Helen Clark: Sustainable energy access critical for poverty reduction, development in Africa

Dec 8, 2011

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator At the Energy Access for All Side Event

Durban, South Africa, 8 December at 1-2.20 pm

We meet here today to highlight the critical importance of sustainable energy access for poverty reduction and development in Africa.
It is estimated that around 1.5 billion people have no access to electricity and that 2.7 billion people use traditional biomass for cooking and heating.   

Almost 45 per cent of those who lack access to energy live in Sub-Saharan Africa, making up 69 per cent of the region’s population.  They number 585 million people.  Seventy eight per cent of those living in Sub-Saharan Africa use traditional biomass for cooking and heating (650 million).

South Africa has made good progress on energy access for its people. Following the launch of the Government´s Mass Electrification Programme in 1994, access to electricity has more than doubled - from 4.5 million households (50.9 per cent) in 1994 to 9.4 million households (74.9 per cent) in 2010 .

Energy needs extend well beyond electricity reticulated to homes.  On this continent where so many depend on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihood, expanding access to energy for irrigation and food production and processing is vital. It can boost agricultural productivity and rural incomes, and empower women who make up a significant proportion of the continent’s farmers.

Two examples of how energy access brings extended benefits: 

•    an estimated 2.8 million people are now benefiting from a programme supported by governments, UNDP, and other partners to install engines in villages, mainly in the western Sahel.  These engines reduce the time required for domestic chores for women and girls by two to four hours each day.  That in turn releases time for paid activities, schooling, and other priorities.  In Burkina Faso, the initiative is now being rolled out to villages across the nation by the government.

•    through a partnership between the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme and the Barefoot College of India, rural women are being trained to maintain off-grid solar panels in several African countries, including in communities in Benin, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Ghana. This solar power initiative is reducing pollution and CO2 emissions; empowering rural women; creating new employment opportunities; and has health and education benefits.

Access to Energy to promote equity, inclusiveness, and sustainability

For UNDP, access to sustainable energy is critical for making societies more equitable and inclusive, and for encouraging green growth and sustainable development overall.

We advocate for equity, inclusiveness, resilience, and sustainability to be the guiding principles for efforts to achieve universal energy access.  

We recognize that different groups have different energy needs. Therefore governments need to balance the financing of large-scale energy projects with support for the off-grid, decentralized energy solutions which will help meet the needs of the poorest and most marginalised people. Cleaner cooking and heating fuels and motor power for productive activities are needed.

As Africa moves down a low emission and climate resilient development pathway, it will need to extend the provision of clean modern energy services.  The continent has abundant sources of renewable energy, including for decentralized and off grid solutions.  If these sources can be harnessed   to help provide universal energy access, then poverty can be reduced and growth stimulated without damaging our climate ecosystem.  In this context we very much support Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy, which will be launched here in Durban.

Creating enabling environment

The International Energy Agency estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa will need cumulative investment of $US 389 billion to achieve universal electricity access by 2030 and $US 22 billion for clean fuels and devices for cooking and heating by 2030.

Public funding alone will not be enough to cover these costs, African countries need to be able to attract and access different sources of finance.  The public funding available needs to be used as a catalyst for private sources of finance.  For example, it could be deployed to create the enabling conditions which encourage markets and private investment flows into renewable energy.  

The role of the UN development system

The UN Secretary General’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All is building a coalition of support for energy access which can help establish the enabling conditions, and give confidence to investors to support ambitious energy expansion and make energy poverty history.

The initiative is bringing together the diverse stakeholders who can make sustainable energy for all achievable -  from the Barefoot College of India to Bank of America.  At  Rio+20 next year, an agreement on energy will  require support from  rich and poor countries alike, focusing on expanding clean and renewable energy in both the North and the South.

UNDP is working with African countries and regional organizations on the design and implementation of strategies for expanding energy access. For instance, we worked with ECOWAS in setting a target of expanding energy access to millions more people by 2015, and are now supporting the achievement of that goal.


Achieving sustainable energy for all will reduce energy poverty, and help combat climate change.
A strong outcome on sustainable energy is needed at Rio +20.  It is highly relevant to all three pillars of sustainable development - the economic, social and environmental.

At UNDP we hope that the Secretary General’s initative will build a broad coalition committed to support Africa to harness its renewable energy potential and achieve sustainable energy access for all. UNDP is fully committed to play its part to make this possible.  

Thank you.

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