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Can increased energy access levels go hand-in-hand with lowering our climate emissions?

“Rio +20 is occurring as we enter a phase of planetary emergency – we’ve recently surpassed 400 ppm in the Arctic, biodiversity loss is occurring at an exponential pace and global warming is magnifying global abnormal weather conditions. The political will to be proactive about these conditions seems to have evaporated. So how do we respond? Is it even possible for us to solve these challenges while maintaining and expanding current energy access levels?


Or, to put it another way: how can we meet the challenge of expanding current energy access levels while at the same time prevent further destruction of our planet? The UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is responding by backing two major initiatives: Sustainable Energy for All and Green Industry.

Sustainable Energy for All

In many developing countries, the majority of the population has either no or little access to energy, uses dirty or polluting fuel, and spends an excessive amount of time collecting fuel to meet the most basic needs. Access to energy is fundamental to improving quality of life, and to economic development. Today, nearly 1.6 billion people – or one person in five on the planet – still lack access to electricity. Almost three billion people still rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Smoke from burning these fuels in polluting and inefficient cookstoves kills nearly two million people prematurely every year. If nothing changes and we carry on with “business as usual”, we will have the following situation by 2030:

• 900 million people will not have access to electricity;

• 3 billion people will still cook with dirty and health-damaging fuels;

• at least 30 million more people will have died due to smoke-related diseases;

• many hundreds of millions will still be mired in poverty because they lack access to energy.

According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2011, providing modern energy services to the very poor would require a global investment of about US$41 billion per year over the next five years, a figure which represents just 0.06 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Tackling the larger goal of universal energy access would cause a modest increase (0.8%) in carbon dioxide emissions; global electricity generation would be just 2.9% higher; and global demand for oil would rise less than 1% compared to the current trajectory.

Sustainable energy is produced and used in ways that support long-term human development in all its social, economic, and environmental dimensions. In an ideal scenario, sustainable energy would be derived only from renewable energy and other low-carbon energy sources. Access to clean and affordable modern energy is critical to sustainable social and economic development; without any immediate actions, the overall situation will actually worsen, with more people using traditional biomass in 2030. If not addressed by sustainable energy, climate change and the ensuing environmental degradation will accelerate, further endangering our planet. Today, we have the technologies and the investments to make sustainable energy a reality.

UNIDO supports the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4ALL). It aims to achieve, by 2030, three global objectives, which are complementary, as progress in achieving one can help with progress toward the others. The initiative brings all sectors of society together to:

• ensure universal access to modern energy services;

• double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix;

• double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

UNIDO believes that real opportunities exist for concrete, scalable progress in these areas. There is an opportunity for the world to achieve by 2030 a fundamental transformation of its energy systems, and to realize an “energy revolution” that is required to move to a green and inclusive economy.

Of the three inter-linked objectives improving energy efficiency has the clearest impact on saving money, improving business results, and delivering cost-effective results for consumers: for example better refrigerators that cost the same but use less energy; new vehicles designed to deliver more power with less fuel; and buildings that require less energy to heat and cool or even send power back to the grid. UNIDO is working to remove the key barriers to continuous improvement of energy efficiency in industries and ultimately to transform the market for industrial energy efficiency.

UNIDO is working to help developing countries and economies in transition to embark on a green growth pathway by increasing the availability and use of renewable energy, particularly for productive uses. Together with its international partners and its member states, UNIDO promotes the transfer of innovative and low-carbon technologies through the demonstration, scaling-up and replication of locally relevant renewable energy solutions, as well as through the promotion of investment in renewable energy technology.

Green Industry

UNIDO’s initiative outlines policy frameworks, instruments and concrete examples of good practice, as well as measures and programmes, that support the greening of the industrial sector in developing countries and economies in transition. The Green Industry initiative

  • helps developing countries create opportunities to join the growing global market for greener products and services, and
  •  promotes sustainable patterns of production and consumption, i.e. patterns that bring quality of life to consumers and are resource- and energy efficient, low-carbon, low-waste, non-polluting and safe, and which manufacture products that are responsibly managed through their lifecycles.

UNIDO’s Green Industry initiative is underpinned by a two-pronged strategy:

  • Greening of Industry – ensuring that all industries, regardless of sector, size and location, continuously improve their environmental performance and resource productivity. This includes a commitment to, and actions for, reducing the adverse environmental impacts of industrial processes and products by using resources more efficiently; transforming industrial energy systems towards greater sustainability by expanding renewable energy sources; phasing out toxic substances; and improving occupational health and safety at industrial level.
  • Creating Green Industries – stimulating the development and creation of industries that deliver environmental goods and services. Green industry is a rapidly expanding and diverse sector that covers all types of services and technologies that (directly or indirectly) help to reduce negative environmental impacts and resource consumption. This includes material recovery, recycling, waste treatment and management, as well as the provision of environmental and energy consulting and services, such as energy service companies and companies that provide monitoring, measuring and analysis services.

Image Credit: Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock

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Charles Arthur on June 25, 2012

Significant commitments to action in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4ALL) recently announced include;

  • GDF Suez will invest in approximately 50 local energy entrepreneurship projects in developing countries by 2020. It will also increase both its own energy efficiency by 40% by 2017 as well as its installed capacity of renewable energy by 50% from 2009-2015.
  • d.Light Design, a social entrepreneur, is committed to providing solar lamps to 30 million people in more than 40 countries by 2015;
  • Ghana, one of the first countries to partner with the initiative, is developing a national energy action plan to support capacity-development and innovative financing mechanisms.
  • Barbados will increase its use of renewable energy to 29% of all electricity consumption by 2029;
  • The European Commission announced a new initiative called “Energising Development” that will provide access to sustainable energy services to 500 million people by 2030 and create a Technical Assistance facility supported by approximately USD $63 million over the next two years;
  • The United Nations Foundation is facilitating a global Energy Access Practitioner Network, bringing together more than 200 organizations from civil society to collaborate on the delivery of energy services and solutions related to electrification in a range of developing country contexts and;
  • Members of rock band Linkin Park have launched the “Power the World” campaign and aim to deliver one million signatures to world leaders at Rio+20 urging an end to energy poverty. The campaign also collects pledges for We Care Solar to deliver their novel Solar Suitcases to health care practitioners in need of reliable lighting.


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Charles Arthur on June 26, 2012

The Green Industry Platform is a global high-level multi-stakeholder partnership intended to act as a forum for catalyzing, mobilizing and mainstreaming action on Green Industry around the world. It provides a framework for bringing together governmental, business and civil society leaders to secure concrete commitments and mobilize action in support of the Green Industry agenda.

By encouraging the more efficient use of energy and raw materials in manufacturing processes and services, the Platform will contribute both to cleaner and more competitive industrial development, and will help reduce pollution and reliance on unsustainable use of natural resources.

Business, governments and civil society organizations are invited to review and sign the Green Industry Platform’s Statement of Support in order to indicate their willingness to become a member of the Platform.

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