The key to global prosperity is an expanded energy sector protected from price volatility and supply disruptions, energy ministers from the world's leading industrialized nations agreed Friday.
The G-8 ministers set aside trade disputes and disagreements over the controversial Kyoto protocol to endorse a slate of measures to boost investment in the energy industry worldwide.
They also agreed to more frequent talks with major oil producers and to maintain emergency stockpiles in hopes of protecting economies from price shocks when imports are disrupted.
"The views were very consistent," Herb Dhaliwal, Canada's natural resources minister, told reporters. "It's not good for our economies."
Meeting in Detroit, the energy ministers agreed burgeoning demands for new energy supplies could only be met by encouraging open markets and fostering a favourable investment climate.
The meeting, the first such forum in four years, comes in advance of next month's larger G-8 Summit in Kananaskis. "This is one of the key meetings in the leadup to the G-8 summit," said Dhaliwal. "The discussions here are very relevant to the broader deliberations of our leaders."
Energy demand in G-8 countries is expected to rise by a third over the next 18 years. To meet the need, the ministers call for increased investment in oil and natural production, renewable energy and nuclear power.
The final communique of the ministers from Canada, the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and the European Union, says their countries should take steps to protect their energy supplies from terrorists, following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
"We agreed on the importance of providing adequate protection for our energy facilities as well as the importance of having multiple links between suppliers and consumers to reduce our vulnerability to disruption of energy supplies," said U.S. energy secretary Spencer Abraham, who co-chaired the meeting with Dhaliwal.
While encouraging the development of renewable energy such as solar and wind power and clean-energy technology, the ministers steered clear of the controversial Kyoto protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
While the European Community plans to ratify the pact, the U.S. pulled out of the agreement last year fearing it would hurt the economy.
However, the federal government hasn't yet decided if it will ratify the protocol in the face of opposition from many businesses and some provincial leaders, including Alberta's Ralph Klein.
Canada wants its exports of natural gas to the U.S. to be credited toward its emission-cut goals but Europeans are resisting the measure. However, Canada shied away from using the meeting to press its case and the pact wasn't discussed.
"Kyoto really wasn't on the agenda. It was mentioned as to some actions of the countries . . . but not in a way like 'You should be signing this'," Dhaliwal said.
"Canada is consulting with the provinces and industry. We want to make sure we do our due diligence.
"All of the countries realize that climate change is a global problem and needs a global solution."
Abraham and Dhaliwal also set aside the trade disputes between Canada and the U.S. on softwood lumber and pipelines as they co-chaired the session.
Dhaliwal Thursday blasted moves in the U.S. Senate to subsidize the construction of the planned Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline that would compete with a proposed line along the Mackenzie River valley that would bring Canadian gas to southern markets. The minister said Canada could offer assistance to the Canadian line if the subsidies were approved.
However, Abraham downplayed the significance of the Senate bill, which must be still be reconciled with a similar measure from the House of Representatives and approved by U.S. President George Bush. Abraham said despite the Senate bill, the U.S. government has no plans to play favourites when it comes to pipelines.
"The administration's position remains a route-neutral one," the secretary said. "We believe the market should make the decision."
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