At the closing plenary of the final pre-conference negotiations delegates today agreed to a draft outcome text, which according to the sentiment expressed by speakers from many countries will be adopted when the Rio+20 conference formally convenes with world leaders here tomorrow.
The agreed text contains some important language on energy, and it is a significant improvement from the wording contained in the original draft circulated earlier this year. Gone are references to energy access targets at a “basic minimum level” and gone too is an absolute focus on renewable energy.
But it could have been a whole lot better. While the text recognises the important role energy plays and supports efforts to address energy poverty, absent is any statement calling for a global energy access target. The document notes the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative but doesn’t call on it to establish an ambitious program for energy access. That means we run the risk of satisfying ourselves with a light bulb and cook stove approach to energy access rather than something that will genuinely combat poverty, support economic growth and strengthen social infrastructure like schools and hospitals. This suggests leaders at Rio+20 will be comfortable with a target like the one referenced in the International Energy Agency’s energy for all case which would support “use of a floor fan, a mobile phone, and two compact fluorescent light bulbs for about five hours a day” in rural areas and in urban areas perhaps also “an efficient refrigerator, a second mobile phone per household and another appliance”.
The 1.3 billion people who lack access to electricity in the world deserve better.
The text recognises that different countries will have different approaches to improving energy access based on their national priorities and circumstances. There are several references to “sustainable modern energy services” without defining what that means. The text also recognises the role of low emission and advanced energy technologies including cleaner fossil fuel technologies.
Many countries with significant energy access challenges also have access to coal. Pakistan, India, Indonesia and southern Africa amongst others will all benefit from utilising their coal resources. Their national priorities clearly lie in improving energy access and their financial and natural resources point towards coal being a major part of the solution. It’s no doubt because of factors like this that the International Energy Agency said last year that more than half of on-grid electricity access to meet the energy for all challenge will come from coal. The language in the draft text should open the door for increased international support for high-efficiency low emission coal fired power generation leading to carbon capture use and storage. The Secretary-General’s initiative must recognise this.