UNIDO chief: EU an active partner in energy access


The United Nations is committed to sustainable development to promote wealth creation and structural change in developing economies. This includes expanding access to energy, says Kandeh K. Yumkella of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

Kandeh K. Yumkella is director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, based in Vienna. He was interviewed by EURACTIV Slovakia’s Lenka Ferencakova.

Sustainable development is one of the priorities discussed during international negotiations. It was actually the dominant topic of the Rio+20 conference in June. Why?

The purpose of the Rio+20 Summit was, in fact, to discuss sustainable development – how we can achieve inclusive, equitable economic prosperity and protect our environment at the same time. Sustainable development has three key dimensions: economic, social and environmental. These three pillars are crucial to achieving sustainable development and require good governance, the protection of economic and political rights, peace and security.

At UNIDO, our interest on sustainable development lies in promoting wealth creation and structural change in developing economies around the world. These changes will ensure that economies use natural resources in a better way, create more jobs for people, spread prosperity and reduce income inequality across all sectors of society.

Our mandate at UNIDO is to promote sustainable industrial development, which is why at Rio+20 UNIDO launched the Green Industry Platform, well received by many member states and companies.

How would you explain the aim of this platform?

The Green Industry Platform is a multi-stakeholder partnership that will involve industry, governments and civil society to promote four areas. The first one is resource efficiency. Can we use less natural resources, less materials to produce the same input over time? We have only one planet, but if we continue using forests or minerals the way we do now, we will need four or five planets. When the population reaches nine billion by 2050, there would not be enough raw materials for us to go forth.

The second pillar of the Green Industry Platform is water optimisation. We have to change the way we use water. Many reports warn us of potential conflicts around water issues in the next couple of decades, and if climate change continues, for sure it is going to impact the availability of clean water for all of us.

The third pillar is industrial energy efficiency. UNIDO reports show that in developing countries and emerging economies over 40% of the demand for energy comes from industry. Companies realise that if they change the way they use energy, their bottom line improves as well. Industry is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases, which relates to energy use, too. But you need industry to create jobs, to provide the technologies needed to solve many of the problems of food security, to create wealth, and to move forward. It is therefore essential to promote the efficient use of energy in industry.

The final pillar of our platform is chemical management. The reason why we emphasise it is because our concern for climate change is not enough to make chemicals disappear. Production processes still generate harmful chemicals and we have to tackle this problem as we go forward.

We are going to pursue these four pillars aggressively, and we have strong support. In fact, the European Union has launched a Resource Efficiency Platform for Europe. We want to avoid the old paradigm of the last 30 years, which was ‘Don’t worry, build factories, grow fast, pollute, you’ll clean up later.’ That cannot happen anymore.

You were appointed special representative for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. How close is the relation between sustainable energy and development?

In his speeches during and after Rio, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described energy as the golden thread that runs through all three pillars of sustainable development. Without sustainable energy, you cannot have sustainable development. Over 60 to 70% of [greenhouse gas] emissions come from energy production and use. You cannot solve climate change without an energy revolution.

Developing countries need energy: we still have 1.3 to 1.6 billion people without electricity. There can be no prosperity without energy. After the discussions at Rio we are looking very closely at the connection between energy security and food security. One example in Africa is that for some products, over 80% of the production rots, on the farm or in the market place, since there is no way of storing it. If products don’t sell immediately, without electricity they cannot be stored properly. You need energy to deal with humidity, for cooling systems, for example. We are setting up a wide cooperation, including with FAO, WHO and UN Women, to deal with this.

The secretary-general has announced a new governance structure, which is one of the first real actions after the Rio summit. The new Advisory Group on energy will be co-chaired by the secretary-general and the president of the World Bank themselves. We are also setting up an executive committee led by a private sector representative, Chad Holliday, the CEO of Bank of America.

In this innovative way the UN is tackling an issue that is not a crisis yet. But if we don’t deal with it, it will become a crisis.

A small controversy has occurred at the launch of the initiative over what sources of energy are to be considered as sustainable, whether also to include nuclear, natural gas or biofuels. How do you see this?

In this initiative our goals are very clear – to achieve universal access to energy, improve energy efficiency and increase the share of renewables in the global energy mix. To achieve the first goal we need, for example, $48 to $50 billion a year. Governments do not have that money; the money and technology we need are in the private sector. How do we get them? By innovative private-public partnerships. To begin, with the support of our Austrian counterparts, we will be setting up an energy hub in Vienna.

We don’t dictate the energy mix, we provide the best information available. Governments can look at those numbers and say by how much they want to improve their efficiency, change their energy mix or choose what technologies they want to use. But it is up to them to decide. The initiative does not decide: it promotes the universal goals that can be adopted by countries to improve their energy sources. It is up to the countries to choose the technologies and their energy matrix.

We give them information on how they can incentivise alternative energy. We cannot dictate to banks what they lend to; however, we try to encourage them to see if they can provide more financing for alternative energy sources. The question is how we convince the governments to support research and development for alternative energy, the same they did for other energy sources.

The European Union is actively participating and has made its own commitments through its Energising Development Initiative. How do you assess cooperation with the EU and their specific added value?

The EU initiative is very solid. In fact, they organised it as a contribution to the UN initiative. The EU aims to support developing countries with technical assistance and to help them develop the right public policies to achieve the three goals within the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

The EU is also going to make funds available, through the European Investment Bank and regional banks, to encourage companies in the EU to invest in clean energy solutions. In addition, the EU is ready to cooperate with all the countries to share the experience in Europe. A few days ago I came back from a meeting with the European Commission and I am very pleased to know that they are going to back this initiative and all the regions so that we can have a better, sustainable world.

You mentioned close cooperation with UN Women. Why is the gender aspect important in the initiative on providing sustainable energy?

Yes, the support of Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of UN Women, is very important. We estimate that about 1.5 to 2 million people die every year because of indoor air pollution due to using charcoal or wood as their primary energy source. Eighty-five percent of them are women and children.

We estimate that women and children spend 20 hours a week collecting firewood or water. If they had energy to pump that water, clean energy to cook, you would not have that high mortality rate. So lack of energy itself is a major social problem.

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