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close this bookEnergy after Rio - Prospects and Challenges - Executive Summary (UNDP, 1997, 38 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentForeword
View the documentNotes on the Authors and Contributors
View the documentAbstract
View the document1. Introduction
Open this folder and view contents2. Energy and Major Global Issues
Open this folder and view contents3. New Opportunities in Energy Demand, Supply and Systems
Open this folder and view contents4. Sustainable Strategies
View the document5. Making It Happen: Energy for Sustainable Development
View the documentGlossary of Abbreviations

1. Introduction

Energy use facilitates all human endeavor, as well as social and economic progress. Energy is used for heating and cooling, illumination, health, food, education, industrial production, and transportation. Countries have considered the production and consumption of sufficient energy to be one of their main challenges. The magnitude of energy consumed per capita has become one of the indicators of “modernisation” and progress of a country. Thus, energy issues and policies have been strongly concerned with increasing the supply of energy. The strategic and environmental consequences of energy consumption patterns have been neglected for a long time. The world continues to seek energy to satisfy its needs without giving due consideration to the social, environmental, economic and security impacts of its use. It is now clear that current approaches to energy are unsustainable.

People living in poverty and destitution have benefited very little from conventional energy policies and their implementation. More than two billion people lack access to modern energy carriers and electricity. At the same time, it is widely recognised that without appropriate energy services there can be no true development.

Development strategies so far have overlooked the fundamental role of energy in poverty alleviation. The solution is not primarily one of simply providing enhanced conventional energy supplies. Experience has shown that such a strategy would be a failure both from the point of view of financial implications and environmental concerns. A fundamental reorientation is needed in the approach to energy and energy services.

current approaches to energy are unsustainable

Energy has been a major public policy issue for a very long time. In recent history energy gained great attention in the 1970’s as a result of the 1973 and 1979 oil price shocks. The vulnerability of all economies to energy price and supply fluctuations became evident to government policy makers and consumers alike. Oil importing countries confronted serious balance of payments problems, and in some cases, debt traps. The UN Conference on the Development and Utilisation of New and Renewable Sources of Energy held in Nairobi in 1981 stressed the importance of alternative, renewable sources of energy to offset oil dependence. The hopes raised and plans formulated floundered, however, with the decline of international oil prices. In parallel, acidification and global greenhouse gas emissions were taking on new international significance as were the health concerns related to emissions. No integrated approach linking energy, environment and development emerged.

During the 1990s, the United Nations convened a series of major Conferences on global issues including the 1992 Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, the 1993 Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the 1994 Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the 1996 Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul, and the World Summit on Food Security in Rome.

development strategies have overlooked the fundamental role of energy in poverty alleviation

At each of these Conferences, Member States agreed on objectives, principles and action programmes. Energy issues have been present at all of the Conferences. In the Platforms and Programmes for Action emanating from the Conferences there are texts which clearly discuss the role of energy (see Box 1). The negative impact on human health and the environment are explicitly recognised in these documents and statements supporting the objectives of providing more energy-efficient technologies and utilizing renewable sources of energy are adopted. In addition, there are also three Conventions closely linked to energy: the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution and the Convention to Combat Desertification.

implementing sustainable energy strategies is one the most important levers humankind has for creating a sustainable world

There has not been a focused examination, however, of the role of energy for overall sustainable socio-economic development and actions called for concerning sustainable energy have not been integrated into development strategies.

The message from the Conferences with respect to energy is that a new approach to energy is required to meet the societal objectives agreed upon by the community of nations. The impact of poverty on the natural resource base was recognised at the Earth Summit in Rio. Designing and implementing environmental protection and resource management measures to take into account the needs of people living in poverty and vulnerable groups has been repeatedly highlighted at all major United Nations Conferences since 1992. In spite of this, however, the necessary changes are not reflected in the overall trends in energy as observed in the 1990s. Present trends in energy pose serious barriers to the goals of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

In its resolution 47/190 the United Nations General Assembly “decides to convene not later than 1997 a special session for the purpose of an overall review and appraisal of Agenda 21”. The same resolution “urges organisations and programmes of the United Nations to take the necessary actions to give effective follow-up to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21”.

This publication was prepared in response to the 1996 General Assembly resolution 50/113 inviting relevant organisations of the UN to contribute to the special session. It builds on the work of the Conferences, drawing new insights from research and development with respect to (i) the role of energy in sustainable development, (ii) technological options to supply energy services, and (iii) experiences of energy policies to achieve objectives in areas linked to energy, such as those contained in negotiated Conference documents, as relevant in the world of the late 1990s.

Starting from a discussion of the social, environmental, economic and security issues of today’s world, an attempt is made to describe the linkages between these issues and energy. This publication advances an integrated perspective on the linkages between these vital issues and energy, and its role in achieving the objectives formulated and agreed upon at the Conferences. Not only is energy one of the determinants of these problems, but energy can contribute to their alleviation, if not to their solution. Implementing sustainable energy strategies is one the most important levers humankind has for creating a sustainable world.

In Chapter 2 linkages between energy and social, environmental, economic and security issues are reviewed and it is concluded that the present energy system and trends are not compatible with sustainable development. In Chapter 3 technology options to bring about a more sustainable energy future are reviewed and in Chapter 4, their potential impact is analysed. Finally, Chapter 5 addresses the policy issues for bringing about a sustainable energy future.

Box 1. Energy and the Major UN Conferences

“Agenda 21 constitutes the basic framework and instrument which will guide the world community on an ongoing basis in its decisions on the goals, targets, priorities, allocation of responsibilities and resources in respect of the many environment and development issues which will determine the future of our planet” according to Maurice Strong,

Agenda 21 programme areas, activities and objectives from the Rio Conference describe numerous links between sustainable development and energy issues. These are reflected in the chapters on Promoting Sustainable Human Settlement Development, Health, Integrating Environment and Development in Decision-making, Protection of the Atmosphere, Combating Deforestation, Combating Desertification and Drought, Sustainable Mountain Development, and Promoting Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. Chapter 34 on Environmentally Sound Technology, Cooperation and Capacity Building is particularly relevant to energy and modern clean energy technology.

The Programme of Action adopted at the United Nations Conference on Population and Development emphasises the need to integrate population concerns into all aspects of economic and social activity. Chapter 3 addresses the interrelationships between population, sustained economic growth and comprehensive sustainable development, particularly for the implementation of effective population policies and meeting basic human needs. The Cairo Conference recognised poverty as a major obstacle to solving population problems.

The Global Conference on Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) produced a Plan of Action which deals with energy resources in Chapter 7. It concludes that SIDS “are currently heavily dependent on imported petroleum products, largely for transport and electricity generation, energy often accounting for more than 12 percent of imports. They are heavily dependent on indigenous biomass fuels for cooking and crop drying”. The absence of energy alternatives is a clear factor in unsustainable development patterns in SIDS. As a result it is concluded that “increased efficiency through appropriate technology and national energy policies and management measures will reap both financial and environmental benefits for small island developing states”.

The Social Summit Programme of Action represents a global effort to address issues related to social development and the negative impacts of underdevelopment and poverty. Global consensus was reached on the need to create an enabling economic environment aimed at promoting more equitable access to sustainable development, and the goal of eradicating poverty. Chapter 2 recognises that improving the availability and accessibility of transportation, communication, power and energy services at the local and community level is a way of improving the access to productive resources and infrastructure necessary for poverty eradication, especially for isolated, remote and marginalised communities.

The implementation and follow-up of recommendations from Cairo and Copenhagen related to health, education, safe food, potable water and sanitation, transportation, employment and poverty eradication, as well as the needs of special groups such as the aging, handicapped, victims of natural disasters, children, refugees and displaced, will all require a substantial increase in energy services.

The Beijing Conference Platform for Action, Objective K “Women and the environment” refers to women’s numerous roles in the management and use of natural resources, as providers of sustenance for their families and communities, as well as women’s needs and requirements as users, consumers, managers and decision-makers. It stresses the need to integrate gender concerns and perspectives in all programmes for sustainable development.

The United Nations Conference on Human Settlements HABITAT II statement “Sustainable Human Settlements Development in an Urbanizing World” explicitly deals with sustainable energy use. Chapter 4 states that the use of energy is essential in urban centers for transportation, industrial production, household and office activities. “Current dependence in most urban centers on non-renewable energy sources can lead to climate change, air pollution and consequent environmental and human health problems, and may represent a serious threat to sustainable development. Sustainable energy production and use can be enhanced by encouraging energy efficiency, by such means as pricing policies, fuel switching, alternative energy, mass transit and public awareness. Human settlements and energy policies should be actively coordinated”. The promotion of efficient and sustainable energy use and actions for Governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and consumer groups to solve many of the crucial social and economic requirements of sustainable development are recommended.

The World Summit on Food Security in its Declaration noted that “unless governments and the international community address the multifaceted causes underlying food security, the number of hungry and malnourished people will remain very high in developing countries, particularly Africa south of the Sahara and sustainable food security will not be achieved”. The importance of energy in agricultural production, food preparation and consumption is clear.