Building resilience
to climate change
Moving towards
low carbon societies
Reducing Emissions
from Deforestation
and forest Degradation
New finance models
for the green economy

The Golden Thread

Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization and the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All

Chad Holliday and I come from very different backgrounds: one from a poor village in Sierra Leone, trained in agricultural economics, with a career in academia, government, and the United Nations; the other from the United States, trained as an engineer, who has led two global companies, DuPont and Bank of America. It is perhaps for those very differences that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked us last year to chair a Highlevel Group on Sustainable Energy for All – and also because we are of one mind on the importance of sustainable energy and the need for collaboration to ensure that every person on Earth has the opportunities that energy provides.

The Secretary-General has said, "Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive." Like me, he grew up in conditions of energy poverty – in post-war Korea, the young Ban also studied by a dim and smoky kerosene lamp at night. Only when he prepared for examinations was he allowed to use a candle.

The memory of those days moved him to launch his initiative on Sustainable Energy for All in the fall of 2011, comprising three linked objectives for the world to reach by 2030:

  • Ensuring universal access to energy access.
  • Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

These ambitious but achievable objectives will both enable billions of people to escape energy poverty and set the whole world on a path to the sustainable energy future that we need to stabilize the global climate.

This initiative can serve as a new model of beneficial public and private engagement with the UN system, drawing together leaders from business, government, and civil society as well as the UN itself. Chad Holliday's decision to stay engaged – as chair of the Executive Committee – is one indicator of that; another is the agreement of the World Bank's new President, Jim Yong Kim, to join the Secretary- General to co-chair the initiative's Advisory Board.

The political response to his vision has been gratifying in every part of the world, and 61 developing countries have volunteered to participate. Sustainable Energy for All has already received some 200 commitments to action from governments, businesses, international institutions, and civil society. Businesses and investors have committed more than USD $50 billion. Additional billions were pledged by other key stakeholders – governments, multilateral development banks, and international institutions – to catalyse action.

Much more will be needed, but this is an impressive beginning. More than one billion people will benefit from these commitments. Developing countries in particular will gain improved access to electricity and clean cooking solutions through scaled-up renewable energy resources, increased investment, and improved energy policies. Much of the private investment will deliver increased adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy in industrialised countries.

We can see opportunities in each of the initiative's three objectives.

New investment plans for developing countries can lead to action if national governments, development banks, leaders of business and finance, and civil society organisations take steps to enable private capital to flow. These must include new commitments by all stakeholders - new financial mechanisms to mitigate risk, revised regulatory frameworks to ensure returns on investment, and programs of education and capacity building to support thriving markets.

Leaders in government – not just at the national level, but in cities, states, and regions – have shown that efficiency standards can deliver cost-effective results for consumers: better refrigerators that cost the same but use less energy; new vehicle designs that deliver more power with less fuel; and buildings that require less energy for heating and cooling – or even send power back to the grid. Sharing and adopting these practices more widely among nations and industrial sectors can make energy cleaner, more reliable, and less expensive.

Steadily falling costs for renewable energy technologies – ranging from wind farms to solar lighting, from giant geothermal power plants to small-scale facilities that convert food and farm waste into clean natural gas for cooking and other uses – make them increasingly economically attractive all over the world. Financing mechanisms are needed that balance their higher initial costs against the fact that their fuel is, in many cases, free forever.

Our attention now has turned to next steps – creating a structure and process that will sustain and validate this progress, build on the momentum we have generated, and move rapidly to achieve the objectives of Sustainable Energy for All. This includes:

  • Supporting national governments as they design and implement country-level plans to develop local capacity, create the enabling conditions to attract private investment, and facilitate access to technical assistance and resources.
  • Developing high-impact opportunities into concrete actions through constructive engagement with multi-stakeholder partnerships.
  • Matchmaking public and private partners and reducing investment risk through the targeted use of public and philanthropic capital.
  • Monitoring progress, sharing best practices and lessons learned, and communicating with global stakeholders on a regular basis.

We have no appetite for a new institution or centralised bureaucracy to execute these assignments. Rather, we envision a distributed global network that collaborates with existing institutional structures and initiatives, taking full advantage of available delivery mechanisms and the diverse capacities of partners, including international institutions, businesses, and civil society organisations.

These actions will do much to eradicate energy poverty. They will also lead to sustainable growth, the development of new markets, the creation of new businesses and jobs, and increased global prosperity. The opportunities amount to trilliondollar markets.

The success of the initiative will ultimately be measured by how many of the energy poor are connected to electricity and other modern energy services, and by the impact of Sustainable Energy for All on the world's energy systems and their sustainability, especially on accelerating low-emissions development and green growth. We are deeply grateful to the Secretary- General for getting us started down this road. Now let us commit ourselves to reaching the destination.