06 octobre 2011

Energy and development

Gilles Carbonnier Panel Discussion

In a world increasingly thirsty for energy but facing depleting resources and rising carbon emissions, the current development pattern based on massive use of cheap fossil fuels seems no longer sustainable. The optimists argue that market prices will force people to find new technological solutions and drive change towards sustainable development. The pessimists, on the other hand, point out that prices cannot do anything to stop climate change and the exhaustion of natural resources. Both are concerned with finding a solution to the conundrum that humanity will be confronted with in the decades to come: how to make development more equitable and avoid the destruction of the planet?

Addressing this and other questions, eight scholars and practitioners dissected the nexus between energy and development at a conference held yesterday at the Graduate Institute on the occasion of the launch of the International Development Policy 2011 issue on ‘Energy and Development’. The series is a publication on cooperation and development policies directed by Institute’s Professor of Development Economics Gilles Carbonnier and published in English by Palgrave Macmillan and in French by the Institute.

Built around two panels and concluded by a round table moderated by the editor-in-chief of Le Temps, Pierre Veya, the talk touched upon a wide range of issues, from energy security to alternative conceptions of well being via global governance of resource supply and climate change.

The first panel, Gilles Carbonnier and Assistant Professor of International Relations Emily Meierding unveiled the high inequality of the current system of energy supply as well as its main governance weaknesses. In the following session, Katharina Michaelowa, Professor of Political Economy and Development at the University of Zurich, and Guy Bonvin, Head of Infrastructure Financing at the Department for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Swiss State Secretariat of Economic Affairs, addressed the role of development cooperation in the energy sector.

Pamela Martin, Associate Professor of Politics at Coastal Carolina University, then illustrated the innovative Yasunì-ITT Ecuador Proposal asking the international community to finance the ‘non-exploitation’ of about 1 billion barrels of oil in the Amazon to preserve one of the most bio-diverse places on earth. The Yasunì Proposal was met with favour by speakers and public alike, but also stirred criticism about its feasibility.

The evening round table centered on the search for viable alternatives to the current development model. Pierre Veya kicked off the discussion by asking whether there is something wrong with the current economic development system. Former Institute Professor of Global Ecology Jacques Grinevald argued that the ‘Thermo-Industrial Revolution’ caused a fundamental rupture between man and nature and that the two no longer live in harmony. Economics and politics are ill equipped to analyse this relationship – Professor Grinevald continued – because they do not include the quality of the environment and the preservation of natural resources in their indicators of wellbeing. According to Jacque Grinevald, the Yasunì-ITT is therefore a welcome innovation, since it brings a completely new look at concepts like development and modernity.

According to Franco Romerio, Lecturer at the Institute of Environmental Sciences of the University of Geneva, the proposal is good news for the preservation of bio-diversity, but he questioned its effectiveness in fighting climate change. Introducing a tax on emissions, and/or setting up an efficient emissions credits market, would be better solutions, he said. Similar realist concerns were shared by Christine Batruch, Vice President Corporate Responsibility of Lundin Petroleum, who pointed out that fossil fuels are still too cheap to trigger a massive transition to renewables.

The Yasunì-ITT Proposal is not perfect – argued Professor Martin – and probably it does more to preserve bio-diversity than reducing carbon emissions –  but the model can be replicated and thus have a stronger impact. Furthermore, it involves civil society, since everybody can donate by a click of its mouse via the internet, she said.

As all the speakers stressed, the struggle for a viable future requires not only changes in international governance to avoid the energy conflicts looming large, but also in the life-styles of ordinary citizens to reduce consumption and mitigate global warming.

The International Development Policy series is a key reference source on international cooperation and development policies. The Series includes articles by authors from both industrialised countries and the South in order to offer readers a rich diversity of perspectives. It also draws on the expertise of international players based in Geneva and illuminates the policy debates and negotiations that take place in the city.

Gilles Carbonnier has been a Professor of development economics at the Graduate Institute since 2007. He is the Deputy-Director of the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuiding (CCDP) as well as editor-in-chief of the International Development Policy Series. His current research and publications focus on development aid, humanitarian crises and responses as well as on the governance of oil and mineral resources in developing countries