Monday, June 27, 2011 5:47 AM
(Source: IPS - Inter Press Service)By Leahy, Stephen
Now an ambitious global effort is being launched by the United Nations
to bring electricity to everyone on the planet by 2030. 'Energy is the
issue for the next decade,' said Kandeh Yumkella, director-general of
the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
'Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is impossible
without energy,' Yumkella said at the opening of the 2011 Vienna
Energy Forum last week.
The MDGs include reducing by half the proportion of people living in
poverty by 2015, and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Some 1,200 delegates from 100 countries participated in the forum,
along with 40 government ministers, to discuss how to bring clean,
efficient, reliable and affordable energy services for the long-term
prosperity of all people.
'The 791 million people in sub-Saharan Africa use as much electricity
as the 19 million in metropolitan New York City,' Yumkella told
Indoor air pollution from burning dung, charcoal, and wood for heating
and cooking leads to nearly two million premature deaths of women and
children every year, more than all the deaths from malaria and
tuberculosis, he said. 'We're here to prepare an action plan to be
launched later this year to change all this.'
Extending electrical services to the 1.5 billion who have no access
will cost between 30 and 40 billion dollars a year for the next 20
years, according to various estimates by the International Energy
Agency and others. That represents just three percent of current
annual expenditures on energy. And it is just eight percent of what is
currently spent on subsidies for fossil fuels, said Carsten Staur, the
permanent representative of Denmark to the United Nations.
'The goal of energy for all is ambitious but doable,' Staur said.
That goal is one of three energy goals U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-
moon asked participants at the Forum to support and on which to
develop a plan of action to be launched in 2012 during the U.N.
International Year for Sustainable Energy for All.
The other two goals are to reduce energy intensity by 40 percent and
to increase the share of renewable energy to 30 percent globally by
2030. These goals bring a multitude of benefits, including cleaner
air, sustainable economic development, climate change mitigation,
better health and livelihoods and more, Ban told delegates by video-
Energy experts calculate that decentralised, off-grid technologies
like wind, solar, geo-thermal and micro-hydro energy generation are
the fastest and more cost effective way for most who have no access.
Extending current electrical grids only makes economic sense to meet
15-25 percent of the need due to the high costs.
'Access to electricity is the key to overcoming poverty,' said Ged
Davis, co-president of the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) Council.
Davis warned that most of this electricity for the poor needs to be
green to avoid adding more carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels
like coal. 'There's plenty of fossil fuels left in the ground. There
is no way we can burn known coal reserves without a horrendous impact
on the climate,' Davis told the forum.
A rapid transition away from fossil fuel energy sources is needed to
avoid dangerous climate change, scientists agree. Developed countries
need to reduce their carbon emissions 40 percent by 2020. The European
Union has made cuts of nearly 20 percent so far, but countries like
the U.S., Canada and Australia are far behind.
Fortunately, the energy potential of renewable energy is far greater
than fossil fuels but they are conceptually different since renewables
are energy flows not energy units, Davis said.
That is one issue the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) will tackle in
its advice to policy makers. The GEA is a five-year scientific
assessment involving hundreds of energy experts on how to meet the
world's energy needs.
The GEA will be a policy-relevant assessment, lay out the linked
options for going forward, provide a vision of how to resolve energy
challenges simultaneously and provide new insight into the potential
leverage points for achieving more sustainable energy futures. It is
expected to be released in 2012.
Energy efficiency is the key to bringing energy services to everyone
and dealing with climate change, Davis said, noting that, 'Efficiency
opens up enormous flexibility in energy choices.'
It is also two to three times better to invest in efficiency than in
energy generation. Buildings can use 90 percent less energy, and can
even be retrofitted to generate surplus energy, he said.
However, less than 50 million dollars a year is being invested
globally in research into renewables and energy efficiency, an amount
he calls 'peanuts'.
The biggest challenge of this decade is avoiding 'locking into current
technologies', he warned. Building coal-fired power plants, high-
energy buildings and other infrastructure today locks countries onto a
wasteful energy and high-carbon emission pathway for the next 20 or 30
Development with a 'high-carbon lock in' poses a danger to all.
Everyone on the planet has a stake in the success of the U.N.'s
Sustainable Energy for All campaign. However, finding the 30 to 40
billion dollars a year to make this happen won't be easy, warns
Monique Barbut, CEO and chair of the Global Environment Facility
(GEF), the world's largest funder of projects to improve the global
'It's an extremely large amount to sustain for two decades. Getting
the funding is a big challenge,' Barbut told the forum.
The GEF, which has 182 governments as members, has invested 3.1
billion dollars to finance low carbon projects in its 20-year existence.
'The private sector is not going to invest in this unless they are
assured of a good return. That's the reality,' she said.
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