We are under 6 weeks away from Rio+20, a major global confab dedicated to sustainable development.  Late last week, Ban Ki Moon visited Washington, DC to give a keynote address to a series of panel discussions organized by Center for Global Development. The topic was Rio, and sustainable development more broadly, but the Secretary General chose to highlight a subset of the sustainable development debate:  energy access.

Our friends at the UN Foundation put together this highlight reel of his talk, which began with a personal account of growing up without electricity in post-war Korea. He did not have electricity until 1963, as a freshman in college.

Now, Ban Ki Moon is making expanding access to sustainable energy one of the signature issues of his second term. 2012 has been designated as the Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Here are some facts about this issue:

Without an intensified global commitment to action, the International Energy Agency predicts that the number of people lacking access to electricity will only fall from 1.4 billion today to 1.2 billion in 2030, and the number of people relying on the traditional use of biomass will actually rise from 2.7 billion today to 2.8 billion in 2030.

And here is a beautifully rendered photoessay that offers deeply personal accounts of living without electricity, from Foreign Policy magazine.

The problem is, the solution is not as simple as bringing all available energy sources to the 1.4 billion people who lack electricity. If the developing world develops as the west developed–that is, rely on fossil fuels and other dirty energy sources–the planet is in for a world of hurt. Enter the Sustainable Energy movement and Sustainable Energy for All, which endeavors to harness new energy technologies for the world’s energy-poor.

The Secretary General’s initiative has three overarching goals–and a target date of 2030 to reach them. These are:

1) Achieving universal access to modern energy services;

2) Doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and

3) Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global mix.

These are ambitious targets. But critical if we are to uphold our basic commitments to promoting economic and social development while leaving the planet an inhabitable place in which people can benefit from these social and economic advances.

If this is a topic that moves you–and it should!– there are some easy ways to get involved. You can check out the Sustainable Energy for All and prod your organization/government/NGO to make a commitment. If you are an everyday person, you can help as well. http://powertheworld.org/ is a new initiative, founded by the rock group LinkinPark that mobilizes everyday people in the movement to bring sustainable energy to all. One thing they are asking people to do is tweet using the hashtag #whatiwouldmiss and list a thing or two you would miss without reliable access to electricity. Check it out. 

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