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‘Useless, useless, useless’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair

Former Prime Minister’s role as representative of Middle East Quartet comes in for fiercest criticism yet 

Palestinian officials say Tony Blair shouldn’t take it personally, but he should pack up his desk at the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem and go home. They say his job, and the body he represents, are “useless, useless, useless”.

Mr Blair became the representative of the Middle East Quartet – the UN, EU, US and Russia – a few weeks after leaving Downing Street. Last week, he visited the region for what he said was the 90th time since being appointed in June 2007. He spends one week a month based in Jerusalem or globetrotting on behalf of the Quartet. His office is funded by the Quartet members and his 24-hour security detail is on secondment from Scotland Yard but he receives no direct salary.

After four years of renting 15 rooms at the American Colony Hotel for his full-time staff, Mr Blair put down more permanent roots in 2011 by renting the penthouse of a new office building in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

But senior Palestinian officials and analysts told The Independent the move was unnecessary – his sojourn in the region should be cut short. “The Quartet has been useless, useless, useless,” Mohammed Shtayyeh, an aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said last week. He suggested that its constant need to reach internal consensus among its warring participants had rendered it ineffective.

“Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere,” said Mr Shtayyeh, who had just ended a meeting with Mr Blair. “You need a mediator who is ready to engage and who is ready to say to the party who is destroying the peace process ‘You are responsible for it’,” he said.

Mr Shtayyeh is not alone. Last February, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution pronounced the body already dead in a report bluntly entitled The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem.

“The Quartet has little to show for its decade-long involvement in the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to resolving the conflict, and in the few instances in which political negotiations did take place, the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander,” said the report. “Having spent most of the last three years in a state of near paralysis, and having failed to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN membership and recognition in September 2011, the Quartet has finally reached the limits of its utility.

“The current mechanism is too outdated, dysfunctional, and discredited to be reformed. Instead of undertaking another vain attempt to ‘reactivate’ the Quartet, the United States, the European Union, United Nations, and Russia should simply allow the existing mechanism to go quietly into the night,” the report concluded.

Mr Blair rarely travels to Gaza, citing security reasons. The Quartet website features a number of achievements in the West Bank, including the removal of Israeli army checkpoints and upgraded facilities for exports. Palestinian and Israeli officials told The Independent that the Quartet appeared to be taking credit for other people’s work.

“I think in general Palestinians are disappointed by the performance of the Quartet,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice-president of Birzeit University near Ramallah and a former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister. “I cannot think of any serious thing that the Quartet succeeded to help us in.

“Sometimes Tony Blair speaks about removing checkpoints, but I think Israel was going to remove these checkpoints with or without the Quartet,” said Dr Khatib. He said the Quartet’s announcements about assisting the Palestinian economy were as hollow as their political achievements, but he stressed that his attitude wasn’t personal. “It has nothing to do with Tony Blair … I think it’s the Quartet that failed to deliver.”

Mr Blair’s Jerusalem office did not respond to a request for a comment.

Timeline: Blair’s peace-making

June 2007

Tony Blair appointed Middle East envoy on behalf of the EU, US, UN and Russia.

May 2008

Launches peace plan for Israel-Palestinian conflict based on improving economic co-operation.

March 2009

On a visit to Gaza, Mr Blair calls on Israel to ease its blockade.

September 2011

Mr Blair warns that a bid for statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be “deeply confrontational”.

October 2011

Nabil Shaath, one of the senior aides to President Abbas, has harsh words for the Palestinian leader, accusing him of talking “like an Israeli diplomat”.

Source: Independent Newspaper

UN tells Israel to let in nuclear inspectors

As nuclear peace talks are cancelled, overwhelming vote by general assembly calls for Israel to join nonproliferation treaty

The UN general assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on Israel to open its nuclear programme for inspection.

The resolution, approved by a vote of 174 to six with six abstentions, calls on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without further delay” and open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Those voting against were Israel, the US, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.

Resolutions adopted by the 193-member general assembly are not legally binding but they do reflect world opinion and carry moral and political weight. And the resolution adds to pressure on Israel as it facescriticism over plans to increase settlement in the West Bank, a move seen as retaliation for the assembly recognising Palestinian statehood.

Israel refuses to confirm or deny possessing nuclear bombs though it is widely believed to have them. It has refused to join the non-proliferation treaty along with three nuclear weapon states: India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Israel insists there must first be a Middle East peace agreement before the establishment of a proposed regional zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Its rivals in the region argue that Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal presents the greatest threat to peace in the region.

While the US voted against the resolution, it voted in favour of two paragraphs in it that were put to separate votes. Both support universal adherence to the NPT and call on those countries that aren’t parties to ratify it “at the earliest date”. The only no votes on those paragraphs were Israel and India.

The vote came as a sequel to the cancellation of a high-level conference aimed at banning nuclear weapons from the Middle East. All the Arab nations and Iran had planned to attend the summit in mid-December in Helsinki, Finland, but the US announced on 23 November that it would not take place, citing political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant stance on non-proliferation. Iran and some Arab nations countered that the real reason for the cancellation was Israel’s refusal to attend.

Just before Monday’s vote, the Iranian diplomat Khodadad Seifi told the assembly “the truth is that the Israeli regime is the only party which rejected to conditions for a conference”. He called for “strong pressure on that regime to participate in the conference without any preconditions”.

Israeli diplomat Isi Yanouka told the general assembly his country had continuously pointed to the danger of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, singling out Iran and Syria by name. “All these cases challenge Israel’s security and cast a dark shadow at the prospect of embarking on a meaningful regional security process,” he said.

“The fact that the sponsors include in this anti-Israeli resolution language referring to the 2012 conference proves above all the ill intent of the Arab states with regard to this conference.”

The Syrian diplomat Abdullah Hallak told the assembly his government was angry the conference was not going to take place because of “the whim of just one party, a party with nuclear warheads”.

“We call on the international community to put pressure on Israel to accept the NPT, get rid of its arsenal and delivery systems, in order to allow for peace and stability in our region,” he said.

The conference’s main sponsors are the US, Russia and Britain. The British foreign office minister Alistair Burt has said it is being postponed, not cancelled.

Source: Guardian News

Amazon, Google and Starbucks attacked by MPs over tax avoidance

Report also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for leniency in dealing with corporations that pay little or no corporation tax

Amazon, Google and Starbucks have been accused of an “immoral” use of secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to avoid paying tax on British profits by a committee of MPs.

A hard-hitting report released on Monday by the Commons public accounts committee, the parliamentary spending watchdog, also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for being “way too lenient” in negotiations with corporations which pay little or no corporation tax. It calls on the government to draw up laws to close loopholes and name and shame companies that fail to pay their fair share.

The report’s scheduled release, following a humiliating parliamentary session for the three multinationals’ executives, prompted a flurry of media activity over the weekend. On Saturday night, Starbucks announced that it is reviewing its tax approach to Britain with a view to paying more following widespread criticism of the coffee chain’s tax regime.

George Osborne will on Monday announce an extra £77m a year for two years for more staff at Revenue & Customs to pursue companies which avoid paying tax. The chancellor said the extra investment would help secure an extra £2bn a year in unpaid tax.

He is also expected to confirm a deal with Switzerland which the chancellor hopes will raise more than £5bn in previously uncollected taxes from Swiss bank accounts over the next six years.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, said of the Starbucks statement: “I am delighted they are taking this issue seriously and they are listening to the feedback from their UK taxpaying customers.” He too had been boycotting Starbucks. “I might be able to buy a coffee from Starbucks again soon.”

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the PAC, said its report showed that corporations had been allowed to get away with “ripping off” taxpayers because of a weak tax authority, poor legislation and a lack of international co-operation.

“Global corporations with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here. This is an insult to British business and individuals who pay their fair share.

“Corporation tax revenues have fallen at a time when securing proper income from taxes is more vital than ever.

“The inescapable conclusion is that multinationals are using structures and exploiting current tax legislation to move offshore profits that are clearly generated from economic activity in the UK,” she said.

Executives from the multinationals who appeared before the committee last month were singled out for criticism.

Responses to questions by Andrew Cecil, Amazon’s director of public policy, were “evasive”, “unprepared” and lacking credibility.

The company’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011, but its tax bill was just £1.8m.

Amazon avoids UK taxes by reporting European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit, MPs alleged. This structure allowed it to pay a rate of less than 12% on foreign profits last year – less than half the average corporate income tax rate in its major markets.

Troy Alstead, Starbucks’ global chief financial officer, claimed that the firm has lost money in the 15 years it has been operating in the UK except in 2006.

The world’s biggest coffee chain paid £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years during which it recorded sales of £3.1bn.

Alstead’s claim was “difficult to believe” when contrasted with boasts of success sent to shareholders, according to the report.

Starbucks has been able to cut its tax bill, MPs said, by paying fees to other parts of its global business, such as royalty payments for use of the brand.

Google had £2.5bn of UK sales last year, but despite having a group-wide profit margin of 33%, its main UK unit had a tax charge of £3.4m in 2011.

The company avoids UK tax by channelling non-US sales via Ireland, an arrangement that has allowed it to pay taxes at a rate of 3.2% on non-US profits. It also diverts some profits through Bermuda.

Revenue & Customs has been asked by the committee to be bolder in challenging tax avoidance by multinationals and to be ready to prosecute if necessary.

“Top officials need to challenge the status quo and be more assertive, for example in accepting that excessive levels of royalty payments are appropriate when businesses are making a loss,” the report states. Benchmarks for common charges such as royalty payments and intellectual property rights could be published by the Treasury or tax officials. A company’s tax practices should also be made part of its mandatory reporting requirements, which would increase transparency, the MPs say.

The government and the tax authorities should also take a greater lead internationally in closing loopholes and increasing transparency in tax havens, particularly across Europe, the report concludes.

Osborne told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show that he will work closely with France and Germany to close tax loopholes. “It will be a big priority for the G7, G8, which we host next year,” he said.

A spokesman for HMRC said it had reduced tax avoidance by large businesses in recent years. “We relentlessly challenge those that persist in avoiding tax and have recovered £29bn additional revenues from large businesses in the last six years, including £4.1bn in the last four years from transfer pricing inquiries alone. These figures speak for themselves.”

Source: Guardian News

Why Palestine Won Big at the UN

An instructive week after Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip tested Israel on the battlefield, the pacifist politicians who govern the West Bank  notched a significant diplomatic win without much of a fight at all.  Just before 5 p.m. New York time, the  United Nations General Assembly voted 138 to 9 (with 41 abstentions) to bring Palestine aboard as a “non-member state.”  Another 41 nations abstained. Assured of passage by a whopping majority, Israel and the United States noted their objections mildly and mostly for the record, their effort to limit the fallout for the Jewish state itself limited in the wake of Gaza.

The status of “non-member state” — emphasis on the “state” —  puts Palestine the same level of diplomatic recognition as the Vatican, which is technically a sovereign entity. The Holy See has its own ambassadors but, for a few, may be better known for its busy post office off St. Peter’s Square, where tourists queue for what quiet thrills are afforded by a Vatican stamp cancelled with the Pope’s postmark.

Palestine already has post offices. The particular marker of sovereignty it sought from the U.N. is even more bureaucratic: Access to international organizations, especially the International Criminal Court at The Hague.  Experts on international law say that, armed with the mass diplomatic recognition of the 150 or so nations it counts as supporters, Palestine will be in a position to bring cases against Israel, which has occupied the land defined as Palestine – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – since 1967.

The ICC, as it’s known, is on record as inclined to regard Israel’s more than 100 residential settlements on the West Bank as a crime of war.  (The Jewish state pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005, and argues that it no longer qualifies as its “occupier” under international law. Critics argue otherwise.)  The physical presence of the settlements in other words would give Palestine a ready-made case to drag Israel before the court — or to threaten dragging it before the court.  In the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the real power lay in the threat.  But in his last UN address, in September, Abbas began to lay the foundation for charges based not on the settlements but on the violent behavior of some individual settlers, who attack Palestinian neighbors and vandalize property and mosques.  Settler attacks have skyrocketed in the last two years, according to UN monitors, and now account for the majority of the political violence on the West Bank, despite the lingering popular impression of Palestinian terrorism dating back decades.  On the West Bank, at least, the reality has changed.

“If you were in my place, what would you do?” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked TIME in a recent interview. “We will not use force against the settlers. I can use the court, but it’s better for the Israelis not to push us to go to the court.  They should put an end to these acts committed by the settlers.”  His address to the General Assembly in advance of the vote Thursday made the stakes plain enough: Abbas blasted Israel for “the perpetration of war crimes” and “its contention that it is above international law.”

Abbas’ effort actually got an unlikely boost from Israel’s eight-day offensive in Gaza.  Operation Pillar of Defense focused on attacking Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has governed Gaza since 2007.  Hamas, and more radical groups also operating in Gaza, lost scores of fighters and rocket launchers to Israeli airstrikes. But by standing up to overwhelming Israeli military power for more than a week – and sending missiles toward major cities previously left untouched – the militants stirred a defiant pride and solidarity across the Palestinian community.

“The armed resistance of Hamas in Gaza gave the people hope and the impressions that this is the only way to fight against the ongoing occupation,” Majed Ladadwah, 46,  told TIME 0n a Ramallah street, in the West Bank.. “I can’t say they won,” said Ladadwah, who works at a bank  “but they surely gained a lot of points for Hamas in the streets of Palestine.”

That logic was pointed out to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited Jerusalem to coax him toward a cease-fire.  In the days that followed, Netanyahu’s government stopped threatening to punish Abbas for going to the UN, a move Israel has called a threat to the peace process, which has been stalled for at least four years.

At the same time,  European nations rallied around Abbas, intent on shoring up a leader who is secular, moderate – and already at political risk for cooperating with Israel to suppress armed resistance even before Gaza seized the world’s attention.  Many of the “marquee” countries of Western Europe that Netanyahu had hoped to vote against Palestine statehood, such as France, instead lined up behind Abbas.  Others, including Britain, abstained, after seeking assurances that Palestine will not to go the ICC, or that negotiations with Israel will resume. Abbas has already promised the latter.  Thursday morning brought news that Israel had lost Germany, a stalwart ally in the wake of the Holocaust, to the abstention column.  “If there is a poor turnout, a poor vote, the radicals gain,” India’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters.

For their part, Palestinians overwhelmingly back the measure, despite an assortment of disappointments with Abbas –  for wasting a year trying to get full UN membership in 2011, and for not visiting Gaza during the fighting, as foreign diplomats did.  “We are for the UN bid because we anticipate this will help us legally to pursue our struggles and gain our rights,” says Ladadwah, the bank employee who spoke admiringly of Hamas’ stand in Gaza. Hamas itself said it backs the diplomatic effort, as do other factions.

“This is called resistance, whether armed resistance or peaceful resistance,”   said Mahmoud Khames, 34, an unemployed West Bank resident, in advance of the vote. “It’s not a soccer match that someone has to win.  Resistance is a matter of freeing one’s self and his people from the Israeli occupation.”
Source: Time World

Egypt panel votes on divisive charter

An Egyptian panel was rushing through on Thursday approval of a new constitution at the centre of a political crisis pitting the Islamist president against the opposition, which has threatened more protests.

By early evening, the constituent assembly, which has been boycotted by liberals and Christians, had approved almost half of the 234 articles, including an unanimous decision to retain the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation.

“We want a constitution we agree on,” said assembly chief Hossam al-Gheriani, adding that the panel had been “awaiting” boycotting members even as it went to the vote.

The opposition, which has mobilised unprecedented rallies since Morsi assumed broad powers last week, accuses the president and allies in the constituent assembly of railroading the charter through for a quick referendum.

The constitution will replace the one suspended after president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in early 2011.

Once it has been approved by the panel, it will be sent to Morsi, who must call a referendum on it, with one advisor saying that might happen within two weeks.

The opposition mostly disagreed with the rushed manner in which the assembly was operating and opposes some of of the draft charter’s provisions on rights and freedoms.

Christians objected to an article, yet to be approved, that seeks to narrow the meaning of “the principles of Islamic law” to the tenets of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence.

Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch Egypt directors, said some of the draft articles on freedom of expression and religion resemble a “penal code.”

“Some of the provisions are penal code provisions. You don’t list all the things that you are not allowed to do, you’re supposed to set up the rights and limitations,” she said.

Particularly worrisome was the limitation of religious freedom to followers of Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), Morayef said, which would exclude minorities such as Bahais that have been persecuted in Egypt.

“They have added language that is problematic to freedom of expression. You cannot ‘insult a human,’ which is very broad. It can be used to censor criticism of the president,” she said.

A number of private newspapers announced that they would not appear on the street on Tuesday to protest what they consider to be a lack of press guarantees in the new charter.

Abdallah Sennawi, a member of the Committee to Defend Freedom of Expression and Thought, said private television channels would follow suit on Wednesday.

Morsi’s decree, described by the opposition as dictatorial, stripped courts of the right to annul the controversial constituent assembly ahead of an expected court ruling on Sunday.

It shields Morsi’s decisions from review by the judiciary, which he and his movement believe retains Mubarak-era appointees who are opposed to the Islamists.

The top Cassation Court has suspended work to protest the decree, which will expire once the constitution is ratified.

Morsi and his supporters argue that delaying the constitution, which would be followed by parliamentary elections to replace the Islamist-dominated house dissolved by a court earlier this year, would delay democratic transition.

The assembly, dominated by Islamists, had announced on Wednesday it would vote on the charter the following day, to the shock of opposition groups holding out that Morsi would try to reconcile after a massive Tuesday rally.

Morsi allowed the assembly a further two months after its mid-December deadline to finish the charter, making the quick vote even more of a surprise to the opposition.

Opposition groups said they would march on Friday to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where dozens of protesters say they will remain camped out until Morsi reverses his decree.

One protester, Tamer Harby, aged 30, said the “Muslim Brotherhood are making their constitution, not Egypt’s.”

Minor skirmishes persisted on Thursday between some protesters and police near the square. At least three protesters have been killed in country-wide unrest since the decree.

For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood said it plans a pro-Morsi demo on Saturday, but that it will not be held in Tahrir Square to avoid any confrontation.

In a pre-recorded interview broadcast on Thursday night, Morsi repeated that the new powers he had assumed were temporary.

“This is an exceptional stage; we are in a transitional phase,” Morsi told state television. “This constitutional declaration is temporary, and it will end once the people have approved the constitution.”

Source:  AFP

Nobel peace laureates call for Israel military boycott over Gaza assault

Letter with 52 signatories including artists and activists also denounces US and EU ‘complicity’ through weapons sales

A group of Nobel peace prize-winners, prominent artists and activists have issued a call for an international military boycott of Israel following its assault on the Gaza Strip this month.

The letter also denounces the US, EU and several developing countries for what it describes as their “complicity” through weapons sales and other military support in the attack that killed 160 Palestinians, many of them civilians, including about 35 children.

The 52 signatories include the Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel; the film directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach; the author Alice Walker; the US academic Noam Chomsky; Roger Waters of Pink Floyd; and Stéphane Hessel, a former French diplomat and Holocaust survivor who was co-author of the universal declaration of human rights.

“Horrified at the latest round of Israeli aggression against the 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged and occupied Gaza Strip and conscious of the impunity that has enabled this new chapter in Israel’s decades-old violations of international law and Palestinian rights, we believe there is an urgent need for international action towards a mandatory, comprehensive military embargo against Israel,” the letter says.

“Such a measure has been subject to several UN resolutions and is similar to the arms embargo imposed against apartheid South Africa in the past.”

The letter accuses several countries of providing important military support that facilitated the assault on Gaza. “While the United States has been the largest sponsor of Israel, supplying billions of dollars of advanced military hardware every year, the role of the European Union must not go unnoticed, in particular its hefty subsidies to Israel’s military complex through its research programmes.

“Similarly, the growing military ties between Israel and the emerging economies of Brazil, India and South Korea are unconscionable given their nominal support for Palestinian freedom,” it says.

The letter opens with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

The other signatories include John Dugard, a South African jurist and former UN special rapporteur in the occupied territories; Luisa Morgantini, former president of the European parliament; Cynthia McKinney, a former member of the US Congress; Ronnie Kasrils, a South African former cabinet minister; and the dramatist Caryl Churchill.

Source: Guardian News

US can become world’s biggest oil producer in a decade, says IEA

The US could become self-sufficient, while 90% of Middle Eastern oil could go to China, according to new estimates

The US can shed its longstanding dependence on Saudi Arabian oil within the next decade, redrawing the world’s political systems and potentially leading to runaway global warming.

In a report released on Monday, the world’s foremost energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency (IEA), said the US would benefit from so-called unconventional sources of oil and gas, including shale gas and shale oil, derived from fracking – blasting dense rocks apart to release the fossil fuels trapped within.

These sources could fuel the US’s energy independence, and make the country the world’s biggest oil producer by 2017. But, if pursued with vigour, they would also lead to huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions that would put hopes of curbing dangerous climate change beyond reach.

If this happens, more than 90% of oil and gas from the Middle East could be sold to Asia, and chiefly to rapidly developing countries such as China, within the same timeframe, the IEA predicted.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA and one of the world’s foremost authorities on energy and emissions, said the outlook for action on climate change was bleak unless the US changed direction rapidly. “Climate change has been slipping down the agenda,” he said. “It is not having a significant impact on energy investors.”

Companies were excited by the prospect of shale gas, which has been subject to widespread development in the US in the past decade, and shale oil, which relies on newer technology but is set for its own boom, according to the IEA’s analysis.

Birol said the outlook for cutting emissions was doubtful. “I don’t see much reason to be hopeful that we will see reductions in carbon dioxide,” he told the Guardian. “We have seen more carbon dioxide emitted this year.”

He pointed out that subsidies to fossil fuels had increased while government assistance for renewable energy around the world had been cut or thrown into doubt. But he said that if countries outside the US wanted to make their industries more competitive, they should invest in energy efficiency and renewables. He also called for progress at the United Nations climate change talks in Doha at the end of this month.

Europe could remain shackled to fossil fuel imports if it fails to develop its natural resources in the form of renewable energy, the IEA found in its World Energy Outlook, the definitive annual examination of the world’s energy sources.

Gas prices in the US are at present about a fifth of those in the EU, but that is unlikely to change in the short term because of the difficulty for the US in exporting gas. Instead, most of the US gas glut will be used domestically, which could drive down costs for industry and allow US manufacturers to undercut international competitors. Birol said the EU should exploit its potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, in order to stay competitive.

The IEA said the result of new technology allowing the exploitation of new sources of fossil fuels would be a redrawing of the international energy map. In the past five decades the US has relied increasingly on the Middle East for its oil. But if it were self-sufficient in energy, as it could be by 2035, that would mark a huge shift in world politics. The relationships between the US and the Middle East have for decades been defined by America’s thirst for oil for its automobile-driven economy.

George W Bush tried to redraw this relationship after September 11 2001 by encouraging the use of biofuels in the US, made from turning maize into car fuel. But this endeavour has run into serious problems, as this year’s drought pushed up grain prices and focused attention on the question of how far food crops could be turned into fuel without raising prices and compromising food production.

Birol said the exploitation of “unconventional” fossil fuels represented the biggest redrawing of the energy map for decades. “This makes a huge difference,” he said. But he said there was still hope of avoiding disastrous levels of climate change if companies pursued energy efficiency, which could yield immediate benefits in cutting energy bills.

Ed Matthew, director of the thinktank Transform UK, warned: “Energy independence will not increase national security in the US if it leads to runaway climate change. Ultimately the majority of fossil fuel reserves will need to be left in the ground. The US is a hotbed of technological innovation. It must use this creative muscle to develop a low-cost, clean energy revolution. It will only achieve this if the massive vested interests of the American oil industry are brought under democratic control.”

Rolf Wuestenhagen, director of the institute for economy and the environment at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, questioned whether the boom in shale gas in the US could continue in line with the predictions: “It seems surprising that IEA still expects half of the increase in global gas production by 2035 to come from unconventional gas. Is this wishful thinking?”

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said that the report showed that renewable energy was still being disadvantaged by subsidies poured into fossil fuels, in the UK, Europe and around the world. He said: “This puts into context the level of financial support given to fossil fuel-based electricity generators such as coal and gas compared to renewable energy. We hope these figures will silence the vocal minority of naysayers who repeatedly claim renewable technologies such as wind power are too expensive.”

The IEA also said that renewable energy had become an “indispensable part of the global energy mix” and could become the world’s second biggest source of power generation by 2015.

Source: Guardian News