UN’s Sustainable Energy For All Initiative Gets A Boost At Troubled Rio Summit

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ban Ki-moon’s initiative “Sustainable Energy for All” (SE4ALL) did not receive a strong endorsement in the final draft of the Rio+20 declaration.  It should have.  Nevertheless, SE4ALL leaves the summit with something that is arguably better: strong support from governments, the private sector, multilateral development banks, and civil society groups.  We should continue to support the initiative so that it survives – and thrives – after the summit.

About SE4ALL
SE4ALL, led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has three objectives to be achieved by 2030.
1. Ensure universal access to modern energy services.
2. Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
3. Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

The initiative’s High Level Group, chaired by Kandeh Yumkella (Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization) and Charles Holliday (Chairman of Bank of America), has produced a Global Action Agenda to “to guide efforts undertaken in support of achieving the initiative’s three objectives.” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is the U.S. representative to the group.

Ban Ki-moon labored for months to put SE4ALL at the center of the Rio agenda.  The strategy made sense.  Rio was the biggest sustainable development event on the global agenda in the last ten years, and it possibly won’t be duplicated for another ten years.  It was the optimal moment to call the world’s attention to the problem of energy poverty.  It’s impossible to imagine a fair and effective distribution of global climate mitigation that would be acceptable to the developing world without a robust companion sustainable development agenda.  Ban Ki-moon’s process therefore fills a needed gap in the global effort to reconcile climate and development needs.

Unfortunately, SE4ALL didn’t get much support from the Rio text.  In the one paragraph on the initiative, the three specific objectives and target date are not mentioned.  The paragraph even provides an out to parties who won’t be able to meet its goals, or who won’t try to accomplish them.

129. We note the launching of the initiative by the Secretary General on “Sustainable Energy for All”, which focus on access to energy, energy efficiency and renewable energies. We are all determined to act to make sustainable energy for all a reality, and through this, help eradicate poverty and lead to sustainable development and global prosperity. We recognize that countries’ activities in broader energy-related issues are of great importance and are prioritized according to their specific challenges, capacities and circumstances, including energy mix.

SE4ALL Beyond Rio+20
The good news is that the success of SE4ALL does not rely on the Rio text.  In fact, the initiative received an impressive boost from many parties at the summit. Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation, believes that the final document “is much, much less important” than a number of initiatives highlighted by the conference, including SE4ALL.  He said in the SE4ALL press conference on 21 June 2012: “UN sets norms, but it is a group of public and private actors that are increasingly carrying out the intent of the world. These new public-private partnerships are the dominant theme and the dominant outcome of what’s happening here in Rio.”

Yumkella then said that when he and his colleagues were drafting the initiative, they had the post-Rio period in mind.  “We were thinking what happens on July 1 after we leave Rio,” he says.  The initiative was designed so that there would be “real action on the ground” after the summit.

Commitments to SE4ALL
On 19 June 2012, the six largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) committed to the aims of Rio+20 and said they will “support the Sustainable Energy for All initiative and will participate in targeted efforts to attract and channel public and private financial commitments to meet the three objectives.”  The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development alone has pledged $8 billion over the next three years for energy efficiency initiatives in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.  Together, the banks have pledged over $30 billion for SE4ALL’s objectives.

On 21 June 2012, Ban Ki-moon announced that over 50 African, Asian, Small Island States, and Latin American governments are committed to working to achieve the initiative’s objectives.  He also announced that investors and corporations pledged over $50 billion and that multilateral development banks, governments, and civil society groups pledged tens of billions.

Here are some examples of government commitments:

  • Barbados pledged to make renewable energy 29 percent of its electricity use by 2029, and 19 other Small Island States pledged to make universal access and renewable energy a priority.
  • The EU committed to making sustainable energy available to 500 million people by 2030, and Norway committed $140 million to make sustainable energy more accessible in rural Ethiopia.
  • Brazil committed an additional $4.3 billion to the objective of achieving universal access in Brazil by 2014.
  • Countries including Ghana, Kenya, Vietnam, Nepal, and Bangladesh committed to creating energy plans to “support capacity development and innovative financing mechanisms.”
  • In addition, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today the new US-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative, which pledges $20 million to mobilize “hundreds of millions of dollars in private financing for clean energy projects in Africa and beyond.”  The funds for the initiative are part of $2 billion pledged to support SE4ALL through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) in the form of “grants, loans and loan guarantees for policy and regulatory development, public-private energy technology partnerships, and loans and guarantees to leverage private investment in clean energy technology.”

Several private sector commitments were made as well.  The Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership committed to a project to set up 50,000 solar lanterns to provide sustainable energy to those without access.  GDF Suez committed to “increase both its own energy efficiency by 40 percent by 2017 as well as its installed capacity of renewable energy by 50 percent from 2009-2015.”

Whatever the troubled legacy from Rio, SE4ALL should not be part of it.  It should remain at the center of the international development and climate agenda moving forward.  We need to focus on promoting the initiative and reaching its targets.

Source: Climate Progress Guest Blogger, Gwynne Taraska, is Research Director at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University.