World at Crossroads between Abyss, More Sustainable, Prosperous Stability, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Thematic Dialogue on Energy

18 June 2009

World at Crossroads between Abyss, More Sustainable, Prosperous Stability, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Thematic Dialogue on Energy

18 June 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

world at crossroads between abyss, more sustainable, prosperous stability,

Secretary-General tells General Assembly thematic dialogue on energy

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the General Assembly Informal Thematic Dialogue on Energy Efficiency, Energy Conservation and New and Renewable Sources of Energy in New York today, 18 June:

Thank you for inviting me to open this important discussion.

This December, Governments will meet in Copenhagen to finalize a new climate change agreement.  It is essential that they seal the deal.  It must be comprehensive.  It must be fair.  It must be ambitious.  We must significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions.  And to do that we must change how we use energy.

We can achieve a lot by pursuing energy efficiency.  We can cut greenhouse gas emissions.  We can cut energy costs for businesses and households, and we can provide much-needed new employment opportunities.  Energy efficiency improvements exist in all sectors, but some of the biggest are in industry and transport.  Buildings, including residential housing, also offer considerable opportunities. 

Better educated and more aware consumers also have an important role.  They can help conserve energy and reduce demand.  They can choose how they commute, the kinds of cars they buy, the appliances they use.  In short, we live in a world of opportunity.

However, all these ideas need strong Government policies.  Governments can send powerful market signals.  Good policies can set efficiency standards for appliances, vehicles and buildings.  They can encourage private actors –- whether businesses or households –- to invest in efficiency improvements.  They can change incentive structures for electric utilities so they can profit from conservation. 

Strong policy and market signals can also boost renewable energy.  Governments from Germany to South Africa are enabling citizens and industry to generate their own electricity and feed it into the national grid.  This also offers opportunities for empowerment and development.  It is therefore important that such policies feature in discussions as we move towards Copenhagen.

It is also essential that we understand that the pursuit of energy efficiency and the expansion of renewable energy are not an indulgence for wealthy nations.  They are a tool for all.  They are a tool for promoting clean development.  They are a tool for helping us to de-link economic growth from rising greenhouse gas emissions.  They are a tool for poverty alleviation and empowering the billions of people whose development is held back by a lack of electricity.

Renewable and clean power -– from the sun and the wind, from geothermal or biomass –- offers a step on the ladder of prosperity for communities the world over.  We must make it more widely available.

One obstacle is limited access to finance.  This includes villagers, and it includes larger businesses.  Renewable energy often involves considerable capital outlay, but once it is functioning its costs are little.  Unlike coal-fired power stations, wind farms and solar installations need no fuel.  Geothermal energy comes from the ground.  Biomass energy often comes from agricultural waste.

Governments must do their part to overcome the obstacles to expanding renewable energy.  For example, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) can be used a lot more effectively.  Until recently, the bulk of CDM funds were backing large-scale projects in rapidly developing countries such as Brazil, China, India and Mexico.  Smaller projects in poorer countries, particularly in Africa, have been missing out.  We need to build the capacity of governments to write winning CDM proposals.  This is something we are working on, and it is paying off.  We are seeing more projects being approved throughout Africa and elsewhere.

Climate change may be one of the biggest threats we face, but it is also generating a world of opportunity.  The transformation will not be easy.  Fundamental change never is.  It will need a significant amount of initial investment.  But it will pay off in the long-run.

The green economy is the wave of the future.  Copenhagen can give it a massive, even decisive, boost.  It can support job creation, rural development and environmental protection.  It can combat deforestation.  Let us remember that as much as 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation -- more than from cars, trucks, planes and ships combined.

Copenhagen can support the protection of other essential ecosystem services as well.  Grasslands, pasturelands, peatlands and mangroves all capture carbon.  They all release carbon when they are degraded.  A comprehensive deal in Copenhagen can be a massive win for sustainable development.

I believe more and more people –- in Government and in industry -– are seeing the opportunities that are there to be seized.  Several economies have earmarked multi-billion-dollar investments in clean energy.  Renewable energy is one of the few sectors that has in some ways defied the global recession.  In fact, 2008 marked the first year that investment in new power generation capacity from renewable energy technologies was more than investment in fossil-fueled technologies.

The transformation of the global energy market is under way.  We must maintain and increase the momentum.  We must make the expansion of renewable energy a keystone of development.

Let me close with a final example.  During the oil crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Iceland was totally dependent on oil imports.  It decided instead to harness its geothermal resources.  Today Iceland generates nearly all its energy from geothermal and hydro-electricity.  It is not the only country with abundant renewable energy resources.  Africa’s Rift Valley is a literal hotbed of geothermal potential.  Kenya is already exploiting it and plans to expand.

Other countries are looking at similar opportunities, with United Nations help.  Many have considerable potential for generating energy from solar and wind -- including oil exporting countries.  The United Nations is helping to map the best locations.  Rwanda –- whose President [Paul] Kagame is a strong advocate of the green economy –- has vast reserves of methane gas.  Brazil has shown the world the potential of biomass as fuel.  China has doubled its wind power capacity five years in a row, and is the world’s leading producer of photovoltaic cells.  Denmark is a pioneer of carbon neutrality.

We stand at a crossroads.  One direction leads to an abyss.  The other direction leads to a more sustainable, more prosperous, more stable world.  The choice should be clear.  Energy efficiency and renewable energy provide an opportunity to tackle many challenges at once.  Climate change.  Energy insecurity.  Poverty alleviation.  Let us do our utmost to realize this great potential.  Sustainable development is within our grasp.

I wish you a most productive meeting.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.