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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: UN Sustainable Development Summit: Sustainable Energy Developments

Lynn Grayson

08 Oct 2015

UN member states recently reached consensus on an ambitious new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to universally promote shared economic prosperity, social development, and environmental protection. The agenda was adopted by world leaders at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York this summer. One of the key new goals is sustainable energy.

With the 2000 millennium development goals expiring this year, the 2030 Agenda’s 17 new sustainable development goals (SDGs) and related 169 targets provide a charter for the 21st century directing action for the next 15 years to build a more equitable and sustainable world for all. One SDG is “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.”

Five related targets for 2030 include:

  • Ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services
  • Substantially increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  • Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technologies, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technologies, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technologies
  • Expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, particularly LDCs (Least Developed Countries) and SIDS (Small Island Developing States)

What does sustainable energy really mean? A good starting point is the commonly recognized definition of “sustainable development” from the 1987 Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development that “humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” According to the LG Action Organization, sustainable energy is energy which has no or limited impacts on human health, the functioning of local or global ecological systems, and the environment. Sustainable energy concepts include energy savings, energy efficiency technologies, and renewable energy sources. The objective is to provide energy security (sufficient, safe, and affordable) for present and future generations.

The UN General Assembly has declared 2014-2024 the decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), with three key objectives: (1) universal energy access; (2) renewable energy; and (3) energy efficiency. In 2015, 2.8 billion people have no access to modern energy, 1.1 billion have no electricity, and 4.3 million die prematurely due to indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with unsustainable fuels.

When it comes to energy, most countries today rely upon fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas. Both fossil fuels and nuclear power provide secure, stable forms of energy, but there are concerns over the availability of these resources. Currently, renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, are limited and cannot be relied upon as stand-alone energy sources. Transitioning to renewable, long-lasting energy sources is a significant undertaking, to say the least, locally, nationally, and internationally.

Sustainable energy is a critical component of the 2030 Agenda, but the challenge remains effective implementation worldwide. The UN refers to 2015 as a “time for global action for people and planet.” It will take global action, as well as time, funding, and political capital, to bring about sustainable energy.

Lynn Grayson is an attorney in Jenner & Block’s Chicago office.

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