‘The Implications of Energy Poverty Enormous,’ Says Secretary-General, Urging All to ‘Join the Dots’ between Energy, Food, Water, Climate Security, Development

25 August 2011

‘The Implications of Energy Poverty Enormous,’ Says Secretary-General, Urging All to ‘Join the Dots’ between Energy, Food, Water, Climate Security, Development

25 August 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

‘The Implications of Energy Poverty Enormous,’ Says Secretary-General, Urging All


to ‘Join the Dots’ Between Energy, Food, Water, Climate Security, Development


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at a round table on “Sustainable Energy for All”, in Denver, United States, 24 August:

Good afternoon.  I thank the United Nations Foundation, the University of Colorado and the University of Denver for hosting this discussion in this beautiful setting.

I am in awe of the spectacular view of the Rockies from this room.  I hope it doesn’t distract you from my remarks!  I would like to draw your attention to another view — imagine the world at night as seen from space.  I am sure many of you have seen this picture, but every time I see it I am reminded of one of the most important issues of our day — energy poverty.

The United States is brightly lit.  Africa is dark.  So is much of the rest of the developing world.  Cities show on the map, but the rural poor live — quite literally — in the dark.

Next year is the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All — declared by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness of energy poverty, and what we can — and must — do about it.

Of course, we cannot redress this inequity overnight.  But we can set realistic goals and work towards them.  The United Nations system is advocating three energy targets that can help transform the global economy and put us on a cleaner, safer, more equitable path.

First, ensure universal access to modern energy services.  Second, double energy efficiency.  Third, double the renewable energy share in the overall global energy mix.  Taken in combination, these objectives will enhance equity, revitalize the global economy and help protect the ecosystems that sustain us.

These targets are challenging, but they can be met.  I would like your help in achieving them.  Energy is critical for human progress — for health, education, job generation and economic competitiveness, for reducing poverty and building hope and opportunity.  Ensuring that energy is sustainable is also essential — for minimizing the risks of dangerous climate change.

The implications of energy poverty are enormous.  Parents cannot grow enough food or adequately support their families without motorized equipment, irrigation pumps and power for business activities.  Women spend hours each day on routine daily subsistence activities — pounding grain, hauling water and gathering firewood.  They have little or no time for earning income.  And when they cook over open fires, they and their children are exposed to harmful pollutants from inhaled smoke.  Health clinics and schools cannot function properly without electricity.  Children don’t receive necessary health care — including vaccines that need to be kept cold — nor can they study after dark.

Taken together, energy poverty is jeopardizing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  If we are to achieve these goals, we need nothing short of a clean energy revolution.  Countries that move quickly down a clean energy pathway will be the economic powerhouses of the twenty-first century.  Their citizens will also enjoy cleaner air, better health, greater market competitiveness and enhanced security.

I would like to see you in the vanguard of this revolution!  Earlier this year I visited a geothermal power station in Kenya.  I saw how both the Government and the private sector are investing in renewables from wind power to small-scale hydro.  I have also seen how China is leaping forward to become a world leader in clean energy.  Here in Denver I look forward to seeing some of the exciting new energy technologies that are in the pipeline.

As United States Vice-President Joseph Biden said on his recent visit, there is a global clean-energy revolution that will bring vast economic and environmental benefits.  The clean energy sector is becoming one of the most dynamic and competitive in the world.  Since 2004, financing of global clean energy has grown approximately six-fold, and the opportunities remain extraordinary.  According to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the technical potential of renewable energy technologies vastly exceeds current global energy demand.  More than 97 per cent of this potential has yet to be tapped.

Technical constraints are being swept aside.  What we need most is strong, sustained political leadership to drive this clean energy revolution forward at the speed and scale necessary.  We need to ensure that the right policy incentives and policies are in place to let the market do what it does best: innovate down the cost curve and satisfy demand.

Now is the time to invest, to invest in universal energy access, in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and to invest in people.  The International Energy Agency estimates that financing universal energy access for the 3 billion energy poor would cost only about 3 per cent of total global energy investments.  Doing this can reduce poverty, create jobs, empower women, increase competitiveness, and achieve our target of stabilizing the climate below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Now is the time to raise energy to the top of the international agenda.  Urgent concerns about the global economic system, environmental threats, prospects for peace and social equity are all linked to energy policies and investments.  Next year, world leaders will address these issues at the “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  We need to join the dots between energy security, food and nutrition security, water security, climate security and development.

Rio+20 provides an important opportunity to mobilize support for clean energy investments.  But it will require the wholesale engagement of the business and research communities.  I am here to encourage you to work with us — with UN‑Energy, with the United Nations Global Compact and with the United Nations Foundation — to help us to make sustainable energy for all a reality.  There are enormous business opportunities for those who are prepared to establish modern, efficient energy generation and distribution networks.  Someone is going to do it.  The question is: who will be first?  And who will profit most?

I will soon be inviting leaders from business, Governments, international organizations, academia, philanthropy and civil society to come together to develop a major initiative to be launched at Rio+20.   I encourage you to support our efforts.  I look forward to concrete, bold proposals from all of you that will help us reach these critical sustainable energy goals.  Your ideas and investments can light a new path for billions of people around the world.  Thank you.

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