Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Rio+20: Wanted Sustainable Energy for All

Community project 2005-2007 in Kenya
By Andris Piebalgs and Kandeh Yumkella*
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

BRUSSELS (IDN) - In Europe, when children need to study after dark, they switch on the lights. When we are sick, we go to a doctor’s office or hospital, where electricity powers the equipment. When we go to our offices and shops in the morning, we turn on the lights, computers, coffee makers and printers.

Yet 1.3 billion people worldwide, the equivalent of the combined populations of Europe and Africa, lack electricity to light their homes or conduct business. Twice that number, 40% of the world’s population, rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to cook food, resulting in toxic smoke that causes lung disease and death. This is not equitable or sustainable.

In order to boost economic growth, improve the lives of the world’s poorest people, and preserve the ecosystems which sustain all life, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has created the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. The Secretary-General has outlined three key objectives for his initiative. Ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, all by 2030. Ambitious certainly, but also achievable.

To help guide his Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the Secretary-General established a High-level Group which has developed a global Action Agenda. This Agenda serves as a roadmap for the initiative and its many stakeholders, enabling us to move from aspiration to action, to take successful projects to scale and to establish innovative partnerships which can drive progress on the ground. We are privileged to serve on this group, along with highly respected colleagues drawn from the private sector, civil society and governments around the world.

The initiative is already gaining momentum. At the recent EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit in Brussels, the President of the European Commission José-Manuel Barroso announced the launch of a new EU program, "Energizing Development" and a commitment to provide access to sustainable energy services for 500 million people in developing countries by 2030. This program will include the creation of an EU Technical Assistance Facility, initially in excess of €50 million over the next two years.

This ambitious new program demonstrates the priority placed on energy within the broader development agenda, and serves as a significant commitment to the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

Already the EU is playing a lead role on this issue with more than €2.2 billion dedicated to delivering energy access through its aid programmes in recent years. For example, the Africa-EU Energy partnership will provide energy for 13 million people and access to energy services is a vital part of the new EU Development policy.

More Than Government Support

The EU is not alone. From the Norway to Nepal, Ghana to Liberia, dozens of governments are engaged and making specific commitments to action in support of achieving Sustainable Energy for All.

However, government support alone will not be enough. The private sector and civil society have critical roles to play too. In the months since the Secretary-General launched his initiative, we have already seen significant new public-private partnerships being developed on transport, energy efficiency, solar cooking and finance. And civil society groups are expanding grass roots training and advocacy.

But it's not enough to simply expand access. The energy choices that we make are crucial too. If we are to limit damage to the environment for future generations, the energy we use must be sustainable, safe, affordable and as clean as possible. While increasing energy access, we must also keep in mind our commitments to addressing climate change if we are to have any hope of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C, as the science says we must.

Ultimately, Sustainable Energy for All is about opportunity, not charity. In these difficult financial times, new jobs will be created; new productive partnerships forged; new innovative technologies developed; and new markets created. In fact, what we are engaged in is nothing short of an energy revolution.

As we prepare for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June in Rio, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of some of the world's poorest people. The case for universal energy access is a moral, social, environmental and economic one. No issue is more relevant to the future of the global economy, the prosperity and well-being of the world’s poorest people, and the preservation of our planet.

*Andris Piebalgs is EU Commissioner for Development and Kandeh Yumkella is Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organisation and Chair of UN-Energy. Mr. Yumkella is also co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, and Mr. Piebalgs is a member of that group. This article first appeared in Outreach, a daily multi-stakeholder magazine on climate change and sustainable development. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 05, 2012]

Picture: Community project 2005-2007 in Kenya | Credit: EuropeAid-M. Winnubst