This month marks one year until the world convenes for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Rio+20 will mark a major moment in international debates about future global action to address poverty and environmental challenges.
Importantly, the conference will be held in what the UN has also declared to be the “international year of sustainable energy for all”. This presents a significant challenge. According to the International Energy Agency there are currently 1.4 billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity (with approximately 85% of those in rural areas).
The role of energy in meeting the world’s development objectives is therefore critical.
The Rio+20 summit will have two key themes – the green economy and the global institutional framework for sustainable development. The green economy theme will focus on how sustainable economic growth will be achieved in coming decades and energy issues have already been identified as a key component of that discussion.
At Rio+20 the world will need to set clear objectives and establish strong frameworks to address the energy challenge. The IEA highlighted in its WEO2010 report that to achieve universal modern energy access by 2030 would require an average annual investment of US$36 billion between 2010 and 2030.
At the World Coal Association, we’re currently finalising our work programme ahead of Rio+20. It’s clear that coal will have an important role to play in addressing the global energy challenge. All sources of energy will be needed to meet this challenge and local circumstances should determine the path each country chooses. It will be important for all international players, especially financiers such as the World Bank, to support developing countries in implementing projects that suit their energy needs and utilise their indigenous energy resources.
It’s been argued that addressing these energy challenges in the context of global action on climate change means there should be a strict focus on the deployment of renewable energy. Renewable energy clearly has a role to play, but ignoring indigenous resources and the energy demands posed by urbanisation and industrialisation will present significant energy security challenges. It also ignores the fact that coal has been and will continue to be the backbone of the world’s energy supply.
IEA figures show that coal is expected to match all other sources of energy combined in meeting future incremental electricity demand. The international community needs to work with developing countries to deploy high-efficiency, low-emission coal technologies so that we can meet both the energy and the climate challenge.