Helen Clark: Speech at the Pacific Energy Summit on "Global Perspectives and Lessons"

Mar 26, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Speech at
The Pacific Energy Summit
Session on ‘Global Perspectives and Lessons’
9 am, Tuesday 26 March 2013
Auckland, New Zealand


I am pleased to address this Pacific Energy Summit. My thanks go to the co-hosts, New Zealand and the European Commission, for the invitation.

The presence of so many Pacific leaders and senior representatives, and the number of supporting countries and agencies, illustrate the high degree of interest in this Summit’s objectives: to showcase progress in the region towards improving access to clean and affordable energy, and to mobilize additional resources to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.

My task today is to put the energy challenges the Pacific is facing in a global perspective. I will draw on insights from the work UNDP does in the South Pacific and around the world.

Access to modern energy services is fundamental to fulfilling basic social needs, advancing economic growth, and driving human development. Yet nearly 1.3 billion people remain without access to electricity around the world, and 2.6 billion do not have access to clean cooking facilities.

Energy access in Pacific Island countries varies significantly, ranging from nearly full access to electricity and/or petroleum products for some populations, while others have significant energy access gaps.  Low income households in Pacific countries may use little petroleum fuel or electricity because of their high costs.

What most Pacific Island countries have in common is heavy reliance on fossil fuel imports. The Pacific has the highest petroleum fuel dependency of any region or sub-region in the world, exceeding by far that of the Caribbean’s island states.  It has been estimated that on average Pacific Island countries spend ten per cent of their GDP on petroleum product imports, and for some that figure exceeds thirty per cent. This heavy reliance on fuel imports exposes the islands to a high degree of price volatility, and takes away resources from important development priorities.

Yet Tokelau has recently broken its dependency on fossil fuels, and is now meeting its electricity needs entirely through renewable energy. This shows that a transformation to renewables is possible. UNDP has been pleased to be involved with those efforts with the strong support of the New Zealand Government.

The benefits of achieving universal access to modern energy services are transformational, and are directly linked to advancing human development. Indeed, energy was highlighted as one of the key enablers of MDG progress in UNDP’s 2010 international assessment of what it will take to achieve the MDGs.

The UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative was established in recognition of the critical importance of energy for development. It sets three goals to be achieved by 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Since SE4ALL was launched, seventy developing countries have officially signed up to the initiative – including Fiji and Samoa. It was showcased at Rio+20 last year, where governments, international development actors, civil society and the private sector made significant commitments to advance its objectives. The private sector alone committed around fifty billion US dollars to this end.

Prior to Rio+20, the 2012 High-Level SIDS Conference on Achieving Sustainable Energy for All in SIDS was held in Bridgetown, Barbados. The "Barbados Declaration” contains the voluntary commitments of 22 SIDS, including nine Pacific Island countries, to take actions towards providing universal access to energy, switching to renewable energy, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Now there is an opportunity to ensure that access to sustainable and clean energy features in the post-2015 development agenda and the likely sustainable development goals. Global discussions on energy’s place in the new development agenda are going on, and will cumulate in a meeting in Norway next month.

From those discussions so far there have been:

  • a clear recognition that access to energy is a prerequisite for human development in all its facets, including health, education, and livelihoods. This makes universal energy access an essential part of a post-2015 agenda;
  • the view that solutions for improved energy efficiency and the widespread use of renewable sources are within our reach. What is needed is support for capacity development and investment to enable these solutions to be readily adopted by developing countries; and
  • acknowledgement that a mix of solutions – including off- grid and decentralized solutions -  is required to achieve universal access to energy.

It would be very useful for the conclusions and recommendations of this Pacific Energy Summit and the Pacific Leaders’ Energy Summit in Tonga last week to be communicated to the global consultations in Norway.

UNDP and the Energy Agenda

Over the last two decades UNDP has promoted universal access to affordable, clean, and modern energy services for all. In the Pacific we have worked to support the strengthening of national policy frameworks, promote rural energy services, facilitate the adoption of clean energy technologies, and increase access to investment financing for sustainable energy.

At the Cancun climate change conference in 2010 the SIDS DOCK Support Programme was announced. UNDP, the World Bank, Denmark, and Japan are partners, and almost all of the Pacific island countries represented here are active members. The initiative can help address SIDS’ heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels through support for the switch to renewable energy.

Through the SIDS DOCK, countries will have access to global financial and carbon markets and sustainable energy technologies. By installing clean energy, fossil fuel imports are reduced, greenhouse gas emissions are lowered, and resources are freed up for other development priorities. That’s a triple win!

A good example of a project supported through the initiative, is the expansion of the Pacific Islands Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Project (PIGGAREP). This project is being implemented by UNDP and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in eleven Pacific Island Countries. It addresses institutional and regulatory barriers standing in the way of renewable energy use; promotes cleaner, more reliable, and cost-effective energy services; and enables greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced.

Getting modern energy services to all requires a mix of solutions – including off-grid, decentralised ones for those living where an electricity grid is unlikely to reach. These solutions are highly relevant for small islands.

For example, the island of Apolima in Samoa, was able to achieve a 100 per cent renewable energy power supply by installing a solar photovoltaic-powered mini-grid system. In 2009 the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE) selected this initiative as best practice in what renewable energy can achieve in developing countries.

UNDP was pleased to be associated with that initiative. We have been asked to develop a “bottom-up energy solutions” strategy for the SE4ALL initiative. The partnerships we have had in the South Pacific have produced many experiences we can share.


These are important and exciting times for the energy agenda.  Sustainable energy and universal energy access are issues which are capturing global attention - as is demonstrated by the good attendance at this important summit and in Tonga last week.

What is needed now is to build on this momentum to harness the tremendous renewable energy and energy efficiency potential of so many islands in the Pacific, in order to bring modern energy services to all.

The 2014 Third International Conference on SIDS hosted by the Government of Samoa, will be another important platform on which to advance these important issues. UNDP looks forward to working with Pacific Islands Countries and development partners to support all the Pacific’s peoples to have the energy services they need for lifting living standards and the quality of life. 

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