of an independent national development oriented policy, such as that of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. For example, the US had no problem with the Venezuelan government's control of PDVSA when it maintained a pro-US foreign policy that allowed the US cheap Venezuelan oil.

In light of the increasingly uncertain global oil supply, Washington has turned to biofuels as an alternative, an approach endorsed by the APEC energy ministers. The Darwin Declaration, adopted on the summit's last day, noted that biofuels are cost competitive with oil and can lower greenhouse gas emissions. The declaration also called on member countries to make more effort to produce biofuels with non-food feedstocks, such as farm wastes and grasses.

However, as APEC cannot establish binding agreements, its recommendations are unlikely to have an effect on the US's corn-based biofuel production, which last year topped 18 billion litres. While the declaration urged that biofuels be produced in a sustainable way, it cannot for instance force Malaysia to stop its devastating deforestation to make way for biofuel crops.

According to the declaration, APEC member countries are keen to diversify their energy sources. McFarlane said that APEC countries would have to invest more than $6 trillion by 2030 to meet energy demand.

While this scale of investment could open the way for the shift to renewable energies, climate activists are not optimistic given that the US and Australia favour pouring funds into unproven, expensive "clean" coal and nuclear power. While the nuclear option had been a debate at the 2002 Mexico energy summit, this time there was none. Vietnam and Indonesia have already announced their intention to build nuclear plants, and with bipartisan support in Australia for the opening up of more uranium mines, uranium mining corporations stand to profit from this dirty and hazardous export.

There was no suggestion for APEC countries to adopt emission reduction targets and, despite the urging of New Zealand, they refused to agree to a regional emissions trading scheme.

Greenpeace International's director of renewable energy Sven Teske criticised the meeting for not deciding on emission targets. The organisation also released a new report Energy [r]evolution, which shows global CO2 emissions can be cut by 50% by 2050, while allowing for an increase in energy consumption, through energy efficiency and renewable energy — and without nuclear power.

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