Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/895
    11 May 2006

    Secretary-General Calls for Revolution in Energy Efficiency, as Commission on Sustainable Development Opens High-Level Segment

    NEW YORK, 10 May (UN Headquarters) -- Opening the high-level segment of the Commission on Sustainable Development today, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a revolution in energy efficiency, in order to conquer poverty and safeguard the planet for generations to come.

    The Commission's current two-week session has brought together Government ministers, along with business leaders and representatives of civil society and international financial institutions, to review progress in meeting internationally agreed goals and targets in the areas of energy, industrial development, air pollution and climate change.

    The world's overwhelming, deeply entrenched reliance on the burning of fossil fuels involved many risks, not least among them air pollution and climate change, stated the Secretary-General.  While everyone would suffer from climate change, the poor were especially vulnerable to its adverse effects.

    "I look forward to working with this Commission to explore how we can bring the poor into the modern energy and industrial economy, while moving energy use and economic activity onto a cleaner path", he stated.  The lack of modern energy services was, thus, a major obstacle to poverty reduction and industrial development.  New approaches were needed, he said, noting that renewable sources of energy remained woefully underutilized.

    Developing countries should not be condemned, he added, by the weight of tradition or their own poverty, to do what their predecessors had done, especially when alternatives were possible.  "We cannot deny their need to industrialize; indeed, developing countries will need to nearly double their electrical generating capacity over the coming years if they are to develop and achieve the Millennium Development Goals."  But that could be done in cleaner ways.  And the developed countries had a responsibility to help, including through technology transfer and capacity-building.

    During a dialogue on the role of the private sector in sustainable development, it was acknowledged that Governments alone could not effectively address the challenges of energy, industrial development, air pollution and climate change without the contributions of the private sector.  Speakers highlighted the need for Governments and business to work together in public-private partnerships.  The drive and ingenuity of the business sector would be the prime catalyst for the development of energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies that would transform the world, stated United States Under-Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky.

    What was needed from the private sector, said Agnes Van Ardenne-Van Der Hoeven, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, was not business as usual, but investment in modern energy for the poor and investment in clean energy for the future.  For 2 billion people across the developing world, the quest for energy was a daily struggle.  People did not have electricity to light their homes or gas to prepare a hot meal.  The indoor pollution caused by cooking with traditional fuels caused respiratory infections, the world's greatest child killer.  For the 2 billion poor without modern energy, energy security was the difference between development and failure, between life and death.

    The private sector had a positive and essential role to play, a number of other speakers said, as it could provide the necessary investments, while creating the opportunities for technology transfer and capacity development.  But business alone could not provide all the solutions to sustainable energy, any more than Governments or civil society could, alone, stated John Hofmeister, President and USA Chair, Royal Dutch Shell.  Partnerships across all sectors were needed.  Shell was working in partnership with the World Bank in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, in achieving a leaded-fuel phase-out there, and on clean air initiatives in Asia, sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, as well as in California, on a climate coalition working to establish greenhouse gas policies -- a first in the United States.

    The World Bank, noted its Vice-President for Infrastructure, Kathy Sierra, was advising developing countries on the removal of constraint in attracting private sector investment.  Among the conditions required to attract investment were credible legal and regulatory frameworks within countries; encouraging market-based approaches in energy investment; and ensuring good governance and accountability.  The Bank was in the process of establishing a clean energy framework, which would offer strong opportunities for public-private engagement in energy, as well as to leverage existing instruments and reduce risks for investment.

    Also participating in the dialogue were Ministers from South Africa, Qatar, China and Egypt, as well as leaders of Eskom; Alcan; Vattenfall; Qatar Industries; Enel; ABN AMRO; EDF Group; Hinopak Motors, Ltd.; and the Global Environment Facility.

    The Commission heard a video message from the Director-General of the World Trade Organization during its afternoon session.  Statements were also made by ministers and representatives of South Africa (on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Austria (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Gabon, Qatar, China, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Australia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Nauru, Serbia and Montenegro, Botswana (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Bangladesh, Nigeria, Benin, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Israel, Belarus, Bulgaria, Tuvalu, Iran, Thailand, Republic of Korea, Hungary, Denmark, France and Armenia.

    The representative of the European Commission also spoke.

    The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 11 May, to hold a discussion with heads of United Nations organizations, and regional and international organizations.

    Background

    The Commission on Sustainable Development met today to begin its three-day high-level segment.  (For background on the session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/887 issued on 28 April.)

    Statement by Secretary-General

    KOFI ANNAN, United Nations Secretary-General, began by noting that this year, for the first time ever, a minister of finance had been selected as chairman of the Commission.  "This is yet another welcome sign that we are moving beyond the days when environment and economy were compartmentalized, and treated as if they were unrelated or even mutually exclusive."  The Commission, he said, was meeting at a time when the global community faced serious, interrelated challenges in the very areas that were the focus of the session:  energy, atmospheric pollution, climate change and industrial development.

    Energy, he said, was one of the foundations on which economies and societies rested.  Yet, that foundation was increasingly uncertain.  The world's overwhelming, deeply entrenched reliance on the burning of fossil fuels involved many risks.  It caused air pollution by industries and vehicles.  It could lead to governance problems within States, and distorted relations between them.  Through the high cost of oil, it imposed economic burdens on some poor countries.  And in generating greenhouse gas emissions, it contributed to climate change, from which almost everyone would suffer, but to which the poor above all were vulnerable.  The global community would need to help them adapt to the inevitable impacts of a changing climate.

    If those were among the problems of having too much of one kind of energy, there was also the despair of having too little, he continued.  Those who lived in developing countries knew all too well the difficulties of frequent power outages caused by inadequate generating capacity and faulty grid lines.  And, of course, 1.6 billion people lived with no electricity at all, and were left to rely on wood, dung and agricultural wastes, which had made indoor air pollution one of the world's top 10 causes of mortality or premature death.  There was also the immense opportunity cost of the many hours spent foraging for wood, mainly by women.  The lack of modern energy services was, thus, a major obstacle to poverty reduction and industrial development.  New approaches were needed.

    "We need a revolution in energy efficiency", he stated.  Conventional power stations wasted 65 per cent of the energy they generated.  That excess heat must be captured and used, and greater use must be made of hybrid vehicles and other energy-efficient technologies.  The pollution generated by fossil fuels needed to be reduced, for example, through the use of clean coal.  Renewable sources of energy remained woefully underutilized.  It was necessary to scale up investment in mature renewables, such as wind, hydro and solar energy.  It was also necessary to intensify research and development into promising longer-term sources, such as tidal energy, ocean thermal conversion, hydrogen and fuel cells.

    Developing countries should not be condemned, by the weight of tradition or their own poverty, to do what their predecessors had done, especially when alternatives were possible, he said.  "We cannot deny their need to industrialize; indeed, developing countries will need to nearly double their electrical generating capacity over the coming years if they are to develop and achieve the Millennium Development Goals."  But that could be done in cleaner ways.  And the developed countries had a responsibility to help.  That meant helping poor countries build up their capacity, transferring technology and know-how to them, and accelerating those processes by adopting new financial mechanisms.

    All countries needed to be more rigorous in carrying out what they had agreed to do, he stated.  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.  And climate change should not be viewed as a separate challenge; measures to mitigate it, and adapt to it, needed to be integrated into national sustainable development strategies.

    Progress had been continuous, if not yet rapid or dramatic enough, he noted.  Just last week, he was present at the New York Stock Exchange when pension funds and other global financial institutions, controlling between them some $4 trillion in assets, signed on to a new set of principles for responsible investment, in which it was clearly spelt out that what was not sustainable was not responsible.  Local initiatives, too numerous to mention, showed that many thousands of people were eager to find new, more responsible ways of doing business.  In that endeavour, there was work for everyone.  Governments must use their power to set the ground rules, lay out the standards, put the right incentives in place, and deploy their purchasing power to procure energy-efficient goods and services.  Financial markets, banks, private business and industry, civil society and private citizens all had distinct roles to play.

    "We have the knowledge and resources to conquer the poverty that blights so many lives, and to safeguard our planet and its climate for generations to come.  I look forward to working with this Commission to explore how we can bring the poor into the modern energy and industrial economy, while moving energy use and economic activity onto a cleaner path."

    * *** *