1.3 billion of world’s population still living in darkness – UNEP

In spite of various interventions made globally with respect to power generation, 1.3 billion of the world’s population are still without electricity, with 45 per cent of the number living in Africa.

Ironically though, the African continent can boast of abundant renewable resources that remain untapped, due to the barriers of prohibitive cost, structural inadequacies, political regulatory and commercial risks.

Sharing his thoughts at the Africa launch yesterday, February 21, 2012 of the United Nations 2012 International Year of Sustainable Energy for All in Nairobi, UN Under-Secretary-General and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said,

“Some 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity – and 45 per cent of those live in Africa. Yet the Continent has abundant renewable resources that, with the right kind of public policies in place, can unlock a new development future and light up the lives and the livelihoods of millions of people.”

“In four short months, world leaders meet at the Rio+20 summit in Brazil. Access to sustainable energy should be upper most in delegates minds as should the current barriers -ranging from fossil fuel subsidies to the need for up front financing – that to date have held back this massive potential in Africa and elsewhere,” said Mr. Steiner during the launch which coincided with the release of a new report from UNEP Finance Initiative, entitled ‘Financing Renewable Energy in Developing Countries: Drivers and Barriers for Private Finance in sub-Saharan Africa.’

The report recommends opening up energy markets to private sector investment through the introduction of smart government policies, which it sees as the key to unlocking Africa’s massive renewable energy potential.

UNEP’s new report maintains that in doing so, millions can be lifted out of poverty and the sustainable development potential of the continent far sooner realised, while this UN system-wide initiative aims to bring about concrete action to achieve universal access to modern energy services and double both the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy in the global mix by 2030.

Meanwhile, experts estimate that unless stronger commitments are made to reverse current trends, half the population in sub-Saharan Africa will still be without electricity by 2030, and the proportion of the population relying on traditional fuels for household energy needs will remain the highest among all world regions, adding such a scenario would severely hamper efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The report further outlines how current obstacles to the scaling-up of sustainable energy solutions in Africa – such as the cost of electricity generation or difficult grid access – can be tackled, saying to meet the continent’s growing energy demands, the power sector in Africa needs to install an estimated 7,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity each year.

Arguing that much of this can come from Africa’s wealth of untapped, domestic renewable resources, the report, based on a survey of 38 institutions, mostly from the private sector, which are all involved in energy infrastructure finance in developing countries, cites Cape Verde, Kenya, Madagascar, Sudan and Chad as having particularly significant potential in that direction.

Also, according to the African Development Bank Group, Mauritania’s wind energy potential is almost four times its annual energy need, while Sudan’s is equivalent to 90 per cent of its annual energy needs. This offers both opportunities to improve energy security and create regional markets.

But UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, believes “Accelerating and scaling-up sustainable energy for all will be key to realising a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient ‘inclusive’ Green Economy.”

UN International Year of Sustainable Energy for All

On the other hand, to mark the just launched ‘International Year of Sustainable Energy for All’, Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General will throughout 2012, in partnership with the inter-agency group UN Energy, be coordinating activities to increase awareness of the importance of addressing energy issues, including modern energy services for all, access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and the sustainability of energy sources at local, national, regional and international levels, according to UNEP.

It says as part of these efforts, the UN Secretary-General, UN Energy and the United Nations Foundation are leading a new global initiative – Sustainable Energy for All, which will engage governments, the private sector and civil society partners worldwide, to achieve three major objectives by 2030.

These are; ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

In the meantime, the UN Secretary-General has convened representatives from the private sector, government, UN/intergovernmental organisations and civil society to develop a global strategy and concrete agenda for action to reach the three objectives.

According to UNEP, the roadmap, which will build on the work of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change, will be offered for consideration at the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, with the high-level group co-chaired by Charles Holliday, Chairman of Bank of America, and Kandeh Yumkella, Chair of UN Energy and Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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