In Expanding Energy Access, Businesses Can Reap Benefits

  • by Aline Cunico (united nations)
  • Tuesday, September 27, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

Sustainable Energy for All, a new initiative launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for businesses to support U.N. efforts to improve energy access, was the focus of the 2011 United Nations Private Sector Forum held Sep. 20 during the General Assembly.

U.N. partnerships with business and the private sector are crucial to expanding energy accessibility worldwide, Ban stressed. He noted that partnerships are not only essential for sustainable development, but could also offer solutions for many other U.N.-related issues.

More than 1.4 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity, and another 2 billion rely on traditional fuel for cooking and heating, according to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

'We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women's empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all,' Ban said while addressing world leaders in New York.

'As I see it, we have five imperatives… The first and greatest of these is sustainable development - the imperative of the 21st century. Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth - these are one and the same fight,' he said.

The U.N. General Assembly has named 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy For All.

The Framework for Business Action was also introduced during the forum, hosted by the U.N. Global Compact, the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative, in collaboration with UNIDO.

One goal of the framework is to engage governments, the private sector and civil society to ensure that those currently lacking access to modern energy services will gain that access by 2030. Another target is to increase global renewable energy by that year.

During the forum, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that the move towards green energy can be done at a 'grassroots level' and that it is time for major changes in sustainable energy and development.

'Providing energy to every single person on Earth by 2030 is not going to be easy. By 2030, we will have at least 8 billion people. Some will tell you our goal is impossible. But I love challenges. I'm an optimist,' he said.

According to Matthias Stausberg, spokesperson for the UN Global Compact, many businesses have already initiated collective action within the industry and are actively engaged in partnerships with the U.N. and other organisations.

'Businesses can contribute in a variety of ways - by leveraging core competencies and skills, by providing funding or other forms of material support and through advocacy and public-policy engagement on behalf of the U.N.'s mission,' he told IPS.

According to specialists, sustainable development initiatives can revitalise the global economy, help combat climate change and create new opportunities particularly in the developing world.

Mikhail Evstafyev, advocacy and communications coordinator of UNIDO, commented n an interview with IPS earlier in 2011 on how the private sector could take advantage of the need for universal energy access to promote development and economic growth.

'Universal energy access is a new market opportunity, but one that needs the right support to thrive,' he said, adding that it wouldn't be necessary to invest billions of dollars in research, as many clean technologies are already available. 'It is a question of transferring the technologies and adapting them to local conditions and needs.'

The Framework for Business Action and Sustainable Energy for All initiatives are just two examples of the many steps leading up to the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, to be held next year in Brazil.

Georg Kell, executive director of U.N. Global Compact, believed the partnership between business and the U.N. is essential to develop models and alternatives concerning environment and energy, especially as the developing world faces numerous obstacles if it is to reach the U.N.'s ambitious Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

'This new business framework offers much-needed inspirations as companies try to reconcile ever- growing energy demand with global sustainability challenges,' he said.

'As the world gears up for the next year's Rio+20 summit, it is efforts like this that will help business bring innovation to scale and contribute to a greener and more sustainable global economy.'

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?