Statement: USG Diarra
Event: Athgo International – Global Clean Technology Forum, March 4-7, 2009 – Los Angeles, CA.
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
It is indeed a great honour to deliver the keynote address at such an auspicious event. I would like to thank and congratulate Athgo International for bringing together so many important stakeholders to discuss an issue that is at the centre of global development. I am equally pleased to see the commitment and enthusiasm of the many young bright minds amongst us today.
The subject of our forum today expresses the dimensions and perspectives of the energy issue that is pre-eminent in our minds, in our interactions, and in every development dialogue.
But any discussion of global clean technology has to begin with a reflection on the issue of climate change for the two, as many of you already know, are interconnected. I would therefore like to begin my address with a few remarks on the impact of climate change on our world today before I turn to the need for the development of sustainable energy sources.
Let us be clear. The science is in. Climate change is happening and the impact is real.
The latest Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that, unless we act, there will be serious consequences: rising sea levels; more frequent and less predictable floods and severe droughts; famine around the world, particularly in Africa and Central Asia; and the loss of up to a third of our plant and animal species.
The report also laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of human activity. Human activity is of course, diverse. But much of it is associated with our energy needs and consumption habits.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
About 80 percent of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels also gives rise to air pollution and acid rain, which have health implications. Yet energy is one of the cornerstones of modern society. It is the driver of the global economy. Multi-trillion-dollar global businesses have been built around fossil fuels and industries that consume them and millions of jobs depend on the production and consumption of commercial energy.
For the poor, energy is critical to irrigate fields and light up rural homes, and, indeed, to food security. It is safe to say that without energy, poverty cannot be eradicated.
It is however necessary to highlight that unequal energy consumption is one of the glaring features of the disparity between rich and the poor countries.
The world’s richest countries, with only a fifth of the world’s population, account for 60 per cent of commercial energy use. For example, one person in the United States consumes as much fuel as 250 people from poor countries like Niger, Tanzania and Ethiopia every year.
In the meantime, 2 billion people, or one in every three human beings, have no access to modern energy. They have to rely on such traditional energy sources such as wood, charcoal and crop waste
Apart from the negative impact on the environment through, for example, deforestation, burning biomass fuels like wood fills the homes of the poor with toxic smoke, posing major health problems. Over two million people die every year from breathing the cocktail of toxic chemicals given off by biomass fuels. Indoor air pollution is one of the world’s top 10 causes of premature death.
A lot of time that could be devoted to other productive activities is wasted foraging for wood and doing work manually. All this holds back development efforts both at the household and at national levels. It also reinforces gender inequalities, as women are disproportionately affected.
Furthermore, energy-related issues can lead to governance problems within States and affect relations between them. The high cost of oil, such as we are witnessing in recent years, imposes economic burdens on most developing countries.
The three groups of vulnerable countries that fall within the mandate of my Office – the Least Developed Countries, most of which are in Africa, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States – all face energy challenges of one form or the other. Their respective UN Programmes of Action put due emphasis on this aspect of their development challenges.
The Least Developed Countries lack the resources to meet their ever-growing energy needs; the Landlocked Developing Countries have to contend with the high cost of importing oil, a problem also faced by the Small Island Developing States because of their relative remoteness from the major markets. Some of these countries, especially the Small Island Developing States, have the added challenge of small populations, which
reduces the economic viability of some of the modern sources of energy, such as hydro power plants and the attendant distribution grids.
These vulnerable countries are also less equipped to deal with the consequences of climate change while some of them, especially the Small Island Developing Countries, are more prone to its negative consequences.
The challenge of energy for developing countries is therefore multiple.
It is about availability, access, efficiency, quality and sustainability.
The primary question for developing countries is how to develop clean, efficient, affordable, sufficient and sustainable energy, without which they would not be able to reach the Millennium Development Goals and achieve their broader development objectives.
New directions are, therefore, clearly needed. And this is where the young, bright minds I referred to earlier come in.
Undoubtedly, we should devote much greater attention to renewable energy. Although the cost of generating energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind have been declining, the use of such sources remains underutilized. Renewable energy provides only about 4 per cent of the world’s commercial energy; with half of this contributed by hydropower.
Wind and solar power are the fastest growing sources of renewable energy, but they are starting from a low installed base. These forms of energy are particularly relevant to poor and vulnerable countries, as they can be implemented on a small scale and in a more decentralised manner. This has been repeatedly demonstrated in a number of poor countries, where the installation of a few solar panels has revolutionized community life by not only meeting domestic energy needs, but also facilitating the delivery of
vital social services such as health, education and water.
We need to scale up investment in mature renewable energy sources, particularly solar, wind and hydro. We also need to intensify research and development into promising sources like tidal energy, ocean thermal conversion, hydrogen and fuel cells.
Second, and perhaps far less costly, we need to use more efficiently the energy already available.We must make greater use of energy-saving technologies, such as hybrid vehicles and power-saving appliances.
Many studies have demonstrated that rich countries could actually reduce their energy use without compromising economic growth through increased efficiency. Denmark for example has successfully implemented a development strategy that allowed it to increase its productivity while reducing at the same reducing its energy its energy consumption A recently launched campaign in the United States has estimated that if every American swapped just one conventional electric bulb with an energy-saving bulb, the country could save as much as 8 billion US dollars in energy costs.
But energy efficiency is not only relevant to the developed countries. Equally significant gains, in relative terms, could be made in the developing countries from such simple technologies as energy-saving cooking stoves.
Third, we need to reduce the pollution generated by fossil fuels, for example through greater use of clean coal and technologies that emit less carbon dioxide. I believe that where alternatives exist, governments should, as a policy measure, raise the cost of using the more polluting energy sources while making the cleaner energy sources cheaper.
Finally, we need to think more outside the box.
A recent study in South Africa has, for example, shown that creating two time zones in the country would lead to a saving of a massive 500 megawatts of electricity per year as
a result of staggered economic activity.
That is the more than the amount generated by many poor countries. Such a measure would also be environmentally beneficial, as it would reduce in the number of new power
generation plants required to meet growing energy needs.
What we need is a revolution of how we generate and use energy. For such a revolution to happen, all countries will need to invest more in clean, renewable energy sources. The private sector, as well as civil society, has a major role to play, but the appropriate policy framework and incentives must be in place.
Technology transfer and undertaking joint projects for contiguous countries could make a major contribution to meeting the energy needs of developing countries more efficiently.
All countries need to be more rigorous in carrying out what they have agreed to do internationally. More of them should participate in the market for carbon emission allowances. More use should be made of flexible tools such as the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism to support climate-friendly sustainable development projects in developing countries.
Climate change should not be viewed as a separate challenge; measures to mitigate it, and adapt to it, need to be integrated into global energy debate and national sustainable development strategies. Outcomes of Rio and Johannesburg global summits as well as other international agreements provide the necessary guide posts towards meeting these challenges.
We have the knowledge and resources to conquer the poverty that blights a large segment of our humanity, and to safeguard our planet and its climate for generations to come. Developing clean, affordable and sustainable energy sources is central to winning the war against poverty and protecting our common and only habitat.
I thank you!