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Opinion: Clean Energy Access, a Major Sustainable Development Goal

Magdy Martinez-Soliman is Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UN Development Programme.

UNITED NATIONS, May 15 2015 (IPS) - The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Forum will take place May 18-21 in New York. Success in achieving sustainable development and tackling climate change challenges requires investment in clean energy solutions.

Magdy Martinez-Soliman

Magdy Martinez-Soliman

The Millennium Development Goals were all contingent on having access to energy services. If you want to get more children into school, you need energy. To guarantee food security and manage water, you need energy. To combat HIV/AIDS and reduce maternal mortality, you need energy. The list goes on.

Poverty can be lived and measured, also, as energy poverty. The poor don’t have access, or very bad supply. In fact, about 1.3 billion people globally do not have access to electricity, and nearly three billion use harmful, polluting and unsustainable methods, such as burning wood and charcoal at home for cooking.

Not only are these methods bad for health and the environment, but they eat into time that could be spent in school or at work, limiting people’s potential – especially women’s. Expanding access to energy services therefore goes hand-in-hand with poverty eradication, gender equality and sustainable development.

Many countries and cities are already moving towards low carbon, clean energy transformations. Germany, for instance, is undertaking the ‘Energiewende’, an economic watershed that aims to produce 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050.

Recognising this fact, sustainable energy is already included in the current draft of the Sustainable Development Goals through Goal 7: “Ensure(s) access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.

Harnessing clean, renewable, and more efficient energy solutions will contribute not only to tackling a country’s or community’s energy challenges but also to the target of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. As it is, a significant amount of GHG emissions are generated from energy production, thus tying sustainable energy directly to the climate change negotiations.

Many countries and cities are already moving towards low carbon, clean energy transformations. Germany, for instance, is undertaking the ‘Energiewende’, an economic watershed that aims to produce 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050; and Vancouver, in Canada, recently announced that it would shift to 100 percent renewable energy.

In both cases these are ambitious but forward-looking plans that weave together sustainable development, economic prosperity, and climate change mitigation.

What this means for the developing world

Are such transformations viable in poorer countries and cities? Energy access, efficiency and sustainability includes actions ranging from technology transfer and skills enhancements, to legal and policy changes that remove barriers and attract investments.

Over the last 20 years UNDP has developed a portfolio of more than 120 sustainable energy projects, amounting to more than 400 million dollars invested and almost one billion in co-financing. We have learned that sustainable energy is a key component in sustainable human development.

In Uruguay, UNDP, together with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), worked with the Government from 2008-2012 to remove regulatory, financial, and technical barriers to the energy market. This addressed issues that had impeded private sector investment and set off a boom in clean energy development.

Working with the National Administration of Power Plants and Energy Transmission (UTE), which manages electricity in the country, UNDP helped to refocus development on wind and renewable energy, and helped to open up a ‘space’ for private sector investors to get involved.

This included a series of ‘energy auctions’ that brought private sector partners into the energy sector, as well as technology transfers, skills training and support to identify areas with high wind-generating capacity. The end result was a strong series of public-private partnerships on renewable energy, with the Government and UTE taking the lead.

The economic case for such shifts is also clear: the 30 million dollars initially invested by the Government and partners has since triggered over two billion dollars in private sector investment. This has resulted in the establishment of 32 wind farms, of which 17 are currently in operation, and an installed capacity of 530 MW.

Once the remaining 15 farms that are under construction become operational, capacity will reach over 1500 MW, supplying over 30 percent of the country’s total electricity demand. Beyond the green-energy shift, this has also created jobs, diversified energy sources (critical when reliant on fossil fuel imports), and helped Uruguay mitigate its carbon emissions.

Supporting innovation and de-risking clean energy investments are critical to success. The SE4ALL Forum next week is a chance for the global community to not only reaffirm the need for sustainable energy (and cement its inclusion in the SDGs) but also a chance to bring together partners around the idea of “leaving no one behind” without energy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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  • Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    Decentralised Renewable Energy Systems are best suited for developing countries rural areas.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Camp: New York