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World’s Energy Poor See Receding Light at End of Tunnel

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2011 (IPS) - As the world continues to marvel at the widespread progress in modern technology and home electronics, there are still about 2.5 billion people – out of a global population of nearly 6.9 billion – who have little or no access to electricity.

According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), the future does not hold much hope either – unless there is a dramatic improvement in current efforts to provide electricity to the world’s “energy poor”.

The IEA predicts that 1.4 billion people will remain short-circuited with no access to electricity by 2030, when world population is expected to explode to a staggering 8.2 billion.

And without electricity, say experts, there is no access to the information superhighway, the Internet.

“Addressing these challenges is beyond the reach of governments,” warns U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He says it should involve “the active engagement of all sectors of society, including the private sector, local communities, civil society, international organisations and the world of academia and research.”

A global initiative for strengthening public-private partnerships (PPP), launched at the United Nations Thursday, involves several of the world’s electricity companies and U.N. Energy, an umbrella group of U.N. bodies working on sustainable development.

These companies, which comprise the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP), are from the United States, France, Brazil, Italy Canada, Japan, Russia, Germany, China, Mexico and South Africa.

Originally called e8, the GSEP was created following the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil primarily “to promote sustainable energy development through electricity sector projects and human capacity-building activities in developing and emerging nations worldwide.”

The GSEP works in close collaboration with key U.N. agencies and other international organisations in the energy sector.

Kandeh Yumkella, director general of the Vienna-based U.N. Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and chair of U.N. Energy, welcomed the partnership, which will also serve as an “important foundation” for the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All in 2012.

The PPP is already visible in Argentina’s Patagonia, region where an 86-kilowatt hydroelectric station is expected to provide power to the tiny rural community of Cochico and to the isolated village of Chorriaca.

The project has been set up in collaboration with Patagonia’s provincial governments and rural communities.

According to the secretary-general, the provision of clean, reliable energy is “central to efforts to combat climate change and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which call for substantial poverty reduction and improvements in health and education by 2015.”

Johane Meagher, GSEP’s executive director, told IPS providing clean, reliable sources of electricity to 1.4 billion by 2030 is a daunting challenge. But it is possible with private and public sector collaboration, he added.

“There is one way only to achieve this goal, though: the private sector must invest in these projects,” Meagher said. “So how do governments attract the private capital needed? The global survey we conducted with UN-Energy, and case studies such as our partnership’s new projects in Patagonia, point the way forward with a series of recommendations.”

Mike Morris, chair of GSEP and chief executive officer of American Electric Power, told IPS that “by the end of 2011, we will have met with energy and finance ministers from more than 50 countries and worked on policy changes they want to make to become more attractive to investors in electricity projects.”

Strong synergies can result when all advanced power technologies that emit few or zero greenhouse gases are coupled with enabling public policies and financing, he added.

In addition to improving the lives and environment of people by supplying them with electricity from advanced coal, renewable, nuclear, and natural gas technologies, he said, the projects will also stimulate the growth of local jobs in manufacturing and services.

Meanwhile, in a statement released last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said it strongly supports the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as spelled out in its Special Report on ‘Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation’.

“In 2008, we sourced 13 percent of energy from renewables, but the IPCC report says that nearly 80 percent of our energy needs, including rising demand in developing countries, can be met by 2050 through renewable energy sources,” the statement said.

The IPCC concludes that in order to get there, governments need to lead the way and set policies that encourage technology transfer, awareness raising and financing.

“This report is great news for the planet and people, as well as for our climate,” says IUCN Director-General Julia Marton-Lefvre.

As the energy debate is picking up again in many countries around the world, IUCN urges governments to build on the findings of the report and quickly put in place the policies that create a truly green economy, she said.

“We don’t need to wait for new inventions. The global shift towards clean energy can be achieved with the sustainable application of existing technologies such as bio-energy, solar, wind and hydropower,” she declared.

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