Rio+20 agreement puts energy poverty on global agenda

In one of its rare moments of ambition, the agreement approved by world leaders at Friday’s conclusion of the Rio+20 conference commits their support to the goal that everyone should have access to modern energy.

This is the first time that the needs of 1.4 billion people with no electricity and 2.7 billion with unsafe cooking stoves have been recognised in an international agreement.

US objections to the inclusion of this commitment, or the accompanying acknowledgement of the need to mobilize adequate financial resources, were overruled by the Brazilian hosts. They acted as referee in reconciling divisions amongst negotiators at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

Even US resistance appeared to soften by the time the leader of its delegation, Hillary Clinton, arrived in Rio de Janeiro. The State Department issued a statement of US support for sustainable energy, further observing that “increasing energy access is a central challenge facing the world.”

Clinton herself has been associated with energy poverty initiatives, notably the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership which aims to equip 100 million households in poor countries with clean stoves by 2020.

Before the ink was dry on the Rio+20 agreement, The Future We Want, an impressive mix of governments, institutional donors, business corporations and banks were jostling to put their commitments on the table in support of the goal to provide energy for all.

For example, the World Bank has pledged to expand its programs which develop off-grid lighting markets to provide affordable lighting to 70 million low-income households by 2020. And The OPEC Fund for International Development has committed a minimum of $1 billion to further its work against energy poverty.

These promises have been made to Sustainable Energy For All, an initiative launched last year by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and administered by the UN Foundation.

Sustainable Energy For All promotes quantified goals for global energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources, in addition to the goal to overcome energy poverty in poor countries by 2030.

For this reason, the list of commitments published in Rio by the UN Foundation embraces both those that cut energy use – such as the introduction of zero-emission vehicles by the Renault-Nissan Alliance – as well as those that create new energy for access by poor households in developing countries.

Neither the two broader global energy goals nor the Secretary-General’s initiative itself were supported in the Rio+20 agreement.

Buoyed by the greater degree of political focus on the goal to end energy poverty, Dr Kandeh Yumkella, co-chair of the UN’s High-level Group for Sustainable Energy For All, was in confident mood. “The European Union has committed further over the next 10 years to work with us to connect the first 500 million people. The German government has also pledged to do another 100 million,” he said.

Perhaps anticipating a challenge, Yumkella added: “we want to track those commitments. We want to be able to report regularly on whether we’re making progress.”

Picking up the baton, the World Bank’s announcement of new initiatives on energy poverty included the statement that it will work with partners “to produce a baseline report.…..for regular global tracking reports to monitor and report on progress towards the 2030 targets.”


this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News