Rio+20 agreement fuels demand for change in Sustainable Energy for All

Why have 756,954 people signed the Avaaz petition to end fossil fuel subsidies and only 148 signed its Power the World petition to end energy poverty?

Here’s one possible reason, presented as the leading witness for the prosecution in yesterday’s Friends of the Earth International report Reclaim the UN from corporate capture:

The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative is being decided by an unaccountable, handpicked group, dominated by representatives of multinational corporations and fossil fuel interests, virtually without any involvement from or consultation with global civil society. In its current form, SE4All will spectacularly fail in its goal of tackling climate change and poverty

My implication of cause and effect is of course stretching a point but I present it unashamedly because this governance issue has been rumbling around for months and it’s time for a response.

In addition to the FoEI report, a sub-group of NGOs released a statement calling for “a more ambitious, accountable and people-driven Sustainable Energy for All initiative.” Over 100 signatories include ActionAid, Christian Aid and Oxfam.

On the same day, the text of the Rio+20 outcome document, The Future We Want, was agreed by the sherpas, with strong indications that the high-level political process starting today should tinker with it at its peril. In an agreement so starved of the magic phrase “we commit”, the energy poverty lobby should be celebrating its lavish allocation of two rations.

Both of these commitments relate specifically to the goal of universal access to energy. There’s even a reference to “mobilizing adequate financial resources.”

The broader Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) initiative, with its supplementary goals on energy efficiency and use of renewables, is condemned to the international wilderness by being merely “noted”.

Here’s my plain English translation of what the international community is saying:

To those behind the universal access goal: “Welcome to the club. We’re ready to do business with you.”

To those behind SE4ALL: “Thankyou and goodbye. We may talk again in 2015 if you get a mention in the new Sustainable Development Goals.”

This two-speed vision for energy at the highest level must surely now be mirrored in structures for implementation. The efficiency and renewables goals, attended closely and justifiably by the big energy companies, must not be allowed to slow progress towards universal access.

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that the goal for universal access should be divorced from SE4ALL, but some sort of separation, perhaps temporarily until 2015, might integrate the ambition for access into broader development processes on which it will depend for success.

Everyone who matters is in Rio; the negotiations appear to be over, a meeting of the High-level Group for SE4ALL is scheduled – let’s get the governance and the priorities aligned with the political agreement.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK