Clean Energy Ministerial and Sustainable Energy For All Join Forces For Global Clean Energy Push

In 2010 the U.S. launched the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) as a collaborative effort among governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to promote policies, programs, and technical solutions that will accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.

An outgrowth of the U.S.-led Major Economies Forum — which brings together the major carbon polluters in the world in a smaller forum than the U.N. climate negotiations — the CEM has evolved into a global alliance of 23 countries joined in a variety of partnerships to advance energy efficiency, increase renewable energy, and provide modern energy access solutions to 10 million people by 2015.

Last week the CEM met in London and had its most successful meeting to date, greatly expanding a number of its initiatives on technology cooperation. This alone would have signaled a successful meeting. But the parties went even further, joining forces with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) initiative. SE4ALL has emerged as the key goal for the upcoming Rio+20 meeting in June, an event marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit that gave birth to the U.N. framework conventions on climate change, biological diversity, and desertification.

Moon’s Sustainable Energy For All goals are to (1) ensure universal access to electricity by 2030, (2), double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030, and (3) double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. While some in the environment and development community had doubted the U.N.’s ability to move this new platform over the finish line in Rio, this show of support from the CEM parties greatly increases the chances of success by adding a necessary level of detail for how the goals would move forward.

Advances in the Clean Energy Ministerial

With parties representing 90 percent of global clean energy investment and 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the CEM is essential for accelerating smart policy and market conditions for a faster transition to a clean energy economy. Developing countries hold 50 percent of capacity for building out clean energy, but more than 70 percent of growth in clean energy investment since 2000 has been in OECD countries. Global investment in clean energy reached $260 billion in 2011; however, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that $5 trillion is needed by 2020 to avoid a dangerous rise in greenhouse gases. According to the IEA we are on track for a 6°C [11°F] rise in temperature under current policies.


This week the leaders of the CEM — primarily represented by energy and technology ministers from the world’s largest economies — built on the progress of eleven ongoing initiatives to remove barriers to the adoption of clean energy technology.

Countries launched the 21st Century Power Partnership that will harness demand-side management and high volume renewable energy generation through smart grid technologies, as part of the 20-country International Smart Grid Action Network. The partnership will provide a forum for policy sharing and technical tools for regulators and the private sector to better integrate renewable energy into larger electricity grids. In addition, the Smart Grid International Research Facility Network will help to vet smart grid technologies between the R&D and commercialization stage.

The on-going Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative announced several new developments which should accelerate efforts to improve energy efficiency. This included a new effort to shift to more efficient lighting technologies led by India, in partnership with the $20 million UN Environment Program’s en.lighten initiative, which could reduce global electricity consumption by 2.5 percent. This is critical for the overall CEM goal to avoid the need for 650 mid-sides power plants reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 11 billion tons from 2010 to 2030, all while saving billions of dollars.

The CEM also announced the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership to provide modern, low-cost energy options for the world’s poor, expanding on the existing Solar and LED Energy Access Initiative (SLED) led by the US and Italy and now joined by the World Bank, the International finance Corporation, the UN Foundation, the Energy and Resources Institute, the African Development Bank, the Global Environment Facility, the UN Development Program, and Japan’s Ministry of Trade & Industry. SLED has already helped facilitate the sale of 500,000 off-grid lighting systems in Africa helping Lighting Africa provide modern reliable off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people by 2012. Lighting India aims to provide modern lighting services to 2 million people by 2015. These initiatives will advance the overall goal of CEM member governments to expand energy access to 10 million people by 2015.

A year ago at the second CEM, Australia and the United States have taken the lead on the creation of a new internet-based technical assistance project to provide low-cost high-impact support to governments implementing clean energy and efficiency policies. Now in partnership with U.N. Energy the Clean Energy Solutions Center has expanded as of this April to a $15 million project which has so far had over 10,000 users from 150 countries. In London the ClimateWorks Foundation announced a $1 million in-kind commitment to support for this project over three years.


And recognizing that clean energy solutions that include women will ensure a faster and stronger a transition to a clean energy economy that is stronger, sustainable, and equitable, CEM leaders advanced a Women in Clean Energy program as part of the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment initiative to encourage women to join the clean energy field. Women are underrepresented (and underpaid) in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education programs, and even more so in the STEM professional workforce.

Sustainable Energy for All

The CEM commitments are well positioned to support Moon’s Sustainable Energy For All Initiative. The principle U.S. players overlap on both. The CEM was the brainchild of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs David Sandalow. Chu is the U.S. representative on the U.N. High-Level Group for Sustainable Energy for All and he is supported by Sandalow and Carlos Pascual, Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

A helpful way of understanding the three SE4ALL goals on energy poverty, efficiency, and renewable energy is as a continuation of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One persistent critique of the MDGs has been that there were no MDG for energy hindering the goals on health, education, women’s empowerment, and the environment. Given that energy poverty is both an accelerator of overall poverty and a hurdle for moving out of poverty this is a major conceptual and practical flaw in the MDGs.

One in five people (1.3 billion), mostly in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia lack modern, reliable electricity. Twice that number, 40% of the world’s population, relies on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to cook their food using traditional cook stoves, which emit black carbon pollution that is dangerous for human health and a major contributor to global warming. Replacing outdated cook stoves would save 800,000 lives annually.

The IEA estimates the cost to achieving the goal of eliminating energy poverty would be less than $50 billion per year. While the average family savings (especially from the cooking fuel switch) would be $34 billion per year generating an economic return, according to the WHO, of $105 billion per year. The goal on energy efficiency are similarly cost effective. McKinsey estimates that investing $170 billion annually in energy efficiency will generate an internal rate of return of 17 percent, producing savings of $900 billion per year. Meeting this goal would also reduce global energy consumption by 14 percent by 2030 avoiding the construction of approximately 1,300 mid-size power plants.


The newly released Sustainable Energy Action For all Global Action Agenda outlines a course of action and specific objectives for governments, private sector and civil society for reaching the goal of sustainable energy for all by 2030.

Finishing up this week, Charles Holliday, Bank of America Chairman and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All had this to say about the meeting: “The CEM commitments to action announced today in support of achieving Sustainable Energy for All are terrific examples of the power of partnership. Providing sustainable energy for all by 2030 is an ambitious, yet achievable goal. But it will only be achieved through collaborative action by the private sector, governments and civil society.”

The final step for launching SE4ALL will be at the Rio+20 meeting in Brazil June 20–22nd.

Rebecca Lefton is a Policy Analyst and Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow working on international climate policy at the Center for American Progress.