We’re making a list, we’re checking it twice…
No, this list isn’t about whose wish will be fulfilled on December 25th. Instead, it’s a snapshot of energy policies from some of the most prominent and successful countries in the world.
Nations making it into the “nice” category are those who have seen the dangerous cost of their fossil fuel addictions and who are taking significant steps to power their economies with renewable energy instead. Nations making it into the “naughty” category are those who have refused to take action to support a shift to renewables or who have allowed political gridlock to slow progress that has been demanded by the people.
Using a 2012 report and ranking created by the Natural Resources Defense Council, we’re spotlighting five countries whose dirty energy policies are making the world a darker, more dangerous place for us all. In order to be fair to developing nations who have far fewer resources to dedicate to renewable energy production (and who also produce less pollution) this list is restricted to countries who are part of the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (also known as the G20). As of 2010, these countries accounted for approximately 80 percent of the total electricity produced in the world. “As a group they are critical in shaping renewable energy trends,” states the NRDC, “as it is these countries where most of the current and future energy demands are occurring.”
Got your lumps of coal ready? Okay, here are the five stockings that deserve them:
1. South Africa
Currently, South Africa gets 0.0 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Despite a government 1998 white paper [PDF] calling for the electricity system to be restructured, South Africa has taken almost no action to move its power generation away from fossil fuels. Eskom, the state-owned generator, currently provides about 95 percent of the country’s electricity, some 91% of which comes from coal-fired power stations, according to Forbes. The utility accounts for more than 50 percent of South Africa’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which are set to increase in the medium term. Although in 2009 the government announced that it was formulating a new plan for South Africa’s power generation, that plan was still dominated by coal and nuclear.
2. Saudi Arabia
Earning the 19th spot out of 20 nations in the NRDC report, Saudi Arabia produced almost zero energy from renewable sources in 2011. Of course, this is hardly surprising when one considers that Saudi Arabia is drowning in money made by selling its oil to the rest of the world. Still, we can’t be too hard on Saudi Arabia considering the government recently announced a plan to be powered entirely by renewable fuels within the next few decades. It’s obviously a ploy to make as much money as possible off oil exports, but at least it’s a cleaner ploy.
This South American nation generates a mere 60 million kWh of electricity from clean sources. Argentina’s power mix primarily comprises natural gas (over 50%) and hydropower (around 40%). Argentina’s dependence on gas is of concern given the country’s own natural gas reserves have reduced considerably over the last five years. The country has vast potential to produce energy from wind and solar, but only recently has the government moved to incentivize these industries.
Since 2007, Russia has been exploring the possibility of expanding its oil and gas drilling operations inside the limits of the Continental Shelf, which puts the Arctic Ocean at risk.In July 2008, Russia’s president signed a law allowing the government to allocate strategic oil and gas deposits on the continental shelf without an auction procedure. In February 2011, Russia signed a deal with China, stating that in return for $25 billion in Chinese loans to Russian oil companies, Russia will supply China with large quantities of crude oil via new pipelines for the next 20 years.
Brazil is the 10th largest energy consumer in the world and the largest in South America. It’s also a major oil and gas producer in the region and the world’s second largest ethanol fuel producer. In 2004, Brazil produced 5.4 million tons of coal, while coal consumption reached 21.9 million tonnes. Almost all of Brazil’s coal output is steam coal, of which about 85 percent is consumed by electrical power stations. Despite a glut of sunshine, the total installed photovoltaic power capacity in Brazil is estimated to be between 12 and 15 MWp, which is less than 0.01 percent of the energy in Brazil.
Dishonorable Mention: United States of America
When compared solely on kWh of energy produced from renewable sources, it’s not hard to see why the United States fared pretty well on the NRDC’s list. In 2011, the U.S. produced over 111 billion kWhs of energy from wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power operations. But when you examine that number in light of total energy consumed, and how much of that total still comes from coal, gas, and nuclear energy, it’s far from enough. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), fossil fuels are used to meet around 82 percent of U.S. energy demand.
Despite facing the so-called “fiscal cliff“, few in the U.S. government have even broached the topic of rolling back subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan government watchdog, estimates that oil companies will receive $78 billion in industry-specific and broader business subsidies from 2012 to 2017. These unnecessary subsidies take money directly away from hard-working Americans just to pad the fossil fuel industry’s coffers. The big-five corporations piled up profits of more than $1 trillion between 2001 and 2011. ExxonMobil alone raked in $16 billion in profits in April, May, and June of this year, the highest-ever quarterly profit for a U.S. corporation.
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