Working Together for Global Clean Energy

Clean Energy Ministerial and Sustainable Energy for All Join Forces

The U.S.-initiated Clean Energy Ministerial advanced its clean energy agenda at its London meeting this past week and joined forces with the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, write Rebecca Lefton and Andrew Light.

Prime Minister David Cameron, left, speaks at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in London on Thursday, April 26, 2012, alongside U.K. Energy Secretary Edward Davey, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.K. Energy Minister Gregory Barker, and India's Deputy Chairman for the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia. (Flickr/<a href=DECCgovuk)" data-srcset=" 610w, 610w, 610w, 500w, 250w" data-sizes="auto" />
Prime Minister David Cameron, left, speaks at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in London on Thursday, April 26, 2012, alongside U.K. Energy Secretary Edward Davey, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.K. Energy Minister Gregory Barker, and India's Deputy Chairman for the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia. (Flickr/DECCgovuk)

This past week the Clean Energy Ministerial met in London and had its most successful meeting to date, greatly expanding a number of its climate-friendly technology cooperation commitments, while also intruducing new initiatives, including a partnership to utilize renewable energy and energy efficiency through smart grids.

The Clean Energy Ministerial, launched by the United States in 2010, is a collaborative effort to promote policies, programs, and technical solutions that accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy among 22 national governments and the European Union, the private sector, and other stakeholders. It is an outgrowth of the U.S.-led Major Economies Forum, which brings together the major carbon polluters in the world in a smaller forum than that of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Clean Energy Ministerial has since evolved into a global alliance joined together in a variety of partnerships, including efforts to improve energy efficiency, increase renewable energy, and provide modern energy access solutions to 10 million people by 2015.

The meeting in London also united the Clean Energy Ministerial with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Sustainable Energy for All has emerged as the key goal for the upcoming Rio+20 Conference in June, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when the U.N. framework conventions on climate change, biological diversity, and desertification were created.

The Sustainable Energy for All goals are to:

  • Ensure universal access to electricity by 2030
  • Double the rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030
  • Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030

While some in the environment and development community doubt the United Nations’s ability to move the Sustainable Energy for All initiative over the finish line in Rio, this show of support from the Clean Energy Ministerial greatly increases the chances of success by adding a necessary level of detail—which parties such as the United States had been seeking—about how the goals of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative would move forward.

Below are some key takeaways from the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting.

Advances in the Clean Energy Ministerial

The Clean Energy Ministerial parties represent 90 percent of global clean energy investment and 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The forum is essential for accelerating smart policy and market conditions for a faster transition to a global clean energy economy. Developing countries hold 50 percent of clean energy capacity, but more than 70 percent of growth in clean energy investment since 2000 has been from countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Although global clean energy investment reached $260 billion in 2011, the International Energy Agency estimates that $5 trillion needs to be invested by 2020 to avoid a dangerous rise in greenhouse gases. According to the International Energy Agency, we are on track for a 6-degree (Celsius) rise in global temperature by midcentury under current policies.

This week the leaders of the Clean Energy Ministerial, primarily represented by energy and technology ministers from the world’s largest economies, built on the progress of 11 ongoing initiatives to remove barriers to the adoption of clean energy technology that will reduce carbon pollution, stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and secure energy access. This year’s meeting included additions to the following initiatives:

International Smart Grid Action Network

Clean Energy Ministerial countries launched the 21st Century Power Partnership, which will harness demand-side management—to enhance energy efficiency and reduce demand—and high-volume renewable energy generation through smart-grid technologies, as part of the 20-country International Smart Grid Action Network. The partnership will provide a forum for policy sharing and technical tools for regulators and the private sector to better integrate renewable energy into larger electricity grids. The Smart Grid International Research Facility Network of research and testing facilities will also help to vet smart-grid technologies between the R&D and commercialization stage.

Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment Initiative

The ongoing Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment Initiative announced several new developments that should accelerate efforts to improve energy efficiency. This included a new effort to shift to more efficient lighting technologies led by India in partnership with the $20 million U.N. Environment Programme’s en.lighten initiative, which could reduce global electricity consumption by 2.5 percent. This is critical for the overall Clean Energy Ministerial goals of eliminating the need for 650 midsize power plants worldwide and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 11 billion tons from 2010 to 2030, all while saving billions of dollars.

Solar and LED Energy Access Partnership

The Clean Energy Ministerial also announced the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership to provide modern, low-cost energy options for the world’s poor. The partnership expands on the existing Solar and LED Energy Access Initiative led by the United States and Italy and now joined by the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the U.N. Foundation, the Energy and Resources Institute, the African Development Bank, the Global Environment Facility, the U.N. Development Programme, and Japan’s Ministry of Trade & Industry.

The Solar and LED Energy Access Initiative has already helped facilitate the sale of 500,000 off-grid lighting systems in Africa, helping the Lighting Africa program in its mission to provide modern, reliable off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people in Africa by 2012. Lighting India, a similar program, aims to provide modern lighting services to 2 million people in India by 2015. These initiatives will advance the Clean Energy Ministerial’s overall goal of expanding energy access to 10 million people by 2015.

Clean Energy Solutions Center

A year ago at the second-annual Clean Energy Ministerial meeting, Australia and the United States took the lead on the creation of the Clean Energy Solutions Center—a new Internet-based technical assistance project to provide low-cost, high-impact support to clean energy practitioners and policymakers implementing clean energy and efficiency policies. Now in partnership with U.N. Energy, the Clean Energy Solutions Center has expanded to a $15 million project with more than 10,000 users from 150 countries so far. In London the ClimateWorks Foundation announced a $1 million in-kind commitment to support for this project over three years.

Clean Energy Education and Empowerment women’s initiative

Clean energy solutions that include women will ensure a faster and stronger transition to a clean energy economy that is stronger, sustainable, and equitable. Recognizing this, Clean Energy Ministerial leaders advanced a Women in Clean Energy program as part of the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment women’s initiative to encourage women to join the clean energy field. Women are underrepresented (and underpaid) in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, education programs, and even more so in the STEM professional workforce. This initiative aims to help overcome barriers blocking women’s full potential contributions to the clean energy economy.

Sustainable Energy for All initiative

These Clean Energy Ministerial commitments are well-positioned to support the Sustainable Energy for All initiative—and the principal U.S. players overlap on both. The Clean Energy Ministerial was the brainchild of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs David Sandalow. Chu is the U.S. representative on the U.N. High-Level Group for Sustainable Energy for All, and he is supported by Sandalow and Carlos Pascual, special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs at the U.S. State Department.

A helpful way of understanding the three Sustainable Energy for All goals on energy poverty, efficiency, and renewable energy is as a continuation of the 2000 U.N. Millennium Development Goals to address global poverty. One persistent critique of the Millennium Development Goals is that there are no energy-related goals, even though energy issues hinder the other goals on health, education, women’s empowerment, and the environment. Given that energy poverty accelerates overall poverty and is a hurdle for moving out of poverty, this is a major conceptual and practical flaw in the goals.

Examples of how energy poverty affects health and the environment can be found in the developing world. One in five people—1.3 billion—mostly in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia, lack modern, reliable electricity. Twice that number—40 percent of the world’s population—relies on wood, coal, charcoal, or animal waste to cook their food using traditional cook stoves, which emit black carbon pollution that is both dangerous for human health and a major contributor to global warming. Replacing outdated cook stoves would save 800,000 lives annually.

The International Energy Agency estimates that achieving the goal of eliminating energy poverty would cost less than $50 billion per year. The average family savings (especially from the cooking fuel switch) would be $34 billion per year, generating an economic return, according to the World Health Organization, of $105 billion per year.

The energy efficiency goals are similarly cost effective. McKinsey estimates that investing $170 billion annually in energy efficiency will generate an internal rate of return of 17 percent, producing savings of $900 billion per year. Meeting this goal would also reduce global energy consumption by 14 percent by 2030, avoiding the construction of approximately 1,300 midsize power plants.

The newly released Sustainable Energy Action for All Global Action Agenda outlines a course of action and specific objectives for national governments, donors, the private sector, and civil society for reaching the goal of sustainable energy for all by 2030.


Charles Holliday, Bank of America chairman and co-chair of the U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, made the following statement Thursday about the meeting:

The CEM commitments to action announced today in support of achieving Sustainable Energy for All are terrific examples of the power of partnership. Providing sustainable energy for all by 2030 is an ambitious, yet achievable goal. But it will only be achieved through collaborative action by the private sector, governments and civil society.

The final step for launching the Sustainable Energy for All initiative will be at the Rio+20 meeting, which takes place June 20–22, when countries, businesses, and civil society will join to mobilize this multiyear effort.

Rebecca Lefton is a Policy Analyst and Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow working on international climate policy at the Center for American Progress.  

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Rebecca Lefton

Senior Policy Analyst

Andrew Light

Senior Fellow