U.N., World Bank Set 2030 Deadline for Sustainable Energy for All

Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 19 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, an unrelenting advocate of sustainable energy for all (SE4All), once dramatised the need for modern conveniences by holding up his cell phone before an audience in the Norwegian capital of Oslo and asking: “What would we do without them?”

“We are all dependent on phones, light, heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration,” but still there are billions of people in the world who do not have the benefit of most of these modern energy services, he added.”We must move much faster to reach the billions who have been left behind.” — Martin Krause

According to World Bank estimates, about 1.1 billion people don’t have access to electricity, and over 3.0 billion people still rely on polluting fuels such as kerosene, wood or other biomass to cook and, at times, heat their homes.

The world is heading in the right direction to achieve universal access to sustainable energy by 2030 – but must move faster, says a new World Bank report that tracks the progress of the SE4All initiative.

Besides achieving renewable energy goals, the United Nations is also vowing to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by the 2030 deadline.

Martin Krause, head of the Global Energy Policy Team at the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS the goal to achieve universal access to sustainable energy is very much attainable, “but indeed we must move much faster to reach the billions who have been left behind.”

For the 1.1 billion without electricity, he said, a targeted and decentralised approach (i.e. mini-grids, solar home systems, micro-hydro plants) is needed to reach the predominately rural poor.

“And for the 3.0 billion who cook and heat with wood and dung, new technologies, better awareness and low-cost financing is needed to shift usage away from harmful fuels towards cleaner, and sustainable technologies and fuel sources,” said Krause.

In both of these cases, he pointed out, public and private financial resources will be necessary for success.

“For our part, UNDP has just released a new publication, the EnergyPlus Guidelines, which has been prepared to support our country partners in addressing some of these issues.”

Beginning Monday, the United Nations is hosting its second annual SE4all Forum, which is scheduled to conclude May 21.

According to the United Nations, leaders from government, business and civil society will announce new commitments and drive action to end energy poverty and fight climate change.

“They will present ways to catalyze finance and investment at the scale required to meet the targets of the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative on energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Over 1,000 practitioners will share and advance innovative energy solutions, according to a press release.

The Forum is expected to build momentum on energy issues ahead of both the September U..N Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, and the December Climate Conference in Paris, and contribute to shaping the direction of energy policy for the crucial decades to come.

Fossil fuels, described as finite, include crude oil, natural gas and coal, which are expected to run out over the next few decades.

The renewable sources of energy include wind and solar power, hydroelectric and geothermal, amongst others.

According to the U.N. Industrial Organisation (UNIDO), universal access to renewable energy sources can be achieved at a cost of about 48 billion dollars per year and 960 billion dollars over a 20-year period.

In its report titled “Progress Toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Framework 2015″ released Monday, the World Bank said it is monitoring the world’s progress toward SE4All’s three goals: universal energy access; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix – all to be met by 2030.

While the first edition of the report, released in 2013, measured progress between 1990 and 2010, the current edition focuses on 2010 to 2012.

In that two-year period, the number of people without access to electricity declined from 1.2 billion to 1.1 billion, a rate of progress much faster than the 1990-2010 period. In total 222 million people gained access to electricity during this period, higher than the population increase of 138 million people.

These gains, the report said, were concentrated in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and mainly in urban areas. The global electrification rate increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 85 percent in 2012.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Opinion: The Crisis of the Left and the Decline of Europe and the United States

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that neoliberal thinking, which has failed to meet an adequate response from the left, and lack of political vision has led to the decline of Europe and the United States.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 19 2015 (IPS)

The victory of the Conservative Party and the debacle of the Labour Party in the recent British general elections is yet another sign of the crisis facing left-wing forces today, leaving aside the question of how, under the British electoral system, the Labour Party actually increased the number of votes it won but saw a reduction in the number of seats it now holds in Parliament (24 seats less than the previous 256).

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

If the proportional rather than uninominal system had been used, the Conservative Party with its 11 million votes would have won 256 and not 331 seats in Parliament (far short of the absolute majority of 326 needed to govern), while at the other extreme the United Kingdom Independence Party with nearly four million votes would have landed 83 and not just the one seat it ended up with – results that would be hard to imagine anywhere else and a good example of insularity.

To an extent, the recent British general elections mirrored the U.S. presidential elections in 2000 when Democratic candidate Al Gore won around half a million more popular votes than Republican candidate George W. Bush but failed to win the majority of electoral college votes on which the U.S. system is based. The outcome was eight years of George W.  Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the crisis of multilateralism, and all the paraphernalia of “America’s exceptional destiny”.

Let us venture now into an analysis that will have the politologues among us cringing.“The left has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 … it has had no real answer to the crisis”

It is now generally recognised that the end of the Soviet Union has given free way to a kind of capitalism without control, marked by an unprecedented supremacy of finance which, in terms of volume of investments, overwhelmingly exceeds the real or productive economy.

In its wake, neoliberal thinking has found the left totally unprepared, because part of its function had been to provide a democratic alternative to Communism, which was suddenly no longer a threat.

The left therefore has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 (with its bail-out cost so far of over four trillion dollars), it has had no real answer to the crisis.

Ever since the industrial revolution, the identity of the left had been to press for social justice, equality of opportunities and redistribution, while the right placed the emphasis on individual efforts, less role for the state and success as motivation.

Continuing with this brutal simplification, we have to add that the left, from Marx to Keynes, always studied how to create economic growth and redistribution – Marx by abolishing private property, social democrats through just taxation.

But it never studied the creation of a progressive agenda in the event case of an economic crisis such as the one we are now facing, with structural unemployment, young people obliged  to accept any kind of contract, new technologies which are making the concept of classes disappear, and rendering trade unions – erstwhile powerful actors for social justice – irrelevant.

It is unprecedented that the top 25 hedge fund managers received a reward in 2014 of 11.62 billion dollars, yet neither U.S. President Barack Obama nor Ed Miliband, then still leader of the Labour Party at the recent British general elections (until he resigned after election defeat), saw it fit to denounce this obscene level of greed.

Meanwhile, Europe as a political project is clearly in disarray, and now faces a “Grexit” on its southern flank and a “Brexit” on its northern flank.

In the case of a “Grexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Greece), Greece faces the prospects of having to make substantial concessions to Europe, thus reneging on the promises of Alexis Tsipras who was voted in as prime minister in rebellion against years of dismantlement of public and social structures imposed in the name of austerity.

What is at stake here is the very neoliberal model itself and not only is ordoliberal Germany supported by allies like Austria, Finland and the Netherlands erecting a wall against any form of leniency, but countries which accepted painful cuts and where conservatives are now in power, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, see leniency as giving in to the left.

A “Brexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Britain) is a different affair. It is a game being played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to negotiate a more favourable agreement for Britain with the European Union.

A referendum will be held before the end of 2017 and the four million people who voted for the UKIP in the recent elections, plus the country’s “Euro-sceptics”, threaten to push Britain out of the European Union, especially if Cameron does not manage to obtain some substantial concessions from Brussels.

Meanwhile, if Europe is in disarray, the United States has a serious problem of governance. Analyst Moisés Naím, who served as editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine from 1996 to 2010, has pinpointed a few examples of how this has translated into self-inflicted damage.

One concerns China which, after waiting five years trying to get the Republican-dominated Congress to authorise and increase in its stake in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from a ridiculous 3.8 percent to 6 percent (compared with the 16.5 percent of the United States), got fed up and established an alternative fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Washington tried unsuccessfully to kill the initiative by putting pressure on its allies but first the United Kingdom, then Italy, Germany and France announced their participation in the new bank, which now has 50 member countries and the United States is not one of them.

Another example was the attempt by the Republican-dominated Congress to kill the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) which has provided support for U.S exporters to the tune of 570 billion dollars since it was set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.  In just the last two years, China has provided 670 billion dollars in support for its exporters. Moral of the story: U.S. companies will be at a clear disadvantage.

As Larry Summers, a great proponent of U.S. hegemony, put it, “the US will not be in a position to shape the global economic system”.

The latest snub to the U.S. role of world leader came from four Arab heads of state who snubbed a U.S.-Gulf States summit at Camp David on May 14. The summit had been called by Obama to reassure the Gulf states that the ongoing negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement would not diminish their relevance, but the rulers of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain deserted the summit.

However, there is no more striking example of mistake-making than the joint effort by the United States and Europe to push Russian President Vladimir against the wall over his engagement in Ukraine by imposing heavy sanctions.

There was no apparent reflection on the wisdom of encircling a paranoid and autocratic leader, albeit one with strong popular support, by progressively also bringing in all Eastern and Central European countries. The result of this encirclement of Russia is that China has now come to the rescue of Russia, by injecting money into the country’s asphyxiated economy.

China will invest around six billion dollars in the construction of a high speed railway between Moscow and Kazan, is financing a 2,700 kilometre pipeline for the supply of 30 billion cubic metres of Russian gas over a period of 30 years, plus several other projects, including the establishment of a two billion dollar common fund for investments and a loan of 860 million dollars to the Russian Sberbank bank.

So, the net result is that Russia has been pushed out of Europe and into the arms of China, and the two are now starting joint naval and military manoeuvres.  Is this in the interest of Europe?

At the end of the day, the decline of Europe and the United States perhaps comes down to a decline of political vision, with democracy being substituted by partocracy, and the statesman of yesteryear being substituted by very much more modest and self-referential political leaders.

This is all taking place amid a growing disaffection with politics, which is now aimed basically at administrative choices, making corruption easy. At least this is what around one-third of electors now appear to believe when they are asked if they think that they can make a difference at elections … and this is why a rapidly growing number of people are deserting the ballot box. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.