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SEFA so good? ‘Sustainable energy for all’ gets closer – lots still to do

 

Heard of SEFA? The ‘Sustainable Energy For All’ initiative is the baby of UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon*.

SEFA was launched this year to jumpstart urgent global action on the vital issue of sustainable energy – especially for the world’s poorer countries. The aim is to increase access to affordable, clean and reliable electricity (1.4 billion people still have none). As the SEFA website says: “Without access to sustainable energy, there can be no sustainable development.”

Man checking solar cellsSolar power can provide power for those far from of the grid, as shown by this example in Thailand © Adam Oswell / WWF-Canon

Nearly three billion people worldwide don’t have access to affordable, reliable and clean energy. This means energy for basic services – like light at night for safety or studying, cooking fuel, heat. This has huge impacts on human health, poverty and even the environment.

In particular, lack of access to energy is a burden on women. In many countries, it’s women who are responsible for cooking and for gathering fuelwood for energy.

In a world where big, international negotiations seem to go way too slow, SEFA is an alternative – a speedy, all-voluntary group that includes government, businesses and civil society organisations like WWF.

It’s designed to push the crucial issue of sustainable energy high up the global political agenda. And it’s succeeded, at least in some ways.

We do still have some concerns. Voluntary action is good – we all need to do more, particularly the business sector. But voluntary commitments are just not going to be enough.

The reality is that the money and technology already exist to bring energy to the people who need it. What we lack is political will – governments need to step up and make binding commitments on access and finance. Without those, it’ll be hard to get businesses to commit to investments, and to get the speed and scale we need to end energy poverty by 2030. This is our goal, along with many other people’s.

We’re also concerned because SEFA doesn’t focus enough on renewable energy. Renewable energy is already the solution of choice for many rural communities that are remote and would not be connected to the grid in the foreseeable future. It doesn’t necessarily require a grid, so it can be rolled out rapidly, and the fuel is free.

If you compare it to importing diesel for generators, it’s clearly cost-effective. And that’s without considering the issue of climate change, which unfairly impacts the poor.

As a civil society organisation, WWF stands for good governance, accountability and accessibility. We’d like to see SEFA reach out more to the people it’s trying to serve – the poor, particularly the rural poor, and women. That means in-country meetings and consultations, not just reports and websites.

And any initiative, even a voluntary one, just gets stronger if it also includes ways for people to say whether it delivers what they need. Accountability is key – even for voluntary work.

* When UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon launched SEFA in January 2012 he said:

“I understand the importance of energy from my own experience. When I was a young boy in post-war Korea, I studied by a dim and smoky oil lamp at night. Only when I prepared for examinations was I allowed to use a candle. This memory has stayed with me throughout my life.

“Widespread energy poverty condemns billions to darkness, to ill health, to missed opportunities for education and prosperity. That is why I say that energy poverty must end.

“Development is not possible without energy, and sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy.”

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