G-8 energy chiefs meet in Japan

June 9, 2008 11:24:45 AM PDT
Japan's energy chief launched a meeting of ministers from the world's top industrialized nations Sunday by warning that soaring oil prices could trigger a global recession if they're not checked.The Group of Eight rich nations met in northern Japan with representatives from China, India and South Korea to discuss oil and gas markets, energy investment, energy security and climate change amid deepening concerns about the world economy.

Oil prices made their biggest single-day surge on Friday, soaring $11 to $138.54 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, an 8 percent increase. On the same day, the United States announced a rise in unemployment.

"The situation regarding energy prices is becoming extremely challenging," Akira Amari, Japan's trade and energy minister, warned his colleagues Sunday. "If left unaddressed, it may well cause a recession in the global economy."

Five top energy consumers -- the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and India -- urged oil producers on Saturday to boost output to meet growing demand, while pledging to develop clean energy alternatives and increase efficiency.

World oil production has stalled at about 85 million barrels a day since 2005, while global economic growth -- boosted by spectacular surges in China and India -- has pushed demand to unprecedented levels.

Amari called for a strong message ahead of the G-8 leaders summit in Toyako, Japan, in July. The 11 nations gathered in Aomori account for 65 percent of the world's energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases.

"What actions we take to address the challenges that we face will have an extremely important effect in solving the global energy issue," he said.

It was unclear, however, what impact consumers will have without action by producers. The current president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Chakib Khelil, has said that the cartel will make no new decision on production levels until its Sept. 9 meeting in Vienna.

The five nations meeting in Japan on Saturday agreed that the sharp surge in oil prices was a menace to the world economy and more petroleum should be produced to meet rising demand. They argued that the unprecedented prices were against the interests of both producers and consumers, and imposed a "heavy burden" on developing countries.

The ministers also vowed to diversify their sources of energy, invest in alternative and renewable fuels, ramp up cooperation in strategic oil stocks in case of a supply shortage, and improve the quality of data on production and inventories available to markets.

The group, however, diverged over oil subsidies. The International Energy Agency has estimated that oil subsidies in China, India and the Middle East totaled about $55 billion in 2007.

The United States, which has its own energy subsidies, urged countries such as China to lower its oil supports, which enable domestic consumers to enjoy cheaper gasoline. Subsidies shield consumers from higher prices, meaning consumption does not decline despite rising expenses.

But China and India, while signing on to a statement recognizing the need to eventually phase out such subsidies, argued that removing such supports quickly could trigger political and economic instability.

India is already facing such effects. The government on Wednesday hiked gasoline and diesel prices, triggering protests by angry consumers who blocked rail tracks and roads and shut down businesses.

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