Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) is a call for both revolution and reform: a radical vision where everyone can access and afford the reliable energy they need to live a productive, healthy, secure life, while respecting the planetary constraints that we all face as a result of climate change.
The great news is that this is actually within our grasp. For the first time, we have a development goal on energy, unanimously agreed upon by the international community in September of 2015 to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 and its five targets sit at the heart of the 17 SDGs. If we do not meet the energy goal, it will be extremely hard to provide access to quality health care or education, achieve gender equality, create jobs and growth, ensure sustainable consumption or effectively fight the climate change that threatens to undermine the achievement of all the goals. SDG 7 is fundamental to just about every aspect of development, and for that reason, success has to be front-loaded; we need to attain its targets much earlier than 2030 in order to set the enabling conditions for progress on other goals.
The COP21 Climate Conference, to be held in Paris in 2015, accentuates the urgency. Coming so soon after the adoption of the SDGs, COP21 is a test of the political commitment that we saw at the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. Just three months later, can we be consistent in Paris with the vision that we signed up for in New York? It is also another reminder of what the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in September: we are the first generation to have the opportunity to really eradicate poverty, and the last generation to have a chance to combat climate change.
The science is unequivocal, and our task therefore is clear: to engineer growth without carbon. Whatever is agreed upon in Paris simply cannot be realized without a revolution in the way we think about our energy supply, and the reforms to make it happen. We already see that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions that countries are filing with the United Nations address the significant shifts in energy generation necessary to meet the collective goal of limiting emissions, and to secure growth and competitiveness.
So achieving access for all is not science fiction, and this is what the SE4All initiative is all about. The action that needs to be taken to help poor and vulnerable people and communities get the energy they need, while accelerating a worldwide transition to zero net carbon emissions before the end of the century, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated we need to do, stretches across SE4All’s three objectives. And those targets—universal energy access combined with major achievements in energy efficiency and renewable energy—are echoed in SDG 7.
SE4All is a remarkable platform of partners from Member States in all regions and at all stages of development, ranging from innovative initiatives delivering off-grid solar appliances to women in rural West Africa, to the largest oil and gas companies in the world. It is a big tent, welcoming public sector, private sector and civil society alike: utilities and regulators, innovators and entrepreneurs, huge multilateral institutions and grassroots non-governmental organizations.
SE4All is looking for the spaces in the energy debate where we can assemble data, evidence, goodwill, operational capacity, finance and collaboration, to catalyse faster action. The vision for SE4All is not to duplicate the work of our partners, but to lift it up in order to speed up implementation of the goals.
It is a movement for change that started some years ago, when disappointment over the lack of a Millennium Development Goal on energy was channelled into a positive education drive for the development community on why energy is fundamental, and why it has to be cleaner. As a result of that process, a “coalition of the working” came together. Governments, the private sector, civil society and other alliances rolled up their sleeves and committed themselves to action.
That then led to SE4All and its goals, and to the enshrining of a United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (2014-2024). By the time the SDGs process had matured to the point where the world was discussing what the goals would be, this remarkable working coalition had already done a lot of the thinking needed to underpin that work. Along with its partners, SE4All was able to put something on the table that was robust, well considered and had buy-in from many quarters.
SE4All benefited from visionary leaders in the private sector and across the United Nations system, in Governments, philanthropy and civil society, whose can-do attitude imagined a brighter future by solving the energy crisis. That vision and that creativity are what we now want to bring into the post-2015 implementation phase, with a clear understanding that SDG 7 is a goal around which we need a real sense of urgency.
There is sometimes a misconception that the three objectives of SE4All are three separate goals on access, efficiency and renewables. The opportunity to bring to market affordable, desired, super-efficient appliances can achieve remarkable gains in efficiency, and at the same time extend access. If we then link those super-efficient appliances to solar cells and batteries, we provide not only light for people living off the grid, but the opportunity to charge phones, run fans, watch television and power electric induction cookstoves, supporting more economically productive, safer, better informed and healthier lives.
At the stern end of the scale, cleaner, modern, efficient grids can not only promote the reliable energy needed for development, but can save millions of lives otherwise lost to air pollution every year. Modernizing utilities to manage energy systems to reflect technological innovation, and exploiting other innovation from mobile money to better pricing and subsidy regimes, social safety nets and social support, means that SDG 7 is within reach. The extent of innovation in the markets and the speed with which progress is being achieved in some parts of the energy system is extraordinary.
As well as supporting innovation, we need to encourage reform. There are persistently difficult, entrenched institutional and regulatory issues relating to the way in which we’ve generated, distributed and paid for power and energy in the past. These must be overcome. It will require building political constituencies around new kinds of institution; it will require new forms of regulation, new technologies and new markets that we could not even imagine 10 years ago.
One of SE4All’s responsibilities is to show how access, efficiency and renewables are linked together, how they are connected to other development challenges in a world shaped by climate change, and how success in SDG 7 can be realized long before 2030.
It also has an important role to play in communicating authoritatively and clearly on what progress looks like: both what is working—why, how and where—and what is not working. The SE4All Global Tracking Framework, a collaborative product by more than 20 of our partners, is a foundational work. Not only does it allow the SE4All family to hold up a mirror every two years and examine how well it is progressing, but it will also be a fundamental input into the tracking of the SDGs overall.
Our aspiration for SE4All is that it remains the safe space where the difficult questions can be asked. If there are things that need to be done that are not being done, it will be in SE4All that we ask why, and it will perhaps be in SE4All that we initiate the work to try to overcome the problems. Some of the barriers to implementing these three objectives are found in aspects of regulation, approaches to the economy, and in the way financing does or does not work. It will be SE4All’s role to engage with the rest of the world to see if we can find a solution to an energy problem, even when the barriers lie outside the energy sphere.
As CEO Designate, I’m listening to our partners within SE4All, asking what they need us to do and what they don’t need us to do, and looking for places where SE4All can really add value. Our role is to act as a catalyst, and call attention to the things that matter most. We have to be very strategic in our choice of focus, and go where our partners need us most.
As the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, I will also have a responsibility to demonstrate how energy is linked to other problems and their solutions, and bring knowledge and data from the energy sector to those debates. I’m very honoured to be chosen for these two positions, and my job is really to use the profile that comes with them to maximum effect in terms of keeping political attention, financial means and technical capacity focused on solving the priority problems.
The fact that a decision has been taken to institutionalize SE4All in the coming months, taking it from an initiative of the Secretary-General to an international not-for-profit organization with close ties to the United Nations, reflects the deep and abiding concern of its partners that a lean and focused entity is needed to support the implementation of SE4All’s goals. Its creation is an innovation, one which Member States are interested to see succeed.
That the goals coincide with SDG 7 means that the relationship between SE4All and SDG 7 is an intimate one. Sustainable Energy for All will have a relationship agreement with the United Nations, and its Advisory Board will continue to be co-chaired by the Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank Group. As Special Representative and CEO of SE4All, I hope I can be an effective focal point within the United Nations system for sustainable energy for all.
As the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, I will work to ensure that Member States are fully aware of the state of play in reaching the sustainable energy goal, and that they can guide our work. I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to pioneer and innovate with partners outside the United Nations, and to bring all the lessons of that partnership into the United Nations system, respecting that it is the Member States that are accountable and responsible for implementing the SDGs.
In a field where innovation will be so vital to success, SE4All itself represents an innovation that offers uniquely dynamic possibilities. To achieve a goal as urgent and fundamental as SDG 7, that dynamism will be crucial.