Press Conference by Secretary-General on ‘Sustainable Energy’ Initiative

1 November 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General on ‘Sustainable Energy’ Initiative


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced the release of his vision statement on his “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, and announced the members of the High-Level Group that would spearhead the initiative.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference on the initiative, which was launched in September, Mr. Ban said the Group would be co-chaired by Kandeh Yumkella, the Chair of UN Energy and Executive Director of UNIDO, and Charles Holliday, Chairman of Bank of America.

The Secretary-General said that nearly 20 years after the Rio conference, the international community had seen more clearly than ever that economic growth, environmental protection, and social equity were one and the same agenda:  the sustainable development agenda.  Energy was the golden thread that ran right through all.  “It powers our economies, and makes prosperity possible,” he stated.

However, fossil-fuel-based energy also contributed significantly to climate change, which hurt the poor and vulnerable first — and worst.  He said as the United Nations system geared up for next year’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development two things needed to be done:  ensure that all people have access to modern energy services, and move very rapidly towards a clean energy economy to prevent the dangerous warming of our planet.  There was need to turn on the lights for every household, while turning down the global thermostat.

Expanding on the reasons for his launching the “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, Mr. Ban pointed out that the economic crisis was foremost on the minds of many.  Sustainable energy — clean, affordable and accessible to all — was a “win-win-win” as it helped in poverty reduction, drove economic dynamism, and reduced the risks of climate change all at the same time.

The Sustainable Energy for All Group included key players from around the world — business, finance, governments, and civil society.  Its job was to catalyse partnerships, commitments and action — in corporate board rooms, in government ministries, and on the ground in thousands of local communities, Mr. Ban explained.

He announced three objectives to support the overall goal of “Sustainable Energy for All”.  These were, first, universal access to modern energy services; second, doubling the rate at which we improve energy efficiency and; third, doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.  He called for all the three objectives to be achieved by 2030.

“Together, these goals can help to end energy poverty and catalyse a clean energy revolution that benefits all humanity,” the Secretary-General added.

Also speaking at the same briefing, Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, told correspondents that the Secretary-General was later in the afternoon scheduled to release his vision statement on energy in a briefing to Member States.  The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, was expected to join the Secretary-General at that briefing to the General Assembly.  He said the initiative would support in very concrete ways the Year of Sustainable Energy for All that was voted by the General Assembly for the year 2012.

The composition of the membership of the initiative’s Group — the majority of whom were from the private sector — was recognition of the fact that it would take business, government, finance and civil society working together if the issues around energy for all were to be solved.  Additionally, the vast majority of the money and dynamism that would be needed would come from the energy sector itself, Mr. Orr said.

Speaking by video-link on behalf of his fellow co-Chair Charles Holliday, Mr. Yumkella noted that it was especially symbolic that he was speaking from Sierra Leone, a country that was indeed challenged by energy poverty, but at the same time with a lot of potential for renewables and all the energy sources to help it meet its energy access goals.

He expressed gratitude that so many experts, chief executive officers of corporations and also government leaders had signed up for the initiative.  He also appreciated that they were all willing not only to share the best practices that they had in their countries, but also be ready to mobilize support for the action agenda that the Secretary-General had charged the Group to develop between now and Rio.  According to Mr. Yumkella, the Group was already up and running, having had a few tele- and video-conferences with experts and some of the Group’s leaders.  A major meeting of the technical group was planned to occur in the next two to three weeks.

Additionally, some of the High-Level Group members had already offered to host meetings in their own regions, and most of them had declared it the issue of this century.  “We cannot achieve the Millennium Development Goals without energy access.  We cannot solve global greenhouse emissions without an energy revolution”, he declared, adding that, with the Secretary-General’s initiative, he believed there was now a convergence of two very critical needs for which he believed a stellar group had been set up between the High-Level Group members and the solid group of more than 50 experts that came with strong institutional knowledge of energy systems.

Mr. Yumkella said beyond the Group’s ambition of energy access — helping the poorest of the poor to have access to clean and sustainable energy services — the Group was looking at the transformative opportunities that were available for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Asked specifically what means would be used to fight corruption practices in a country like Pakistan, to ensure that energy reached the people who deserved it, the poor people in areas where it was not going at the moment on account of the high incidence of corruption, the Secretary-General replied all available resources for the Millennium Development Goals — sustainable development, for energy, climate change, whatever development project — should be used for their true purpose, without any waste and without being involved in any corrupt practices.

It was for that reason that the United Nations also put a higher importance on good governance, fighting against corruption and encouraging all the government leaders and business communities to do all business with the highest level of accountability, transparency — this is good governance.  “This may not be the case only in Pakistan.  Unfortunately, we see such corruptive practices which really hamper all of our development projects.  The United Nations is paying great attention and focus on this matter,” he said.

Asked about the announcement out of Washington yesterday that the United States would stop a $60 million payment to UNESCO, and if he was concerned about similar reverberations throughout the United Nations system, that the US might “de-fund” other UN agencies, Mr. Ban restated his position that he had expressed after the announcement was made.  He said as Secretary-General of the United Nations, he was naturally concerned about the viable financial situation of all the Organization and programmes, including UNESCO.

In that regard he expected that practical measures would be taken by Member States.  It was up to them to ensure that all the United Nations agencies receive political and financial support from them.  In addition to the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he had also been discussing that matter with other key Member States, on how the United Nations could ensure viable financial and political support from Member States.  He would continue those discussions.

In answer to a journalist’s question, Mr. Orr described Charles Holliday as a “giant” in business around the world, whose record on sustainability was impeccable both at DuPont as the Chair of the World’s Council on Sustainable Business, and at Bank of America.  He declined to discuss specific questions about Bank of America and its position on issues of energy extraction, asking the correspondent to direct those questions to Bank of America directly.

However, he pointed out that Mr. Holliday had been a leader on bringing business and finance to engage on energy and on sustainable energy.  “We’re dealing with the world kind of where it is, not where we want it to be,” he said.  It was necessary to move a whole range of actors to be constructive partners in this effort.  That included, first and foremost, providers and financers of energy; therefore, the fact that Mr. Holliday was the chairman of the Bank of America needed to be seen as a good thing, and a good opportunity to engage one of the largest banks in the world on the question of sustainable energy.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.