Rio+20: Implications for Energy Access & Sustainable Development in Asia

Energy Market Authority (EMA)’s Distinguished Speaker Programme

25 April 2012, Singapore

Mr. Chee Hong Tat, Chief Executive of the Energy Market Authority,


Members of the EMA Board,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction: Rio+20 – Getting Sustainable Development Right

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you today some thoughts on the critical links between energy, development and sustainability.

We are now less than two months away from the biggest opportunity of this generation to plot a new, more sustainable, course to the future we want – the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – we call it Rio+20 – taking place in Brazil in June.

It is clear that our world entered the twenty first century faced by multiple challenges and in the midst of many crises.

The last decades of the twentieth century had already raised our awareness of resource challenges, but it was the Rio Earth Summit, twenty years ago, that really alerted the world to the need for changing our development path to meet the limits of our planet.

The Earth Summit sought to establish a global partnership, respecting the interests of all and protecting the integrity of the global environmental and the developmental system.

The first principle of the resulting Rio Declaration was that people are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development, which was identified as development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Since the turn of the century, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have done much to focus our development efforts. They have made development more measurable, understandable and effective. We have made great strides in reducing global poverty, educating children and improving health systems around the world.

As you know, we are in a race against time to the MDG deadline of 2015 – and part of our efforts need to focus on a big final push on the MDGs.

In the next five years alone we will eliminate some of the biggest global killers – ending deaths from polio, new pediatric HIV infections, malaria, and maternal neonatal tetanus – whilst reducing measles mortality by 95%.

But if development works, and twenty years ago the world embraced the idea of sustainable development at the Rio Earth Summit, why are we still struggling to make our development paths more sustainable?

Part of the problem was that each pillar of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – quickly became its own end-goal, with entrenched special interests, and little or no synchronization of action between them.

Compromise on the ‘ideals’ of each pillar became less likely, yet compromise is crucial in any serious effort to strike a lasting balance.

The successor to the MDGs needs to capture the value of the development work already undertaken, but refocus it to meet the challenges of global sustainability.

The goal of Rio+20 has to be rebalancing the pillars of sustainable development – ensuring that people are placed firmly at the centre of the post 2015 development agenda.

If the Earth Summit was about the idea of sustainable development, Rio+20 has to be about getting sustainable development right. With looming challenges and increasingly limited resources, we will not have many more opportunities to do so.

All of the issues that will be on the table in Rio – climate change, energy, water, food, global health, women’s empowerment – are intertwined. We cannot make progress in one without progress in the others.

The negotiations ahead of the Conference are already complex and wide-ranging. We are using every opportunity to press Member States to maintain a high level of ambition and to produce a powerful outcome document.

The current draft identifies 26 critical areas for action – and energy is central to each of them.

Rio+20 is the best chance of this generation to make growth more inclusive, and to ensure that it respects the limits of our world. We require nothing less than a fundamental ‘re-set’ of the global development agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Role of Energy in Sustainable Development 

Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability.

In essence, the world faces two energy challenges today. We need to turn on the lights and power for every household, and at the same time we need to turn down the global thermostat.

One in five people in the world still do not have access to modern energy services.

Two out of five – some three billion people – still rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating.

20% of the people without electricity, and 54% of those relying on traditional biomass energy, live in developing Asian countries, mostly in rural areas. In South Asia, as a whole, some 50% of the rural population – over 300 million people – have no access to electricity.

In the 21st Century, this seems unbelievable – but for a large proportion of humanity this is the reality of daily life.

Children cannot study at night.

Clinics and hospitals cannot offer quality healthcare.

Girls and women cannot learn or be productive when they spend hours every day collecting firewood.

Businesses and economies cannot grow without power.

Widespread energy poverty condemns billions to darkness, to ill-health and to missed opportunities. It is inequitable and unsustainable.

We must end this indignity and inefficiency, but we must do so in a way that is smart and sustainable, so that it protects natural resources and the eco-systems on which we depend for survival.

This is why the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All – and why the Secretary-General has launched his Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.

The Initiative has three concrete goals to be met by 2030. They are:

  • To provide universal energy access to modern energy services – this includes access to electricity and to modern fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and productive use;
  • To double the rate of improvement of energy efficiency – which means increasing the current pace of improvement to 2.5% per year, achieving a 40% reduction in global energy intensity; and
  • To double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix to 30%.

The three objectives are mutually reinforcing. Increasingly affordable renewable energy technologies are bringing sustainable energy services to poor rural communities, where extension of the national power grid would be prohibitively expensive and impractical.

At the same time, increased efficiency in the production and use of electricity, relieves strained power grids, allowing them to stretch further and reach more households, communities and businesses.

These are deeply ambitious, game-changing goals – but they are also necessary and achievable. Parts of the Asia-Pacific region have already shown what can be accomplished – with an estimated one billion people provided with electricity in the past few decades.

Countries like Bangladesh, Fiji, India and the Philippines already have programmes in place for total electrification in the next ten years.

Sustainable Energy for All will leverage the global convening power of the United Nations, bringing together key stakeholders in an effort to create transformative change in the world’s energy systems.

It is a true global partnership between governments, the private sector and civil society, bringing actions and initiatives to greater scale.

It will also be the world’s biggest Public-Private partnership – and for that reason the Secretary-General is going to establish a new Partnership Facility within the United Nations.

This lecture is also happening at a very significant time. The third Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM3) is being hosted in London today – and the Action Agenda for the Initiative, identifying 11 priority action areas to achieve the three objectives, will be released at the close of the meeting tomorrow.

This initiative is not about charity. It is about doing the right thing – as a matter of global solidarity, and it is about doing the smart thing for the common good.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Implementing the Initiative – A Clean Industrial Revolution

What we need is a new clean industrial revolution – and the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative can be the spark for that change.

It is estimated that providing universal access to energy will require an annual investment of $48 billion, representing just 3% of total energy investment worldwide. Asia’s share is estimated to be about $12.3 billion per year.

To make the connection to sustainability, we need to direct this investment primarily to renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency improvements – ensuring that we not only provide energy to all, but do so in an environmentally responsible manner.

The transition to a less resource-intensive, technology-based Green Economy can help accelerate this process. Asia is capable of making such a transition, with countries like China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore already setting the example.

Transitioning from conventional energy options to low-emission technologies will require new policies, financing and business models. The United Nations stands ready to assist in this process.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Asian Energy Opportunities & Challenges

The challenge of ensuring sustainable energy for all takes on very specific additional challenges in the Asia-Pacific region – not least because Asian growth and dynamism continues to power the global economic recovery.

In fact, because of its accelerated economic performance, and its potential role as the new economic growth pole of the world, Asia’s additional energy demands are expected to soon exceed that of the rest of the world combined.

Global demand for energy is predicted to grow by another 33% between 2010 and 2035 – with 50% of that growth expected to be attributable to China and India alone.

Of particular concern is the fact that Asian countries depend on fossil fuels for 80% of primary energy supply. With new doubts over nuclear power expansion, renewable energy options are clearly going to assume greater importance for our future strategies.

The current share of new renewable energy technologies like solar, wind and small-scale hydropower is less than 2% however of the region’s current supply mix. Even a doubling of this share, as targeted by the Initiative, will not make much of difference to Asian fossil fuel dependence.

This means that Asian countries have to aim for a considerably higher share for renewable energy, consistent with the expected rapid rise in their energy demands.

The potential for growth in renewable energy is the highest among all energy options. Renewable energy growth, together with the growth of natural gas, can and must drive Asia-Pacific development in the decades ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Role of the UN in Promoting Regional Energy Solutions

Opportunities to provide better and more efficient electricity services on a large scale exist in our region.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) focuses on issues of regional connectivity to promote better regional economic integration.

ESCAP has been working with member States for the past 40 years to develop the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway. Following the success of these models for regional cooperation, ESCAP is further proposing a similar path in developing a framework for an integrated regional power grid system – in effect the creation of an Asian Energy Highway.

The region has vast energy resources, including hydro power and coal, which could be better utilized through an integrated system to optimize generation of electric power depending on demand.

Through an integrated regional power grid, it would also be possible to further push for the application of advanced fossil fuel technologies, as well as development and interconnection of renewable energy to the main grid.

At the sub-regional level, including ASEAN and SAARC, such planning is already taking place. Physical infrastructure for interconnectivity exists in Central Asia, as a legacy of the former Soviet Union. Upgrading and cooperation agreements could make it operational.

North-East Asia offers the largest demand from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, whilst also offering one of the largest supply potentials from Mongolia and the Russian Federation.

There are, of course, many obstacles that must first be overcome – not least of which is building consensus among regional policy-makers. However, given recent discussions, there is great potential and many opportunities to provide a better, more reliable, more sustainable electric power system for the region. The potential benefits, in terms of investment and technology transfer, are also enormous, which could benefit all countries in the region.

Within the framework of the Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM) of the United Nations, UN-Energy Asia-Pacific has been established, as the principle interagency mechanism to promote more efficient, coherent and coordinated actions of UN and non-UN organizations working on issues of energy for sustainable development.

I am pleased to announce that, as part of our work in promoting regional energy solutions, ESCAP will next year convene a critical meeting of the Asia and Pacific Energy Forum to address issues of energy security and sustainability.

From 27-30 May, high-level delegates and ministers from our 62 member States will gather in Vladivostok, to discuss Asia-Pacific progress in addressing energy security challenges at the regional, national and household levels, and to facilitate dialogue among member States to enhance energy security and work together towards sustainable development.

Ladies and gentlemen,


Sustainable Energy for All is an idea whose time has come.

Providing sustainable energy to all offers benefits for developed and developing countries alike.

It can enable developing countries especially to leapfrog over the outdated energy systems of the past – to build the resilient, competitive, clean energy economies of the shared future we want.

Connecting the dots between the challenges of water, food, and energy security lies at the heart of sustainable development – and Rio+20 will be the opportunity for us to turn ideas into action – globally and especially in Asia and the Pacific.

Let us, together, make this a game-changer. Let us build this better world for all. Let us shape the future we want – together.

Thank you.