Those at the conference who remained focused must have seen the conundrum before them. They were being asked by a high-profile coalition to help pull the world’s poorest people out of poverty while reversing the environmental effects of decades of rapid economic development.

Therein lies the problem. What is good for the planet is not necessarily good for the world’s poor, two billion of whom lack access to energy. A statement from UK prime minister Tony Blair’s office issued after the G8 summit states: “Reliable and affordable energy supplies are essential for strong economic growth, both in the G8 countries and in the rest of the world. Access to energy is also critical for poverty alleviation.”

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Global demand for energy is forecast to grow 60% over the next 25 years – and this may be a conservative estimate. Although a minority of rich countries consume the majority of the world’s energy, policies designed to help economic development of the world’s poorer countries will hardly dampen global demand for energy and its resultant greenhouse gases.

The starting point for the international effort against global warming is the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by almost all countries. Its goal is to stabilise the CO2 content of the atmosphere by sharply reducing CO2 emissions worldwide.

The day before the G8 meeting, Claude Mandil, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), issued a statement on the UNFCCC asking: “Are we on track?” His answer: “Unfortunately not – far from it.”

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2004 says continuing to do business as usual will lead to a 60% increase of CO2 emissions by 2030, the result of more world inhabitants, more energy consumption per capita and more fossil fuels in the energy mix. “Most growth in emissions over the next 25 years will occur in developing countries, yet 1.4 billion people will still not have access to electricity in 2030,” says the IEA’s analysis.

One compromise position – which came from Mr Blair’s office – is to concentrate on efficiency by promoting better technology that has lower harmful emissions. The UK government is calling on rich countries and multinational institutions such as the World Bank “to work with developing countries to enhance private investment and transfer of [cleaner] technologies”.

How much investment will be involved in meeting forecast energy demand over the next 25 years is open to debate, but the current estimate is about $16,000bn. How this money is invested will have long-term consequences.