6 June 2018

Sustainable Development Goal 7 on Reliable, Modern Energy ‘Golden Thread’ Linking All Other Targets, Deputy-Secretary-General Tells High-Level Panel

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the High-level Panel on Transformational Energy Access in Least Developed Countries, in Geneva today:

I am pleased to be with you to discuss the all-important issue of transforming energy access in the least developed countries.  Let me start by commending the Board and the Secretariat for aligning the work of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

The Economic and Social Council forum on financing for development in April and the 2018 report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development benefited from UNCTAD’s new intergovernmental expert groups.  I look forward to the next session of the intergovernmental group of experts on financing for development, which will focus on debt.

In September, the Secretary-General will host a high-level meeting on financing the 2030 Agenda and accelerating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  UNCTAD’s contributions will be valuable.  We look forward to their participation in the preparation of the High-level Meeting.

One priority is accelerating the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 7 on affordable and clean energy for all.  This is also a major contribution to the Paris Agreement on climate change.  Two thirds of greenhouse‑gas emissions come from the energy sector.

In September 2019, the Secretary-General will convene a climate change summit in New York to increase climate action and ambition.  Advancing the energy transition will be one of the Summit’s transformative areas.  It is the golden thread that links most of the Sustainable Development Goals.  In particular, it is a key to leaving no one behind.

Universal access to modern energy is a catalyst of inclusivity.  It improves livelihoods and social mobility, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  It benefits health by reducing risks from outdoor and household air pollution and aids access to clean water and refrigeration.  It powers improved medical facilities, especially in rural areas, enabling the safe storage of medicines and vaccines.  It also raises incentives for doctors to work and settle in rural areas.

Reaching Sustainable Development Goal 7 therefore contributes to Goal 3 on good health and well-being.  Access to modern energy services can also enhance the quality of education.

In sub-Saharan Africa, some 90 per cent of children attend primary schools that lack electricity and thus electric lights, refrigerators, fans, computers and printers.  Energy is thus an enabler of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on universal quality education.  The production of energy and access to modern energy also has important gender dimensions.

The traditional gender division of labour within households, especially in rural areas of the least developed countries, typically means women are overburdened with household and unpaid work, including fetching water, gathering firewood and preparing food.  The availability of modern energy, at both household and community level, can significantly reduce time spent on these activities and contribute to achieving Goal 5 on gender equality.  So, we see how Sustainable Development Goal 7 links so much of the 2030 Agenda.

In addition to social benefits, Goal 7 is also at the core of the economic Sustainable Development Goals, namely Goals 8, 9 and 10, helping to increase productivity, enable production and innovation, and reduce inequality.

Rapid technological progress in renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar, has brought costs down.  It is opening up unprecedented opportunity for the electrification of rural areas through decentralized generation and mini-grids, as well as utility-scale renewables.  This will accelerate rural development.

And, by enhancing agricultural productivity and food security, it will lead to achieving Goal 2 on ending hunger.  So, ladies and gentlemen, it is clear just how important Sustainable Development Goal 7 is.

But, today, progress on the Goal 7 targets is still falling short — universal access to electricity; clean fuels and technologies for cooking; a doubling of the rate of improvement of energy efficiency; and a substantial increase in the share of renewables in the global energy mix.

Providing the required finance for Goal 7, as well as transferring the requisite technology, is a huge undertaking.  It requires both the right national policies and stronger international support.

Achieving universal access to modern energy in least developed countries by 2030 will be costly.  It will require investments between $12 billion and $40 billion a year.  This far exceeds currently available resources.

Total official development assistance (ODA) to the energy sector is just $3 billion a year, domestic resources for public investment are scarce in most least developed countries, and most also face serious limits to borrowing without risking an unsustainable debt burden.  Private investors show little enthusiasm for supporting electricity infrastructure in least developed countries.  Massive investments are needed both from the public and private sector.

To that end, the President of the General Assembly is organizing an event on 11 June in New York, in cooperation with United Nations entities such as UNCTAD, on sustainable finance.  It should advance our knowledge about how best to finance massive deployment of basic services such as energy access.

I am also coordinating with UNCTAD and other entities a high-level event during the General Assembly general debate to improve our knowledge of how best to finance the Sustainable Development Goals in all countries.

Because energy technologies, and particularly renewable technologies, are constantly evolving, it is critical that least developed countries gain access to the technologies suited to their particular conditions and circumstances, and that they strengthen the capacity of their energy sectors to absorb such technologies.

While expanding international trade and investment has helped, effective technology transfer that enables countries to leapfrog to sustainable energy is necessary.  This requires the acquisition of relevant knowledge and capabilities, both by actors in the energy supply chain and by end users.  However, international technology transfer mechanisms have an inadequate track record in this regard.

The international community needs to promote better science, technology and innovation policy cooperation and encourage maximum use of existing mechanisms for technology transfer, such as those contained in the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Least Developed Countries Technology Bank.  South-South and triangular cooperation must also play a leading role.

To be strong partners of countries as they deliver the 2030 Agenda — across all Sustainable Development Goals — the United Nations too must change.  No single entity is large enough — or has all the necessary skill sets — to deliver on the world’s expectations.

But, together, the United Nations development system offers unapparelled expertise and global reach.  Together, we can also help countries leverage financing and partnerships at a scale we have never reached before.  To do that, we must become more than the sum of our parts.  This is precisely what the reform process launched by the Secretary-General in assuming his functions.

On 31 May, we crossed a critical milestone in this process, with the General Assembly adopting a landmark resolution that will allow us to move forward.  The resolution endorses the creation of a more robust United Nations coordination system, with — at its centre — a Resident Coordinator system that will be independent from any individual entity but which will be linked to all entities, funds, programmes, specialized and non-resident entities.

Its strengths will come from the system and its diversity.  We foresee a coordination system that is less focused on processes and more on ensuring stronger response to country needs, drawing on the capacities, expertise and skill sets of all entities, at all levels.  We will be able to more easily expand the reach of an entity like UNCTAD as part of the United Nations development system’s family on the ground, and do so in a more flexible, efficient and effective manner than before.

Particularly, the adopted proposals for a revised United Nations Development Assistance Framework process and a new generation of United Nations country teams are indeed meant to better tap into the resources of the entire system and foster greater enhanced substantive collaboration among United Nations entities.

This reform is not about how individual agencies perform.  It is about what we can, and must, do together to better service countries and people in their road towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the coming months, the Secretary-General and I will be working closely with all entities of the United Nations development system to ensure that we are ready to transition to a new Resident Coordinator system — and a new generation of United Nations country teams — by January 2019.  We welcome your inputs moving forward.  Reforming the United Nations development system is our joint endeavour.

Universal access to modern energy is essential to the 2030 Agenda and its core pledge of “leaving no one behind”.  International action to accelerate progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 7 is gathering speed and new partnerships to accelerate progress towards this goal are being set up.

A major impulse should be provided by the next Economic and Social Council high-level political forum, to be held in July in New York.  I trust that the special needs and conditions of the least developed countries will be acknowledged and acted on by the international community.

For information media. Not an official record.