Rio+20: Sustainable Energy for All is Possible

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Credit: ec.europa.euBy Simon Trace*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

RUGBY, UK (IDN) - The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative was launched in September 2011 by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The three key objectives of the initiative, to be achieved by 2030, are:

- Ensuring universal access to modern energy services
- Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
- Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

For the past seven months, a High Level Group, nominated by the Secretary General, have been trying to convert the vision into a programme of action that could be endorsed and built upon at Rio+20 from June 20 to June 22, 2012. (The Group is co-chaired by Kandeh Yumkella, Chair of UN-Energy, and Director-General, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and Charles Holliday, Chairman, Bank of America.)

To this end, a series of events have seen the initiative start to gather momentum, including a high level energy summit in Brussels (April 16, 2012) at which the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, announced the Commission's intention to support 500 million people getting access to modern energy supplies by 2030. The German Government added a pledge to finance the expansion of services to a further 100 million by the same date.

On April 27, the SE4All High Level Group met in the margins of the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting hosted in London by the UK Government. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg and Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, addressed the group and made their own modest pledge of a further £25 to £50 million to support access to renewable energy supplies in the developing world.

The High Level Group also met with civil society for a consultation on the initiative on April 25, which was hosted by international NGOs Practical Action, ONE and Christian Aid. Six of the members, led by Helen Clark, ex-Prime Minister of New Zealand and current head of UNDP, met with around 60 representatives from environmental and development NGOs in London, to exchange views on the initiative and explore the role for civil society in the project.

There was almost universal agreement amongst the civil society organisations present that the goal of universal energy access is progress in itself and that the initiative taken by the UN Secretary General to promote this – and the issues of renewables and energy efficiency – in the political agenda, is to be welcomed.

However, areas of concern for NGOs do remain. Among environmental NGOs, there is a sense that the goals for energy efficiency and renewables are not ambitious enough and may be out of line with the goal of keeping global warming within 2°C (although a forthcoming Global Energy Assessment report by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis is expected to conclude that the three goals are consistent with a pathway towards 2°C, but would require further action between 2030 and 2050, such as the introduction of rigorous carbon pricing, to complete the job).

There is also an issue around the 'technology neutral' stance that the initiative has taken and whether the unintended consequence of this will be to allow contested technologies such as nuclear, biofuels and large scale hydropower to be promoted as sustainable alongside other, less controversial, technologies.

Finally, there is a sense amongst NGOs that the High Level Group has so far put too much emphasis on the role of large scale private sector actors. Whilst it is not disputed that without private capital and expertise the goals are unachievable, there is concern that the part of national governments, civil society and small scale social enterprises have not been given enough emphasis and that their voices have not been heard sufficiently to date. NGOs argue that without their fuller inclusion in the process, the long term success of the initiative is in doubt.

The panel accepted the notion that goals could be more ambitious and consultations more inclusive, but argued that the process to date had been dictated by the pace and politics necessary to try to force the issue onto the Rio+20 agenda, an outcome that is by no means assured.

The event concluded by looking at better mechanisms for the High Level Group to engage with civil society and national governments in the developing world, which were seen as a pre-requisite for future progress. And, for some, the lack of clarity on the science behind the energy efficiency and renewables goals, together with the technology neutral stance, will remain an obstacle.

*Simon Trace is CEO of Practical Action, which uses technology to challenge poverty, working with poor women and men around the world. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 30, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: ec.europa.eu

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