UNEP executive director calls for end to energy poverty

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Inger Andersen says global energy coverage is now within touching distance.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director, Inger Anderson, has called for a major push to finally end energy poverty around the world, saying this can be done sustainably and that success is within reach.

Andersen said that it shamed the world that hundreds of millions of people still struggle without the electricity to light their homes or refrigerate their food. However, she struck an optimistic tone as she told delegates that this can end soon thanks to growing renewable networks and energy efficiency technologies.

“Providing clean and efficient energy will reduce poverty and air pollution, help with education and livelihoods and provide many other social benefits,” said Andersen. “Friends, these benefits are within touching distance. If we adopt effective policies, we can end energy poverty and make the energy matrix climate-friendly in a single generation,” she said.

Andersen didn’t miss the opportunity to warn that more must be done on climate change, stressing that although net zero commitments are growing, the world was still falling short of the goals set by the Paris Agreement. She then revived a sense of optimism by emphasising steps taken by some countries in recent years.

She said: “Rwanda was the first developing economy to start implementing a national action plan on sustainable cooling. Ghana recently launched a financial mechanism that supports the purchase of highly efficient cooling products. Pakistan recently implemented its first mandatory minimum energy performance standards, or MEPS, for lighting products.”

While Andersen acknowledged that some countries were still “behind the curve”, she emphasised that UNEP was working with governments, regional centres, international organisations, the private sector and NGOs on approaches that foster positive change.

Concluding, she stressed the need to work across borders for the greatest impact, saying: “Low-carbon energy and energy efficiency need to be pursued together, not independently, as is the case in many countries and regions. Regional harmonisation of regulations is a powerful pathway to high efficiency; reducing trade barriers, expanding the size of markets and lowering prices.”

Inger Andersen was speaking at the sixth annual global conference on energy efficiency, hosted by the International Energy Agency.