U.N.'s New Sustainability Plan: Double Renewable Power Worldwide, Give Energy Access to All

"We are Nearing the Point of No Return" on Climate Change
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon stressed the need to end global energy poverty in a sustainable fashion today, and issued a stern warning to the international community on climate change.

He made the remarks during the opening session of the World Future Energy Summit, where he announced that the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All is officially underway. Before you roll your eyes at yet another awkwardly named U.N. initiative, note the objectives. They confront what is perhaps the most pressing energy challenge of our time: Bringing electrification to billions of the world's poorest citizens without throwing the global climate system into total disarray.

"I understand the power of energy firsthand," Ban Ki-moon said, making a compassionate case for ending energy poverty while simultaneously ramping up production and deployment of clean energy. "As a boy in post-conflict korea, a single lightbulb allowed me to study both day and night. I want the same opportunity for boys and girls around the world."

Sustainable Energy for All is the result of the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 65/151, which was passed in 2010. According to the initiative's charter, "This initiative will engage governments, the private sector, and civil society partners globally with the goal of achieving sustainable energy for all, and to reach three major objectives by 2030."

And those objectives are:

  • "Ensuring universal access to modern energy services

  • Doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency

  • Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix"

"Energy poverty still condemns billions to darkness, to missed opportunities," Ban Ki-moon said. "Energy poverty must end. Development is not possible with energy."

The secretary general then rattled off some familiar statistics: Namely, that one in five people worldwide lack access to modern electricity. That three billion people still rely on charcoal and dung for cooking (which poses severe health hazards from the smoke it creates).

And yet, if those three billion people were all to get their power from coal-fired plants (like many of us do), the planet would be screwed. The International Energy Agency estimates that global energy demand, spurred largely by developing nations coming online, will spike 50% by midcentury. Which means, trying to get those three billion or so people get plugged into cleaner power sources instead of firing up fossil fuels is essential to, well, maintaining a livable climate.

"We need to scale up successful examples of clean energy," Ban Ki-moon said. "We need innovation that can spread throughout the developing world. We need partnership with the private sector. We need visionary leadership. Ending energy poverty is only one half of the equation.

"Our planet is overheating. We need to turn down the global thermostat. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by half by 2050 to keep temperatures at pre-industrial levels."

And how imperative is the mass deployment of clean energy technology, of choosing sustainable sources over fossil fuels to power growth in the coming decades?

"According to IEA," Ban Ki-moon said, "we are nearing the point of no return."

U.N.'s New Sustainability Plan: Double Renewable Power Worldwide, Give Energy Access to All
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announces the official launch of the ambitious sustainability initiative.

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