Wednesday, 22 September 2010

UN speakers make the same points as the Ashden Awards

The streets round the United Nations have been cordoned off all week. The 175 guests going to last night’s 'Ending Energy Poverty’ went through four checkpoints and an airport security screening system. This special event was a dinner, hosted by the UN Foundation, the UN Development Programme, the UN Industrial Development Organization and the UN Environment Programme.

At last night's dinner in New York, Sarah Butler-Sloss (above), founder director of the Ashden Awards, heard distinguished speaker after distinguished speaker make exactly the same points as the Ashden Awards.

Sarah writes:

At the ‘Ending Energy Poverty’ event last night, I heard a series of really encouraging speeches by Ban Ki-Moon, Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, President Wade of Senegal, Nobuo Tanaka, CEO of the International Energy Agency, Tim Wirth, head of the UN Foundation and Olav Kjorven of UNDP, Dr Pachauri and Mary Robinson and Tom Friedman from the New York Times.

What's so encouraging (for all of us on the Ashden team) was that each of the speakers was saying the kind of thing that the Ashden Awards has been saying for 10 years.

That is: there are 1.4 billion people in the world who don't have any electricity and 2.7 billion people (latest stats from the International Energy Agency) who lack access to clean cookstoves. It is this question of energy access, or to put it simply, providing energy to the poor, that is key for getting people out of poverty.

Without energy access, each speaker was saying, it is not possible to reduce poverty. And if we can’t provide energy to the poor, we can't achieve the Millenium Development Goals. What was also very important about last night was that these speakers were giving just as much prominence to cookstoves as they were to energy access.

The UN says it is committed to making energy access universal by 2030, ie bringing power to those 1.4 billion people who are without energy access and cookstoves to 100 million people by 2020. All of the speakers spoke passionately about the link between poverty and energy and all supported this aim of the UN.

These are some notes from the dinner:

- Meles Zenawi, the PM of Ethiopia has a target that by 2025 his country will have zero emissions, ie be carbon neutral and energy independent by using the power of water = hydropower, geothermal, and biomass and solar. In the next five years they plan to increase energy access from 40% to 75% of the rural population.

- President Fischer of Austria said it was a 'moral imperative to bring energy access to the poor'.

- Mary Robinson spoke about the global cookstove initiative and emphasised the importance of listening to the local experts and local communities. The keys for success, she said, are being innovative and listening to the women. Mary Robinson quoted the line, 'Water is the oil of the 21st century and waste is the gold'.

- Dr Pachauri spoke about the importance of local initiatives and low-interest finance. He said BP is going to spend $20 billion cleaning up after the Gulf of Mexico spill. It would only cost $5 billion to bring light (solar lanterns) to one billion people in India.

- Tim Wirth from UNF said that at Copenhagen $30 billion was put on the table from the developed countries to help finance Africa's low carbon industries. Africa is ready, but where is the money? None of it has been produced.

- Nobuo Tanaka, head of the International Energy Agency, gave us many stats from their new report on energy poverty. The killer stat was that people in New York State consume the same amount of energy as the whole of sub-saharan Africa. He stressed the importance of rural decentralised power and new models of delivering energy through local generation of renewable energy.

It was amazing for me to hear the argument we have been making for years being spoken and accepted at this level. Now we have to hope that they find the right solutions and the right models to bring this change about. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the Ashden Awards to channel the learning and examples that have been provided by our winners into helping towards these solutions.

See also: To meet UN Millennium Development Goals, fight energy poverty, report says

Pic: Sarah Butler-Sloss at the Ashden Awards, July 2010

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