Energizing Rio+20: How the United States Can Promote Sustainable Energy for All at the 2012 Earth Summit

Abigail Jones
April 13, 2012

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In this report, visiting senior associate Nigel Purvis and co-author Abigail Jones show how the United States can help with global efforts to expand access to clean energy and reduce the number of people without access to modern energy while advancing global climate-protection goals. Their policy recommendations focus on catalyzing skills and investment from the private sector to help eradicate energy poverty and expand clean energy solutions.

About one in five people worldwide lack access to electricity, and roughly two in five have unreliable access. This energy poverty dramatically constrains economic opportunities and undermines human development, from health and education to gender equality and environmental sustainability. New technologies—better cookstoves, mini-grid electrification, LED lights, and solar panels, to name a few—are making greater access to clean energy more feasible, but better financing and coordinated global efforts are still need to make the promise a reality.

Purvis and Jones argue that fulfilling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s vision of sustainable energy for all will need expertise and investment from the private sector, all of which need to be encouraged through smart policy. The United States in particular can help by supporting global sustainable energy goals, promoting energy-efficiency standards and the phasing out of regressive energy subsidies, creating a new investment vehicle to tap the latent market for energy among the global poor, and using its tools and agencies to reduce the risk of private investment.

Such measures, they argue, would advance U.S. economic, development, and climate goals in ways that would attract broad political support at home and abroad.

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