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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Universal energy access can secure growth and freedom, say Vienna Energy Forum participants

VIENNA, 21 June 2011 – Participants at a major international event on energy that opened in the Austrian capital today called for bold steps and strategic public-private partnerships to guarantee universal energy access by 2030, including by expanding the use of  renewable energy sources.

The three-day Vienna Energy Forum in the Hofburg Palace is organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). It brings together over 1,000 participants, including heads of State, ministers, energy experts, representatives of international and non-governmental organizations, academia, civil society and the private sector.

The UN General Assembly named 2012 as the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All. The UN Foundation has launched a website for the Year: www.SEFA2012.org

Speaking at the Forum, former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger said that universal energy access was not “just about lighting a dark room, or cooking on a better stove. It’s about the freedom that energy – and especially renewable energy – gives us”.

To watch Schwarzenegger's full speech, click here

To download Schwarzenegger's full speech, click here

"We don’t have to be slaves to faulty grids. We don’t have to watch our citizens get sick and die from pollution. We don’t have to worry about a corrupt dictator waking up on the wrong side of the bed and deciding to shut off power to our country,” he said.

Schwarzenegger gave the example of the Austrian city of Güssing, which 15 years ago “couldn’t pay its power bill”, had insufficient jobs, and locals had to rely on outside sources for all of their energy.

“Just 15 years later, their addiction to fossil fuels is completely gone, replaced by clean, renewable energy. There now is a booming economy that’s created more than 50 companies and 1,000 jobs. The government made the first push, but academics, non-profits, and businesses all worked together, and today, they don’t import a single megawatt of energy. Can you imagine that kind of freedom?  That freedom is what this conference is all about,” said Schwarzenegger.

Last year, with the encouragement of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Schwarzenegger launched R20, which brings together regional governments, NGOs, corporations and educational institutions to create strong green economies around the world, new green jobs and build commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Director-General of UNIDO, Kandeh K. Yumkella, who also chairs UN-Energy, a United Nations system-wide coordinating mechanism on energy issues, said that the lack of access to affordable, reliable energy services was a fundamental hindrance to human, social, and economic development, adding that “without access to modern forms of energy it is highly unlikely that any of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals will be achieved”.

This was echoed in the speech of former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who stressed the importance of energy in Africa's fight against poverty and in attaining the MDGs.

To watch Obasanjo's full speech, click here

To read Obasanjo's speech, click here

Participants pointed to a deep inequity that exists between the rich and poor, saying that, roughly, the poorer three-quarters of the world’s population use only 10 per cent of the world’s energy. About 1.5 billion people still don’t have access to electricity, and around 3 billion people rely on traditional biomass and coal as their primary source of energy. The demand for energy in developing countries is expected to grow dramatically, and the increases in population and improvements in living standards are adding to the scale of the challenges.

Success stories in increasing access to modern and reliable forms of energy exist. According to Yumkella, in the last decades, China, Peru and Viet Nam have improved access for their citizens substantially, but across sub-Saharan Africa, and in parts of Asia, people are still living without basic energy services.

In April 2010, the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC), chaired by Yumkella, called for the adoption of a target to achieve universal access to modern energy services and for a 40 per cent reduction in energy intensity by 2030.

The Forum coincided with the pre-launch of the Global Energy Assessment (GEA), the most comprehensive and integrated analysis of the global energy system ever undertaken. Coordinated by IIASA, the GEA involved over 500 energy experts from around the world and uniquely addresses the issues of energy access, equity, climate change, health and gender issues and security and investment simultaneously.

“Close to 3 billion people are without access to modern energy services and by providing universal access up to 2 million lives could be saved annually,” said IIASA Director, Detlof von Winterfeldt. He added that according to the GEA the cost of providing modern energy access for all was not only achievable but affordable in the medium term: “This access will achieve enormous co-benefits in terms of air quality and related health issues, climate change, and gender equity, to name just a few.”

The GEA estimates that the global investments required are about USD 40 billion annually, a relatively small fraction of the total energy infrastructure investment required by 2030. The magnitude of the resources required makes it evident that the solution is for major public–private partnerships being nurtured by innovative policies such as feed-in-tariffs and other innovative mechanisms.

Johannes Kyrle, Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs said that the Energy Forum was special to Austria because it could draw on the wealth of knowledge and connections of eight international organizations headquartered in and around Vienna who have significant or exclusive energy mandates. “I expect the Vienna Energy Forum to mobilize political support for the energy access agenda, underscoring that energy access is necessary for poverty reduction and that access and climate stabilization can be pursued in mutually re-enforcing ways,” he said.

Suleiman J. Al-Herbish, Director-General, OPEC Fund for International Development, said there was a need for “enhanced willingness and a genuine political will from developed countries to help developing countries” based on a better recognition of what is called the “climate debt”. “That is the massive compensation owed to the poor for suffering from the damage of climate change they have not caused. There is no shortage of good intentions or promises such as the ones made in Cancun in December 2010, however the issue is the implementation on the ground,” he said.

The Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, said that energy interlinked with “climate change, the future of the energy mix, the problems of energy security, security of supply and security of demand and transportation,” adding that energy was “quite possibly the main problem for our generation to resolve”. He called upon all countries to work together “in order to maximize our impact in the area of energy, and do this in a way which will pool our expertise; since we all approach energy issues from slightly different perspectives”.

To read the opening remarks of Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility, go here

To see the full programme of VEF 2011, please go here:

http://www.unido.org/index.php?id=1001185

For more information about UNIDO, please contact:

Mikhail Evstafyev
UNIDO Advocacy and Communication Coordinator
Telephone: (+43-1)-26026-5021
Mobile: +43-699-1459-7329
E-mail: M.Evstafyev@unido.org 

Ravindra Wickremasinghe
Advocacy and Communications Assistant
Tel. (+43-1)-26026-5022
Mobile +43-699-1112-3504
E-mail R.Wickremasinghe@unido.org