By Sarah Butler-Sloss, Ashden Founder-Director
Ban Ki-Moon this week referred to energy as “the golden thread" that connects the dots to a sustainable future – the key driver for development, social inclusion and environmental protection, including climate change.”
In the midst of downbeat predictions of the outcomes of Rio+20, evidence of such understanding at the highest level of the UN of the catalytic role that access to energy plays in transforming lives and economies is heartening.
Indeed it was the UN Secretary General himself who established the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, which aims to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
Sustainable energy for all was the focus of the Ashden 2012 conference on 29 May, during which international finalists for this year’s Ashden Awards set out their vision of the future, the challenges to achieving their vision and their message for Rio decision-makers.
Several themes emerged out of their discussion, which was chaired by the UN Foundation’s Richenda Van Leeuwen, who chairs the SE4All Energy Access Practioner’s Network. The ones that resonated with me most were:
- Fossil fuel subsidies and protectionism must end – though of course this must happen in a phased way, to avoid plunging millions of the poor into even deeper poverty.
- People need to be trained to install, operate and maintain renewable energy systems.
- Finance is critical, both for end-users as well as sustainable energy businesses themselves, most of whom are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
If I had to pick one issue from these three, it would have to be access to finance.
Finance is key for end-users and SMEs alike. It is critical to enabling sustainable energy pioneers get their ideas off the ground, and then for helping them bridge the valley of death between start-up and eligibility for commercial funding and so reach the scale that's needed.
I have seen far too many vibrant, successful enterprises founder after failing to secure the necessary investment. And without this, the SE4All objectives will remain but a dream.
Yesterday in Rio the SE4All Practitioner Network, which I have been part of for nearly two years, formally launched a detailed set of recommendations to enable sustainable energy pioneers around the world to scale up and achieve their true potential.
It is critical now that SE4All establish a mechanism to make affordable investment finance available to those socially driven enterprises that are expanding energy access and reducing carbon emissions. With the publication of this report at Rio, the time is surely ripe for us to open up this debate.