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EU Reaffirms Commitment to Sustainable Energy for All during EU summit

Side by side with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and the Danish presidency of the EU Council delivered a strong commitment to connecting every person on the planet to sustainable energy by 2030 at the EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit, held in Brussels on 16 April.

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 The EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit - 16 April 2012


Energy is fundamental to modern life. As made clear by the speakers at the Sustainable Energy for All Summit on 16 April, it is taken for granted in developed countries that energy will be accessible at all times - to power light and heat in our homes and offices, charge our mobile phones and computers, pump clean water whenever and wherever needed.

And yet, 1.3 billion people - one in five people living on the planet today - do not have access to electricity. Moreover 2.7 billion do not have access to modern cooking fuels and technologies. This causes nearly 2 million death a year because of the indoor pollution generated by the combustion of traditional fuels. 85% of these are women and children.

This is a human tragedy, which also has serious economic consequences. It is estimated that countries in Africa would have an annual GDP growth rate that is higher by 2-3% if only they had universal access to modern energy. Factories could stay open later, children could study after nightfall, transport connections would improve. Women, many of whom spend 16-18 hours a day working on household chores which include gathering traditional fuel could do other jobs and generate income for their families.

Recognising the human and economic consequences of a lack of access to energy, the European Commission organised the EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit in Brussels, bringing together among others UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, UN-Energy Chair and Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organisation Dr Kandeh K. Yumkellah as well as the Development Ministers of theEU Member States and Norway and Energy and Development Ministers from across the globe.

Energising development

The Summit saw the launch of the "Energising Development" Initiative by Commission President Barroso. "It will provide access to energy for an additional 500 million people in developing countries", President Barroso declared. "The Initiative's ambitious goal is clear: we want to help provide access to sustainable energy services to 500 million people by 2030. This is a huge objective, but if we work together it can be done. "

The Commission and the EU's Development Ministers also underlined their commitment to realising the UN's Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, which by 2030 will:

  • Ensure universal access to modern energy services.
  • Double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
  • Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Personal testimony underlines the importance of energy access

"Access to modern energy helped to transform my world and my country", said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his Keynote Address. "Access to electricity can seem so easy that it can be taken for granted. Unless you do not have it. I myself was one of those people until I was a freshman at college. It was 1963 and I was studying under a very dim kerosene lamplight. Can you believe it, now I am standing in front of you as the Secretary General of the United Nations."

This personal testimony was echoed by others. Denmark's Minister for Development Cooperation, Christian Friis Bach, recalled how his grandfather had been one of the first to erect a wind turbine on his property. He explained how a few enterprising pioneers in his country spawned an industry with major economic and environmental benefits for his country. Norway's Minister for Development Heikki Holmås began his contribution to the first panel debate by declaring 'I love electricity', before recounting how his great grandfather's efforts to harness hydroelectric power were part of a wider energy revolution that changed the face of the Norwegian economy making it one of the richest countries in the world.

Somewhere in the developing world, the message running through the Summit implied, a future Secretary General of the UN might be waiting to read his or her textbooks after dark or a bright entrepreneur dreaming of starting an energy microenterprise if only given the chance.

A third Industrial Revolution

"The EU is leading what some call a third Industrial Revolution," said President Barroso. This revolution is fully backed by the EU's citizens. "95% of Europeans see access to energy as important in overcoming poverty in developing countries", Commissioner Piebalgs declared. "9 out of 10 believe that the EU should assist developing countries in getting access to energy."

"With such support to carry us forward, I hope we will have the courage to make this Summit a defining moment in our drive to make energy poverty a thing of the past", continued the Commissioner. 

The NGOs, government officials and development experts assembled at the Summit confirmed the importance of energy access to their efforts.
"We are very pleased the conference happened", said Ben Good, CEO of the NGO Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP), which has been working on energy access projects for the past ten years. "I liked that Northern and Southern government representatives highlighted the progress that has been made. It's very easy for an NGO to say 'governments should do more', but if you look at what is going on on the ground, there are a large number of businesses and entrepreneurs who are delivering solutions, be that solar, wind and hydro power, cleaner cooking stoves or better energy infrastructure.  In terms of funding solutions, the private sector contribution is major, but governments can play a fantastic role in providing the initial capital and limiting risk."

Other participants expressed their views on how the "Sustainable energy for all" initiative may translate into concrete action on the ground, while highlighting some of the efforts from their organisations towards tackling energy poverty.
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Empowering women through energy access

"Today we see that poor women, especially in rural areas, are particularly affected by the continued depletion of natural resources. They are on the frontlines. They bear primary responsibility for ensuring and sustaining their household’s needs for energy, food and water", UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet told the Summit. The continued lack of opportunities for women in the developing world is closely linked to a lack of energy access.
The EU reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to gender equality in all its policies on 16 April through the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women between the EU and UN Women, which was signed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton and EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

The main afternoon session of the European Union’s recent Sustainable Energy for All Summit was dedicated to gender issues. Participants agreed that empowering women with access to sustainable, clean energy will open up a world of possibilities to benefit the entire population.
Make link empowering women with access to sustainable, clean energy to:

Involving the private sector: a win-win situation

The Summit also reiterated the importance of involving the private sector in energy access. Many companies can see considerable potential returns from investment in energy infrastructure in developing countries, but are deterred because of the perceived risk. Moreover, many people in developing countries would like to set up their own energy enterprises, but are unable to because of a lack of access to finance.

Through innovative financial schemes as well as microfinance, the EU is leading the way in channelling private sector investment into the energy sector in the developing world. With an estimated $48 billion a year needed to provide energy access for all, as against total government assistance for energy access of $9 billion, the private sector can play a dynamic role in filling the shortfall. Private sector actors will however need to get adequate conditions to invest in energy in the developing world and actors such as the European Investment Bank as well as the European Commission and EU Member State development agencies will be crucial in achieving this.

Looking ahead to the Rio Summit 

The EU's Sustainable Energy for All Summit is particularly important in the run up to the Rio Earth Summit in June this year. 20 years after the watershed Rio conference in 1992, and 10 years after the launch of the European Union Energy Initiative for poverty eradication and sustainable development in Johannesburg 2002, the EU will once again provide global leadership on sustainable development issues, including energy access.

Energy, as emphasised by the Summit on 16 April, has the power to stimulate development on multiple levels. It contributes to the fight for gender equality, broadens educational opportunities, energises - quite literally - the economy. Electricity and clean energy may be taken for granted in much of the world, but for the one in three people in the world without access to electricity or modern cooking fuels, the EU and UN efforts to expand energy access will be a major social and economic stimulus like no other.

Last update: 13/05/2013 | Top