The Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative proposes three goals for 2030:
Achieving universal access to modern energy services
Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency from 1.2% to 2.4% per annum
Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global mix from 15% to 30%.
Much of the discussion of this initiative so far has focused primarily on the developing countries and how the first goal could be achieved. This is rightly seen as the top priority for those, mostly in the developing countries, who are still without access to adequate energy at present.
But the achievement of the latter two goals must depend primarily on the domestic efforts of the developed countries, which are responsible for the vast majority of the consumption of energy in the world, and the greatest rates of energy production from unsustainable sources. It is they who need to take on most of the burden of increasing energy efficiency through improving the operation of their own economies, and who need to accelerate the penetration of renewable energy sources in their own economies, if the global targets are to be met.
So far, the developed countries have been conspicuously silent about how they propose to raise their own game on energy efficiency and renewables, in order to meet the Secretary General’s challenge. This is in line with their failure to come forward with stretching new targets for themselves on the rest of the sustainable consumption and production agenda. And the developing countries have been too slow to challenge the developed world’s complacence and shortfallings in this regard.
This needs to change. It is excessive consumption and over-production in the developed world that is primarily responsible for most of the damage to the world’s environment and natural resources. It is foot-dragging in the developed world on promoting efficiency in use of energy and other resources, and in promoting renewables, that is most responsible for the growing likelihood of failing to meet the world’s targets for limiting the growth of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is this failure that is causing the most damage to the world’s basic ecosystems – and making the task of achieving sustainable development in the developing world substantially harder.
So my plea to all concerned is:
Let the Secretary General’s initiative for universal access to modern energy services be pursued urgently in developing countries, with generous support from the North, as many are urging (with some qualifications about the approach to be adopted as described in this edition of Outreach).
But at the same time, let the initiative’s calls for accelerating energy efficiency and renewable energy be heard more clearly, and addressed more vigorously, where they are most needed – in the developed world that is responsible for most of the problems that over-consumption of energy from traditional sources cause. And ensure that the new, universal Sustainable Development Goals, to be established at Rio, set demanding targets on these matters for the developed world, at the same time as focusing renewed attention on the central development needs of the developing world.