Global Policy Forum

UN Sets Out Roadmap for Universal Electricity Access





Jennie Lorentsson

April 28, 2010

UNITED NATIONS - People's access to electricity, especially modern electricity, must increase even as greenhouse gases are reduced, according to a report issued Wednesday by the U.N. Secretary-General's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.

Some 1.6 billion people worldwide still lack access to electricity, a significant barrier to development. And approximately 3.0 billion people, half of humanity, rely on traditional and harmful biomass for cooking and heating, according to U.N. data.

The smoke from the biomass can cause serious health problems. Every year, 1.5 million people, mostly women and children, die from pulmonary disease caused by smoke inhalation.

"I convened this group last year for one simple reason: we need to urgently transform the global energy system," said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "The decisions we make today on energy will have a profound impact on the global climate, on sustainable development, on economic growth, and global security."

A reliable, affordable and clean energy supply is the key to economic growth, according to the report. Developing countries in particular need to expand access to modern energy services if they are to reduce poverty end achieve the anti-poverty targets contained in the Millennium Development Goals.

The report sets two key objectives for the year 2030 - universal basic access to modern energy systems and increases in energy efficiency. It also calls for a 40 percent reduction in global energy intensity by 2030, which would mean reducing the global intensity by 2.5 percent per year.

There are important synergies between these goals.

Modern, efficient energy systems will contribute to a more rapid reduction in net energy intensity. Increased energy efficiency allows existing and new infrastructure to reach more people. Similarly, energy-efficient appliance and equipment make energy services affordable for consumers.

At the report's launch, Ban was flanked by the Group's chairman, Kandeh Yumkella, director-general of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation, Helge Lund, CEO of Statoil, and Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme.

Yumkella described the report as an action plan. "It sets forth ambitious but achievable ways to provide everyone access to electricity and other modern energy services," he said.

He added that the technology and business models already exist, but the initiative will need significant commitments from national governments and the international community.

And it is up to each country to choose which solution, or mix of solutions, that should be adopted. Availability of resources, the regulatory and policy environment and costs would be key factors.

The capital investment required to achieve the goal of universal access, a "basic human need", is 35 to 40 billion dollars per year, based on cost estimates. Grant funding of 10 to 15 billion dollars a year and loan capital of 20 to 25 billion dollars a year will also be needed.

While this may sound like a lot of money, it represents only around five percent of the total global energy investments expected during this period.

The investment required to provide sufficient energy production would, according to the report, be almost entirely for concessional loan capital rather than grant funding. This is because the additional energy capacity will provide people with income opportunities and therefore their ability to pay for their energy service.

There are already some success stories, such as Brazil, China and Vietnam, which have managed to rapidly expand energy access, Yumkella said. China, Japan, Denmark and Sweden were cited as countries that have improved their energy efficiency.

The advisory group was set up last year to advise Ban on the energy-related dimensions of climate change negotiations. It comprises 20 members, including business leaders, academics and representatives of the United Nations and civil society, from different parts of the world.

In September, world leaders will meet at the U.N. to assess progress on the Millennium Development Goals and to chart a course of action for the next five years. Later in the year, government delegations will gather in Mexico to continue working towards a climate change agreement.


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