UN official stresses need for universal access to energy to boost development

UNIDO Director-General Kandeh Yumkella

21 June 2011 – The lack of access to affordable and reliable energy is a major hindrance to human, social, and economic development, a senior United Nations official told delegates attending an international forum that got under way in Austria today to discuss ways of ensuring universal access to energy.

“Without access to modern forms of energy it is highly unlikely that any of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals will be achieved,” said Kandeh K. Yumkella, the Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Participants in the three-day Vienna Energy Forum – organized by UNIDO, the Austrian Government and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) – highlighted the wide inequality in energy access between rich and poor societies, pointing out that the poorer three quarters of the world’s population use only 10 per cent of global energy.

An estimated 1.5 billion people still do not have access to electricity, and around 3 billion people rely on traditional biomass and coal as their primary source of energy.

Demand for energy in developing countries is expected to grow dramatically, and the increases in population and improvements in living standards are adding to the scale of the challenges, according to delegates at the forum.

Mr. Yumkella noted that China, Peru and Viet Nam have significantly improved their citizens’ access to energy in recent decades, but across sub-Saharan Africa, and in parts of Asia, people still live without basic energy services.

Last year, the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC), which is chaired by Mr. Yumkella, called for the adoption of a target to achieve universal access to modern energy services, and for a 40 per cent reduction in energy intensity by 2030.

The forum coincides with the pre-launch of the Global Energy Assessment (GEA), the most comprehensive analysis of the global energy system ever undertaken.

The GEA estimates that the global investments required to achieve the goal of universal access to energy are about $40 billion annually, a small fraction of the total energy infrastructure investment required by 2030.

Rebecca Grynspan, the Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said that achieving universal access to modern energy by 2030 is possible and can lift more than a billion people out of extreme energy poverty.

“We have to build a momentum for a global movement for universal energy access,” said Ms. Grynspan. “We need to invest in capacity development to create enabling policy, regulatory frameworks and effective institutions and we must partner with the private sector and civil society that drives innovation, brings investments and creates jobs.”

The General Assembly has designated 2012 as the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All. Universal access to energy is one of the key themes for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which will be held in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro in June next year.

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