Energy Access on the International Agenda

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Endorsed in September 2000 by the general assembly of the UN millennium declaration, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world's time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty by 2015 worldwide.

The eight Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) include:[1]

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty & hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Basic Energy Services

The Millennium Development Goals did not include a specific Goal on "energy". However, in 2010, the High Level Plenary Meeting of the General Asssembly of the MDGs recognized "energy" as a key requirement for reaching the MDGs. Without access to energy, sustainable economic and social development is seriously constrained. Energy services such as light (e. g. to extend productive activities during evening hours), power (e. g. to run machines for industrial and agricultural processes) and heat (e. g. to cook/preserve food) are pre-requisites for income generation and job creation and hence poverty-reduction. Furthermore, by using efficient cooking technolgies, peolpe save valuable time (1-4 hours daily) in collection fuelwood, which can be used for income-generating activities. According to estimates by the WHO, people who switch from traditional cooking practices to more efficient cooking technologies over a ten-year period, could save $34 billion per year and generate an economic return of $105 billion pa.[2] Children can spend more time doing their homework for school instead of collecting wood for cooking and heating. Previous studies show that women choose to spend most of their saved time in increasing their productivity and indulging in household chores. Energy would play a key role in eliminating gender inequalities in primary and secondary education by giving these women access to information and in some cases empowerment through the media. Street lighting and lighting in the community also gives a chance to adult education and community involvement by increasing safety. Modern cooking fuels would also be available which would reduce respiratory related diseases and save time on firewood collection, leading to more leisure time and women empowerment.

Thermal and electric energy are an indispensible input for agri-food chains and therefore key forfood security. Motive power is needed for agricultural production, electric and thermal energy for food processing, not to mention that 80% of our staple foods need to be cooked to become edible. Access to modern forms of energy hence contributes to reducing malnutrition related deaths by enhancing food production and processing. Energy access contributes to reducing child mortality furthermore by reducing waterborne diseases through powering equipment for pumping, boiling and treatment of water. Respiratory disease are combated by the use of modern energy and improved cook stoves which reduce the indoor air pollution (IAP) levels.

I order to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015 the, modern energy can be used in health care facilities as a mean of providing better services and dissemination of information on how to fight the spread of preventable diseases through radio and television. This also reduces the risk and time spent by the women when collecting firewood and it is evident that women collecting firewood are at risk of sexual abuse.

Energy contributes to improve the level of education in schools by lighting classrooms (for evening homework), increasing night-time security in boarding schools, powering equipment and including information and communication technology in the classroom. Electricity supply makes boarding schools in remote areas more attractive for teachers by increasing the living standard on the compound.

Access to modern forms of energy contributes, in various different ways, to environmental sustainabilty. Efficient cooking technologies save firewood, hence decrease greenhouse gas emission levels from cooking in developing countries and the rate of deforestation and land degradation. Increasing energy efficiency and the adoption of renewable sources for electriciy generation contribute to both the adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

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International Attention for Energy Access

Despite the lack of a specialized MDG on energy, the problem of energy poverty has gained strong momentum in the international debate during the last couple of years. Currently, as part of the post-2015 debates, a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on energy is under discussion. It is looking very likely that the future SDG system will comprise binding goals on energy, which comprises the objectives of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative. [3]

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Sustainable Energy for All Initiative

Launched in 2011 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative is a global initiative to mobilize action from all sectors of society in support of three key objectives to be achieved by 2030:

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

By now, more than 70 Governments from all over the world have formally engaged with the initiative. More than 500 billion USD have been committed to the Initiative by the private sector. The Initiative's goal is to raise major new investements to be able to transform the world's energy systems to cater for the poor. Both, the UN Secretary-General and the World Bank President, sit on the Initiative's Advisory Council.

Apart from the overarching SE4All Initiative, other technology-specific multilateral campaigns and institutions have raised international attention to the problems of energy poverty and suitable solutions out of it. Among the most prominent are the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves with Julia Roberts and Hillary Clinton as ambassadors, and Lighting Africa - a World Bank/IFC program focussing on improved lighting in Africa.

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Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Launched in September 2010, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a public-private initiative partnership that aims at saving lives, improving livelihoods, empowering women, and protecting the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. The founding partners are the government of the US, Germany, Norway and Peru, Shell, Morgan Stanley, WHO, UNEP and several other organizations. The goal of the alliance dubbed "100 by 20" seek to foster the adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels in 100 million houses by 2020 with the support from a wide range of private, public, and non-profit stakeholders. To achieve this, the Alliance promotes major public awareness campaigns and establishment of industry standards worldwide. Furthermore, it supports the development of local and international markets for clean cookstoves and fuels, and funds further research.[4]

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Lighting Africa

Launched in September 2007, Lighting Africa is a joint World Bank-IFC program which was started with the aim of improving access to clean and affordable lighting in Africa. About 600 million people in Africa (60% of the population) have no access to electricity. Against this background, the Lighting Africa program is working to catalyze and accelerate the development of sustainable markets for affordable, modern off-grid pv-based lighting solutions for low-income households and small enterprises.[5]

In order to achieve this goals Lighting Africa has the following goals:

  • Mobilize and support the commercial sector to supply high quality, affordable and clean lighting to 2.5 million people by 2012.
  • Eliminate market barriers so that the private sector can supply high quality, modern, off-grid lighting products to 250 million people in Africa without electricity in 2030.

And in the achievement of this two goals Lighting Africa is planning to use three different approaches which are:

  • Demonstrate the viability of the market to companies and investors by providing market intelligence on market size, consumer preference and behavior, and on the bottom of the pyramid business models and distribution channels.
  • Developing quality assurance market infrastructure to improve the enabling environment for the sector, and by facilitating business to business interactions through conferences, workshops and a dedicated web-platform. The program also works with governments to address policy barriers.
  • Supporting the scale up and replication of successful businesses by providing targeted business development services and facilitating access to finance for manufacturers, local distributors and other stakeholders.

With the aim to promote efficient, affordable, clean renewable-energy powered lighting India, IFC launched the Lighting Asia/India program with similar pillars of activities.

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UNEP en.lighten

Further Information

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  1. Millennium Development Goals and beyond 2015 -
  2. UNDP, Achieving Sustainable Energy for All in the Asia‐Pacific, 2013
  3. The Millenium Development Goals and the Post-2015 Debate:
  4. Global alliance for clean cook stoves:
  5. Lighting Africa :