• Sustainable energy access critical for development in Africa | Helen Clark

    29 Dec 2011

    A female farmer on a field
    Access to modern affordable energy services in developing countries is essential for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals. Photo: UN Foundation

    Almost 45 per cent of those who lack access to energy live in Sub-Saharan Africa, making up 69 per cent of the region’s population. They number 585 million people. Seventy eight per cent of those living in Sub-Saharan Africa use traditional biomass for cooking and heating (650 million).

    Energy needs extend well beyond having electricity available in homes. In Africa, where so many depend on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihood, expanding access to energy for irrigation, food production, and processing is vital. It can boost agricultural productivity and rural incomes, and empower women who make up a significant proportion of the continent’s farmers.

    For UNDP, access to sustainable energy is critical for making societies more equitable and inclusive, and for encouraging green growth and sustainable development overall. We advocate for equity, inclusiveness, resilience, and sustainability to be the guiding principles for efforts to achieve universal energy access. 

    We recognize that different groups have different energy needs. Therefore, governments need to balance the financing of large-scale energy projects with support for the off-grid, decentralized energy solutions which will help meet the needs of the poorest and most marginalised people. Cleaner cooking and heating fuels and motor power for productive activities are also needed.

    If Africa’s abundant sources of renewable energy can be harnessed to help provide universal energy access, then poverty can be reduced and growth stimulated without damaging our climate ecosystems further. The International Energy Agency estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa will need cumulative investments of $US 389 billion to achieve universal electricity access by 2030 and of $US 22 billion for clean fuels and devices for cooking and heating by 2030.

    Public funding alone will not be enough to cover the costs, African countries need to be able to attract and access different sources of finance.

    The UN Secretary General’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All is building a coalition of support for energy access which can help establish enabling conditions and give confidence to investors to support ambitious energy expansion and make energy poverty history.

    Achieving sustainable energy for all will reduce energy poverty, and help combat climate change.

    A strong outcome on sustainable energy is needed at Rio +20. It is highly relevant to all three pillars of sustainable development - the economic, social and environmental.

    UNDP is fully committed to play its part to make sustainable energy for all possible. 

    Talk to us: How can we ensure that providing energy for all is truly sustainable?


About the Author
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Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is also the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments working on development issues.

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