International Year of Sustainable Energy for All: A Global Call to Action to Address Challenges of Sustainable Development

A young family of five settles for dinner at the end of the day. The children aged between 12 and 5 years run to their various sits at the table. Together they pray and take a deep breath in appreciation of the sumptuous meal they see at the table. Then off, the light goes. The room is completely dark. There is absolute silence. Everything freezes at the moment. The light refuses to come back. The excitement dies out unceremoniously as mama lights a candle or two at the table. After dinner, an hour and a half later, they settle to do their school assignment under the glow of a candle. By bed time, the neighbourhood is completely a ghost town—no light, no voices, no activity and still no light. Slowly they go to bed, but alas they forget to turn off the candle in the kitchen. Something seriously goes wrong and the house is on fire.

This is but one of the many scenarios that a working class family experiences in a city confronted with occasional power shortages. Those with zero energy have a tale of their own- they simply cannot leap out of their current status of scarcity and lack, let alone address the challenges that come with it. Energy is identified as a basic necessity for human activity and economic and social development. Without energy, we feel powerless and handicapped.

Today we are told that one person in five on the planet still lacks access to modern electricity. Twice that number— three billion people— rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heatingIn Ghana, about 88% of all households rely on fuelwood and charcoal as their main fuel for cooking with 56.6% and 32% using fuelwood and charcoal respectively. It is estimated that 84% of rural households use fuelwood as the main source of fuel while charcoal is used by 10% - 13% for cooking. In the urban areas fuelwood is used by an estimated 22% but with a higher proportion of the urban poor using it as the main source of fuel for cooking. It is estimated that 57% of urban households use charcoal.

This is inequitable and unsustainable given that lack of energy services is directly correlated with key elements of poverty, including low education levels, restriction of opportunity to subsistence

activity, and conflict. Lack of access to modern, commercial energy, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), would trap poor countries in a vicious circle of poverty, social instability and underdevelopment.

Despite advances made to extend electricity in rural communities in developing countries, many people still lack access to energy services due to failure of governments to provide the right enabling policies and the high cost of connecting rural communities to the main grid.. In industrialized countries however, the problem is one of waste, not shortage. Yet, those in the developing world are most hit by unsustainable energy use. For instance, excessive dependence on fossil-fuel based energy contributes significantly to the dangerous warming of our planet and spilling effect of global warming has no boundaries. From Japan, to Turkey, to Haiti, to South Sudan and in Ghana, we have all witnessed the devastating effect of the impact of global warming.

Recognizing the importance of energy access for sustainable economic development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nations General Assembly has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All to "increase awareness of the importance of addressing energy issues, including modern energy services for all, access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and the sustainability of energy sources and use". The Year was officially launched at the World Future Summit in Abu Dhabi, UAE on January 16, 2012 as part of the UN Secretary General's Sustainable Energy for All initiative that seeks to mobilize urgent global action to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, all by 2030.

The International Year of Sustainable Energy for All will be rolled out later in the year in New Delhi for Asia, in Nairobi for Africa, and in Barbados for the Americas. Ghana has also been selected as one of the countries to pilot the UN Secretary General's Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All Initiative).

Meanwhile, a High-level Group of eminent global leaders from business, finance, government and civil society was set up last year by the UN Secretary General to mobilize action and commitments that will help drive change on the ground, in corporate board rooms, and in policy portfolios around the world. The Group met recently in Abu Dhabi and produced a Framework for an Action Agenda, which proposes several high-value actions at the national and international level, including action to expand energy access, promote efficiency standards and policies, and strengthen investment in renewables.

Come June 4, 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the UN Secretary General will officially launch the Action Agenda of the High-level Group and publicize the commitments made by all stakeholders to the Initiative. Already, the United Nations is engaging people around the world in a global conversation on sustainable energy and the kind of communities they would like to live in twenty years from now. Known as “The Future We Want”, the campaign seeks to build public awareness and support for sustainable development.

In his report to the General Assembly in New York on September 21, 2011, the UN Secretary- General, Ban Ki-moon said the world “must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women's empowerment”. This is because development cannot take place in isolation because the world will not be able to find lasting solutions to its problems if development is not equitably distributed.

The United Nations believes that issues of climate change, energy, water, food, global health, women's empowerment are all intertwined. These are the issues that would be placed on the table because “we cannot make progress in one without progress in the others” says Ban Ki-moon.

Sustainable energy provides new opportunities for growth, enables businesses to grow, generates jobs, and creates new markets. Access to reliable and sustainable energy would allow millions more children to study after dark, and would enable countries to grow more resilient, competitive economies. With sustainable energy, countries can leapfrog over the limits of the energy systems

of the past and build the clean energy economies of the future. With this conviction, the UN will continue to support countries to strengthen national policy frameworks, promote rural energy services, promote clean energy technology, and increase access to financing for energy. Ghana can tap into these opportunities to present a convincing argument to gain support for strategies that would ensure universal access to modern energy services.

Cynthia Prah
UN Information Centre, Accra
( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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