Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out the chilling effects the current high price of oil will have on access to energy if it continues at current levels. Oil importing developing countries are trying to meet the astronomical costs needed to maintain and expand their energy infrastructures, but higher prices mean deteriorating balance of payment positions and lower economic growth. Producing countries have argued, on the other hand, that the international community should be concerned not only with high but also with low oil prices. If we have learned one thing from the past energy crises, it is that there is a need for cooperation between the producers and consumers of energy to work towards achieving stabilization of the price of oil throughout, not just in one phase of the business cycle.
The United Nations remains committed to working with you and other energy service providers worldwide along with governments and civil society in the pursuit of energy accessibility, availability and acceptability in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the goals of sustainable development. While our specific roles may differ, only by working together can we hope to leverage our skills and resources to improve human, technical and institutional capacities so that everyone has access to basic energy services. The United Nations system, including the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, currently has a number of capacity-building projects in the energy sector in developing countries, many of which are members of the World Energy Council and are represented at this Congress. We have worked closely with the Council on the World Energy Assessment in 2001 and have just agreed to continue this collaboration in preparation for further deliberations on energy issues at the 14th and 15th sessions of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in 2006 and 2007.
Our post-Summit experience has shown that there are many ways for the public sector, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and regional and international organizations to work together. There are many different forms of public-private and even public-public and private-private partnerships that can be utilized as we cooperate to implement the ambitious goals of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
Before closing, I would like to leave you with a modest proposal. It should be clear by now that while there are many developing countries that will be able to survive and even prosper in the new global economy, there are others ─the least developed countries, in particular─ that will continue to need economic assistance for a considerable period. Most of these countries are in Africa, where modest deposits of natural gas are known or suspected. And natural gas is a flexible fuel that can be used for electricity generation, domestic cooking and transportation, and that releases considerably less CO2 than other fossil fuels. Assisting these countries in locating and developing these reserves of natural gas, even if small, would be the worthy goal of a new partnership between the private sector and the international community. Therefore, I challenge you to consider launching a Natural Gas Exploration and Development Initiative for the Least Developed Countries. The funds for this initiative could come from a variety of sources: donor governments, international organizations, private corporations and foundations. This would be a concrete step toward promoting energy accessibility for those who need it most and would give substance to our meeting here in Sydney.