Leaving no one behind means ensuring access to sustainable energy for ALL

mrfToday’s post, by Mary Robinson, President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and member of the Sustainable Energy for All Advisory Board, is one in a series of ‘In my view’ pieces written by prominent authors on issues covered in the “Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action”

Work to provide access to sustainable energy for all lies at the intersection of development, human rights and climate change: the building blocks of a climate justice approach.

The focus on sustainable energy, in particular renewables, is fundamental for the transition to a carbon-neutral world – an essential path to avoid dangerous climate change. The focus on ALL, on universal access, recognises that access to sustainable energy is both a driver of development and an enabler of human rights, from the right to health to the right to food.

The report of the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the discussions of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals highlight the need for the international community to commit to leaving no one behind. In this sense, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring universal access to sustainable energy; it will require a continuum of approaches, from market-based ones to those supported by the public sector.

This is no surprise to development practitioners, who know the importance of specialised approaches for reaching the poorest and most marginalised communities. Social protection, including social safety nets, prevent chronic food insecurity and enhance health and education outcomes by targeting public resources to those most in need (an important theme in the OECD Development Co-operation Report 2013: Ending Poverty).

Targeted approaches are also fundamental to ensuring that the transition to a sustainable, zero-carbon world is fair and inclusive (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, 2013). Market-based solutions will deliver sustainable energy services to the majority, but the majority is not our goal; the goal is ALL. Targeted solutions, based on social protection for example, will help ensure that the extreme poor, women, marginalised communities, displaced people and refugees reap the benefits of the transition to clean, renewable energy.

The Sustainable Energy for All initiative encourages governments, businesses and civil society to work in partnership to make universal access to sustainable energy a reality by 2030. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared the decade 2014-24 as the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, underscoring the importance of energy issues for sustainable development and for the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda.

Women are a fundamental part of the ALL. When enabled to realise their rights, women will be the entrepreneurs, technicians and primary users of sustainable energy. But all too often women are not included in decision making on energy supply and access, despite the fact that their energy needs are different than those of men. Women prioritise energy for schools, health centres and productive uses over men’s preference for enterprise-based activities (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, 2012). This is the reason behind the decision to focus the first two years of the decade of Sustainable Energy for All on women, energy, children and health. This focus presents a real opportunity to place women and gender equality at the heart of all activities – national and international – that contribute to fulfilling the goals of the initiative.

Sustainable Energy for All gives us the opportunity to deliver climate action, enable development, protect human rights, and galvanise the resources and political leadership needed to make universal access to sustainable energy a reality. To do so effectively, actors at all levels need to understand the needs of people on the ground, taking into account their circumstances and their ability to access technologies, knowledge and financing. This understanding must inform the design of all energy service delivery.

The goals of this initiative will only become a reality by ensuring the right to participation, so that people’s voices are heard and access to sustainable energy does, indeed, reach ALL.

Useful links

Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action

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