Energy poverty news: Rio+20: June 13

Our conjecture of a couple of days ago has duly materialised in the shape of another civil society attack on the UN’s Sustainable Energy For All (SEFA) initiative.

In contrast to the gentle nudge to crank up the three goals presented to SEFA in May by a group of moderate NGOs, this “open letter” comes from much further along the activist spectrum:

(SEFA is) using poverty and climate change as excuses to increase corporate profits from energy provision. We call on Governments to reject the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.

The text draws largely on briefings published in recent months by the campaign group, BiofuelWatch. It paints a picture of SEFA’s corporate-dominated governance delivering a licence to big energy interests to plant their dirty solutions in developing countries, riding roughshod over the poor in the process.

The document reminds me of the furious debates about water privatisation in the 1990s. The premise that large corporations are unsuitable service providers for the poor proved sound but there was rarely any acknowledgement of the often invaluable role played by small private water companies.

There are many tiny entrepreneurial energy businesses active in the off-grid sector who may take exception to being tarred with the same brush as Statoil and Eskom.

The fifty organisations that have signed up to the letter so far are predominantly small radical groups, those likely to be active within the People’s Summit at Rio+20 which starts on Friday. Whilst the stronger emerging economies are well represented, I could find only a handful of signatories from the Least Developed Countries for whom SEFA’s first goal of universal energy access is most relevant.

As a footnote to the press release acknowledges, the issues highlighted in this letter are largely captured in last week’s broader civil society appeal “to reclaim the UN from corporate capture,” led by Friends of the Earth International.

The exclusion of any reference to SEFA in that statement may be a missed opportunity – it would have enabled supporters of yesterday’s letter to stand beside more recognised campaign groups. The impressive list of almost 400 signatories includes the likes of Third World Network and Greenpeace International who are closer to the inside track of negotiations and much respected by developing country governments.

It’s conceivable that an attempt to find the middle ground of this debate may yet emerge, perhaps based on the draft statement that we discussed here on Monday. Finding a way to append such a document to the mainstream “corporate capture” protest might put SEFA’s governance into play at its high-level meeting next Wednesday.

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It’s a great day for polarised views about Sustainable Energy For All. Here’s the positive pole, a formidable trilogy of UN leaders publishing in Project Syndicate, the online journal which marshals the views of top opinion-formers.

Kandeh Yumkella, Michelle Bachelet and Margaret Chan, respective heads of UNIDO, UN Women and the World Health Organization, join forces to make the case “that achieving sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy.”

They develop their argument by observing that

everywhere around the world, energy is a woman’s issue (which is ) why we are bringing the principle of gender equality to the forefront of discussions and partnerships to achieve sustainable energy for all by 2030

The article offers a really clear summary of the benefits that energy access brings to women’s lives and opportunities – and therefore to development of their communities.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

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