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Power and Progress

Despite modern technologies, one person in five lacks access to electricity, and twice that number, three billion people, rely on wood, coal, charcoal, or animal waste for cooking and heating. Ensuring that energy services are available to all will lay the foundation of sustainable global development.

VIENNA/OSLO – We grew up in entirely different regions of the world: one in Norway, the other in Sierra Leone. The gap between our two countries in terms of development could hardly be starker: Norway’s GDP per capita is more than 50 times that of Sierra Leone.

In Norway, electricity is available and affordable. In Sierra Leone, electricity is virtually non-existent in rural areas. Many people cannot afford fuel, heat, or proper housing.

What unites us is a firm commitment to ensuring that modern energy services are available to all, and our belief that achieving this goal will lay the foundation of sustainable global development. The challenge is immense: despite modern technologies, one person in five lacks access to electricity, and twice that number, three billion people, rely on wood, coal, charcoal, or animal waste for cooking and heating.

Because energy poverty is hindering human progress, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched the initiative Sustainable Energy for All, which sets three complementary targets to be achieved by 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Achieving these objectives will maximize development benefits and help to stabilize climate change in the long run.

To meet these targets, we need new business models and new public-private partnerships. Above all, we need a plan of action, which we finalized with public- and private-sector representatives in London in April, where the British government hosted the third Clean Energy Ministerial. Coming ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June, the new Action Agenda provides the global community with a platform to catalyze change.

Businesses have a prominent role to play, for example, in the global effort to reduce dramatically gas flaring. The burning of so-called waste gas each year amounts to the equivalent of one-third of the European Union’s annual natural-gas consumption. Africa’s waste gas alone could provide 50% of the continent’s total energy needs. Moreover, CO2 emissions from gas flaring are equal to that of 70 million cars.

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Thanks to concerted efforts by the international community, mainly through the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction initiative, a downward trend has taken hold. In 2010, 134 billion cubic meters of gas were flared, down from 147 billion cubic meters in 2009, despite a two-million barrel-a-day increase in crude-oil production over the same period. But, while the international petroleum industry has started moving in the right direction, more joint action from both industry and governments is needed.

Oil and gas companies should not wait for governments to move. The private sector needs to step up and engage in the dialogue. Businesses must provide clear expectations to authorities concerning conditions that foster long-term investments.

Governments and the development banks, for their part, have a key role to play in ensuring investment-friendly environments. In particular, stability in institutions and legislative frameworks, together with transparency and official integrity, are prerequisites for boosting the types of private investment that will advance the goals set by Sustainable Energy for All.

There is growing momentum for cleaner and more efficient energy solutions that can leapfrog existing systems, just as mobile technology revolutionized telecommunications. Coherent action from governments and businesses will accelerate this transition. However, more work is needed to address the regulatory and infrastructure challenges within and beyond the energy sector. We must act now to counter the headwinds of population growth and increasing resource scarcity.

In helping to transform the global energy system, Sustainable Energy for All will contribute to the creation of a new multi-trillion-dollar investment opportunity. It will also help to establish a new pattern of partnerships built from constructive dialogue on policy, investment, and market development by governments, businesses, and civil society.

The energy mix of tomorrow will need to meet the triple test of affordability, security of supply, and sustainability. All energy sources and technologies have a role to play in achieving universal access in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable fashion. The task for all stakeholders is to prepare the stage on which those roles will be performed.