UN's 'decade of sustainable energy'

United Nations headquarters in New York City

United Nations headquarters in New York City

The United Nations on Thursday formally launched the “Decade for Sustainable Energy For All”, a high-profile campaign which holds as a central target a doubling of the share of renewables in the world’s energy mix by 2030.

The launch was overseen by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the UN’s New York headquarters, and comes amid the first Sustainable Energy For All (SE4A) Forum, which will be held annually for the next 10 years, summoning world energy leaders to chart the initiative’s progress.

About 1,000 people attended the Forum, according to organizers, including a handful of leaders from renewables heavyweights, including Acciona, Vestas, First Solar and Enel Green Power.

The launch of the SE4A decade comes as the UN’s Millennium Development Goals – covering the 2000-2015 period – are coming to an end, and the organization plots a post-2015 agenda that is expected to focus heavily on clean energy and climate change.

The SE4A initiative will run from 2014-2024, with all of its three primary targets angled toward 2030.

A number of major financial institutions have already thrown their weight behind the SE4A agenda, with Bank of America chairman Chad Holliday highlighting the imperative of immediate global action.

“The energy systems in essentially every place in the world will change during the next 15 years,” Holliday said at the Forum. “The only question is whether they will change in a sustainable way.”

While thorny obstacles to the 2030 target are in evidence around the world, Africa presents the “main” challenge”, says Andris Piebalgs, the EU’s commissioner for development, and its energy commissioner from 2004-2009. This is due to Africa’s rapidly growing population, its bare-bones electricity infrastructure, and the high potential for environmental devastation from fossil-fuels and other extractive industries.

“Time is ticking most quickly on the African continent,” Piebalgs says. “If you don’t solve energy fast in Africa, the consequences could be very, very regretful.”

The SE4A initiative has three central goals for 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewables.

Many attendants agreed that the renewables goal will be the most easily met – and the easiest to track.

Separately on Thursday, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) launched its “REmap 2030”, a roadmap charting a course to a doubling of renewables over the next 15 years.

Irena’s report claims that doubling renewables from an 18% global share in 2010 to 36% by 2030 is “possible, affordable, and will keep the world on a trajectory consistent with a CO2 level of 450ppm”.

“We can achieve [the 36%] with technologies that are mature today,” Irena director-general Adnan Amin told a press briefing. “We don’t have to wait for further innovations.”

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