Transforming the Global Energy System

Currently 20% of the world’s population account for 77% of total world energy consumption, so one of the main conclusions of this session was the urgent need for energy to be more closely linked to development.

Universal access to affordable and clean energy for the poor is the number one objective, as access to energy is critical for poverty alleviation, social development and improvements in human health.

In Africa, for example, a major challenge is the lack of access to energy in many rural areas. The cost of energy is critical here because farmers have to assure their food needs first before they can invest in energy for irrigation. As access to the energy grid in Africa is difficult to obtain and expensive in many rural areas, local projects have focused on the installation of mini grids to serve local populations. Power from these stations can improve irrigation capacity, as well as improve overall quality of lives through access to refrigeration, computers, television and radio. As poor people worldwide often pay the highest prices for energy, smart mini-grid solutions could be a way to improve their livelihoods.

Panelist Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency evoked the “end of the era of cheap energy”, and others noted that the cheapest energy is the energy which is not used.

Speakers stressed that there was no time in regions like Latin America and the Caribbean to wait for innovation, because the issue is very urgent. There is benefit in south-south collaboration in energy, even if technologies have to be imported from the West.

Brazil is a big success story because of the high percentage of renewables in its energy mix – three times that of the world average at 43.5%, and expected to rise further in the future.

A key recommendation is that the energy challenge needs to be considered alongside other sectors such as agriculture, access to water, food supply, transportation and economic and sustainable development in general.

Echoing one of the main themes of the forum – the need for an integrated approach – speakers called for an integrated approach to energy system design for sustainable development. Energy policies must be coordinated across sectors. Transformative change will require a portfolio of policies and investments. Multiple benefits will flow from integrated approaches across energy-using sectors, such as development of new skills and great institutional capacity to improve the investment climate.

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