Fresh light on universal energy access

Last Thursday I flagged up that the online preliminaries for the Energy sector of the Rio Dialogues had turned into something of an embarrassment. Ten recommendations went forward to today’s plenary debate and only one deals with energy access for the poor.

It was left to Sheila Oparaocha, Network Coordinator for ENERGIA, to sink the hatchet into this process, all the more effective for her understated demolition technique:

when we look at the list of recommendations that are presented at the Dialogue, we do note that the priorities expressed in the voting tend to reflect people’s opportunities to participate in an online dialogue and I think this is quite telling. We know from our empirical research that energy access is a key priority for people living in developing countries, based on the fact that 1.4 billion people do not have access to electricity even for life, let alone computers to vote

The panel moderator gloomily acknowledged that “energy access has the potential to be under-represented in this discussion.”

Today’s session was therefore something of a disaster recovery operation, not helped by a hefty dose of self-serving “speeches” from the floor. The panel of experts made a good job of it in the end so that, by the time Sheila Oparaocha was deputed to handle the press conference, there were some quite interesting things to say.

In formulating an energy access recommendation to go forward to the full conference, the panel was not satisfied with the familiar language of the Sustainable For All initiative. As Sheila put it: :

This energy access needs to be universal – for households, communities, businesses -particularly for the poor and particularly for women – who suffer disproportionately from the lack of energy access – they need to have at least a minimum standard of energy services for cooking, for heating, for lighting, for agriculture and for doing businesses.

There’s a pretty strong message here to those of us trying to communicate the energy poverty crisis. Kitting households out with a couple of light bulbs and a decent stove is not going to deliver poverty reduction, food security and women’s equality – those Millennium Development Goals that we’re inclined to link closely with “action” on energy access.

I should mention that, in the earlier panel session, Sheila Oparaocha offered a rare positive reaction to the new Brazilian draft text for The Future We Want. As well as welcoming the general reaffirmation of the “full and equal participation of women and their leadership in all areas of sustainable development,” she also said: “we hope to see the current linkages between gender equality and energy access retained.”

I hope that the UN media service will be sufficiently enlightened to post a clip of this presentation, in which case it will appear here as soon as possible.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK