20 April 2012

Secretary-General to Global Development Center: ‘Energy is the Golden Thread’ Connecting Economic Growth, Social Equity, Environmental Sustainability

20 April 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General to Global Development Center:  ‘Energy is the Golden Thread’


Connecting Economic Growth, Social Equity, Environmental Sustainability


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Center for Global Development event on “Delivering Sustainable Energy for All:  Opportunities at Rio+20”, 20 April, in Washington, D.C.:

It is a pleasure to join you.  I cannot think of a more timely or important reason to come together.

Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability.  I know this from my own experience.  When I was a boy in post-war Korea, I studied at night by a dim and smoky oil lamp.  Only when I prepared for examinations was I allowed to use a candle.  Candles were considered too expensive to use for ordinary homework.  This memory has stayed with me.  My country changed, and my prospects changed, with the advent of affordable modern energy in Korea.

But too many others have not been so lucky.  Widespread energy poverty condemns billions to darkness, to ill health, to missed opportunities.  Energy poverty is a threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  It is inequitable and unsustainable.

Children cannot study in the dark.  Girls and women cannot learn or be productive when they spend hours a day collecting firewood.  Businesses and economies cannot grow without power.

We must find a way to end energy poverty.  And with climate change a growing menace to all, we must also rethink conventional energy solutions.  We can no longer burn our way to prosperity.  Fortunately, providing sustainable energy to all offers benefits for developed and developing countries alike.  It can enable developing countries to leapfrog over the energy systems of the past and build the resilient, competitive, clean energy economies of the future.

This is why I have established the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, with three objectives to be achieved by 2030.  First, ensuring universal access to modern energy services.  Second, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.  Third, doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

I also established a high-level group to carry out global advocacy for the initiative.  And, I am pleased to say, the United States has provided strong leadership.  We have had the benefit of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s vision.  United Nations Foundation President Tim Wirth has provided his trademark passion.  And Bank of America Chairman Chad Holiday is serving as Co-Chair of the Group, along with United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Director-General Kandeh Yumkella.  I am truly grateful for their dedication and commitment.  The group members come from very different backgrounds, but when it comes to the initiative, they are united in thinking that while the objectives are ambitious, they are totally achievable.

Our challenge is to join forces, overcome the barriers, and bring our efforts to scale.  We will need to scale up successful examples of clean energy and energy-efficient technologies.  We will need innovation to spread throughout the world — especially where energy demand is growing fastest.  And we must make a quantum leap in private capital flows by forging strong partnerships with the private sector — the global engine of growth and the primary source of new investments.

My Sustainable Energy for All initiative will bring together key stakeholders in an effort to create transformative change in the world’s energy systems.  By leveraging the global convening power of the United Nations, it will introduce new public-private partnerships.  By fostering the necessary enabling conditions, including to mitigate risk, the initiative will promote large-scale investment.  And by engaging a broad range of stakeholders, the initiative will mobilize innovative solutions and bold commitments.  The power of partnership will be central to this endeavour.

That is why I am making Sustainable Energy for All one of the main initiatives to be supported by the new UN Partnership Facility I am going to establish as part of my Action Agenda for the next five years.  Next week, at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in London, the high-level group will announce its Action Agenda.  The Agenda identifies 11 priority action areas that are critical to achieving the three objectives.  We must rally around these priorities.  I am very excited that we are joining hands with the Clean Energy Ministerial to promote game-changing initiatives such as the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership.

Developing countries are also standing up.  Ghana, one of the first countries to partner with the Sustainable Energy initiative, has started developing national plans and programmes of action.  Many more countries are seeking to get involved.  And earlier this week, the European Commission pledged to providing access to sustainable energy services for half a billion people by 2030.  These are all powerful political commitments that can help set a new course for generations to come.  I count on all of you to emulate these strong initial examples of support.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is just two months away and approaching fast.  Member States want to make the most of Rio+20.  They want to see renewed political commitment to sustainable development.  They also want concrete deliverables that will place us on this path.  The negotiations are complex and wide-ranging.  I continue to use every opportunity to press Member States to maintain a high level of ambition, and to produce a powerful outcome document.

The current draft identifies 26 critical areas for action, including water, food and jobs; cities, oceans and land use; tourist and transport; chemicals, forests and climate change; disaster preparedness, poverty eradication and sustainable consumption and production.  Energy is central to each.  One expected outcome is a compendium of new and measurable commitments.

But, commitments alone are not enough.  We know what to do.  We need to focus more attention on how we will do it.  That means financing and technical assistance.  We need a system to track our gains — and where we may be falling short.  Governments need to establish the regulatory frameworks.  Major groups, such as business and industry, have a central role to play in planning and implementation.  We need to strengthen the interface between science and policy-making, and to improve the institutional framework for sustainable development.

For my part, I am personally committed to mobilizing the entire United Nations system to promote success in Rio and then the robust implementation of what is agreed.

This morning, I met with some of the world’s leading ministers of finance, and sought their support both in the final run-up to Rio and then in the hard work afterwards.   Their role will be as crucial as anyone’s.  The transformation to a green economy will be propelled in large part by their decisions on investments, subsidies, incentives, environmental accounting and much else.  I stressed to them that the challenges we face are of such immense magnitude, and so closely interconnected, that they require nothing less than a paradigm shift, a fundamental ‘re-set’ of the global development agenda.  I emphasized that we must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to agree on a concrete set of outcomes that will create an inclusive green economy for this and future generations.

I am also mobilizing the United Nations system itself.  Last weekend in Geneva, I gathered the heads of all United Nations agencies, funds and programmes for intensive discussions on how we can pull together as a team, with all our many assets, to support the world’s people in this effort.  Let me share with you an excerpt from the joint declaration we issued:  “Rio+20 must provide the roadmap to the future we want — a future with peace, dynamic economic and social development, universal social well-being, and a healthy and equitable environment for present and future generations where women and men, boys and girls equally contribute to and benefit from development.”

This is the task before us, the great challenge of our time.  Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.  We must ensure that it is a worthy successor to Rio 1992.  As a leading think tank in the United States, the Center for Global Development is uniquely positioned to influence policy and help ensure that development commitments are kept.  We count on your research, your rigour and your reputation to help us move towards sustainable energy for all — towards success in Rio — and towards a sustainable future for all:  the future we want.

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