Adopted from the Report of the Secretary-General: Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development
The Year 2012 has been proclaimed the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, emphasizing the importance of energy access for all to sustainable development and poverty eradication as well as of protection of the environment through the sustainable use of traditional energy resources, cleaner technologies and newer energy sources
Current energy systems are inadequate to meet the needs of the world’s poor and are jeopardizing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).Worldwide, the “energy-poor” suffer the health consequences of inefficient combustion of solid fuels in inadequately ventilated buildings, as well as the economic consequences of insufficient power for productive income-generating activities and for other basic services such as health and education. Women and girls in the developing world are disproportionately affected in this regard.
Despite two decades of climate change policies; thousands of programmes, initiatives, regulations, market-based instruments and international agreements; and the disbursement of hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, funds, research and development (R&D) efforts and development aid, the declared goal of establishing a renewable low-carbon energy system on a global scale remains elusive.
The growth rates for the diffusion of renewable energy technologies since 2000 have been impressive but are still insufficient. In 2005, fossil fuels accounted for 85 per cent of the global primary energy mix, while low-carbon nuclear power accounted for 6 per cent, hydroelectricity for 3 per cent and biomass for 4 per cent. Modern renewables jointly accounted for less than 1 per cent. Similarly, the renascence of nuclear power has barely made up for losses of older capacities that are increasingly being phased out. The current trajectory is nowhere near attaining a realistic path towards complete decarbonization of the global energy system by 2050.
Simplistic solutions dominate present national and global debates on how to meet the energy technology innovation imperative. Technology optimists suggest “big push” policies to scale up available technologies. Others focus on market incentives and hope that the necessary technological transformation will come about by “getting prices right” through internalizing environmental externalities.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD / Rio+ 20) has the opportunity to bring all this together in a common effort to transform the global energy system over the coming decades, by: a) expanding access to clean energy, b) enhancing industrial energy efficiency, and c) promoting green industry as an integral component of the transition to a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. UNCSD can be an opportunity to ask the global community to set very concrete targets conducive to this energy transformation.
Timescales for this transition to sustainable energy need to be realistic and feasible. By 2030, there is an opportunity for the world to be well on its way to a fundamental transformation of its energy system, allowing developing countries to leapfrog current systems and shift to cleaner, sustainable, affordable and reliable energy services. The international community can also be asked to provide by 2030 universal access to modern energy services, thus widening access for the 2-3 billion people excluded from modern energy services to a basic minimum threshold of modern energy services for both consumption and productive uses. UNCSD can also promote the use of renewable energy to be 30 per cent of all global energy use by 2030. This will play a central role in securing more reliable and sustainable energy path. The UNCSD can also spearhead the reduction of global energy intensity by 40 per cent by 2030. By 2050, it is feasible to transform the global energy system into an almost carbon-free one
Attaining these goals will require unprecedented and worldwide coordinated measures , including major shifts in regulatory regimes in almost every economy, vast incremental infrastructure investments (likely to be more than $1 trillion annually), an accelerated development and deployment of multiple new energy technologies, and a fundamental behavioral shift in energy consumption. Major shifts in human and institutional capacity and governance will also be required.
Both the international community and governments need to make renewables cost-competitive with other energy sources and technologies, and to stimulate technological advances.
All countries have a role to play: the high-income countries can contribute by making this goal a development assistance priority and catalyzing financing; the middle-income countries can contribute by sharing relevant expertise, experience and replicable good practices; and the low-income countries can help create the right local institutional, regulatory and policy environment for investments to be made, including by the private sector. Policy-makers and business leaders must place much greater emphasis on transforming the performance of national and regional energy systems over the coming decades. UNCSD would also be a good opportunity to find strategies and solutions including the role of the public sector and international cooperation.
Developing countries in particular need to expand access to reliable and modern energy services if they are to reduce poverty and improve the health of their citizens, while at the same time increasing productivity, enhancing competitiveness and promoting economic growth.
Developed and developing countries alike need to build and strengthen their capacity to implement effective policies, market based mechanisms, business models, investment tools and regulations with regard to energy use. Achieving this goal will require the international community to harmonize technical standards for key energy-consuming products and equipment, to accelerate the transfer of know-how and good practices, and to catalyze increased private capital flows into investments in energy efficiency. The successful adoption of these measures would reduce global energy intensity by about 2.5 per cent per year – approximately double the historic rate.
In this context, energy is a strong amplifier of sustainable development and a necessary element of a transition to a green economy. This requires a long-term approach towards energy security. Better-focused and greater efforts to move to cleaner and renewable energy will be needed to ensure climate stabilization while allowing developing countries to satisfy their rapidly increasing demand for commercial energy which is linked to their development aspirations.
Global and national energy policy is also development policy and thus must demonstrate special consideration of the poor. Optimal policy packages depend strongly on a country’s institutions, development stage, resource endowments and socio-political preferences, and will change over time.
The transformation of energy systems could be uneven and, if poorly handled, has the potential to lead to a widening “energy gap” between advanced and least developed nations, and even to periodic energy security crises. But handled well – through a balanced framework of cooperation and competition – energy system transformation has the potential to be a source of sustainable wealth creation for the world’s growing population while reducing the strain on its resources and climate.