by Katie Valentine
Climate and energy initiatives were major topics of discussion at UN headquarters in New York last week, with countries pledging new clean energy commitments and calling for increased global cooperation in developing climate change mitigation goals at the UN General Assembly High Level Debate.
Several new commitments and initiatives were announced September 24 during a high Level Sustainable Energy for All event. Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) is a UN program that aims to bring clean energy to people in developing countries without access to modern electricity and cooking services.
According to the UN, nearly one in five of the world’s population doesn’t have access to modern energy sources, and almost 40 percent relies on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to cook their food. The SE4ALL program operates on three platforms that aim to address this problem of energy inequality: 1) ensuring universal access to modern energy services; 2) doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and 3) doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. The recent announcements build on SE4ALL’s commitments, and include:
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the creation of an Advisory Board, which will provide strategic guidance in the SE4ALL initiative. Ban will co-chair the board along with the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and its members will be selected among exceptional leaders from the private sector, civil society and governments.
- Ban announced the Creation of an Executive Committee, which will be chaired by Chad Holliday, Chairman of Bank of America. The Executive Committee will oversee the work of the chief executive of SE4ALL.
- Ban also announced the designation of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and chief executive for SE4ALL. As chief executive, Yumkella will be responsible for planning and implementing SE4ALL initiatives.
- Eskom announced the creation of an electricity roadmap for the Southern African Development Community, with the goal to connect 500 million people to modern energy sources by 2050.
- Accenture announced the release of its report on the value of SE4ALL to global industries.
- Philips announced it will install 100 “light centers” in areas in rural Africa previously without electricity. The soccer field-sized centers are lit by solar-powered LED lights and will be installed by 2015, with the first 40 to be installed late 2012.
At the High Level Debate of the UN General Assembly, which ran from September 25 through October 1, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded UN Member States that time was running out to act on the promise made at the Durban Climate Change Conference in 2011 to adopt a binding agreement on climate change by 2015. He said countries shouldn’t think of climate action as a burden, mentioning the opportunities for economic growth that sustainable investments offer. Other world leaders echoed his statements:
- Sprent Dabwido, President of Nauru, said the UN should appoint a special representative on climate change and security to analyze and address the global security threats and of climate change.
- Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, President of Switzerland, said the Green Climate Fund is essential to financing transitions to a green economy and sustainable development, and ideally should be set up “without delay.” She also called for the post-2015 Millennium Development Goal discussions and the Sustainable Development Goal discussions to be combined into a single process.
- François Hollande, President of France, said the international community must adopt a long-term response to climate change, and that France would be ready to host a UN climate change conference in 2015 so that countries could develop and adopt a comprehensive climate deal.
- Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the General Assembly’s failure to enact binding climate change policy directly endangers small island nations which are especially susceptible to strong storms, rising sea levels and ocean acidification. “Entire nations that currently occupy this Assembly, whose representatives sit among us as friends and equals, may simply cease to exist as a result of our inaction and political cowardice,” he said.
The UN discussions came soon after the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting on September 24 in New York. Environmentally-focused commitments announced at the meeting included:
- The Dr. Aloy and Gesare Chife Foundation committed to increase its model of sustainable development by making affordable green housing, off-grid infrastructure, health services, and skills training accessible to 1,000 Nigerians over the next four years.
- Solairedirect announced its project to demonstrate subsidy-free and community-based solar power generation in the U.S. by developing at least 10 megawatts of distributed solar photovoltaic projects in the Native American areas of the U.S. over the next three years.
- Earth Networks announced its project to use Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts, an advanced hurricane tracking and monitoring tool, as well as PulseRad, a Doppler radar alternative, to improve severe weather monitoring and warning in Haiti, increasing the country’s preparedness in extreme weather events.
These announcements and calls for action underscore the need for more international cooperation on climate change. Agreements to alleviate climate change are essential for the security, sustainability and prosperity of nations, regardless of their size or economic status.