Energy poverty news: Rio+20: June 18

All credit to the much-maligned Global Compact for granting a decent slot to the subject of energy access in the 4-day Corporate Sustainability Forum which concludes today.

And all credit to Dr Kandeh Yumkella for his terrific presentation to gee up the slumbering suits on Saturday. Hurrah for no script and no powerpoint!

The co-chair of the high level group on Sustainable Energy For All (SEFA) began by recounting his visit last week to an indigenous community deep inside Ecuador’s Yasuni Forest. The village has chosen to live in isolation from the modern world yet…..not in isolation from modern energy. Yumkella found solar panels and a biogas converter in this unlikely location. Energy For All means what it says on the tin.

As I noted last week, Yumkella is staying mumkella on the outcome of the formal Rio+20 conference. It’s as though the politicians don’t exist for him.

He prefers to cite the 50 countries so far backing the SEFA initiative and the work of the Clean Energy Ministerial Group on behalf of over 20 of the richer countries.

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Back to hard core politics. It’s worrying to hear that Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment, doesn’t know “why energy access has not had stronger support in behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to set the agenda for this week.”

This analysis by EurActiv suggests that it’s all to do with money. Developing countries are not in the mood to make commitments to action plans without any help to pay for them.

The European Union’s 50 million euro programme for clean energy announced in April is not a bad start, provided of course you have confidence that any aid euros will be left in the kitty after the currency crisis has done its worst.

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The never-ending search for painless funding was one of the topics addressed at Sustainable and Affordable Access to Energy, an interesting side-event led by WWF yesterday. Alison Tate of the International Trade Union Confederation has her eyes on over $300 billion tied up in pension funds of the richest OECD countries. Could this “enormous potential be unleashed?”

Not if the trustees and members have any say in the matter. Pension funds do not normally have a licence to behave as banks or to put up venture capital, which is what is needed to get the supply side moving. That’s partly why we need the public bit of the public-private model.

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Just in case anyone in Rio raises the red herring of the impact on greenhouse gas emissions in delivering universal access to energy, a new study published in Nature offers reassurance.

It concludes that “twenty-one coherent major initiatives could together stimulate sufficient reductions by 2020 to bridge the global greenhouse-gas emissions gap.”

This refers to the “gigaton gap” between government pledges and what scientists advise is necessary to hold global warming down to 2 degrees. The initiatives range from urban planning to labelling of electric appliances.

It’s technical stuff but a quick read suggests that achieving the universal access to electricity goal plus half of the clean cookstoves goal by 2020 would contribute 10% of the total of 10 gigatons saved.

Action on Energy For All not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but pulls above its weight in the bigger mitigation picture.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

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