11 May 2006

Secretary-General Calls for "Revolution in Energy Efficiency" at High-Level Meeting of Sustainable Development Commission

NEW YORK, 10 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the opening remarks today by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the high-level segment of the Commission on Sustainable Development:

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this fourteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development.  I would like us all to note, at the outset, that this year, for the first time ever, a minister of finance has been elected as our chairman.  This is yet another welcome sign that we are moving beyond the days when environment and economy were compartmentalized, and treated as if they were unrelated or even mutually exclusive.

You meet at a time when the global community faces serious, interrelated challenges in the very areas that will be your focus this year and next:  energy, atmospheric pollution, climate change and industrial development.

Energy is one of the foundations on which our economies and societies rest.  We now know that the world's overwhelming, deeply entrenched reliance on the burning of fossil fuels involves many risks.  It causes air pollution by industries and vehicles.  It can lead to governance problems within States, and distort relations between them.  Through the high cost of oil, it imposes economic burdens on some poor countries.  And in generating greenhouse gas emissions, it contributes to climate change, from which almost all of us will suffer, but to which the poor above all are vulnerable.  The global community will need to help them adapt to the inevitable impacts of a changing climate.

If these are among the problems of having too much of one kind of energy, there is also the despair of having too little.  Those who live in developing countries know all too well the difficulties of frequent power outages caused by inadequate generating capacity and faulty grid lines.  And of course, 1.6 billion people live with no electricity at all, and are left to rely on wood, dung and agricultural wastes, which have made indoor air pollution one of the world's top 10 causes of mortality or premature death.  There is also the immense opportunity cost of the many hours spent foraging for wood, mainly by women.  The lack of modern energy services is thus a major obstacle to poverty reduction and industrial development.  We need new approaches.

We need a revolution in energy efficiency.  Conventional power stations waste 65 per cent of the energy they generate.  We must capture and use that excess heat, and make greater use of hybrid vehicles and other energy-efficient technologies.

We need to reduce the pollution generated by fossil fuels, for example through the use of clean coal.

Renewable sources of energy remain woefully inadequate and underutilized.  We need to scale up investment in mature renewables such as wind, hydro and solar energy.  And we need to intensify research and development into promising longer-term sources such as tidal energy, ocean thermal conversion, hydrogen and fuel cells.

Developing countries should not be condemned, by the weight of tradition or their own poverty, to do what their predecessors have done, especially when alternatives are possible.  We cannot deny their need to industrialize; indeed, developing countries will need to nearly double their electrical generating capacity over the coming years if they are to develop and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  But this can be done in cleaner ways.  And the developed countries have a responsibility to help.  That means helping poor countries build up their capacity, transferring technology and know-how to them, and accelerating these processes by adopting new financial mechanisms.

All countries need to be more rigorous in carrying out what they have agreed to do.  More of them should participate in the market for carbon emission allowances.  More use should be made of flexible tools such as the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism to support climate-friendly sustainable development projects in developing countries.  And climate change should not be viewed as a separate challenge; measures to mitigate it, and adapt to it, need to be integrated into national sustainable development strategies.

We have Rio, Johannesburg and much else to guide us.  Progress has been continuous, if not yet rapid or dramatic enough.  Just last week, I was present at the New York Stock Exchange when pension funds and other global financial institutions, controlling between them some $4 trillion in assets, signed on to a new set of principles for responsible investment, in which it is clearly spelt out that what is not sustainable is not responsible.  Local initiatives, too numerous to mention, show that many thousands of people are eager to find new, more responsible, ways of doing business.

In this great endeavour, there is work for everyone.  Governments must use their power to set the ground rules, lay out the standards, put the right incentives in place, and deploy their purchasing power to procure energy-efficient goods and services.  Financial markets, banks, private business and industry, civil society and private citizens all have distinct roles to play.

To effect change 50 or 100 years from now, when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will occupy these seats, we need to act today.  Intergenerational equity exerts only a weak hold on people's imaginations, and an even weaker one on their purses and wallets.  So we must show greater imagination in setting out the case.

We have the knowledge and resources to conquer the poverty that blights so many lives, and to safeguard our planet and its climate for generations to come.  I look forward to working with this Commission to explore how we can bring the poor into the modern energy and industrial economy, while moving energy use and economic activity onto a cleaner path.

* *** *