Achievements speak for UN sustainable energy initiative

Corporate social responsibility managers the world over will be gasping with envy today at the UN’s Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) initiative.

One day it’s attacked by 400 NGO endorsements of a highly critical Friends of the Earth report. The next day sees a press release from the US State Department with the headline:

U.S. Support for the Sustainable Energy for All Global Action Agenda

Whether by chance or design, it’s handy to have friends in high places. “The United States supports the principles of the Global Action Agenda developed by the SE4ALL High Level Group,” it reads.

That rather begs the question why the US negotiators failed to back attempts by some countries in the Rio+20 PrepCom meetings to use that same word “supports”. Instead, SE4ALL has merely been “noted”.

Nonetheless, this release offers some timely consolation; it’s a lengthy “factsheet” listing the not inconsiderable US contribution to the three goals of the initiative. And it’s good to see a first paragraph reminder that “increasing energy access is a central challenge facing the world.”

Other heavyweight defence of SE4ALL was on show in a busy day. The UN Foundation team working on the initiative released an even longer list selected from “hundreds of actions and commitments…… support of Sustainable Energy for All’s three objectives, supported by businesses, donors, entrepreneurs, organizations, artists, and individual volunteers.”

Amongst richer governments, Norway is a special friend of SE4ALL and helpfully updated the online FAQs on its Energy+ initiative. This promises serious support for a range of developing countries believed to amount to $140 million per annum.

Energy+ does need a lot of explaining – here’s a taste of one of the FAQ’s:

Poor countries need energy services; why does Energy+ focus only on renewable energy and energy efficiency to support this need?

We may know more after two high-level events today organised by the Norwegian government.

Last but not least, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, wasted no time in plugging the proposed energy goals for which he is responsible. His opening Rio+20 press conference statement had plenty to say about SE4ALL, without mentioning its disparaging treatment by the politicians.

Such high level tub-thumping for Sustainable Energy For All has for the moment brushed aside the Friends of the Earth “corporate capture” accusation as though it was speck of dust on the desk.

My one niggle about the reassertiveness of the project is the use of this shape of wording by the Secretary-General, which is already being recycled elsewhere:

Businesses and investors have committed more than $50 billion dollars to achieve the initiative’s three objectives.

More than 50 governments are working with us to develop their energy plans and programmes. Others are providing support and resources.

The initiative will enable access to modern energy to more than one billion people during its lifespan.

The implied confidence that the universal access goal “will” be achieved thanks to a chunk of that $50 billion may be a little premature. I fear that the share for universal access may be turn out to be rather modest in relation to the goals for energy efficiency and the use of renewables.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK