Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rich-country Energy Policies Unsustainable

My former boss at RIETI, Nobuo Tanaka, recently became the first non-European head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Sept. 1. Tanaka was always good at statistics, often carrying around dozens of pages of charts and graphs to illustrate his points on the Japanese economy.

So I wasn't surprised when he used his statistical capacity to illustrate that energy policies in most rich countries are unsustainable. Check out the coverage on a recent interview with Tanaka in the International Herald Tribune's article, "New energy agency chief sees household energy use rising in industrial countries."

The most important point is perhaps the ethical question of whether the United States, Australia, Canada, and Europe have the credibility to wag their fingers at China and India about their energy consumption. Tanaka suggests that these countries don't have the moral credibility to do so:

"The leading industrial countries are not on a path to sustainable energy future," said Tanaka, a Japanese economist and diplomat who became the IEA's executive director Sept. 1. "There was a big effort to increase efficiency during the 1980s because of the oil price shocks," he said. "But these efforts subsided over the 1990s."

How can we ask China to be a responsible stakeholder when our responsibility is in question?

Another interesting point is that globalization--so often blamed for problems--was the factor that helped increase efficiency in the global manufacturing sector. Energy consumption and CO2 emissions have fallen in manufacturing:

"The reason is competition," Tanaka said. "With globalization, manufacturing companies have had to become more competitive if they want to survive. That means cutting back on energy costs."

What's needed? A major adjustment in the way we live.

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