Photo: High level participants and representatives from the least developed countries following the opening session of the Global Conference on Scaling-Up Energy Access and Finance in the Least Developed Countries on May 30. Credit: UN-OHRLLS. - Photo: 2019

Boosting Energy Access and Finance in Poorest Countries

Viewpoint by Youba Sokona

The following are extensive extracts from keynote remarks by Youba Sokona, South Centre’s Senior Adviser on Sustainable Development, at the Global Conference on Scaling-up Energy Access and Finance in Least Developed Countries in Beijing, China. The United Nations Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) and the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDCO) organised the conference with the support of the UN system on May 30-31, 2019.

GENEVA (IDN-INPS) – It seems very obvious but not well understood that no progress can be achieved in development without energy. Energy plays a critical role in poverty reduction, and its absence is a major constraint on economic growth. Energy is indeed an essential part of people’s aspirations for a greater well-being and a precondition for inclusive economic and social development.

It must be said that the leadership in China understood the importance of energy very early in the country’s development journey. As such, China implemented strong policies and strategies, tailored to the specific sectors and in urban and rural areas, and built innovation systems with the capability to experiment, test and implement.

They were able to integrate energy systems into the fabric of productive sectors in very meaningful ways that enabled China to create the foundations for economic and social transformation of its people. There are many lessons that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) must draw from China’s experience.

Increasingly renewable energies are offering tremendous opportunities to achieve development aspirations. This has motivated the conception and development of the LDCs Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative (REEEI) supported by the South Centre, which I am pleased to highlight as a contribution to this opening session.

The Least Developed Countries Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative for Sustainable Development is an LDC-initiated, LDC-owned and LDC-driven effort to accelerate the harnessing of the renewable energy potential across least developed countries and to promote energy efficiency. Under the mandate of LDC Ministers, the initiative aims to support LDCs to achieve their development aspirations by addressing three overarching goals:

    100% access to sufficient, affordable, modern and clean energy by all citizens in the LDCs by 2030;

    100% electricity from renewable energy sources in all LDCs by 2050 that caters to all needs of their citizens, social services and industries; and

    100% utilization of energy efficiency potentials along the value chain through full implementation of best practice measures and planning by 2040.

At its core, the initiative is about energy for people-centered development. The Initiative recognizes the importance of energy for development and seeks to enable the LDCs to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals, to align these efforts with the Paris Agreement’s objectives, and to revitalize the Istanbul Program of Action.

The Initiative is a strategic framework for driving transformative change across sectors and a platform for sharing experiences and disseminating knowledge to reach universal energy access and accelerate the transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency in all LDCs. The Initiative will consult multiple stakeholders in each country to help them develop their own solutions and action plans to leapfrog to modern renewable energy systems.

The LDC REEEI will complement ongoing initiatives with tangible impacts on renewable energy and energy efficiency, while addressing areas that the existing initiatives do not. Primarily the Initiative will focus on developing and accelerating the implementation of national renewable energy and energy efficiency policies.

The Initiative will also collaborate with regional, national, and local stakeholders to jointly identify opportunities to make energy services more accessible and affordable for productive uses, social services such as education and health, and to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The LDC REEEI will assist countries in mobilizing and developing capacities, in formulating tailored policies and regulations, and in drawing lessons from a growing body of experience in deploying renewable energy technologies. The Initiative will support country-led efforts to access climate dedicated funding such as the Global Environment Facility, LDC Fund, Adaptation Fund, Special Climate Fund, and Green Climate Fund.

The LDC REEEI will be guided by a set of principles that outline the conditions and values under which the renewable energy transformation should be undertaken. Those seeking to partner with or have their activities recognized as aligned with the Initiative will need to subscribe to these principles.

The LDC REEEI envisions a rapid paradigm shift in the global energy sector towards 100% renewable electricity, participatory and equitable energy systems. Renewable energy will become a source of income for the many, a way to empower communities, a tool for increasing resilience and breaking dependencies on other countries and big firms, an enabler of a flourishing of economic activity by local farms, local businesses and a functioning public sector.

The Initiative will support LDCs in formulating long-term plans for people-centered and sustainable well-being for their citizens; harnessing energy to drive the productive sector; developing diversified, efficient and distributed energy systems for the future; and encouraging community ownership and energy cooperatives around the world.

The Initiative recognizes that while most LDCs are endowed with significant renewable energy source potentials, the majority of their people, productive sectors, and development efforts suffer from energy deficits. Increased access to energy has the potential to vastly improve the lives and livelihoods of populations, and the LDC REEEI regards basic energy services as a human right, which should be available on demand and delivered through the most efficient and affordable systems. The Initiative will therefore prioritize the needs of people currently without adequate access to modern, affordable, reliable and sustainable energy services.

Further, the Initiative highlights the importance of going beyond a focus on increased household energy access, to more focus on the productive and social services sectors – driving economic development, creating new jobs, supporting the expansion of social and welfare services, and increasing resilience. This will require energy strategies that are integrated into broader development strategies, building a mix of energy systems with both on and off-grid approaches, and must be underpinned by sound science, technology, financial and innovation policies and frameworks.

The Initiative also recognizes that while the energy challenges facing LDCs are enormous so too are the opportunities. LDCs will work together to embark on transformative action, set their own course, and take charge of their own future though pioneering a model of energy and development that is in accord with what both people and the planet need. The LDC REEEI can make a major contribution towards a future that delivers on aspirations for 100% energy access, renewable energy and best practices in energy efficiency and use – and in so doing helps to place us on path to a cleaner, fairer and more prosperous world for all.

In conclusion, I would go back to the beginning of my speech. Among the developing countries, China has been at the forefront of integrating energy into its critical development sectors such as agriculture, industry and transport. There is also another area that China is leading on. And this is in the area of renewable energy technologies development, making the country a leader in technological and system development for low carbon development. Not only does China take its energy agenda seriously, but it also recognizes (and has demonstrated in its action) that the future energy system cannot be a replica of the past.

New challenges demand new solutions and innovations. The development and climate challenges demand that countries innovate and develop their energy systems in ways that are compatible to 21st Century challenges. The REEEI aims to do precisely this…it is a program of the future, with a clear view of the wellbeing of present and future generations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 June 2019]

Photo: High level participants and representatives from the least developed countries following the opening session of the Global Conference on Scaling-Up Energy Access and Finance in the Least Developed Countries on May 30. Credit: UN-OHRLLS.

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