Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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UN Targets Sustainable Energy 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday,  Monday, January 9 / 12

Zack Gross

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2012 as International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. 

It is recognition that affordable, renewable energy is necessary for the world to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. 

The MDGs are made up of eight target areas where vast improvement is needed by a deadline of 2015 in order to significantly improve poverty, disease, illiteracy, human rights abuses and environmental degradation.

The UN has been designating “International Years” since 1959 in order to draw attention to, and mobilize action on, major global issues. 

In this case, half the world’s population live without the availability of modern energy, cooking on open fires, having no or intermittent electricity and having little or no access to appliances and electronics. 

UN projections show that this situation, given the level of current investment and programming, is not going to change soon and, in fact, may worsen as population levels grow faster than access.

In the area of maternal health, one of the MDG targets, there exists a stark contrast between the situation of women in wealthy countries like ours and abjectly poor rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 

Of all the 2015 Goals, this one has experienced the least progress and still half a million women die each year, 99% of them in the developing world, due to “complications” associated with pregnancy, childbirth and the first months after birth. 

Many blame a lack of access to modern technology and energy as the major cause of this tragic situation.  For instance, there is no way to power adequate lighting during childbirth.  Consider your local hospital with the lights suddenly going off. 

What would ensue?

While electrification is a high-level priority in today’s world, what is being done is “macro-development
,” that is the building of large power stations and dams that tie into cities, factories and businesses, and not into slums, villages and those living without power (both natural and political). 

What is needed, says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with major grid initiatives, is small-scale, locally led development: micro hydro electric installations, bio-gas and solar efforts, and fuel-efficient stoves for ordinary people.

Getting on the UN’s sustainable energy bandwagon is the popular band Linkin Park (a favourite of mine and a two-time Grammy Award-winning American rock group), as part of the “Music for Relief” campaign. 

One of their initiatives is encouraging people to donate $10 to supply families in Haiti with solar powered light bulbs.  People in many poor countries use candles and kerosene for light, both fire hazards.  Open fires can also cause smoke-related asthma and other long-term breathing problems. 

Light bulbs, meanwhile, allow for reading and studying for school, which open fires do not. 

As well, the continued use of bio-mass (trees, dung) to create energy by billions of humans will contribute to the problems of climate change, desertification and even conflict as people burn wood, denude the landscape and fight over what is left.

Linkin Park has also pledged – through its Power the World program - to work with a number of international partners to help bring sustainable energy solutions to one million families.  In Haiti, they are supporting small-scale, clean energy entrepreneurs, a way of helping the poor set up small businesses while selling products that will have a long-term benefit. 

Internationally, between 2005 and 2010, the number of countries with policies on renewable energy doubled to one hundred, while the cost of the necessary technologies dropped and the investment in those technologies rose. 

So, there is definitely hope. 

In this Year of Sustainable Energy for All, the UN aims to make access to clean energy at all levels of society a goal for all of its member nations and to create networks of financiers, practitioners and stakeholders to make sure it happens.

Given the challenge of climate change, it is in all of our interests to commit ourselves to sustainable energy. 

Given the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, progress must be made among the poorest of the poor, where the greatest need really lies. 

The large institutions or businesses, and the millions of small villages around the world must all have access to – and see as a priority – using forms of energy that renew, rather than deplete, our world’s future. 

So, it is the perfect marriage of altruism and self-interest – to make 2012 the Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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