Energy is ‘golden thread’ linking development goals, says UN deputy

06 June 2018

Amina J. Mohammed, the United Nations deputy secretary-general, said access to modern, clean energy is the common denominator underpinning most Sustainable Development Goals.

Getting affordable, clean energy to all is the “golden thread” that ties together global efforts to end poverty, reduce inequalities and cut pollution, the United Nation’s second in command, Amina J. Mohammed, said today at a high-level panel discussion in Geneva, Switzerland.

More than 1 billion people – about 14% of the world’s population – still live without electricity. Some 90% of African children attend primary schools without lights or computers. And many women around the globe spend a big part of their day collecting firewood to provide energy for cooking – energy that pollutes their homes.

Energy therefore is key to most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the ones focused on health, education, environment and gender equality, Ms. Mohammed said during the annual meeting of UNCTAD’s governing body, the Trade and Development Board, gathering at the Palais des Nations from 4 to 12 June.

"It benefits health by reducing risks from outdoor and household air pollution, and aids access to clean water and refrigeration," she said. "It powers improved medical facilities, especially in rural areas, enabling the safe storage of medicines and vaccines."

"It improves livelihoods, social mobility, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls."

Energy for businesses, not just homes

But access to energy goes beyond social benefits and is at the heart of the economic goals and aspirations of people and countries.

In fact, according to UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2017, economic progress in the world’s 47 poorest nations hinges on access to modern energy.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said that while we’ve seen strides in increasing access to energy in the least developed countries, most efforts have focused on electricity for household consumption. Yet the game changer for these countries is when access boosts economic productivity and competitiveness.

"One of the biggest challenges is the inadequate comprehension of the role of energy as an enabler for structural transformation," Dr. Kituyi said.

"And therefore the infrastructure and policy environment does not adequately convert electricity access into an instrument for improving productivity," he said.

The UNCTAD report highlighted that more than 40% of businesses operating in least developed countries are held back by inadequate, unreliable and unaffordable electricity. On average, they suffer 10 power outages per month, each lasting around five hours, and this costs them 7% of the value of their sales.

When a woman travels for three days

Franck Lesueur, co-founder of Enekio, a French company working on energy efficiency and renewable energy, shared the experience of an ongoing project to get electricity to remote villages in Senegal.

The first thing the company did was to identify the villages’ main needs, which after interviewing the inhabitants, turned out to be affordable energy in health clinics, schools and for agriculture, he said.

"When a woman travels three days to give birth in a health clinic, it’s important to ensure that there actually is energy to be able to provide appropriate health care," he said.

For agriculture, he said, women were spending many hours collecting water. "So one the first request was to provide automatic pumps."

Mr. Lesueur said that the company’s experience in Senegal echoed the findings of the UNCTAD report – that if we want to have real impact on society, we need to focus on getting energy to infrastructure and economic activities.

The panel also included Kenneth Tarus, Managing Director and CEO of the Kenya Power Lighting Company, and Tudor Ulianovschi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, who wrapped up his term as president of the Trade and Development Board this week.