UNEP Launches New Global Clean Energy Network

Speaking at the launch here at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director said, “The provision of environmentally sound energy services are integral to poverty alleviation and sustainable development.”

Johannesburg, South Africa – September 6, 2002 [SolarAccess.com] “Over two billion people in developing countries do not have access to reliable forms of energy,” Toepfer said. “Nine out of ten Africans have no access to electricity,” he continued. “Providing clean energy on a sustainable basis is not only vital for fighting environmental issues like global warming but for reducing poverty and misery in Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America.” Access to affordable, modern energy services is increasingly seen as a pre-requisite for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Access to energy is a condition for achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals including the goal to halve the proportion of people in poverty by 2015 that is at the heart of the Johannesburg debate. For one-third of the world’s population, dependence on traditional fuels results in many hours spent each day gathering wood, animal and crop waste. Moreover, limited access to adequate and appropriate energy, including electricity (there are currently two billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity) means that value-adding income generating activities are constrained. The consequences for the environment of present energy production and consumption patterns are also significant. For example, in developing countries, the widespread use of traditional fuels for indoor cooking and heating results in serious respiratory diseases and loss of life related to indoor air pollution, as well as a contribution to deforestation, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas. Air pollution in developing countries is one of the four most critical global environmental problems. Such pollution causes an estimated two million excess deaths per year, or 5 percent of the global burden of disease. At the global level, emissions of greenhouse gases, which mostly originate from the use of fossil fuels, (presently 80 percent of the world’s primary energy comes from fossil fuels), will have to be reduced in order to combat global warming. Solving the climate change challenge means reducing global dependence on fossil fuels. The new Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development (GNESD), made up initially of ten centers in ten developed and developing countries, will help promote the research, transfer and take-up of green and cleaner energy technologies to the developing world. It will achieve this by strengthening collaboration between existing “centers of excellence” that work on energy, development and environment issues. And, through these centers, influence sustainable energy policies, strategies and programs. “The underlying rationale of the Network is that it increases the capacity of developing country research institutions to look at energy for sustainable development issues, says Mark Radka, head of UNEP’s Energy Unit. “Furthermore, it creates a shared research and information base on policy and technical guidance, advice and information.” “Critically, the Network will help all partners to develop and apply policies suitable to the needs and constraints of developing countries, thus supporting the use of energy as an instrument for poverty alleviation and sustainable development,” he said. Promising advances in energy-related technology hold a great potential for sustainable development, particularly regarding Renewable Energy and energy efficiency. A number of technology options (energy from wind, “new” biomass, solar, geothermal sources) have been advanced to a state of technical reliability, and technological developments continue to reduce costs. The challenge remains to introduce or scale up the application of sustainable energy services. Similarly, policy and regulatory challenges remain if these are to become commercially viable options and able to compete with conventional and environmentally harmful energy options that typically benefit from favourable pricing conditions and perverse policy incentives. “Technological solutions to energy problems are available today. We now need the political will and action to implement them,” Toepfer said. “The choices humankind makes on energy in the next decade will largely determine the history of the 21st century, and in particular whether we are able to put ourselves securely on the path to sustainable development,” he said.
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