The UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative aims to drive economic development, improve living conditions, and protect the planet by meeting growing energy demands with renewable, environmentally responsible sources. Will Rio+20 be someday seen as the launchpad for these accomplishments or simply another missed opportunity?
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon touted the new program at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Still in its first year, Sustainable Energy for All has already engaged governments, businesses, and other groups to assess their national energy sectors and drive strategic reforms in pursuit of three year 2030 goals:
-Universal access to modern energy services
-Doubling the share of renewable energy in use today
-Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
“Achieving sustainable energy for all is not only possible, but necessary. It is the golden thread that connects development, social inclusion, and environmental protection,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Rio. “This initiative is already mobilizing significant action from all sectors of society. Working together, we can provide solutions that drive economic growth, expand equity and reduce the risks of climate change.”
Rio+20 attendees highlighted some of the many commitments already announced under the sweeping program. Business and investors have rallied some $50 billion to the cause so far, while governments, development banks, and other organizations have kicked in tens of billions more. More than 1 billion people stand to benefit from improved access to energy through both off-the-grid initiatives and improvements to conventional power structures.
Sharing developed world technologies with those abroad the EU’s “Energizing Development” program will give 500 million people access to sustainable energy services by 2030, and the United States has pledged some $42 billion (U.S.) in grants or loans for government regulatory programs and efforts to leverage private investments in clean energy. Developing nations from Ghana to Vietnam have launched national energy action plans under the program, and international funders include The World Bank, Bank of America, and the OPEC Fund for International Development.
Corporations are also investing in the sustainable initiative, from the tech leader Microsoft to the Italian energy giant Eni. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and 40 other professional associations are mobilizing more than 2 million members to support sustainable energy. Even the rock band Linkin Park is spearheading a “Power the World” campaign, under the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, to fight energy poverty.
Universal Access to Modern Energy Services by 2030
It’s easy to take power for granted in the developed world but one in five people globally, some 1.3 billion in all, don’t have reliable access to electricity. Ninety-five percent of these people live in developing Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Many suffer health problems from cooking with toxic smoke-producing fuels and a lack of modern health facilities, inadequate educational opportunities, and stunted opportunities for environmental growth.
UN officials estimate that universal access by 2030 can become a reality at a cost of less than $50 billion (U.S.) a year—and that private sector investment is key to that effort.
Such investments stand to pay economic dividends as well. As people gain access to energy they launch a wide range of educational and economic initiatives from more productive farming practices to cottage manufacturing or home-based businesses. With the revenue earned through such ventures a new group of people can become more regular consumers of goods.
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